A passion for pets and a solid business strategy help an Ohio pet boutique grow and flourish.
By Kerri Chladnicek
Anecdotal evidence from the years since Pet Style News began publishing suggests that the pet boutique owners who weathered the economic downturn storm tend to possess strong business plans in addition to their passion for pets. Melissa Lorenzo, owner of Hudson Hydrant, a 500-square-foot pet boutique in Hudson, Ohio, is an example of a pet boutique business owner who was motivated by her love of pets and treated the opening of her business in 2006 with serious research and strategy.
Hudson Hydrant owner Melissa Lorenzo poses in front of a display of customer photos.
“I always loved dogs and wanted to do something with them, and I had gone to school for teaching and couldn’t find a job,” Lorenzo said. “I started to look seriously at doing something that would really make me happy. At the time, I had one dog, Oscar, and I just loved him and couldn’t get enough. It was really because of him that we opened the store, but I didn’t want to do this haphazardly.”
Conducting research before taking the leap into business ownership came naturally to Lorenzo, largely due to her academic experience.
“I have a degree in English and a degree in early childhood education,” she said. “My English background served me well to do all the research, and I had done a lot of research before that for my dog because he had a lot of skin problems.
“I took a class through a local community college about small businesses and how to start them. I also hooked up with our local chapter of SCORE [a nonprofit organization aimed at assisting small businesses]. I was very determined. I wanted to do something that was going to make me happy and something that I would be proud to do.”
One of the biggest factors in Lorenzo’s business plan was location. Her commitment to running a smart business means she commutes almost an hour six days a week to Hudson, a busy, small town, to run her store.
“You have to go for the location,” she said. “[My hometown] just wasn’t a place that I thought was as receptive.”
Lorenzo described the area of Hudson where her store is located as an outdoor-type mall with a well-established main street.
“It’s a very big walking community, and it’s very dog-friendly,” she said. “That’s why I decided to open it here.”
While Hudson Hydrant offers a wide range of products for dogs and a smaller selection for cats, the main focus is pet food.
“We have the high-end dog food, such as Orijens, Fromm, Holistic Blend and Weruva,” Lorenzo said. “All of our treats are made in the USA; I won’t bring in treats that are not made here. We have a variety—some treats that are fancier that a pastry chef makes, and then the run-of-the-mill ones. I try to find something for everyone.”
Food and treats are important because they mean repeat business.
“Dog food is the most important thing we sell because that’s what keeps people coming back every six or eight weeks,” Lorenzo said. “It draws people in.”
Marketing in the Age of Big Boxes
The biggest challenge she has faced as a business owner has been the corporate competitors nearby, Lorenzo said.
Hudson Hydrant mainly stocks American-made products, which is a priority for the business.
“I try to be different from the box stores,” she said.
Her food selection is a major part of that difference. When she chooses items for other inventory categories, however, Lorenzo keeps her competition in mind.
“I try to have a lot of American-made toys because it’s important to know where things come from,” she said.
Her other method of competing with larger stores is local marketing—in particular, through holding in-store events.
“We try to do as many events as we can,” she said. “It’s a fairly close-knit community, and [the businesses] do a lot of events for the community. [The community] supports local business, so it’s nice.”
Local events include sidewalk sales and wine festivals.
“That gets people in,” she said. “We also have rescue groups that set up outside to bring people in the store and to get some attention for the groups.”
Because of the success of these events, Lorenzo tries to host them at least once a month with different rescue organizations.
A Balancing Act
Another hefty challenge for Lorenzo is balancing her store’s priorities with the needs of her family, including her husband, three pugs, a cat and their infant son, Jack. Although it can require a lot of coordination, Lorenzo said the balance is less difficult than it might be if she worked full-time somewhere else rather than running her own business.
Her husband, Tom Spurling, often helps out in the store, and she brings Jack and her most sociable pug, Lulu, to the store with her. The community atmosphere in Hudson is part of why this works, Lorenzo said.
“My customers have been so supportive and so wonderful through everything, and they are excited to see the baby, too,” Lorenzo added. “Almost all my customers have dogs and kids and cats and other critters.”
Growth for the Future
Hudson Hydrant has run successfully for six years, and Lorenzo plans for growth.
The store offers a variety of treats, from basic training types to fancy pet paistries, as shown here.
“We’re working on putting up a new website,” she said. “We’re also looking to expand into food delivery to service more people who can’t get to us.”
For this part of the operation, Lorenzo’s long commute could come in handy, because she drives home through the towns where many potential food delivery customers likely live.
“I could do delivery for free,” she said. “I’d like to get people on a plan so they get their food every six weeks. That’s what we’re doing to move toward more sales on the website.”
The growth of Hudson Hydrant likely will depend on the sense of community that helps Lorenzo distinguish her business.
“I try to work with other dog-affiliated people in the community so we can have a lot to offer people,” she said. “I try to go to any length to help my customers.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Pet Style News.
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