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LuLu & Luigi: Raising the Community Bar in Minnesota

Posted: May 8, 2012, 1:15 p.m. EDT


The Twin Cities-area boutique and salon stays true to the philosophy of providing its customers and employees with the best service and experience possible.
By Lizett Bond

Pet Product News Retailer of the Year - Outstanding Community Outreach
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines philosophy as “a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” At LuLu & Luigi, recipient of Pet Product News International’s 2012 Retailer of the Year Award for Outstanding Community Outreach, that standard is a conviction permeating every aspect of the business.

“We love to bring people and pets together in a fun way to benefit the communities that keep us alive; that is our philosophy,” said Laura Bednarczyk, co-owner with husband Paul of LuLu & Luigi, with three locations in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

Attorney Bednarczyk was longing for a career change when LuLu & Luigi opened for business across the street from her home in 2003. With that opening, serendipity stepped in and Bednarczyk’s professional journey was about to travel a new path.

“I was spending a lot of time there anyway and I started working part time and then managed one of the stores,” she said.

LuLu & Luigi owners Laura & Paul Bednarczyk
Owners Laura and Paul Bednarczyk with their dogs Choco and Rico.
In May 2010, Bednarczyk and husband Paul took that vocational rewrite one step further with the purchase of the two LuLu & Luigi boutiques in St. Louis Park and Wayzata, Minn. A third location in White Bear Lake opened in November 2010.

Today, with three boutiques and 18 employees, Bednarczyk has found her calling. Although each site is unique in architectural design, maintaining consistency in terms of product and branding is still an important factor.

“In Wayzata we are in a strip mall,” she said. “Our new White Bear Lake location is in a building in the downtown area.”

The St. Louis Park store shares a courtyard with an upscale furniture store and provides an ideal setting for many of LuLu & Luigi’s outdoor events.

Originally a boutique geared toward customers who love pets, merchandise featured pet-themed items designed for people. The evolution to pet boutique began with the original owners.

“They were very good about assessing trends,” Bednarczyk said. “We are always looking for new products and we try to focus primarily on pet apparel, toys, fun boutique items, anything that strikes our fancy.”

LuLu & Luigi’s newest location in White Bear Lake
LuLu & Luigi’s newest location in White Bear Lake features eye-catching window displays.
The results of those evaluations include the latest pet fashions, collars, carriers, unique toys, healthy treats and premium dog and cat food. In addition, each store presents a bakery case replete with baked treats.

“We will go into gift items for people if we find the right items,” she added.

Along these lines, the bereavement section is a unique offering featuring cards, magnets, memorial markers for the yard and beautiful urns providing an alternative to what is available in veterinary offices. In addition, brochures of specialty services offered by local merchants are displayed.

“There is an amazing man in the community that makes beautiful blown glass memorials,” Bednarczyk said. “We like to keep it local.”

To the rear of each boutique, the grooming “Pawlour” is manned with pet stylists ready to treat canine clients to a day of luxury. Pawlour Packages, customized shampoo and aromatherapy treatments and a selection of à la carte services, including nail trimming, ear cleaning and teeth brushing, are some of the services offered.

“We specialize in distinctive services, we have blueberry facials and treatments for the paws but, really, we want to perform the best grooming possible,” she said.

LuLu & Luigi dog apparel
LuLu & Luigi baked pet treats
LuLu & Luigi features the latest in pet fashions and case full of baked pet treats.
But above all, community service is the heart of LuLu & Luigi and giving back is the focus.

“We really try to give back to the community that supports us,” Bednarczyk said. “We are a small business and I think our customers appreciate the efforts we make to host gatherings where they can come and spend an afternoon or a few hours with family and pets.”

One of those efforts involves Pint Sized Play. Created for small dogs and their owners, it is a regular play date hosted in the St. Louis Park courtyard.

“We use the courtyard frequently because it is so beautiful and a nice way to spend a summer afternoon,” she said.

Another courtyard use occurred in March 2012, when Bednarczyk held a book signing at the St. Louis Park store for local author Suzann Yue and her book “Snort’s Special Gift.” Guests enjoyed cake and coffee for the “meet and greet.” Yue penned her book to help her own children through their grief and to provide understanding of the euthanization process following the loss of the family dog.

“It provided an opportunity for people to purchase the book and meet the local author,” Bednarczyk said.

The St. Louis Park store was also the site of a Valentine’s Day soiree. Party-going pets and their humans enjoyed cupcakes, candy, doggie treats and crafts. In addition, a photographer snapped photos of those special pets, and keepsakes in the form of a doily with paw-print served as mementos.

To celebrate the grand re-opening under the Bednarczyks’ ownership, LuLu & Luigi hosted a Spa and Wellness Day held, where else, in the St. Louis Park courtyard. Seminars featured Grooming Pawlour stylists presenting demonstrations on a variety of topics, such as proper methods of brushing between grooming appointments. Among the participants was an animal communicator, on hand to provide insight into animal behavior.

