Posted: March 26, 2012, 5:00 p.m. EST
For the Life of the Pet
Championing and supporting rescue and adoption work is immensely important for all 14 Georgia-based Red Bandanna Pet Food stores.
By Lizett Bond
“We are indeed much more than we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.”
Nutritionist and author Adelle Davis wrote those words as a growing awareness of health and nutrition issues gathered momentum through the ‘60s and beyond. By 1999, health-food consciousness, for many, had advanced from trend to way of life.
In the pet industry, however, “health food” still remained a niche market. As a devotee to the lifestyle, visionary businessman J.P. Margedant thought, “This applies to pets as well,” and the concept of providing the same options to four-legged family members seemed a natural course to follow. Margedant was poised on the crest of a wave that was about to sweep the industry.
“We started with one store in 1999 and from there grew at a really controlled pace, and last year we opened four new stores,” said Diana Beaty, district manager for Red Bandanna Pet Food, recipient of Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year special recognition award for Outstanding Rescue and Adoption Support. “We are doing something right because our customers are asking for more stores to be opened in their neighborhoods.”
Ranging in size from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet, each store offers a full array of natural foods for dogs and cats.
Today, with 14 stores, Red Bandanna Pet Food stays true to Margedant’s dream by providing a broad selection of all-natural, holistic and raw foods, supplements and treats, including its own Red Bandanna formulation of oven-baked foods and treats. These offerings help ensure a well-balanced diet for a high-quality life, supporting the conviction of the owner and the company motto, “For the life of the pet.”
“We believe in that philosophy,” Beaty said. “The food that we carry is all life stages and we carry the brands we believe in.”
Each outlet also features a cat section with all-natural feline treats, supplements and foods, including frozen raw, she reported, adding that cat owners tend to enjoy having their own section. In conjunction with foods and treats, the stores offer an array of pet supplies and accessories, such as toys, chews and shampoos.
Plus, eight of the stores feature self-serve dog washing facilities. With two to four tubs per site—depending on store size—the service not only provides a convenient location for customers to bathe their pets but an opportunity to develop deeper relationships.
“We just remodeled one of our stores and put in four tubs and we still have a line on Saturdays and Sundays necessitating a sign-in sheet,” Beaty said.
In addition, the self-serve facilities play a role in the company’s rescue and adoption work. Saturdays often find various rescues hosting their own dog-wash fundraisers. Participating agencies set their own price per bath and provide volunteers to assist with bathing duties while Red Bandanna supplies towels, shampoos and other bathing necessities. Event advertising is accomplished via rescue websites, as well as advertisements in all 14 stores and on the Red Bandanna Facebook page.
“The dog wash is a good will maker,” Beaty said. “And our customers are very generous.”
Red Bandanna provdies the supplies for rescues to hold dog washing fundraisers.
Championing area rescues is immensely important at Red Bandanna, and support is multi-pronged. At the corporate level, four rescues have been chosen as recipients of fundraising efforts. The decision to support several rescues was made in 2010.
“In 2010, we donated $40K to one rescue,” she said. “But there were other rescues that needed our support, so we made a decision to diversify and help more rescues.”
While store managers are influential in the corporate choice of causes to advocate, each store site also chooses its own rescue to promote according to the needs of the neighborhood. Furthermore, adoption days are often held on the weekends at each of the 14 locations.
“There are different needs in different areas,” Beaty said. “One store supported a hoarding situation by donating shampoos and supplements and assistance in getting those dogs healthy and finding homes.”
During the holiday season, the Red Bandanna Angel Tree offers customers an opportunity to donate specific items to area rescues. The tree is decorated with photo ornaments of animals, and rescue information and specific needs and requests are listed on the back of each ornament. Customers adopt an Angel from the tree and donate pet food, toys and treats.
“The Angel Tree just overflowed our office and we had to ask the rescues to come and do pickups,” Beaty noted.
Every year, Red Bandanna sells Angel Tree items that are donated to shelters.
However, it’s not just rescues benefiting from these philanthropic efforts—two truckloads of relief supplies such as blankets, food, toys, treats and other provisions where sent to victims of the 2011 tornado disasters in Alabama and Georgia.
“Red Bandanna believes in giving back to the community, but we are not frivolous in our requests, we don’t ask every day,” Beaty said. “When we do, the response from our customers is overwhelming.”
The plight of puppy mill dogs is another area of concern for the company, and Red Bandanna Pet Foods was one of the first retailers to sign the Humane Society Pledge to help stop this practice by promising not to sell puppies, kittens or other animals, Beaty reported.
At the recent opening of the new Atlanta Humane Society facility Red Bandanna was honored to be asked to take part in the opening ceremonies.
“We were one of about five local vendors asked to participate,” Beaty said. “We are very proud of that.”
Joining in is encouraged on all levels, from community to customer to pet involvement and beyond. A particular favorite of customers was the 2012 calendar contest. Customers submitted photos, and 12 winners were chosen to represent each month. Those selected also received a professional photo session. The calendar features monthly coupons for substantial product savings, and proceeds from calendar sales will be donated to chosen rescues.
As expected, leashed pets are always welcome and are greeted by name at Red Bandanna. To further enforce the feeling of belonging, the stores employ “Welcome to the Family” and “We Miss You” promotions. New customers receive a handwritten welcome card that features a coupon for a free promotional item, while those who have not visited for 90 days receive a handwritten “We Miss You” card with a discount coupon.
“We might say, ‘Hey, we are glad you came and hope Champ’s shampoo works for him, and we look forward to your next visit,” Beaty said.
Red Bandanna supports rescue and adoption on site and at local events.
To help customers network and find referrals, the company presents a Community Book in each store. Services endorsed in the book are first vetted with a personal visit. Once approved, information is placed in the book for customers to peruse.
Word-of-mouth continues to be the most effective form of advertising for Red Bandanna Pet Food, and by providing a selection of high-quality foods, treats and supplements, coupled with community involvement, the company maintains a high public profile. But the “Red Bandanna Experience” is crucial when it comes to maintaining customer satisfaction.
“It’s the whole picture: the greeting, opening the door for customers, it’s employee knowledge, it’s the interactions,” Beaty said. “When a customer leaves the store we want them to say ‘Wow, what just happened?’”
In that regard, employee training remains a key ingredient to the overall success of Red Bandanna Pet Food, she reported. An intensive training program assists associates in understanding the roles of supplements and ingredients and how to tie product together. An additional training component provides customer service guidance as seasoned managers “shadow” new associates, imparting “Red Bandanna Experience” techniques in preparation to working alone on the sales floor.
“We encourage employees to learn because the more they know the better they are able to help customers and sell product,” she added.
Beaty looks for employees with a love of both animals and people.
“I look for a spark in their eye, if they don’t have retail experience, I can teach that,” she said. “But they have to love animals and they have to love people, because we may sell animal products, but we sell to people.”
What’s next for the retail chain?
“Growth, expansion; you are going to hear more about Red Bandanna Pet Food, we’re coming,” Beaty said. “We may never be the biggest, but we can be the best.”
AT A GLANCE
Red Bandanna Pet Food
Location: 14 locations in the Atlanta area
Owner: J.P. Margedant
Employees: 14 full time, 13 part time
Square footage: 1,000 to 1,500
Years in Business: 13
Products and Services Offered: Natural, holistic and raw dog and cat foods, treats and supplements; pet supplies; self-serve dog wash; adoption days; Angel Tree; and charity dog wash events.
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.