Doing Well by Doing GoodBy Lizett Bond
By focusing equally on family, community and pet nutrition, the Connecticut-based retailer shows it has its heart in the right place.
It’s an American institution, that dream of creating an entrepreneurial legacy.
The Pet Pantry Warehouse saga began in 1945 with World War II Army Air Forces servicemen, Mort Davis and Jac Cohen. The pair formed their alliance over a British puppy adopted by Davis while stationed in wartime England. After accomplishing a stateside transfer for the lucky pup, the two remained friends, joining forces in the pet food business. Davis passed away in the late ‘60s, but Cohen soldiered on with their enterprise.
The Pet Pantry Warehouse torch passed to the Jacobson family in 1995 with the purchase of the venerable Greenwich, Conn., establishment. A commercial real estate broker, Barry Jacobson acquired the business, and his two sons, Ari and Adam, still in college, began working in the store during summer break, along with childhood friend Joshua Roth.
|Pet Pantry Warehouse has been named Pet Product News International's 2011/2012 Retailer of the Year.|
"My father purchased dog food at Pet Pantry Warehouse and had become close to Jac over the years,” Ari Jacobson said.
Today, the legacy continues to stay the course, with Barry Jacobson, president; Adam Jacobson, executive vice president; Ari Jacobson, vice president; and Joshua Roth, vice president; all of which are at the helm of Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year.
In 1971, the original warehouse site in Greenwich, Conn., relocated to the current 12,000-square-foot facility. Additional locations opened in Rye, N.Y., in 2006 and Larchmont, N.Y., in 2011. A fourth, 6,000-square-foot location in New Canaan, Conn., is slated to open in late 2011.
"The growth has been a recent endeavor,” Roth said. "It’s been our goal, but we wanted to have a good foundation before we started expanding.”
When the Jacobsons took over operations, the majority of the Greenwich facility was devoted to warehouse space, primarily delivering to wholesale customers, with 1,000 square feet allocated for retail sales. The original retail space is now devoted to fresh and saltwater fish and supplies to satisfy those with aquatic interests.
|From left to right: Pet Pantry Warehouse principles Joshua Roth, Adam Jacobson, Ari Jacobson and Emery Kriegsman.|
"We wanted to create a more modern format for the store, so we decided to knock down a wall and move into the warehouse,” Adam Jacobson said.
Due to its emphasis on pet nutrition, and the recent shift in the pet industry to a more heightened consumer interest in pet health, has allowed the business to focus on presenting a large and diverse selection of holistic and organic foods, including frozen raw.
"This company was always a distributor for Bil-Jac and Abady, so we had a walk-in freezer when we purchased the store,” Ari said. "When that market started growing in that niche, we took advantage of the ability to facilitate the frozen food.”
Ari noted that beyond an interest in promoting pet nutrition, offering higher quality pet foods further differentiates the Pet Pantry Warehouse brand from the big box stores, allowing it to retain a mom-and-pop identity.
"We are trying to be different by offering exceptional customer service and better pet nutrition,” Ari said. "We try to have a really broad spectrum of high-quality product.”
Besides pet foods, all Pet Pantry Warehouse locations carry a wide selection of pet supplies, including collars, leashes and bedding, as well as aquatic supplies.
In addition to these products, the Greenwich location features reptiles, small birds, small animals and supplies for those pets, including cages and food. The New Canaan store will present a similar selection.
"It’s definitely a full line,” Adam said.
With pet nutrition a significant aspect of the Pet Pantry Warehouse philosophy, education for employees and customers alike is of equal importance. Employee training is extensive and ongoing. New employees study a curriculum consisting of models in customer service, nutrition and merchandising. Small group lectures and testing are included in the course of study. Further product understanding is enhanced by manufacturers that are invited to present product seminars.
|Pet health and nutrition considerations play a central role in product selections.|
As a result of this intensive training, sales associates acquire the necessary skills to interact with, assist and educate customers by providing answers to pet nutrition questions and exceptional customer service.
"It’s really important to us that if one of our staff doesn’t have the answer, they will find it,” Roth noted. "Our comprehensive employee training program sets us apart.”
With 40 employees, Roth added that enthusiasm for learning is an important attribute in a new hire. Due to the emphasis on education, past experience is not as important as an eagerness to learn.
Along those lines, promotions that successfully combine education and marketing are a crucial consideration. The store’s Counter Promotion was developed to merchandise seasonal and health-related items, which are featured at the registers. Sales associates are provided training and information regarding the monthly highlighted product. Manufacturers are receptive to these promotions as well, as they provide exposure and branding opportunities.
