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A Special Breed: Lulu and Luigi

Lulu and Luigi offers a variety of services and events that help separate it from the rest of the pack.
By Devon McPhee

If their hometown has an award for pet grooming or pet boutiques, the Lulu and Luigi franchise has probably won it. The pair of shops located in the suburbs of the Twin Cities has received accolades from local weekly lifestyle and regional magazines, and now the national honor of being named 2009-2010 Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year Runner-Up for Outstanding Pet Services.

Founders, Karen Howe and Elizabeth Sand

The mother and daughter pair of Karen Howe and Elizabeth Sand founded Lulu and Luigi seven years ago in St. Louis Park, Minn. After two short years in business, they opened a second location in Wayzata, Minn.

They bill their stores as the place “for discriminating pets and the people who love them,” and focus on high-quality food, treats and accessories for dogs and cats set at an affordable price point, as well as services with that little something extra.

One of their most popular services is their grooming salon and spa. Treatments run the gamut from a luxury bath and brush package (customized shampoo and conditioner, blow dry and style, nail trim, ear cleaning and, if needed, light trimming of face, feet and tail) to a sore joint treatment (massage and herbal bath) to teeth brushing, tear-stain removal and scent-gland expression.


Lulu and Luigi

Location: St. Louis Park and Wayzata, Minn.

Owner: Karen Howe and Elizabeth Sand

Size: 1,500 square feet (St. Louis Park); 1,850 square feet (Wayzata)

Employees: Four full time, 12 part time

Years in Business: 7

Products and Services Offered: Products include treats and holistic pet food for dogs and cats, toys, dog apparel, collars, leads and harnesses, beds, crates, carriers, pet grooming supplies, and gifts for pet lovers. Store also offers spa and grooming services, bakery, puppy training classes and play area for small dogs.


Each treatment begins with a consultation with one of the store’s “pet stylists,” during which the groomer pairs what the customer wants with what the dog’s activities and needs demand. The stylists are encouraged to take their time and make the experience as relaxing as possible for both the pet and the owner, Sand said. It’s an approach that sets them apart from other in-store salons, she added.

“It creates a different atmosphere than at the big box stores, where groomers often rush because they’re paid per dog,” Sand said. “We didn’t want that. We wanted a relaxing environment, which helps separate us from the pack.”

These specialized grooming services have been a lifesaver and a learning experience for the franchise, Howe noted. When the economy began to sour two years ago, sales at the Wayzata location, which offers grooming, remained steady, while those in St. Louis Park, which did not have a salon, declined. Recognizing the value of the service, Howe and Sand moved their St. Louis Park shop to a bigger location, where they could add a salon, and immediately reaped the benefits.

“We have seen an increase in traffic and sales since we moved our store and added grooming,” Howe said.

Customers also appreciate the events and playgroups the store hosts because they allow them to socialize with their pets—an uncommon phenomenon in their area, Howe said.

By offering their customers a diverse selection of events, products and services, including treat- and cake-making classes, along with the baked goods themselves, grooming and dog trainer-run “pint-size ”play groups, the owners of Lulu and Luigi are able to thrive in even difficult economic times.
“Minnesota is not the most pet friendly place like California or New York,” she said. “People want to do things with their animals and really look for any event that allows them to socialize with their pet.”

For instance, on Thursdays and Sundays, the St. Louis Park store hosts “Pint-Size Play” for small dogs weighing less than 20 pounds .
“Smaller dogs may be afraid to go to the dog park with the larger dogs,” Howe said.

A dog trainer runs the playgroup, which lasts for about an hour. The trainer pays Lulu and Luigi a stipend to use the space. Howe and Sand provide the trainer with a treat of the week or a new toy to introduce to the playgroup. The group often leads to sales and new customers, Howe said. The trainer also hosts four-week puppy training sessions in that space.

Other services at the store have included free pet portraiture sittings (owners pay for prints, but not the sitting), treat- and birthday cake-making classes, holiday parties and bereavement seminars.

Seeing the ¢ents in Sales in $ales

There was a time when Karen Howe, of Lulu and Luigi pet boutiques in Minnesota, refused to hold sales in the store she co-owned with her daughter Elizabeth Sand. This refusal, Howe said, stemmed from her own experience shopping.

“I don’t have a lot of time to go shopping, so when I do go, I shop for everything from underwear to food in one day,” she said. “I would get frustrated when I would go shopping and then find out a week or so later that the items I had just purchased had now gone on sale.”

To avoid this frustration for Lulu and Luigi customers, Howe focused on setting a fair margin and offering customers a good price point in their St. Louis Park, Minn., location. Then Lulu and Luigi opened up a second location in Wayzata, Minn., in an area that holds “Crazy Day Sales” in June. Howe and Sand decided to participate in the sale with the other local businesses and saw not only an increase in sales, but also new customers during the event.

Fast forward a few months, and the co-owners were looking at their stores’ back stock and budget and realized that if they could raise some capital, they could bring in new items for the upcoming season. With that in mind, the pair organized their first warehouse sale.

“We set up tables in our warehouse and marked things down to as low as $1,” Howe said. “We had tables at 50 percent off, 75 percent off, $10, $5 and even $1.”

The event was such a huge success that Lulu and Luigi now holds a warehouse sale every March whenever there is extra stock. The money generated from the sale goes toward products for the summer season.

While still focusing on setting a fair margin and price point, Howe, now a sales convert, said the new customers and capital the sales brought in has created an extra avenue for helping their stores’ bottom line.

“It was an unexpected blessing,” she said.  —DM

Offering such a wide variety of special events and services has allowed the store to thrive no matter the economic situation, Sand noted.
“We have diversified ourselves in this tough economy, so that even if some areas of our retail are slow, we are getting revenue from other areas,” she said.

On average, the store sees a 20-percent increase in sales during special events, she added.

In addition to the events the store hosts, Lulu and Luigi sponsor a number of community events, such as a fashion show for the local humane society and a “day for dogs” with the Wayzata Chamber of Commerce. Howe and Sand said they carefully choose which events they sponsor , and caution other retailers to do the same.

“We get asked to sponsor so many events, we could give the store away if we’re not choosy,” Sand said. “It’s important to pick organizations where you can promote each other so that it’s a win-win for both.”

The pair recommended reaching out to vendors, sales representatives and local businesses for help with supplies when organizing events.

“When we were starting out, we thought we had to buy everything for our events—food for guests and their pets, samples and so on,” Howe said. “But vendors will bring samples, reps can bring food, neighboring businesses can bring coffee—you can’t be afraid to ask.”

Coming up next, Lulu and Luigi will have a spa day event to introduce a new treatment, a blueberry facial, to its menu. It’s this willingness to create special events and keep things interesting for their customers that helps keep the retailers’ business thriving, Sand noted.

“We’re always putting our feelers out there and are always trying new things,” she said. <HOME>

This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Pet Product News International. Click here to become a subscriber.



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