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9:13 AM   March 27, 2015
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Moving Forward

Canine Creek Dog Wash and Boutique continues to reinvent itself.
By Jennifer Blanchard

The new Canine Creek facility now has 3,000 square feet and its own parking lot for patrons.
In 2006, Pet Product News International’s Retailer of the Year honor went to Canine Creek Dog Wash and Boutique, located in Tehachapi, Calif. This year, the store is back with a win as Retailer of the Year Runner Up 2008-2009.

But don’t think this two-time winner isn’t just as deserving the second time around.

Canine Creek owner Susie Atherton and her “Creekers” (Atherton’s name for her employees) have been up to big things during the last 18 months.

Community Service
Since 2006, Atherton has had much involvement in her community, which includes becoming a director of the Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce, starting a petition to build an animal shelter, founding a nonprofit pet rescue that she also handles publicity for as a board member and receiving a key to the city from the mayor of Tehachapi.

Susie Atherton restocks her best-selling pet food.
It seems community involvement is high on Atherton’s priority list.

“Being involved with the community is an important part of owning a business, especially in a small town,” she says. “Community projects have played a large part in the success of Canine Creek because they keep our name in the public eye and generate opportunities for free media coverage, which cuts our promotion costs.”

Canine Creek hosts pet rescues and adoptions, raises guide dog puppies and has been working with the parks department to develop Tehachapi’s first off-leash dog park.

“Building the dog park is the one [project] I am most proud of,” she says. “Canine Creek started a petition in support of the park in November 2004, and it just opened in September 2008—a nearly four-year effort. Most people know that we were instrumental in making it happen, which has obvious business benefits. But, more importantly, there’s a personal sense of accomplishment in creating something the community can enjoy for years to come.”

Getting the Creekers Involved
Atherton also gets her employees involved in community service.

“In addition to cooperating with organized, nonprofit rescues, Canine Creek employees are working to do their part to protect strays and find them new homes,” she says. “At any given time, our six employees have fostered [in their own homes] up to a dozen dogs and cats, saving them from being sent to the county shelter and probably certain death. Not only are Creekers allowed to bring these foster pets to work, but the retail checkout counter is fenced off to provide a safe haven, where the pets can still be seen by the public for easier adoption.”


Canine Creek

Location: Tehachapi, Calif.

Owner: Susie Atherton

Size: 3,000 square feet

Employees: Two full time, four part time

Years in Business: 4 1/2

Products and Services Offered: Dog treats and chews, supplements, toys, engraved tags, grooming supplies, bowls, accessories and breed-specific gifts for pet lovers.

This method has worked surprisingly well for Canine Creek.

“In the first five months of this year, our staff has found permanent homes for dozens of pets,” she says.

Not only are all Canine Creek employees animal lovers, but Atherton says they are also extremely knowledgeable about pet care and the store’s products.

“Rarely does a week go by that I do not receive a compliment on the positive attitude and pet care knowledge exhibited by the Creekers,” she says.

Although some stores only train employees when they first hire them, at Canine Creek, training is an ongoing process.

Atherton also gets a little creative when it comes to finding ways to retain her employees.

“There is more to retaining a well-trained employee than a big paycheck,” she says. “It is equally important to challenge your staff with goals, and reward them for reaching those goals. One program we implemented in 2006 that everyone loves is called ‘Team Dinner,’ which is a night out at a local restaurant of their choice for attaining a certain percentage increase in sales over the previous year. We pay for staff meals, and family and friends are welcome to come along. Attendance at our dinners is not mandatory, but it’s rare that anyone misses them.”

In 2007, Atherton’s Creekers earned a Team Dinner night 10 out of 12 months.

Growing Canine Creek

Marketing Efforts

Here is a list of just a few of the successful promotions Canine Creek has had during the last 18 months:

  • Allowing customers free use of a veterinary-quality scale, which improved the quality of life for a number of pets in the Tehachapi community.
  • Partnering with her direct competitor—a pet retail store four miles down the road. Since both stores sell pet ID tags, they teamed up, ran a single ad with both stores’ names on it and encouraged pet parents to bring their pets in for IDs.
  • Stapling the Canine Creek business card onto sealed, single-serving dog treat bags and providing them, free of charge, to local drive-through businesses to pass out to their customers with dogs in the car. This not only helped increase the store’s visibility publicly, but it also made treats one of its most profitable departments.
Having employees who are knowledgeable and provide customers with great service is only going to lead to one thing ... growth.

This leads to another major accomplishment for Atherton and her team: relocating Canine Creek.

“The original Canine Creek location was 1,600 square feet,” she says. “We had outgrown it about a year ago and, although we were located on a busy corner, were hidden behind a used car lot and a convenience store, which is not an ideal spot for a growing retail business. Because we could not be seen from the street, we had to spend a lot of money on advertising. And because we shared the complex with other businesses, parking was always a problem.”

Canine Creek solved that problem by finding its own place to call home.

“Now, in our new 3,000- square-foot store, we are in a stand-alone building only a few feet from the street, have excellent signage and our own parking lot,” Atherton says. “Customers are very happy with the amenities our new location provides. The rent is higher, of course, but our advertising budget has been trimmed to almost nothing, due to the high-visibility corner location.”

The new store’s amenities include an increase from four to six self-serve tubs, each in its own private area, and hand sanitizers in each bathing station. A doorbell at each tub allows customers to call for bathing attendant assistance without leaving pets unattended in tubs. Comfortable rocking chairs near the checkout counters help customers take a break, and an indoor water fountain and a wood stove in the retail area provide an improved customer shopping experience.

She says in spite of the economic down-turn on 2008, her year-to-date sales are up at double-digit rates over 2007.

“Moving the store appears to have been a good move for our business,” she says.

Atherton says her secret to success is caring more about her customers and their dogs than she does about making money.

“Customers instinctually know if you have their best interest at heart,” she says.

“If you provide useful information, listen to people’s needs and help them solve problems, they will not only be loyal customers but also will go out of their way to refer family and friends.”

Canine Creek has a simple formula for continued success.

“Take care of your customers and they’ll take care of you,” Atherton says. “Word-of-mouth spread by happy buyers is more valuable than any advertising campaign you can pay for.” <HOME>

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