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Shop Until You Adopt

Posted: July 19, 2013, 2:30 p.m. EDT


By Clay Jackson

The future of the great American pet store may be found in a Southern California shopping mall, where Found Animals Foundation opened its second Adopt & Shop location to great fanfare May 21.
 
Located in a storefront formerly occupied by another pet retailer (one repeatedly picketed by activists and eventually closed) the Adopt & Shop at first reveals a traditional look: dog supplies to the right, cat supplies to the left, dogs in kennels at the front, cats at the back.

But the looks are deceiving.

Pet Shop
How much is that doggie in the window? About $250, which covers shots, registration, a spay or neuter, and a microchip. iStock/Thinkstock

With its brightly colored décor, spacious kennels and cat condos, and attractively displayed supplies, Adopt & Shop presents the polar opposite of the stripped-down institutional look of many animal shelters.

And that’s the point.

There are no puppies, kittens, or pure-bred dogs and cats in the 2,300-square-foot store.

Adopt & Shop can become a model for stores selling live pets, said Aimee Gilbreath, executive director of Found Animals Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that promotes community-based adoption, spay/neuter and pet identification programs.

"As the public becomes increasingly aware of the conditions in puppy mills and the overcrowding of shelters across the U.S., we believe they will turn to the retail adoption model to find their new pet,” Gilbreath said.

The idea behind "retail adoption,” Gilbreath commented, is to take the stigma out of adoption by featuring shelter and rescue animals in a retail setting.

"Shelters can be intimidating for potential adopters,” she noted. "Harsh lighting and crowded kennels can be discouraging and sad, and keep potential adoptive families from going there to select their new pet.

"By showcasing the same animals in a bright and cheerful retail store environment, with helpful adoption counselors and everything they need to get a good start, some potential adopters are more likely to visit an Adopt & Shop over a shelter,” she added.

Driving Adoptions
The new store at The Shops at Mission Viejo is designed to accomplish one of Found Animals’ stated goals—drive adoptions—but the arrangement isn’t new.

"The retail adoption concept has been around for quite some time,” Gilbreath said. "Think of the groups that showcase adoptable animals at pet supply store locations.

"Adopt & Shop is the Found Animals twist on this great idea.”

A big difference, she said, is that capping the animal inventory in Mission Viejo at 18 dogs and 12 cats allows the animals to be intensely cared for by an army of volunteers that on weekends may number as many as 10.

The first Adopt & Shop opened in April 2011 in a 1,000-square-foot storefront in a Lakewood, Calif., mall. More than 1,600 dogs and cats have been placed in homes since then.

"What I can say is that very few rescue groups are able to adopt out pets at the volume we have experienced in Lakewood,” Gilbreath noted. "Our average length of stay in the store is around a week, whereas most rescue-group pets tend to take longer than that to find a home.”

Another key to success is establishing a relationship with a reputable local shelter that is able to supply healthy, adoptable animals.

"We get last-line dogs, those that need help,” said Joshua Braff, manager of Adopt & Shop Mission Viejo.
The new location on opening day displayed several Chihuahua mixes, which Gilbreath called "a dime a dozen.”

She was confident that the pint-size dogs would be in new homes within a week, after the owners paid a $250 fee covering vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, lifetime registration and microchip identification.

D.I.Y. Pet Store
Planning and financial information that led to the rise of the first Adopt & Shop in Lakewood, Calif., is contained in a free online document titled "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?”
The financial data is outdated but provides a snapshot into the kind of monetary outlay needed to maintain an Adopt & Shop through the first year.
The document may be read and downloaded at FoundAnimals.org under the "Resources” and "Pet Resources” tabs.

Question of Profitability
Opening a pet store is easy compared to turning a profit.

"Partnering with shelters is more logistically complicated than using [commercial] suppliers, and you don’t make as much money on adoptions as you do selling $2,000 puppies,” Gilbreath reflected.

Therein lies the second half of the Adopt & Shop equation: profitability.

The products on Adopt & Shop’s shelves—food from Natural Balance, collars from Guardian Gear, toys from Kong, and carriers and crates from Petmate and Precision, for example—are priced to turn a profit.  But selling kibble and leashes isn’t enough to balance the books.

"We have to be more creative about keeping costs down—like using lots of volunteers—and to really focus on best practices for our limited retail selection in order to make the finances work,” Gilbreath said.

Will it happen?
John Barrett, district manager for Adopt & Shop, said the Lakewood location loses money every month, but he expects the store to break even soon, especially when an entertainment venue opens nearby, increasing mall foot traffic.

"At just 1,000 square feet, the Lakewood store has a big disadvantage: We can’t carry as much retail as we would like,” Gilbreath stated. "It should turn a profit as we add services, like dog training, through the end of this year.”

Gilbreath forecast better results in Mission Viejo.

"[It] carries a much expanded retail selection and should be better than break-even within a few months, even without services,” she said.

Gilbreath’s definition of break-even is being able to cover basic operating costs, such as rent, staffing, utilities and supplies.

While Found Animals can rely on fundraising and volunteer staffing, for-profit pet store owners don’t have similar resources at their disposal.

"Anyone who wants to make this work is going to need a retail/business background to figure out what products and services and pricing will work in their community and whether they can be better than break-even,” Gilbreath cautioned.

"Plus, they’ll need the skills to set up the shelter partnerships and manage the adoption side of the business.”

Big Plans
If Adopt & Shop becomes profitable, Found Animals and its mission will benefit.

"We will use the proceeds to support our other programs, such as subsidized spay/neuter for low-income families,” she said.

Gilbreath and other Found Animals executives are confident enough to plan a third store, in Culver City, which is expected to open by early 2014.

"Our Culver City location will be a whopping 9,300 square feet and offer even more retail, plus services like day care and grooming,” Gilbreath said.

The endeavor is "not for the faint of heart,” she cautioned.

Anyone interested in starting a retail-adoption pet store or converting an existing store should do as much research as possible, Gilbreath advised.

"Opening an Adopt & Shop is starting a small business, and you need to go into it understanding the financial and operational requirements,” she said.

"The beauty of doing this in a nonprofit model is that people are less proprietary and more willing to share advice, tips and tricks.” <HOME>

 



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