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The Efficient Strategies Independent Pet Stores Are Implementing During the COVID-19 Pandemic


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With the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases mounting and government mandates designed to stop the spread of the virus seemingly escalating every day, pet supply stores are finding themselves in an unprecedented situation. 

A growing number of states are issuing their residents to stay at home and are also closing nonessential businesses, which left many retailers wondering if pet stores were considered essential. Last week, industry leaders urged government officials to exempt pet stores from mandatory closures—and the message, it seems, has been received. 

Pet supply stores have been deemed an essential business in the 17 states, 14 counties and eight cities that are urging citizens to stay home, as of press time.

Pet Product News (PPN) spoke with independent retailers across the U.S. to find out how coronavirus is impacting them, what they’re doing about it, and how they’re trying to make a difficult time easier on their customers and communities.


B.C. Henschen, partner in Platinum Paws in Carmel, Ind.

 

How have in-store sales been affected by the coronavirus crisis? 

We are seeing an increase in sales because of consumers being concerned of shortages and mandatory closing. This “panic” has caused exactly what the consumers were scared of—shortages. Any uptick that we see will be short-lived because we won’t be able to restock product as consistently as we did in the past.

Has it changed the way you operate in any way? Have you added services, like curbside delivery, to help minimize risk?

Currently, and that is a crucial word, we are business as usual. Being a micro independent store, we do not have crowds of people in the store at one time. We are being diligent on cleaning including after each customer interaction, wiping down the credit card machine, counter and door handles. We have always offered delivery, but we are not seeing any additional interest in that service. It seems that most of our customers are making rounds to all their favorite stores, and then isolating themselves.

Is your local or state government considering the mandatory closing of nonessential stores, which may include stores in the pet industry?

Yes.

Do you have any strategies in place or in the works to deal with a lockdown that forces store closures?

No, no we don’t. We have strategies in place for snow emergencies, tornadoes and employee issues, but this is completely uncharted ground for us.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about how the crisis is impacting your store?

It will be interesting to see how insurance companies handle “contingent business interruption” claims. I had a few conversations with an underwriter with our insurance company, who said the loss of revenue claims need to be accompanied by property damage, i.e., fire damage preventing you from opening. There does seem to be some confusion on coverage if the government prohibits you from opening. His advice was if we incurred a loss, submit a claim. The claims department will then look at all the relevant clauses in the policy to see if there is coverage.


Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt.

 

How have in-store sales been affected by the coronavirus crisis? 

It is worse and worse as days go by. Our entire downtown is largely a ghost town, and there is little a single store can do to buck the trend. As more and more stores close temporarily, it affects foot traffic for all of us, and I find myself downward adjusting. 

Has it changed the way you operate in any way? Have you added services, like curbside delivery, to help minimize risk? 

At this point, we are open 12-3 Monday-Saturday, and I do a deep clean every Sunday when my shop is now closed. We still encourage people to come in and visit and play with the store dogs, but we do curbside delivery, and people can call and place their order. I will deliver if need be because this is a small town.

Is your local or state government considering the mandatory closing of nonessential stores, which may include stores in the pet industry? 

We have heard nothing of this. Vermont, like some other states, has closed restaurants and bars. Clubs for music are on hiatus because of crowd size restrictions. 

Do you have any strategies in place or in the works to deal with a lockdown that forces store closures? 

Ironically, we are in the final stages of putting up a website that has been under consideration for a long time. It should go up in a few weeks. That should generate at least something in the short term. It is a very distinctive website that directly integrates into my shop as the Quirky Pet Online Dog Chew Annex. It will come online with a social media blitz.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about how the crisis is impacting your store? 

