Posted: September 23, 2013, 12:50 p.m. EDT
By Ken Niedziela
Imagine having two days to set up and stock a 3,500-square-foot pet store.
That was the challenge for Ken Scott, an independent contractor whom H.H. Backer Associates put in charge of designing and filling the Pet Store on the Floor at Backer’s Total Pet Expo.
Then imagine some product not arriving until the night before the show.
Scott and his crew of six were ready for any snag, and it showed when the fully stocked concept store opened to glowing reviews Sept. 20.
"It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Leo Klesel, who manages three stores for Morales Feed & Supply, in Devine, Lytle and San Antonio, Texas. "It’s spectacular, really.”
The idea behind the store, set up on the second level of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., came from two women: H.H. Backer president Patty Backer and trade show director Colette Fairchild.
Visitors to Pet Store on the Floor admire three puppies displayed in an enclosure from North American Pet Products.
"They had the concept,” Scott said. "They wanted a pet store in here. For many years I was with a distributor, so setting stores was what I did.”
And so it was that Scott, who spent 35 years with Wilson Pet Supply Inc. in Hanover Park, Ill., was tasked with fulfilling their vision.
"Since it’s a trade show and not a working store, the most important thing was to show product and try to bring some new ideas as far as fixtures is concerned,” Scott said.
After designing the store and making sure the budget allowed for the layout, Scott was particular about the shelving. He chose 5-foot-high Streater fixtures from Midwest Retail in Indianapolis.
The height was important, Scott said.
"Most independents don’t have the luxury of choosing their building,” he pointed out, "so they go into existing buildings. When you go into an existing building, you often get a 10-foot ceiling. If you go way high with the fixtures, the store looks cramped. You want to give an open look to the store.”
Mike Smith, a sales representative with distributor Wolverton Pet Supply of Lansing, Mich., is a fan of 5-foot fixtures.
"One reason for it would be theft; you can keep an eye on customers,” said Smith, who greeted visitors to Pet Store on the Floor. "And it’s shopable for the customer. It has an open feel, it’s clean. I’ve noticed other large retailers using it.”
Shelves need product, of course. Contributions came from 110 vendors.
"Fixtures are the stage; you’ve got to set the stage,” Scott said. "The product is your star.”
Retailers strolling the wide aisles saw many familiar brand names: treats from Fritters for Critters, Bravo and Clear Conscience, to name a few. Toys from Petprojekt, Kong and Rogz. Food from Eukanuba, Raw Bistro and Lotus. Grooming supplies from Bobbi Panter, Natural Chemistry and Bio-Groom.
Stocking an empty store can be easy when product is sitting in boxes and planograms are in hand, Scott noted. Not this time.
"This was an unknown until Thursday afternoon at 5 o’clock because vendors were coming up and going, ‘We forgot to ship this. Here’s our product,’” Scott recalled. "There was a lot of resetting of shelves.
"The original plan was to have everything shipped here by Sept. 17 [three days before opening]. "We had about a third of the merchandise at the start of set-up and then they dribbled in.”
Everything was completed in time, impressing Smith.
"They did a great job,” he said. "It looks excellent.”
Smith also liked the store’s openness and what he called the wide "race track” down the middle.
"Depending on what you’re paying per square feet, I don’t know if a retailer could get this much space wide open, but it gives retailers something to think about,” he said.
Doing a lot of thinking were Gary and Dianna Richards, the owners of Pawprints Pet Supply in Valley Center, Kan. They had good reason to examine the layout and products because their shop had yet to open.
"I’m here to place orders and learn everything I can,” said Dianna Richards, who is jumping into the pet industry for the first time. "I can go back home and see what I want, what doesn’t work, what I can add.”
Their 520-square-foot store will sell cat and dog supplies and display them on what Richards described as "bakery department shelves and wood tiered shelves.”
While the couple had already settled on their display fixtures, they walked away with merchandising ideas.
"That’s why we wanted to visit this—to see it organized and laid out,” Gary Richards said.
Rounding out Pet Store on the Floor was the 360Pet POS system from Pinogy and live kittens, puppies, guinea pigs and parakeets.
The dogs, small animals and birds were housed in 4-foot-by-4-foot cages from North American Pet Products of Corona, Calif. The locked, Plexiglas-topped displays, which come with bottom storage space, got a thumbs-up from Klesel, of Morales Feed & Supply, which sells rabbits out of an open tub.
"I really like it,” Klesel said. "For one thing, it keeps people from putting their hands inside and it keeps the rabbits from jumping out. That’s an issue with rabbits; they like to get out.”
The puppies and kittens—all rescued strays—came from TAILS Humane Society of DeKalb, Ill. Their presence was an important part of Pet Store on the Floor, Scott said.
"One of the concepts we would like to see in stores is fostering stray and unwanted animals and getting them into the hands of people who want animals,” he stated.
Scott was confident that independent retailers making do with limited store space would leave with a great tip or two.
"Think of the stores you love to shop,” Scott said, using Bass Pro Shop as an example. "They have the luxury of building the place [from the ground up]. A small independent doesn’t have that luxury.”
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