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Sell Your Beliefs Not Market Demand

If I walk the aisles of another large franchised pet food store, I can tell you why I would not carry most of the pet foods that it offers. This is the key to the success of a small store.


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You don’t need to sell it all! No, let me correct that—you should not sell it all. I get it … us small independent pet retailers are a dying breed. What we sell is available at a lot of places, and everyone has had to tighten their margins to stay competitive. We even have to battle with online stores that do not have to deal with the price of a brick-and-mortar storefront. I’ve seen friends of mine add things to their stores, such as candy bars and sodas, all just trying to get some extra nickels. I’ve also seen stores add products they don’t really believe in but feel they must sell because of public demand.

I’m a small holistic pet store by choice. I offer products I believe in. If I walk the aisles of another large franchised pet food store, I can tell you why I would not carry most of the pet foods that it offers. This is the key to the success of a small store. When a customer walks in the door and says, “I’m looking for Brand X,” and you do not carry Brand X, your answer has to be honest and informative. I shudder when I hear answers such as, “No, I don’t carry that, but here is Brand Y, which is just as good but cheaper.” Very rarely is price a factor when someone is asking for a specific pet food—they’re asking because someone recommended it to them or they heard an advertisement.

My answer to that customer is hopefully going to start a conversation.

“No, I don’t carry Brand X, because I worry about a food that is made in a contract manufacturing facility that has a poor safety record. Let me show you Brand Y, which is made in its own facility that has never had a recall or a bad inspection from the FDA.”

This answer hopefully will start a conversation about copackers and the differences among manufacturing facilities. Sometimes it can be more difficult to answer when a customer is looking for a great pet food that I don’t carry, but again, honesty is the best policy.

“No, I don’t carry Brand S, but I did look at it very hard. It does have a good ingredient profile and is made in a great place, but I believe they are really similar to Brand T. I do carry Brand T, and I have found it to be more accessible to me. I can pick up the phone and call the CEO of Brand T, and he actually will take my call. Brand S really has more of a big corporation feel to it and just doesn’t have the same accessibility.”

This will start a conversation about why having personal relationships with manufacturers is so important to me. Hopefully this will lead to a relationship that will turn into a wonderful customer.

From a logistical standpoint, having a smaller, more focused store allows me to be more proactive on manufacturer changes and assures I have the freshest product available. When I worked for a big-box store, we always had a lot of loss due to expiring product. No matter how good we were at rotating stock, we always had that set of customers who would look at the expiration dates and pick the farthest out. We also had product that just would not sell.

My smaller shelf set means that I can keep the product rotated properly. I also can “thin the herd” quickly if needed. A perfect example of this was when one of my favorite manufacturers brought out a weight management food. I had always recommended a different product from that manufacturer as a weight management option, but I wanted to stay loyal to the company, so I brought it in.

After spending some time with the product, I found myself continually offering my original solution for weight management because it was a little bit better in my opinion. Sometimes even the best companies tend to release a product just for “marketing demand.” It was easy to reset without the “weight management” because I didn’t have a ton of it on hand.

Small stores can thrive in this business, but you have to make it about the service. Customers can go anywhere and pull a bag off the shelf and take it to the register. What you have to do is to make that customer realize your passion and knowledge so that they want to come back to you time after time, because they know you’re looking out for the best for their pet.  

B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.


This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News

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