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Life of the Party: Four Your Paws Only

A sense of fun and a reputation for reliability make Four Your Paws only a mainstay in its community and our choice for Retailer of the Year.
By Devon McPhee

Four Your Paws Only’s newest home gives it an additional 2,750 sq. ft. of retail space, allowing for a wide range of eye-catching and shopper-pleasing areas, such as the bakery display case and an extensive wall of Lupine collars and leashes.
We’re like a Cheers for dogs,” said Kathy Ahearn, who runs the pet shop Four Your Paws Only in North Conway, N. H., with her husband Brian. “We know all of our customers’ dogs by name.”

While stocking food and other products for cats, birds and small mammals, the store focuses mainly on dogs, especially puppies.

For several years, the shop has hosted a Saturday morning puppy play group, which recently has taken place in the shop’s new puppy playroom, a bright, cheerful space off of the sales floor where customers can come in and play with their puppies. Each Valentine’s Day weekend, the shop’s staff throws a puppy party that includes free photos, dog ice cream, treats, free nail trims, bandanas and gift bags.

The store also offers a VIP Puppy Club and a special section of supplies and services, including obedience training, for young pups. Not only is focusing on puppies fun, it makes good business sense, Brian said.


Four Your Paws Only

Location: 1821 White Mountain Hwy., North Conway, N.H.

Owner: Kathy and Brian Ahearn

Size: 5,500 square feet

Employees: 7 full time, 4 part time

Years in Business: 15

Products and Services Offered: Large selection of food, toys and accessories for dogs, cats, birds and small mammals. Also has a pet bakery and offers obedience training, nail trimming, delivery, special orders and online ordering.

“From a business perspective, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “You treat a customer well at the beginning and you will have that customer for the rest of the pet’s life.”

The special events do not end when a customer’s puppy grows up. Four Your Paws Only, overall winner of the 2009-2010 Retailer of the Year Award from Pet Product News International, hosts ice cream socials, yappy hours and pool parties for dogs, as well as holiday parties and an annual model search for a local pet-accessories manufacturer. For feline friends, it hosts a kitty adoption wagon for hard-to-place cats from the local humane society.

Live and Breathe Pets
The Ahearns were pet-industry veterans before opening their shop in 1994. Brian had more than 23 years on the retail side of the business, while Kathy was a pet groomer by trade and had more than 16 years of industry experience.

The couple relocated to New Hampshire from Massachusetts to open their store. The Ahearns often vacationed in North Conway, a ski resort town, and had a hunch that a pet shop that catered to both locals and tourists would thrive in the area. They were right. Four Your Paws Only has made several moves, each to successively bigger locations, since opening. In May 2009, it moved to its current location, a 5,500 square-foot space—double the space of their last location. The new shop includes an on-site bakery and the aforementioned puppy playroom and offers customers more products and better parking.

Intensive customer focus (for both human and canine visitors) and community involvement are vital components of the Ahearns’ successful business strategy.
Balancing the needs of locals with the needs of tourists was a learning process for the Ahearns.

“Being able to meet the needs of all of our customers comes with the experience of being here,” Kathy said. “We go with the flow. We’ve learned when to build up our inventory and when to reduce it. It’s not foolproof, but I think we’ve figured it out.”

Four Your Paws Only has a marketing and promotions exchange program with local pet-friendly hotels to help promote the store to tourists, and it publishes a local pet guide that has sections on pet-friendly places to go, pet-friendly lodging, veterinarians, pet sitters and kennels, groomers and animal shelters, and local pet-friendly events.

A Celebration to Remember

In May 2009, North Conway, N. H.-based pet store Four Your Paws Only relocated to a larger location with more parking. Between purchasing the new space in February and moving in three months later, owners Brian and Kathy Ahearn aggressively promoted their grand re-opening event. They handed out flyers, advertised in local newspapers and on local television and radio stations, and hung posters in their store.

With all the buzz, the celebration was extended from a one- to a two-day event. Over the course of the grand re-opening weekend, the store held a blessing of the animals, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new puppy playroom, and hosted a live radio broadcast with tons of giveaways.

In addition, children could have their faces painted and could help bake treats in the store’s bakery.

During the two-day celebration, the store set a weekend sales record for the month of May and almost broke its overall sales record. The event was so popular, the local police showed up to control traffic.

“We figured we saw 400 dogs come through our store that weekend and that was in May, one of our slower months,” Kathy said.

The Ahearns attributed the event’s success to how they approached the grand re-opening. Their goal was to focus on the customers and develop an event that would appeal to and celebrate them, Brian said.

“We tried to make it all about them, we didn’t want them to think we were having a grand opening just to make money for ourselves,” he said. “Without them we don’t exist and we wanted to let them know that they are appreciated.”

They’ve become a recognizable presence in the community by remaining involved in many local events, especially those involving animals. Four Your Paws Only participates in just about every local event devoted to area humane shelters and animal organizations.

The staff organizes and participates in fundraisers and hosts meet-and-greets, as well as donates “go-home bags” with food and coupons for new pet owners who adopt from the local shelter. They also host special events at their store—at least one a month—that help bring local animal lovers together.

“We live and breathe our store,” Kathy said. “We are very well known in the community and people trust us because we practice what we preach.”

In the near future, the Ahearns would like to schedule a weekly fitness walk that would begin right before their Saturday morning playgroups. The walk would promote good health and help owners train their dogs to behave well on-leash, they said. They also are developing a celebration for the store’s 15th anniversary. Beyond that, the couple plans to continue settling into their new digs and hosting events and providing an atmosphere that injects fun into the community.

“We want our customers to come in and have a blast,” Kathy said. “We’re constantly trying something different and our customers love and appreciate that.” <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.

This article first appeared in the September 2009 issue of Pet Product News International

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