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The Pet Shoppe: Volunteering for the Job

Gina and Craig Pijanowski opened The Pet Shoppe as a testament to their love of animals.
By Devon McPhee

Owning and operating The Pet Shoppe is a labor of love and a family affair for the Pijanowskis.
If it wasn’t for our job volunteering, the thought of opening a store probably wouldn’t have crossed our minds,” said Gina Pijanowski, co-owner of The Pet Shoppe in Shrewsbury, Pa.

A little more than five years ago, Gina and her husband Craig were regular volunteers at a local kill shelter for cats. As part of their volunteering, they would canvass pet stores, asking if they would sponsor adoptions for the shelter’s animals. One store in particular was always very helpful, and when the Pijanowskis learned that the business was closing, they decided to open a shop themselves.

“Not only was there a need for a pet store in the area, but there was also even more of a need to help out the cats at the shelter,” Gina said.

AT A GLANCE


The Pet Shoppe

Location: 539 South Main St., Market Square Shopping Center, Shrewsbury, PA

Owner: Gina Pijanowski

Size: 5,312 square feet

Employees: Four part-time; two full-time

Years in Business: Four

Products and Services Offered: Natural, organic and raw foods. Full-line of products for dogs, cats, small mammals, fish, birds and reptiles, as well as pond products and gift and boutique items. Live animals include hermit crabs, freshwater fish and tree frogs. Services include a self-serve dog wash, birthday parties for children and dogs, adoption days and a kids' clubs.

Their store, The Pet Shoppe, has an entire area called “The Cat’s Den,” which is devoted to cats from the local shelter. The den houses about 12 cats at a time and consists of two 96x48x96-inch enclosures connected by tunnels. Inside the enclosures are adjustable shelves placed so the cats can jump from level to level to reach the top tunnel. Each enclosure has a door that allows interested adopters to enter the area and socialize with the cats.

About a dozen shelter kittens also reside in the store, but in a separate area. Between 100 and 150 cats are adopted from the store annually, Gina said.

While cats and kittens take center stage at The Pet Shoppe, the store, a Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year runner up for 2008-2009, offers products and services for a wide range of pets, including dogs, fish, small mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as pond products, and assorted gift and boutique items. Live animals sold on site include freshwater fish, hermit crabs, tree frogs, crickets and worms.

New Digs
In November 2007, the Pijanowskis upgraded to a roomier location. This move enabled them to expand the number of services they offer. One of the best investments the pair made was buying a self-serve dog wash, Gina said.

From a self-serve coin-operated dog wash to a dozen adoptable cats and kittens from the local shelter, to a bi-monthly kid’s club, from a Canine Café to a well-stocked product array, The Pet Shoppe’s proprietors make sure they have something to offer pet owners, ensuring both repeat business and community outreach.
“The dog wash has really been a plus for the store,” she said. “It has brought so many people in. They are so appreciative that they don’t have to make a mess at home and that it doesn’t hurt their back like bending over the tub does at home.”

The self-serve wash is coin operated; it costs $5 for 10 minutes. The Pet Shoppe supplies customers with aprons, and patrons bring in towels from home to dry their pets. The wash offers many different shampoos to choose from, including oatmeal, flea and tick, and de-skunking.

After washing their pets, customers usually buy them a treat, Gina said. Some also stop by the Canine Café, a section of the store where customers can enjoy leisure time with each other and their canine companions. Gina said customers really appreciate the cafe, which helps connect them with the store.

“It gives us a bond with our customers, a socialization corner,” she said.

Just for Kids
Another service The Pet Shoppe offers allows the store’s staff to bond with some of its young patrons. The store started a kids club three years ago.

“The purpose of the club is to teach children respect, kindness and compassion toward animals,” Gina said.

The Cat’s Den cat enclosure is set up to entice interaction between its occupants and potential adoptees.
The club is for children between the ages of 5 and 13. Participants meet every other Tuesday from September through June and learn about different animals, including basic information and how to feed and care for them. Each meeting includes a snack and a craft.

Twenty-five kids can join the club per year for an annual fee of $25. Currently, the store has about 50 kids on a waiting list, Gina said.

The animals showcased belong to customers.

“Everyone we ask to bring in a pet gets excited,” Gina said. “No one has turned the request down.”

Animals have included ferrets, hedgehogs, birds, crickets, worms, pigs, geckos, dogs and hermit crabs, to name a few. Therapy dogs, canine officers and other dogs with jobs have also been the focus of meetings.

Gina said the store sees a spike in sales on kids’ club nights.

Worth the Wait

Gina and Craig Pijanowski stretched the celebration of their store’s grand opening over five months, creating anticipation and great sales in the process.

The pair moved The Pet Shoppe to a larger location in November 2007, right before the holiday rush. Instead of combining their holiday promotions with a grand opening celebration, they decided to plan a huge celebration in April.

”We thought that if we pushed the date back, we could plan a bigger party and also double our sales later on,“ Gina said.

Promotions and giveaways built anticipation for the grand opening in the months leading up to the event. The celebration included free samples, raffle prizes, refreshments and children’s entertainment.

So, did the delay tactic work?

”Our grand-opening weekend sales were comparable to Christmas weekend sales,“ Gina said.  —DM

“On Tuesday evenings when we have an event, sales go up,” she said. “We also find that after a certain animal, kids will go back and ask their parents if they could get that animal, which may result in the sale of pets and supplies or just the pet. We also get a number of children’s birthday parties because of it.”

Thinking about the future, Gina said she and Craig would like to expand to another store in nearby York and perhaps move their current store to a bigger location. They would also like to add saltwater fish to the list of live animals they carry, as well as start a summer camp for kids.

All of these plans will have to wait, though, until the economy improves, Gina said.

“Right now, we’re just trying to survive like everybody else,“ she said. ”It’s a touchy time and our main goal is to stay exciting to draw people into the store on a regular basis." <HOME>

Devon McPhee is a former associate news editor of Pet Product News International with more than 10 years of publishing experience; she currently lives and writes in Chicago.

 

 


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