Outer Barks: Celebrating the Human, Canine and Feline Bond
Outer Barks focuses on one-of- a-kind products and special events to help customers enjoy and remember their pets.
By Devon McPhee
Outer Barks, a pet gallery and boutique in Duck, N. C., was pretty much a shoe-in to receive the Retailer of the Year Runner-Up Outstanding Companion Animal Award from Pet Product News International. Its dedication to pets is anchored firmly in its mission: to celebrate the human-canine and human-feline bond with an emphasis on education and responsible pet ownership.
|Outer Barks owners, Robin and Kevin Carey in their store.|
Owners Kevin and Robin Carey opened the shop 11 years ago. It is located in a tourist area, which, during the summer months, swells from a population of 30,000 to about 50,000. Offering a mix of gifts and holistic foods, treats and supplements for dogs and cats, Outer Barks appeals to both locals and visitors by creating a welcoming atmosphere for guests, Robin said.
“We want the whole visit to Outer Barks to be special,” she said. “We want to be more than a retail shop; we want it to be an experience.”
For instance, since the store’s opening, staff has taken pictures of most of their canine visitors. Photos are displayed on the front counter for a year and then placed in an album. The store has amassed about 30 albums over the years. Two years ago, Robin and Kevin moved from Polaroids to digital photography and now provide guests with a print of the photo to take home.
AT A GLANCE
Location: 1171 Duck Road, Duck, North Carolina
Owner: Kevin and Robin Carey
Size: 2,000 square feet
Employees: Two part time, two full time
Years in Business: 11
Products and Services Offered: Gift store and gallery for dog and cat lovers, focusing on human and animal gifts, dog accessories, and natural, holistic food, treats and supplements. Special emphasis on rescue and adoption-oriented items. Provides seminars on responsible pet ownership.
The store also hosts yappy hours that feature homemade treats, an agility course, paw print painting and a baby pool between Easter and Thanksgiving, and “Waggin’ Tail Gate Parties” in the fall during football season.
Additionally, Outer Barks stocks breed-specific items for more than 180 breeds—everything from American bulldogs to labradoodles to pit bulls and English toy spaniels. This emphasis on breed-specific product lines means that a lot of customers, especially those with an unusual breed, can find something that depicts and celebrates their pet. This appeals especially to tourists, Robin said, who often are looking for one-of-a-kind gifts.
“From a retail standpoint, when a customer is looking for a gift, it’s always neat if they can find something with ‘their’ dog on it—it gives them a thrill,” she said.
These special touches and events resonate with customers, Robin said, and, apparently, with the store’s four-legged visitors as well.
“I cannot tell you how many times a customer tells us that when they get out of their car, their dog leads them right to the store,” Robin said. “To us, it’s a neat thing to hear because that means their last experience here was positive and—memorable.”
To the Rescue
|Outer Barks’ layout is open and inviting, with a plethora of items, such as breed-themed gifts and holistic foods, to satisfy both year-round and seasonal customers.|
Big proponents of pet rescue and adoption (three out of four of the Careys’ keeshonds are adopted, as is their cat), Kevin and Robin promote pet adoption in many ways at their store. They provide literature and stock books on rescue animals; sell jewelry that supports rescue and adoption issues, including a rescue ribbon pendant and a sterling-silver cuff engraved with the word “rescue”; and stock rescue and adoption T-shirts that double as fundraisers. The store also provides a space to build confidence in pups that may not have had the best beginning, Robin said.
“Customers bring their rescue dogs here to socialize and they kind of overcome their fear or memories of a bad past life,” she said.
Outer Barks also donates and raises funds for a number of rescue and adoption groups. In November 2009, it held the first annual Wags and Whiskers Gala, which raised funds for five local animal nonprofits. The event was held at the Outer Barks aquarium and included live and silent auctions, an educational component, live music and a tour of the aquarium. More than 300 people attended, and the event raised $25,000 in donations.
|Riding the Radio Waves
Last year, Outer Barks, a pet boutique in Duck, N.C., began sponsoring a weekly radio show hosted by its local SPCA, a move that had unexpected benefits for the store’s bottom line.
“Tail Wagging Tuesdays,” is an hour-long program that features a representative from the SPCA and a guest dog or two. During the program, the representative announces what pets are available for adoption. Commercials for Outer Barks run throughout the show, as well as at other times during the week.
The advertising has helped both locals and visitors recognize the work Outer Barks does with area humane organizations, said Kevin Carey, who co-owns the store with his wife Robin.
“We have found that radio, to our surprise, has been one of the most effective means of advertising,” he said. “Sales have definitely increased as a result.” —DM
One of the organizations to benefit from the gala was the Careys’ own Friends of Pooh foundation, which was organized in 2006 following the death of two of the couple’s keeshonds, Tigger and Winnie. Both dogs died of cancer complications, and the couple said the experience made them acutely aware of the stress caused by the high medical costs of caring for a sick pet and the personal grief experienced when a pet is lost.
Friends of Pooh, a federally recognized nonprofit, provides financial assistance to eligible Outer Banks residents for canine and feline cancer treatments. It also hosts a pet bereavement support group led by a licensed therapist. In 2009, Friends of Pooh paid for more than a dozen medical procedures.
To help all of their customers with the pet grieving process, the Careys have a memorial section in the store with literature and in memoriam products, as well as a photo album for customers’ pets that have passed away.
|Celebrating people, companion-animal interaction is a big part of Outer Barks community activities, which include a dog parade.|
“I cannot tell you how many times people come in year after year and take a moment to find their puppy’s picture in the memorial album and that just makes them feel better,” Robin said.
When the Careys know a customer is going to lose their pet, they have a clay paw impression made for them to help ease the pain. It was something the couple did when their keeshonds passed away, and it helped enormously, Robin said.
“Having the clay paw has meant so much to us—it’s something tangible that reminds you of your pet,” she said. “Making them for our customers is just something important to us to do for them.”
As for the future of Outer Barks? Robin said they plan to keep doing what they do best: creating a memorable experience for their customers, both two- and four-legged.
“I believe our mission will remain the same over the years, but that we will always be working to continue to make this a special destination for our customers and to keep listening to them and meeting their needs,” she said. <HOME>
This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Pet Product News International
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