“We provided a nice healthy spread for people with fruit, cheeses and sparkling wine. It was a fun day and well attended,” she said.

When it comes to healthy dog treats, aspiring bakers could attend a pet-treat seminar under the guidance of a professional chef. Students enjoyed appetizers and wine as they fashioned bone-shaped goodies. Held in the kitchen of a local community center, participants went home with a recipe and bone-shaped cookie cutter in addition to fresh baked goodies for their canine friends.

Pet store employees at parade
LuLu & Luigi employees take a break after walking in the James J. Hill Parade in Wayzata.
Community events are often promoted in store, and the local humane society’s Walk for Animals was a beneficiary with a percentage of each Saturday’s sale proceeds donated to the organization in the month leading up to the walk.

“I think customers felt good knowing that their purchases were helping,” Bednarczyk said.

Adding flavor to their involvement with the humane society, the Whisker Whirl Gala to be held in the fall will find LuLu & Luigi enhancing the kibble of canine diners in attendance with savory gravy. Volunteers with arms draped in white linen will pour the sauce. Serving on this year’s committee, Bednarczyk has been very involved in providing items for the silent auction. In addition, LuLu & Luigi will provide goodie bags for canine revelers.

Always up for a party, the LuLu & Luigi team is also involved in the Fall Benefit for Pet Haven, a local rescue. The event includes a fashion show, with local celebrities and rescue pets strolling the catwalk, a silent auction and dinner. A local radio personality will emcee, providing introductions to those interested in adopting a dog or cat.

“It’s a really fun way to create awareness for the organization and get the word out that there are pets in need in the Twin Cities area,” she said.

AT A GLANCE

LuLu & Luigi

Location: 3699 Joppa Ave. South, St. Louis Park, Minn.

812 East Lake St.
Wayazata, Minn.

2168 3rd St.
White Bear Lake, Minn.

Owners: Paul & Laura Bednarczyk

Size:  Average Square Footage: 1,000 Retail, 500 Grooming

Employees: 3 Full Time, 15 Part Time

Years in Business: 9

Products and Services Offered: Dog and cat food, treats, bakery, collars, harnesses, leashes, apparel, greeting cards, grooming supplies, pet accessories/toys, beds, carriers, pet sympathy and gifts. Grooming and spa services, pint-sized play and speciality classes.

Website: www.luluandluigi.com

Summertime finds film buffs and their canine companions supporting local rescue organizations while enjoying Movies in the Park. Last summer’s event spotlighted Top Dog Foundation, a local rescue for hard-to-place dogs from St. Louis Park. Money raised went to creating a sanctuary for these dogs in need.

All this creativity applies to promotional events as well, and the Easter Mystery Egg promotion is a prime example. Each LuLu & Luigi location presented a beautiful Easter basket, filled with plastic eggs containing dog treats, candy or an array of discount coupons. Shoppers spending a minimum amount ($10) were allowed to choose an egg from the basket for a chance at discounts ranging from 5 percent to 30 percent. Who can resist a surprise?

“I didn’t expect it to be as successful as it was, it kind of catered to everyone’s inner child,” Bednarczyk said. “We did it the week before Easter and people were really excited about it.”

Getting the word out about promotions and fund raising events is accomplished through a monthly newsletter sent out via ConstantContact. Bednarczyk noted that the newsletter is their most effective method of advertising. In addition, Facebook and the LuLu & Luigi website provide information to customers in a cost-effective manner. But word-of-mouth remains the most important ingredient to success.

“Word-of-mouth is huge, I think that’s still the way people learn about us,” she said. “When we link up with all our community organizations, we are cross promoted all the time.”

Using email newsletters to the utmost advantage requires customer information, and instead of requesting email addresses upon checkout, the boutiques provide a notebook that allows customers to fill in their own contact information. This simple concept, suggested by an employee, is much less intrusive to shoppers.

“We try to promote ourselves by saying ‘this is what we are doing’ or ‘this is what’s new,’ but we also try to add some value to our newsletter with educational information so people look forward to reading it,” Bednarczyk said.

Complimentary professional pet photos
Complimentary professional photos were offered in store to celebrants on St. Patrick’s Day.
With 18 employees on staff, associate input and education plays an important role at LuLu & Luigi. Bednarczyk said she looks for people who are passionate about their pets and willing to learn. Training is provided via handbook and training workshops focusing on pet nutrition, grooming and products. In addition, new associates are paired with a manager or seasoned employee as they learn the ropes on the sales floor. 

These devoted staffers help keep LuLu & Luigi on task and focused. Former co-owner Liz Sand serves as marketing director and Bednarczyk said Sand’s promotional expertise allows the company to host and participate in a diverse range of events. Each new event is considered a learning experience.

“I think there is a sense of adventure there and our customers appreciate our willingness to try different things,” she said.
For the future, Bednarczyk said the sky is the limit.

“We hope to continue to expand and grow and not lose our identity,” she said. “We really want to stay true to our customers and to our employees by providing the best service and experience that we can.

“That’s what we are about and,” she added, “we are excited about it.” 

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