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Livestock is Crucial to the Survival of This Wisconsin Pet Shop


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Jim Reiman, owner of Tropic Waters Pet Center in Eau Claire, Wis., said offering quality livestock, among other services, is what keeps his store competitive.  

Pet Product News: What are the top-selling products in your store right now?

Jim Reiman: In our aquatics department, beginner boxed kits ranging from 5-20 gallons from Marina, and deluxe setups such as the 26-gallon and 45-gallon bowfront kits from Fluval and Hagen Group.

In dog, our bulk natural chews are our No. 1 treat category, emphasizing brands such as Buba Chew water buffalo horns, No-Hides from Earth Animal, Barkworthies and Westerns. Our bestselling dry kibble brands are Grandma Mae’s, Precise and Canidae.

For reptiles, our vast selection of live insects and frozen rodents. We carry crickets in varying sizes, hornworms, mealworms, giant mealworms, superworms, waxworms, nutrigrubs and dubia roaches. Also, our frozen rodents. Top sellers in hard goods include Exo Terra terrariums and complete species-specific kits.

In small animal and bird, Living World habitat cages are our bestseller; we also add products to those to make them a complete kit for small animals. Oxbow foods, treats and hay are great sellers. Our dominate product in our bedding category is our private label Aspen Max bedding, a product made right here in Wisconsin.

PPN: What are your favorite products right now?

Reiman: We concentrate on products from companies that show true concern for independent pet stores. Hagen Group’s Fluval and Exo Terra lines are mainstays in their respective departments. Seachem aquatic supplies. Oxbow foods, hay and treats. Grandma Mae’s dog and cat foods. We try to source from smaller local manufacturers when possible. 

PPN: What industry trends have you been keeping your eye on most closely? 

Reiman: Distribution problems that include out of stocks, poor return handling, and discontinuing of specialty products, most notably in the reptile and aquatic departments. On the retail side, the change in buying services that people are buying for themselves and less and less as gifts for others. So our busy season has changed over the years. Online is becoming less of a worry to us because we concentrate on living things., and things large big-box stores cannot provide, like local products sourcing.

PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the process of tackling?

Reiman: The biggest issue is employee acquisition and training. It is not that they do not exist, but getting any number of applicants is difficult. There is no doubt that even prospective employees are starting to show more and more the inability to be social and sell to customers; we now not only have to train them on all of the store duties and care knowledge, but we have to train from the ground up how to start a conversation with customers and even fellow employees.

PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve this year?

Reiman: We always strive to be better at what we do—cleaner store, quality livestock in the best condition, better relationships with our customers and vendors, improved training and retaining of our employees. If we concentrate on these ideals, growth will follow. We’re really hoping to up our social media game this next year, as it has become an efficient way to reach current and potential customers.

PPN: What are the challenges and benefits to offering livestock?

Reiman: Livestock is crucial to our survival, and quality is paramount above all else. The amount of employee hours that go into providing that is the major expense to the store. Finding suppliers that offer what we need takes time and more effort than it used to. We have to go further away to get what we need when, years ago, that could be with local distribution. The benefit is that we have something that national chains cannot deliver with the quality and diversity that we can. 

We have also been able to connect with a lot of local breeders on animals such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, cockatiels, lovebirds, a variety of snakes, leopard geckos and crested geckos. It is an added bonus to be able to tell our customers that many of our animals are raised locally. In addtioin, we have also started breeding some of our bearded dragons in house, which makes for a fun experience for our employees and customers.

PPN: How do you connect with customers?

Reiman: We engage our customers by asking open-ended questions, and get to the reason of why they are in our store. We show genuine concern for their problems, questions and concerns, and provide quality, sound knowledge to assist them. One of the best tips is just to listen to your customer; treat every customer as an individual that you truly value. Every person that walks through our door at any given moment is an opportunity for growth, and we value that. We also stay active in social media as a way to connect to customers on the outside in hopes of creating a relationship that carries over into our store if it has not done so already.  

Get an inside look at Tropic Waters Pet Center in our gallery below.

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