This is the opening of our Facebook page today. It is how we are framing our response and is worth conveying to others. I’ve always thought that as a family-owned independent pet shop, my strongest card is personalizing. I realize that I am part of a shared experience and try to convey my awareness that it is tough on my customers as well, particularly when they have children who don’t have school. I empathize with them and hope that they empathize with me. I own The Quirky Pet, but it wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t share the experience with me on a regular basis. Here is the post above the part where I discuss the new hours:

There is a scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark where Indiana’s girlfriend Marion has been kidnapped by despicably evil Nazis. As the caravan of trucks jam packed with well armed Nazis pulls away. Indiana remarks that he is off to rescue Marion. His close friend Salah asks an astonished “How??” Indiana gives his classic retort, “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go”. 

In regard to running a small, family owned business during a pandemic, I’m with Indiana Jones. I am making this up as I go. In reality, everyone is with Indiana Jones. All of us are improvising and doing the best we can in very uncertain times. 

This isn’t much of a spoiler, but in the end, Indiana does rescue Marion, the principal evil Nazi’s face melts and Indiana lives to rescue the world in another so-so movie and a really good third one with Sean Connery that would be great for kids home from school. The Last Crusade was one of our son Gabriel’s favorites in the day. He chose wisely. 


Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of Wag Heaven Pet Supplies and Self-Serve Dog Wash in Georgetown, Texas

 

How have in-store sales been affected by the coronavirus crisis?

We have seen a spike in sales, as people are concerned about running out of pet food. We notice that some of our customers are buying multiple bags to cover themselves during the crisis. Our customers are also telling their friends about our store.

Has it changed the way you operate in any way? Have you added services, like curbside delivery, to help minimize risk?

We decided to open an hour earlier, at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., because we know that many are trying to shop early in the day. The grocery stores in our area are designating the first hour of business for seniors and others who are at a higher risk, and there is a large Sun City retirement community in Georgetown.
We have ramped up our curbside pickup and home-delivery options and are highlighting them on social media, email newsletters and advertising.

Is your local or state government considering the mandatory closing of nonessential stores, which may include stores in the pet industry?

Yes, our governor may be issuing something soon.

Do you have any strategies in place or in the works to deal with a lockdown that forces store closures?

We plan to continue with curbside pickup and delivery as long as we are able. People can order on our website or call the store to place an order.

Do you sell products online? If so, have you seen an uptick in your online sales as people increasingly seek to self-isolate?

Yes, we do sell products online, and we are seeing an increase in online ordering.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about how the crisis is impacting your store?

We know that the pandemic is also affecting the local animal shelters and rescue agencies. They are looking for fosters that can take in a dog or cat during this time. We have offered to help by providing bags of food and getting some assistance from manufacturers.


Jason Ast, co-owner of Just Dog People in Garner, N.C. 

 

How have in-store sales been affected by the coronavirus crisis?

Throughout the first week of the pandemic, our services slowed—however, our food, treat and supplement sales increased. It’s bittersweet, really. Lower sales means people are staying home, being responsible and doing their part to stave-off the virus. But it also means they’re possibly out of work. We’re in scary times for sure.

Has it changed the way you operate in any way? Have you added services, like curb-side delivery, to help minimize risk?

We have closed our SSDW (Self Serve Dog Wash) bays until further notice. We’ve also created drive up curb-side assistance for at-risk individuals. If required, we are ready to consolidate our hours [to] something like 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Currently we’re [seeing that] customers seem to prefer order/pay by phone, which we are happy to accept.

Is your local or state government considering the mandatory closing of non-essential stores, which may include stores in the pet industry?

From our understanding, some pet lobbyist groups are fighting to include pet stores as ‘essential’ businesses to remain open during the stand-down time. It’s nice to know there are people out there fighting for dog and pet owners!

Do you have any strategies in place or in the works to deal with a lockdown that forces store closures?

Our plan, should full lockdown be required, is for Katie and myself to man the store ourselves with no other employees. We will limit hours and follow CDC guidelines … while doing all we can to help the dog owners in our community.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about how the crisis is impacting your store?

God bless us all. It’s a rare thing when all the world’s people battle a common enemy. We will overcome this too, please remember to be kind, and help those who need it most

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