Sleek décor, unique displays and empowered staff dedicated to the ultimate customer experience.
By Lizett Bond
Crossing The Urban Pet threshold, one’s senses absorb the energy of purposeful music and the soothing movement of the koi pond waterfall. Sophisticated soft globe lighting, earth-toned color schemes, alternatively displayed wares and industrial-type flooring complete the contemporary downtown vibe. At The Urban Pet, Pet Product News International’s 2013 Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Merchandising and Décor, it’s all about customer experience.
Zack Grey, creator and owner of The Urban Pet, located in Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Silver Lake, Calif., trusts his instincts when it comes to design and décor—and career change. After segueing from a 16-year career as a professional dancer, he worked as a personal assistant to a well-known Hollywood dog trainer. From there he transitioned to hisown dog-training venture. The evolution to pet store owner was only natural.
The Urban Pet's sign adds flair and curb appeal. Urban Pet.
“I was training dogs in the parking lot of another pet supply store and doing quite a bit of private training,” Grey said. “When the store closed, I had to find a new place to train.”
Serendipity, arriving in the form of an available 5,000-square-foot space on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, nudged Grey to take a leap of faith and launch the first Urban Pet in April 2007.
“It is right around the corner from The Grove [shopping center] in Los Angeles—a really big demographic,” Grey said.
To create the intimate atmosphere he envisioned, Grey, who grew up in a family involved in art and design and an art history student himself, called upon his creative background.
“I wanted to create an experience,” he said. “I wanted customers to walk in the door and all their senses to be assaulted.”
In Full Effect
Grey achieved the desired spirit using stereo surround sound, a koi pond with a water feature and a welcoming seating area, earth-tone colors, dropped globe lighting and elements of feng shui to orient the space. Shelving is situated at an angle from the sales counter for increased visibility.
“It’s so counterintuitive,” Grey said. “A consultant advised I use brighter colors and more shelving. She thought I was crazy.”
Undeterred, Grey’s instincts proved successful. In 2010, the Silver Lake location opened, followed by South Pasadena in 2012. Today, all three stores, ranging in size from 3,400 to 5,000 square feet, present a distinctive Urban Pet vitality.
“You want people to walk into the store and be struck with your brand or element,” he said. “It’s the type of music you play, the colors, how you display things, the lighting, what the staff says to customers when they walk in.”
The Urban Pet always welcomes four-legged visitors with a treat, and owners walking their dogs often stop in. The koi pond’s adjacent chairs and coffee table provide an inviting area for customers to relax and socialize.
Patrons browse a full selection of supplies for dogs, cats, small animals and birds, and can choose from a broad range of approximately 60 corn- and byproduct-free dog and cat foods and treats, including frozen and raw. For customers wishing to purchase American-made products, a special red barcode allows for easy identification.
“It’s full service,” he said. “We call it a ‘lifestyle’ store.”
Soft globe lighting, mirrored effects and bringing the gentle outdoors in via a pond and waterfall work together to create the customer experience. Urban Pet
With his lifestyle approach in mind, Grey launched Moon Shine Grooming in 2010, adjacent to the Silver Lake store. As a nod to his art background, the full-service salon, named for his dog Mr. Moon, also features six self-wash “pods,” each individually decorated to represent a celebrated artist. A print from each artist serves as a focal point, and the color scheme of each pod complements the artwork. For the ceiling, Grey designed and duplicated a Mondrian painting.
“The ambience is a little different, very modern,” said Grey. “When you walk in, it doesn’t look like a groom shop, and it doesn’t smell like one.”
Popular group dog-training classes take place several days each week at the Los Angeles store and are taught largely by Grey himself.
“People are training their dogs,” he said. “In my demographic, their dogs are their children.”
Veterinary clinics are offered at each location, as is anesthesia-free teeth cleaning.
Pets can pose for an internationally recognized pet photographer at Furtographs Pet Portraiture, located in the loft area above the Los Angeles store.
Adoption and rescue organizations are near and dear to Grey’s heart, because Mr. Moon is a rescue.
Adoption events take place regularly at the Silver Lake and Pasadena stores. A park adjacent to the Los Angeles store is the setting for bimonthly adoptions sponsored by a local agency, and adoptive owners are offered incentives and discounts in support. Los Angeles’ Downtown Dog Rescue is often the beneficiary of fundraising efforts.
The largest and most well-attended of these benefits is the annual Halloween Carnival, held at the Los Angeles store.
“Last year 400 people attended,” Grey said.
As two-legged and four-legged revelers arrived in costume to celebrate, many took advantage of complimentary curbside valet parking. A haystack maze acted as the entrance; fog machines set the spooky aura. Partying pets personalized their own trick-or-treat bags with a paw print before heading off to play games that included bobbing for tennis balls and discovering treats hidden under cups. Human attendees celebrated with hors d’oeuvres and a full bar. Raffle prizes were awarded; the grand-prize winner left with a Dyson vacuum.
While the judges deliberated on the costume contest winners, partiers delighted in an entertainment extravaganza of Hollywood proportions. Calling upon his own background and a professional choreographer, Grey and a supporting cast presented a version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” As the original video played on a large screen above the crowd, live zombie dancers began to mingle with partygoers.
“We did the whole Michael Jackson thing under the movie screen; we were in sync completely with all the dancers in the movie,” he said. “I played Michael Jackson.”
The money raised from this event helped fund a Downtown Dog Rescue spay and neuter clinic using the rescue’s mobile vet hospital.
“They helped 100 dogs in a low-income community,” Grey said.
Another clientele favorite is pet psychic events; after a day of pet readings, all funds earned go to charity.
“The Beverly [Los Angeles] store has great space to accommodate this event,” he said.
In further support of adoption endeavors, owners rescuing a pet receive complimentary enrollment in The Urban Pet’s membership program. For a yearly fee of $20, nonadoptive customers also can join the program, which offers food and supplies discounts.
“We guarantee low prices, so customers don’t need the membership, but those who shop at the store often get their $20 investment back immediately, and some people spend a lot of money,” he added.
At a Glance
Owner: Zack Grey
Size: Average is 4,000 square feet
Employees: 12 full-time, 6 part-time
Years in Business: 6
Products and Services Offered: Cat, dog, small mammal, bird, reptile supplies, premium pet foods, adoption days, grooming, obedience training, anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, vaccination clinics, adoption days, pet photography, membership program.
Urbane Education and Service
Believing staff members are the heart of the company and an integral component to The Urban Pet experience, Grey trusts his intuition when it comes to discovering that special “wow” factor in people.
Once hired, employees enjoy good wages, benefits, staff dinners and special nights out. Turnover is low.
“It’s so hard to find really great people and when you do find them, you hold on to them,” he said.
The staff education process is rigorous. New members must study a detailed handbook and take an exam.
Strong knowledge of product ingredients is expected, and all employees are urged to seek help if needed.
“A golden rule is if you don’t know what you are talking about, stop talking and find someone who does,” Grey said.
Taking customer service a step further, The Urban Pet “house account” allows staff members to provide a complimentary bag or can of food or a treat to customers, eliminating the need to hit up management for permission.
“It’s that one-on-one interaction,” he said. “When you give great service, customers remember.”
For the future, Grey discussed possibly opening new locations and franchising his concept.
In the meantime, he is grateful.
“I am so blessed,” he said. “It is such an incredible thing to create something and have people want to return to your place to shop. It’s the most incredible compliment in the world.”