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What Keeps Paws’ Owner Up At Night?


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After nearly a quarter of a century in business, Paws in Redlands, Calif., continues to be a community staple, connecting with customers and helping them find the best wellness solutions for their pets, according to co-owner Stephen Lehmann.

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

Stephen Lehmann: Orijen Original 25 pound, NutriSource Grain Free Large Breed Chicken & Pea Formula 30 pound, NutriSource Adult Chicken & Rice Formula 30 pound, Instinct Signature Raw Chicken Patties 6 pound and Lucy Pet Cats Incredible Clumping Cat Litter 20-pound jug.

PPN: What are your favorite products right now? 

Lehmann: Open Farm Gently Cooked Recipes and Koda Pet Foods Papa Psuka Treats.

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

Lehmann: In the short term, I am interested in the manufacturers’ response to the canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) controversy. It reveals a lot about a company and its confidence in its product lines. If a U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) report of tenuous scientific value can derail sales of your brand of food, it gives the impression that your food was only about marketing in the first place, rather than being based in science or being designed to meet specific nutritional needs. Alternatively, brands who are confident in their formulations both before and after the FDA announcement are displaying confidence, consistency, and a security that their formulations are indeed complete and balanced. 

In the long term, African swine fever (ASF) is of great concern, as discussions about the impact of ASF on the total protein supply for the globe is alarming. As more pressure is put on other forms of protein production, what dangers may arise as a result? Will poultry production be able to replace pork production, and what will that mean for antibiotic use in feed sources? Are other methods of protein production being exploited to their fullest extent in time to meet the upcoming demand? 

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

Lehmann: After 24 years in business, we are still learning new ways to make our operation more efficient and more streamlined. Every business tries to get the most out of every asset that they have. The majority of the fine-tuning involved with our business has already taken place, but consistently re-evaluating our policies, procedures and general store philosophy is important to remaining effective in the marketplace. Since 2012, we have consistently implemented new technologies to assist us with store operations. We intend to continue that in 2020 with major technology purchases to update the hardware backbone of that system.  

PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve in 2020?

Lehmann: Improving our average ticket in the coming year is always a worthwhile goal. Selling additional items to the customers we already have is the easiest way to improve sales and increase profits. We would like to maximize our use of available marketing programs to solidify our customer retention. 

PPN: What is your best tip for connecting with customers?

Lehmann: As an independent retailer, this is where we can really shine compared to the big boxes, the internet or any other channels. You need to actually connect with your customers. Get to know them outside of their pet needs. When you have developed a relationship with people, it is easier to have some of the difficult or complex conversations that are required from time to time. It also engenders a sense of loyalty that goes both ways. You will be loyal to your customers’ needs, and they will be loyal to you in return.

There are so many concrete ways to connect with your customers, and you need to be active in as many of these venues as possible. Using Instagram, Facebook and websites to drive traffic, advertise specials and highlight products is one practice that is imperative in today’s climate. Community involvement is extremely important as well. By being involved, your name gets out into the community and you actively participate in improving your hometown. Your store’s name and reputation can be linked to a positive event in the community, creating greater outreach than you can from just your customer database. Making sure to grab new pet parents when they adopt from your local shelter by offering free food and first-time discounts is a great way to build your business, and educate your customers on the values of better foods. The greatest tip to connecting with your customers is to remember what it feels like on their side of the counter. Would you want to shop in your own store and be treated the way you treat your customers?

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