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Retailer Profile: Cutter’s Mill Pet Stores

High-end chain meets demographic demand, while exceeding expectations
By Temple Hemphill

Upscale and elegant-looking, Cutter’s Mill caters to pet owners seeking natural and organic diets by offering more than 100 brands of pet-food.

The economic downturn is nearing its 2-year starting point of December 2007. Yet, pet owners are still reluctant to “trade down” when purchasing organic food products, said Susan Parker, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Cutter’s Mill Pet Store. The chain has four stores in two states. “We tend to place our stores in affluent areas,” Parker said. “Perhaps the demographics surrounding our stores aren’t as affected by the recession as in other areas. They [customers] may take shorter vacations, or they may not take a vacation at all. However, they are not going to sacrifice what they feel is the right choice [for their pets].”

Cutter’s Mill is located in Chalfont, Pa., Paoli, Pa., Cherry Hill, N.J., and Princeton, N.J. Seventy-four percent of Cutter’s Mill total food sales, Parker said, are natural and organic products. (Additionally, the company sells premium and grocery brands for dogs, cats, companion birds and small animals.)

The eco-friendly products sold, Parker said, provide another opportunity for the company to meet the needs of its diverse customer base.

Some of the nature-friendly products offered include, for example, Earthbath’s line of shampoos, rinses and wipes, and Flying Basset’s “No-Fleas Spray.” In addition, Cutter’s Mill’s Five Star line includes potty bags.

Cutter’s Mill also sells bedding made with organic cotton. In addition, its Nature Nap line designed by West Paw includes bedding filled with fiber made from recycled pop and water bottles.

“Each Nature Nap product has a tag that reads, for example, ‘It took 64.8 pop bottles to make this bed,’” Parker said. “Our customers are focused on being environmentally friendly as well as providing the best for their pets.”

Cutter’s Mill Recommendations

Eco-friendly products to help create an eco-friendly store

  • Planet Dog’s Recycle Bone & Ball and Hemp leashes & collars.
  • Simple Solutions biodegradable wee wee pads
  • West Paw eco products.
  • Five Star’s biodegradable potty bags
  • Earth Bath’s “earth-friendly” shampoos & rinses
In a retail career spanning 20 years, Parker has worked as the executive vice president and chief operating officer at PAWS Discount Pet Food before the founder of PAWS, Barry Lyngard, sold the company to Petco in 1997. She re-joined Lyngard in 2005 to launch Cutter’s Mill.

“In the past 10 to 12 years, people have humanized their pets,” Parker said. “This is one of the reasons we started Cutter’s Mill. We saw a market niche that we could sell to…with upscale, elegant stores that focus on natural, holistic and organic products.”

More on Targeted Marketing

AT A GLANCE


Cutter’s Mill

Locations:
Chalfont Shopping Center, County Line Road & Route 202, Chalfont, Pa;
Paoli Village Shoppes, 43 Paoli Plaza, Paoli, Pa; 10 Barclay Farms Shopping Center, Route 70 East Cherry Hill, N.J.;
The Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton, N.J.

Size: 6,000 to 8,000 square feet

Employees: 50+

Years in Business: 4

Products and Services Offered: Natural, organic, premium and grocery-brand pet foods, plus unique, upscale pet supplies

For more information, visit www.cuttersmillpetstore.com or check out its blog site at www.cuttersmillcommunity.com

Parker manages the store operations and buying for the chain. Additionally, she oversees marketing, and she assured her efforts are targeted; she is focused on connecting with individual customers. For example, Parker sends out birthday cards to customers’ pets.

“This business is a very emotional business,” she said. “The customer is going to call you, because their pet’s birthday card just arrived. That’s a very emotional person, and it’s someone who loves pets. And, [it’s likely] that’s the person who’s buying the organic pet food.”

Parker said the company targets store placements in locations where its typical customers live. (She describes them as women in their 40s, with an annual household income of more than $70,000.) Unfortunately, she added, shopping-center owners aren’t always interested in having a pet store become a leaseholder, because often, owners assume pet stores are dirty, smelly and noisy.

However, the Cutter’s Mill model is completely different, noted Parker, who described the stores as “pristine and elegant.” 

“We don’t offer any services such as grooming or training in the store,” she added. “It’s strictly sales. People [customers] say we look like a Whole Foods [Market], Williams-Sonoma or a Pottery Barn.”

Looking Ahead 

The stores also offer fresh-baked goods, as well as specialty gift items for pet lovers.
Recently, Parker oversaw the manufacture of sweaters, overcoats and matching scarves designed for Cutter’s Mill’s private dog clothing label, CM Designs. (The line became available in September.) Customers also can find a variety of boutique and specialty accessories throughout the stores. Additionally, Parker said, educating customers about healthy food choices is a top priority.

As previously mentioned, 74 percent of Cutter’s Mill Pet Store total food sells are natural and organic. The company requires manufacturers to educate the employees about the various brands of foods sold at the store. Parker admitted this is a lot of information to consume—especially given the fast growth of healthy food brands.

She recalled doing marketing at PAWS 12 to 15 years ago, during an era in which there were no more than eight organic and natural food brands, while currently there are nearly 100 brands. The large number, she said, makes it challenging for retailers to evaluate and choose brands to carry.

“We carry close to 65 different brands, which is far more than the big box stores,” Parker said. “In the marketplace, we want to achieve and brand the message that, ‘If we [customers] can’t get it at Cutter’s Mill, we can’t get it.’ Cutter’s Mill is not there yet, but we’re working towards this goal every day.”

Temple Hemphill is a journalist, author, media professor and children’s advocate.

This article first appeared in the October 2009 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser


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