The Pet Place to Be
Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, at the frontline of modern eclectic style, is perfect for trendsetting pet owners looking for the ultimate shopping experience.
Hip, happening, cutting edge, cool—these expressions spring to mind upon crossing the threshold of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar. It embodies a sexy, chic and contemporary lifestyle at its four Southern California locations and is Pet Product News International’s 2015-2016 Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Concept and Innovation.
“From the beginning we offered services that really fit the needs of our neighborhoods,” said Janene Zakrajsek, president and chief creative officer, who co-owns the stores with her husband, Rob Gaudio, CEO.
The first Pussy & Pooch opened in 2007 in downtown Los Angeles, a city whose core recently has experienced a renaissance and is now known for its hip gentrification.
As new residents flocked to the area, pets in tow, downtown dwellers Zakrajsek and Gaudio were inspired.
“I knew that at some point an independent retailer would cater to the new locals’ needs,” she said. “We created the opportunity for ourselves.”
As a graduate of, and later promotions manager for, California’s Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing, Zakrajsek merged her artistic flair for design with Gaudio’s entrepreneurial background in marketing, strategy and services.
“We created a stylish and fun space to appeal to the diverse neighborhood,” Zakrajsek said.
The innovative downtown store was a hit, and a 2,500-square-foot location in the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach followed in 2009.
“Long Beach is a hidden gem near Los Angeles,” she said. “The diversity is there, with an urban flavor, and Belmont Shore has a ‘resort-y’ feel.”
The downtown Long Beach “mini” concept opened its doors in the spring of 2013. Occupying 1,500 square feet in the revitalized area of downtown Long Beach, the store focuses on pet essentials, serving as an annex to the Belmont Shore location.
However, 2013 was a hallmark year for Pussy & Pooch, with the inauguration of the 12,000-square-foot flagship Lifestyle Center in Beverly Hills, sited a few short blocks from upscale Rodeo Drive.
Sophisticated and ultra-chic, the spacious Lifestyle Center presents additional services not available at the other stores.
Janene Zakrajsek, president and chief creative officer, who co-owns the stores with her husband, Rob Gaudio, CEO.
Seeing to mind, body and spirit, the Lifestyle Center’s Wellness Spa offers holistic veterinary care, specializing in integrated, whole-body treatments that are “all about preventive wellness,” Zakrajsek said.
The Social Club provides supervised playtime and socialization. Services encompass a mix of recreations, from adventure hikes to quiet time to enrichment activities with experienced trainers. Lifestyle Center Mutt and Meow Mingles and special pet parties also take place in the Social Club.
The Training Lab focuses on the needs of the individual dog, with custom programs ranging from group classes to day school to immersive training.
An Engaging Destination
“It’s that first impression when a customer walks in the door, it’s the aesthetics, the smell, the music and the staff,” said Zakrajsek of Pussy & Pooch’s upscale, industrial ambiance. “It’s branding, messaging and merchandising.”
In order to keep the visual elements fresh, window and in-store displays are rotated regularly.
Music imparts a psychological impact, Zakrajsek said.
“I like that urban/global, lounge-y, hipster kind of music,” she said. “We keep it consistent; we want a branded experience, but I also like a mix of sounds.”
Where Fine Dining Begins
Originally a Lifestyle Center creation, all locations now feature a gourmet Meat Market. Reminiscent of a human market, shelves replete with superpremium pet foods and treats give way to freezers chock-full of nutritious goodies and frozen raw foods. Premium organic, specialty foods as well as freeze dried, dehydrated and air dried are in the mix, while dry foods formulated with wholesome whole grains round out mealtime selections.
“We push the edge of what’s great in human-grade foods for the animals,” said Zakrajsek. “We want our customers to have true confidence in the quality of the ingredients and the ethical standards of where and how a product is made.”
Sampling is key to consumer education, and Pussy & Pooch’s No Naked Bag concept encourages shoppers to try products in their own time, with samples or literature inserted into each bag at checkout.
The Beverly Hills Lifestyle Center features its own restaurant-grade kitchen.
“It’s where we make our own fresh treats and meals or hold cooking demonstrations and workshops,” Zakrajsek said. “Presently, we are using it when hosting special events, but the long-term plan is for a ‘grab and go’ concept, and to support the other stores with some of these items.”
Dine & Bathe
Pussy & Pooch’s signature, one-of-a-kind Pawbar is where pets sample raw meat meals, simmered stews, soups or meaty bones, all prepared fresh to order, followed by a dog beer or frozen yogurt. The Pawbar also serves as a taste-testing platform.
“It provides us a way to demonstrate healthful nutrition options,” Zakrajsek said.
Pet spa days happen at the Bathhouse, a full-service grooming salon at each location (except the downtown Long Beach store). High-quality services are tailored to meet individual budget and lifestyle needs.
Love It, Need It
The Boutique features collars and leashes, organic grooming and spa products, herbal supplements, training aids, eco-friendly toys, visually appealing pet furniture and chic accessories.
“We carry the best in eco-friendly products for dogs and cats, including everyday essentials, all of which enable a ‘green’ pet lifestyle,” Zakrajsek said.
Featuring the latest in-vogue pet items, the Lifestyle Center’s Champagne Room is “our luxury boutique outfitted with the best in pet couture products,” Zakrajsek said.
Education: On The Forefront
“The Pussy & Pooch team is comprised of pet experts dedicated to animal health and pet welfare,” Zakrajsek said. “Our goal is to provide a thoughtful and engaged in-store experience.”
In addition, Pussy & Pooch’s blog, “The Hydrant,” along with other social media channels, promotes various issues, including in-store educational events that cover such topics as pet nutrition, socialization, health and wellness, and rescue and adoption.
The What’s in Their Bowl—Learn It, Feed It, Win It campaign supports pet wellness by focusing on natural pet nutrition and holistic lifestyles. In-store demonstrations and classes feature pet nutrition experts and special guests. Samples introduce pet owners to new products. An online pet photo contest winner receives a year’s supply of food.
“The sweet spot is to get people who are feeding lower quality to take it up a level,” she said.
Ongoing employee education mixes the company’s own training program and vendor training via workshops, webinar courses and training modules. Departmental cross training is a central component.
Adoption days happen regularly at all locations; the Lifestyle Center hosts gala adoption fundraisers and other soirees.
The Round Up for Animal Welfare, or Paw It Forward, campaign has enjoyed huge success at all locations. Clients checking out at the register are given the option of rounding up their purchase price in support of shelters and rescues. Recipients rotate monthly and are promoted at all stores.
“Our first year, we raised $10,000 for various groups,” she said. “Every month the amount we donate jumps incrementally.”
Raising environmental awareness, the Scoop the Poop for Earth Day initiative finds Pussy & Pooch staff members taking to the streets or local beaches for a team scooping excursion.
“This last Earth Day, we did a beach cleanup in Long Beach,” Zakrajsek said.
Go Green, Bark and Meow for Green highlights the impact of pet waste on the environment via social channels, “The Hydrant” and at the register.
Reaching out in support of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Pussy & Pooch participated in Super Saturday, a day-long shopping extravaganza of donated luxury brand names, held in Santa Monica, Calif., in May 2015. To accommodate shoppers bringing along pets, the Pussy & Pooch Doggie Lounge featured snacks from a mobile Pawbar, water stations, shade and seating.
“Super Saturday is a fabulous production,” she said. “They reached out to us to create the outdoor pet lounge.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.