Change Is Good
Redlands, Calif.-based Furry Face evolved from small boutique into a full-service establishment that continually seeks to meet the needs of pets and their owners.
By Lizett Bond
Everything evolves, you can’t be afraid of change,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face, Pet Product News International’s recipient of the Retailer of the Year Outstanding Pet Services award. “You have to welcome it, how bad can it be?”
Furry Face’s original Dog and Cat Boutiki section offers customers a choice of more than 1,000 collars and leashes.
Grow’s own life has embraced that credo as her marketing, psychology and science degrees found her living in Europe, and then Asia, while employed with a large corporation. Eventually settling in the Southern California community of Redlands, Grow began to design and create apparel for her Yorkshire terrier, Tiki. In 2004, boutique attire for dogs was a novelty, and with the attention Tiki received, Grow began to branch out.
“We actually started with a pop-up tent at the Redlands Market Night,” she said. “It hit pretty fast and I can remember in the dead of winter there would be three to five people deep around our booth.”
Those customers began to ask when Grow would be opening her own store and eventually the ideal location was scouted in Redlands’ historic downtown district.
“When we first opened we were all apparel, leashes and collars,” she said.
The Dog and Cat Boutiki section of the store still carries a wide-ranging selection of these items, with more than 1,500 collars and 1,000 leashes on display and more in stock. In addition, footwear, jewelry and seasonal costumes are in the mix. Grow tests products on her own pets (she lovingly refers to all pets as fur-kids), and if she doesn’t believe in a product, she doesn’t stock it.
“I call my pack my R&D department,” she said. “When we try things out on them, we make sure they are functional and that the company will stand behind its product line.”
The progression to pet food provider began with a few lines. As more and more types and brands of food were added, pet nutrition developed into a passion for Grow.
The shop’s food selection started out small and continues to grow alongside owner Lorin Grow’s passion for pet nutrition.
“We spend a lot of time educating people on what is appropriate for their dogs to eat, and it’s individual per dog, it’s the whole process,” Grow said. “We dial things in for them.”
That enthusiasm for pet nutrition expanded and evolved to include four rows of handpicked dog food and treats as well as one full cat food isle. Through constant research, reading, reviewing panels and looking at sources, Grow said she is able to provide continuing education to customers and employees alike. Weekly in-store promotions and sampling play a strong role in this educational process.
“Food can exacerbate an issue even though it may not be the cause of the problem,” she noted. “I like to make people aware that food can be the biggest drug they will ever put into their fur-kids.”
With a philosophy aimed at improving the life of a dog or cat by providing education to owners, Grow soon saw another need, that of pet services, and so the store changed again.
“We decided we needed to go into services because at the worst of the economy, people were still taking care of their fur-kids,” she said.
Along those lines, Furry Face grooming services are all-inclusive and include a full, premium bath as well as a facial. With one groomer and one bather on staff, pets arrive at their designated appointment time much the same as a hair salon, eliminating long waits. Dogs being groomed are visible through a window in the store that looks into the salon.
Stress-free grooming is emphasized and includes training and treats with the goal of a happy dog arriving for a “Spaw Day.” Brushing tips and advice are also offered to owners for in between grooming appointments. The outcome of this program is a book that is full for months out with some customers booking an entire year of appointments in advance.
“Everything we do here is in the best interest of the four-legged kid that we are responsible for,” Grow said.
Dog daycare services follow the same all-inclusive standard, comprising socialization training, walks, games and snacks. Pets are evaluated ahead of time and the number accepted per day restricted. Grow stressed that at Furry Face, dog daycare is about quality, supervised time, not volume.
“The fur-kids are never left alone; they are constantly with someone,” she added.
Pet owners desiring overnight “Home-Style Boarding” for their pets can enjoy peace of mind knowing their “fur-kids” will be slumbering in a homelike atmosphere as they tuck in at Grow’s own residence. Boarders spend the day at the boutique’s dog daycare facility, and as evening approaches, the extended pack piles into Grow’s vehicle for the trip home. The excursion is a daily occurrence for Grow’s own dogs.
In keeping with Furry Face principals, this service is not about quantity, and quality time includes walks, playtime and treats. Overnighters are free to roam their own special quarters in Grow’s spacious home and enjoy a flat screen TV and individual beds and toys. Pet owners are sent photos, videos and text messages daily for reassurance.
