Posted: June 4, 2012, 3:45 p.m. EDT
Betting on Boutique
A one-of-a-kind pet store in small-business friendly Austin, Texas, knows how to make customers feel special.
By Devon McPhee
A life-long dog lover, Lisa Conrad worked in dog boutiques throughout college. Upon graduation, she wanted to open up her own pet store. Her parents, Lauren and Mike, were in a position to retire from corporate life and try their hands at something new. The trio decided to take the plunge and launch a dog boutique together.
Owner Lisa Conrad with her parents—and co-owners—Lauren and Mike.
That boutique, Dogadillo in Austin, Texas, opened its doors in November 2007. Specializing in higher-end products for dogs—everything from collars to food to sports equipment—the pet store also features small cat and gift sections, as well as its own line of private-label products. Designed with subtlety in mind, the buttery-yellow walls of the shop sport a few pieces of paw print artwork, and various cabinets feature dog-shaped doorknobs.
“We didn’t want a place that screamed dog boutique,” Lisa said. “If you removed the dog products and brought in women’s clothes, the space would still work.”
The 1,500-square-foot shop has earned a number of accolades since debuting five years ago, including the 2009 Most Awesome-ist Dog Boutique and the 2010 Most Awesome-ist Yappy Hour from Austin Pet’s Directory, Young Business of the Year 2009 from the local chamber of commerce, and Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year Award for Outstanding Pet Boutique.
What makes Dogadillo special, Lisa Conrad noted, is its customer service and product mix. Employees receive intensive training on all pet products so they can provide knowledgeable advice, as the pet shop is known for its one-on-one help.
“We really try to get to know our customers and their pets so we can get them the items that they need,” she said.
Dogadillo was designed to not look like a typical dog boutique store.
When choosing products, the Conrads reported they are extremely picky: they do not want to carry the same items as everyone else. To that end, the family spends countless hours researching new pet products online and scouring trade publications and attending trade shows looking for those one-of-a-kind items.
Mike Conrad, a former biochemist, takes the lead on researching new foods and treats. His background allows him to fully understand the fine print on ingredient labels, what the benefits are and if it truly is a healthy food. He also calls manufacturers to ask questions about their products, further ensuring that Dogadillo’s customers are offered topline pet products.
The product mix also has to appeal to the store’s two main types of customers. The first is middle-class families with one or two dogs. The wife usually does the shopping for this group and is looking for economical items, especially when it comes to collars and beds, Lisa reported. The second is single 20- and 30-somethings who pamper their pets and treat them like children. These owners would rather do without than deny a treat for their pet, Lisa said.
To that end, the Conrads keep their products within a reasonable price point, but do not hold back on style or craftsmanship.
“We’re not over-priced or snobby,” Lisa said. “But we do want to make our customers feel like they’re spoiling their pets.”
Another way the Conrads help their customers spoil their pets is by hosting a number of themed events throughout the year.
Biggest Bang for the Advertising Bucks
The Conrads—husband and wife Mike and Lauren, and daughter Lisa—have marketed Austin, Texas-based Dogadillo, the pet boutique they co-own, in a number of mediums, including event sponsorship, print and radio. Yet they say the biggest bang for their advertising buck has been television.
Their 30-second commercial, which airs on two local stations, was professionally shot by a crew from a local television station. The crew set up in the store for a couple of hours, filming products and the sales floor, as well as the store’s resident Vizslas and a staged customer interaction. A voiceover provided information about the store.
“We noticed the biggest increase in traffic as well as interest in our store through phone calls and emails [resulting] from our commercial,” Lisa said. “The commercials helped spread our name to people who do not live in our immediate area. It also let people know what kind of products we carry, as well as let them know that the mall we are located in is dog-friendly and that they could bring their pups and spend the day out here…It’s been very successful.”—DM
Housed in a dog-friendly outdoor mall, Dogadillo holds a Yappy Hour the second Tuesday of every month. A mix of education and socialization, the event includes a guest speaker on topics that have ranged from canine massage to nutrition and pet photography to doggie first aid. Owners snack on wine and appetizers, while their pets indulge in treats. The event usually brings in 30 dogs and their human families every month.
A popular Halloween costume contest, with prizes for categories such as scariest, funniest and most creative, pulls in about 100 dogs and their families every year. Activities include face painting and balloon animals for the kids, as well as an agility contest for the dogs. Sales during the contest are through the roof, Lisa said.
“We sell everything—toys, treats, collars, last-minute costumes,” she said.
The largest event Dogadillo offers every year is a Wag-a-thon Walk-a-thon fundraiser for 14 local rescue groups. The walk consists of a two-and-a-half mile loop around the mall. Working with co-sponsor Subaru, the most recent fundraiser brought in 725 participants, up from 350 dogs the year before.
Looking to capitalize on these successes, Lisa said she and her parents hope to introduce a number of new events this year, including ice cream socials and a dog Olympics to occur at the same time as the upcoming Summer Olympics.
The Conrads are also looking to refresh the store, making room for new products and food, as well as to increase its presence on social media, she said. Long term, they’re looking to expand to multiple locations, most likely in nearby San Antonio and Dallas.
AT A GLANCE
Location: 12912 Hill Country Boulevard, Austin, Texas
Owners: Lisa, Lauren and Mike Conrad
Employees: 3 full time, 3 part time
Size: 1,500 square-feet
Years in Business: 4
Products and Services Offered:Boutique items for dogs, including collars, bedding, accessories, clothes, bowls, carriers, grooming products, water sports gear, and all-natural food and treats. Store also has small cat and gift sections, and private-label items.
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.