Posted: June 17, 2011, 5:30 p.m., EDT
Reaching Out to Touch Everyone
At Elephant Nose Pet Center, it’s all about one-on-one attention and services in-store and throughout the community.
By Lizett Bond
In her role as assistant elementary school administrator, Julie Pilas changed her professional hat regularly during the course of a day. Pilas, the owner of Elephant Nose Pet Center in Morristown, N.J., and Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year Runner-Up for Outstanding Pet Services, considers her subsequent career in the pet industry to be merely a vocational modification.
“It wasn’t much of a transition, I worked with two-legged kids, now I work with four-legged kids,” she said.
Fifteen years ago, when Pilas purchased Elephant Nose Pet Center, the primary focus of the existing business was fish. In fact, the store takes its name from a tropical fish, the elephantnose, a favorite of the prior owner.
At a Glance
Elephant Nose Pet Center
Location: Morristown, N.J.
Owners: Julie Pilas
Size: 1,000 square feet
Employees: 2 full time, 2 part time
Years in Business: 15(under current owner)
Products and Services Offered: Dog walking and pet sitting; grooming; training; waste pickup; a full line of products for dogs, cats, fish, birds, herps and small mammals; free delivery; fish, reptiles and small mammals; and aquarium supplies, installation and maintenance.
The existing establishment was in need of some revamping, and the first order of business for Pilas, a transplant from Jersey City, N.J., was to stroll the neighborhood in order to ascertain pet demographics.
“It didn’t take me long to see there were tons and tons of dogs,” she said.
At that juncture, Pilas decided to concentrate on canines, with pet sitting and walking the focal point.
“We started ripping out fish tanks and adding more products,” she said. “But the biggest thing is pet sitting.”
Eventually, grooming and training were added to the service spectrum.
Pilas considers her clients to be family, and the key ingredient to the overall success of Elephant Nose is her “personal touch” service, she said. That contact encompasses a significant portion of her daily tasks, as she is primarily responsible for pet caretaking duties. Daughter Diana Chereches, a molecular biologist, helps out with clients residing near her place of work.
“When I say personal touch service, I mean I am on call seven days a week, 12 hours a day, I kid you not,” she said.
Advantageous as a networking tool, the retail aspect of the business allows potential pet-sitting customers to meet Pilas face to face and become acquainted, establishing more than just a website presence.
|Elephant Nose Pet Center is a family-oriented and -run business—everyone helps out. From left to right are: Store owner Julia Pilas; Julia’s husband Nick; their daughter Diana Chereches and her husband Michael.|
“If somebody is going to let you into their home, they want to know a little bit more about you than just a phone number,” she said. “I’m a store, they know I’ve worked hard to build my business and they know that I am reputable.”
For Pilas, it’s all about the quest, and as her involvement in the business of pet sitting and walking increased, one item always came to the forefront…or rear, she said.
“That part of the business entails picking up a lot of poop,” Pilas said. “It was ridiculous; I was walking all these dogs and constantly bending to pick up poop.”
With pet waste pickup in the service offerings, in addition to walking, that’s a lot of excrement to handle. Feeling there had to be a better way, Pilas set about inventing a solution to the defecation dilemma. The result of that pursuit is the Catch It, Pilas’ own patented design. A trigger-activated waste collection device, the Catch It was officially launched in May 2011.
A new commercial featuring the “Catch It” is currently airing on TV stations in New York, New Jersey, Dallas, Los Angeles and Tampa, Fla., and appears on its own website, the store website, Facebook and Twitter.
“The Catch It is going to revolutionize the pet industry and put us on the map,” Pilas said.
When Pilas is not charting her own course for walking, training, feeding and conquering the pet waste world, she dons her dog-grooming hat. Another “hands-on” service, Pilas grooms one dog each morning. Also in the offering is a pickup and delivery service for bathers.
|Once a fish-only store, Elephant Nose Pet Center offers myriad products and services for a wide range of pets.|
With private in-home dog training included in the personal touch portfolio, Pilas sometimes forgoes grooming in order to attend to the education of customers’ pets. Cognizant of her special niche, Pilas does not offer in-store group training classes.
“There are some big organizations that offer classes, and what I offer is that I go into the home and it’s one-on-one,” she said.
In the retail sector of this venture, Elephant Nose Pet Center provides a full range of pet products, including collars and leashes, boutique items and a wide variety of pet foods. Pilas special orders for customers as well.
“If somebody tells me they need ‘X’ amount of bags, we make sure we have them,” she said.
Once again, the personal-touch philosophy comes into play with a free-delivery option for customers located within a certain radius of the store.
“I just drop it off; it’s mostly the people that I service taking care of their pets and I’m on the road anyway,” she said. “It’s not costing me extra, and I can make a sale out of it.”
The store also offers lizards and hamsters, but does not carry puppies or kittens.
“People around here prefer to buy puppies from a breeder, and I don’t blame them,” she said. “For cats, most people rescue them.”
|Aquatics still play an important role at Pilas’ store, as do aquarium services.|
Even though Elephant Nose is no longer primarily a fish store, aquariums are stocked, along with a wide range of supplies for enthusiasts. Fish tank installation and maintenance for homes and businesses are also offered as services.
“We go to the office or the home to provide maintenance; it’s either early in the morning or after hours,” she said.
A strong supporter of education, Pilas is often involved with local school events. When approached by schools to donate for various functions, no one is turned away, she said.
For a local high school prom night, the store donated goldfish gift certificates as game booth prizes. Winners redeemed their certificates at the store, not only making it less stressful for the fish but also providing the opportunity to sell food or a goldfish bowl to recipients.
Switching to her matchmaker cap, Pilas is instrumental when it comes to placing homeless pets into adoptive homes. Breeders also take advantage of her community network, informing her of new litters of puppies. Local families who have lost a pet often call on Pilas for assistance.
“It’s constant interaction at all ends,” she said. “If there is a hobby to be started or a question about a pet, our families know they can give us a call or come on in and we will gladly help.”
Through these personal relationships, customers in turn shop in the retail store, become grooming clientele and obtain pet caretaking services. Aside from these individual connections, getting the word out is accomplished via Facebook, Twitter and the store website.
It is the constant reinventing and implementing of services as needs arise, combined with the personal-touch philosophy, which have allowed her venture to stay in business and experience growth, according to Pilas.
Truly a family affair, Elephant Nose Pet Center is operated completely by family members, including husband Nick, daughter Diana and son-in-law Michael Chereches. But pet sitting is Pilas’ principal concern.
“That’s why I work so hard, because customers expect me to be taking care of their pets,” she said. “We are really just a family-operated business.”
With Nick and Michael minding the store, Pilas frequently travels the road, tending to her special charges, delivering food, maintaining aquariums, cleaning yards, picking up and grooming pets.
“Animals are so vulnerable, they can’t take care of themselves,” she said. “All they ask is that we take care of them. In return they give us unconditional love.<HOME>
“As long as they need us,” she added. “I am here to take care of them.”
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