AT A GLANCE
Location: 419 E. State St., Redland, CA 92373
Owner: Lorin Grow
Size: 2,000 square feet
Employees: Four full time, two part time
Years in Business: 8
Products and Services Offered: Dog and cat “Boutiki,” apparel, gifts, pet foods and treats, grooming, boarding, daycare, “spaw” services, adoption days, educational seminars, dental hygienist, microchipping, training.
“When they see the pictures or videos, the parents immediately start to relax and enjoy where they are because now they can see ‘Oh yeah, he’s happy,’” Grow said.
Services also embrace the community and include support for the Redlands Animal Shelter and various local adoption agencies. As the economy has changed and shelters have experienced budget and employee cuts, the needs of those entities have also evolved and Grow has stepped in further, fostering and obtaining homes for homeless pets.
“We have placed a couple of dozen kids in the last year and it’s growing,” she said.
Additional services include microchipping provided at cost, vaccination clinics and anesthesia-free teeth cleaning. Referrals are provided for veterinarian services and pet sitting. Dog training is one-on-one, in store and free of charge.
“We feel like that’s educating the owner,” Grow said. “It builds trust; if you build trust, customers come back.”
As an owner of therapy dogs, Grow is instrumental in putting people in contact with various therapy organizations and is planning to offer training and certification in the future. Information is also provided to those in need of service dogs for the disabled.
Furry Face also supports canines working for the safety of the community by providing the food for the Redlands Police Department’s drug-sniffing dog. Likewise, it will do the same for the arson dog that the city fire department will soon be acquiring.
“These dogs are working members of the community,” Grow said. “Whatever they need for those dogs, we will provide it.”
Endcap units are used to highlight a variety of merchandise, including summer-themed toys and fun apparel for dogs.
Promotional events include a “Five and Ten Sale” held several times per year, featuring a large array of merchandise priced at $5 or $10. The “Deal of the Week,” a Facebook promotion, runs Thursdays through Mondays with discounts on selected merchandise.
“We work with a lot of our vendors to be able to do that,” she said. “Even if vendors don’t or can’t participate, we do it anyway.”
Grow added that the best promotion is sampling food and the ability to tie those samples in with customer education.
“For me to give away weekly deals or discounts, I can’t buy advertising like that,” she said. “The value is off the charts.”
In-store events include pictures with Santa Paws and Easter Bunny photos; however, the most popular is the Halloween party and costume contest. Grow added that customers begin inquiring early about the Halloween festivities.
“We always give away great prizes,” she said.
Aside from attending special events, pets are always encouraged to visit Furry Face; toys and treats are placed at dog level throughout the store. The front counter “Boneyard” is the equivalent of a candy counter where pets can select their own treat.
“There is nothing like seeing a dog of any size gently picking up a toy or treat,” Grow noted.
Even with all that pet traffic, Grow is proud of the cleanliness of Furry Face and the fact that the pet boutique does not smell like a pet store.
“We are spotlessly clean,” she said.
Canine-level toy displays encourage four-legged shoppers at Furry Face. All Photos Courtesy of Furry Face
All this activity calls for ongoing, hands-on employee training and instruction, which includes stressing the importance of proper methods of interacting with client and pet alike in all situations.
“Furry Face employees need to have a genuine love of animals and at the same time a genuine respect and understanding,” she said. “Our training is intense; we have a lot of roles and expectations of how we want our four-legged customers handled.”
As a result of the Furry Face approach to service and education, word-of-mouth is key for getting the message out. As a marketing major, Grow tracks statistics and noted that the pet boutique averages three to five new customers a day.
“Word-of-mouth is everything,” she said.
For the future, Grow is exploring the possibility of franchising and will soon be launching a new manufacturing venture. In the meantime, she is enjoying spending each day with the objects of her passion: Furry Face, helping “fur-kids” and providing education for her customers.
“This is who we are; we want to help our customers and their fur-kids,” she said. “People want to support a business they believe in and I hope we have done that.”
And Grow is always poised to follow the next path that may present itself.
“I love what I do,” she said.
Posted: June 21, 2012, 7:40 p.m. EDT
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