"Since we tend to go through 400 to 500 items during the month, we obviously have a preemptive conversation beforehand to make sure they are going to have enough product,” Roth said.
For example, during flea season, natural repellent sprays took a spin at the counter. Because of the storewide emphasis on natural products, the objective was to demonstrate all-natural options to combat the flea dilemma.
"It was a win-win for everybody and a very successful counter promotion,” Roth added.
AT A GLANCE
Pet Pantry Warehouse
Locations: Greenwich, Conn., 12,000 sq. ft.; Rye, N.Y., 4,000 sq. ft.; Larchmont, N.Y., 2,000 sq. ft.
Owners: Owned and operated by the Jacobson family
Employees: 20 full time, 20 part time
Years in Business: 66
Products and Services Offered: A full line of holistic, organic pet foods, including frozen raw; collars, leashes, bedding and toys; small animals, reptiles, small birds and supplies; fresh and saltwater fish (Greenwich only); aquariums and supplies; adoption days, lecture series.
Looking to the future, the humanization of pets translates to consumers continuing to seek more knowledge when it comes to health and nutrition for their pets, according to Roth. With this in mind, a monthly lecture series for customers began in early 2011, with presentations provided by pet professionals.
Called the PPW Lecture Series, the first presentation introduced a prominent local veterinarian and owner of a clinic promoting high-tech, holistic treatments to discuss integrative veterinary care. The following month featured an acupuncture presentation by another veterinarian from the same clinic.
"One of the topics coming up this fall is a discussion regarding vaccine programs,” Roth said.
Informing customers about new products, counter promotions and lecture series topics is easily accomplished through the Pet Pantry Warehouse Pet One Rewards program. This two-tiered membership program allows participants to take advantage of promotional sales on hundreds of items throughout the stores.
Beyond sales rewards, customers in the program’s database also receive emails and a monthly newsletter highlighting promotional items and upcoming events.
"We started to develop this program about five years ago,” Roth said.
The most valuable aspect of the loyalty rewards program, according to Roth, is the ability to capture customer data and learn from it. In turn, customers with specific interests receive promotional and product information related to that need or preference.
"We even send out personalized letters and attach a promotional device to it,” he added.
With the store credo "We can do well by doing good,” community service is a major ingredient of the Pet Pantry Warehouse philosophy.
"We really are making community service about how we are doing business and the type of brand we want to establish,” Adam said. "We want to be more than just another pet store in the local community.”
For the past 10 years, Pet Pantry Warehouse has worked closely with Adopt-A-Dog, a local animal shelter located in Greenwich, and four years ago began producing the Howl and Prowl Halloween Parade fundraiser to benefit the shelter. The event has grown each year, with approximately 500 people and pets parading up and down Greenwich Avenue at last year’s event.
Initially held at the store, the event quickly outgrew that venue and moved to the main strip. The pageant culminates with a costume contest. With all proceeds going to Adopt-A-Dog, last year’s event raised $4,000.
"It’s been great because local retailers participate by providing trick-or-treat stations to pass out special dog treats that we drop off in a bin,” Roth said. "It may be a bone, biscuits or a toy, the manufacturers have been great in providing treats.”
"People love pets, they love dressing them up and they love giving back to the community, and Adopt-A-Dog is a great organization,” he added.
In addition, in-store adoption days are held several times per month in cooperation with a variety of different rescues.
The Good Dog Foundation, a nonprofit pet therapy group, holds regular canine temperament evaluations at all Pet Pantry Warehouse locations. Dogs with suitable dispositions receive training and certification as pet therapy dogs. The Rye location recently held a dog wash to benefit this foundation.
"It was modeled after a high school-type of car wash,” Roth said.
|In addition to pet foods, all Pet Pantry Warehouse locations carry a wide selection of pet supplies, including collars, leashes and bedding.|
The event featured a local groomer donating her expertise, tub setups in the parking lot and employees tackling the bathing chores. At the end of the day, 10 percent of total sales were donated to the foundation. Attending children were treated to a craft table to decorate their own dog biscuit boxes donated by Polka Dog. Stickers, crayons and other craft supplies allowed children to take a biscuit-filled work of art home with their freshly washed pets.
"Catering to family and especially children is a big belief for us,” Ari noted. "Down the road we are looking at presenting workshops and learning sessions to teach children about specific animals.”
Children of the four-legged variety are always encouraged to visit as well.
"Without them, we wouldn’t have the industry we do,” Roth noted.
And for the future legacy of Pet Pantry Warehouse?
"I think for Josh, Ari and myself as a group, we really want to be one of those places that is remembered for doing good for the community,” Adam said. "We are not just another business that is opening up to collect money and sell dog food, we are part of the community, we are a family-owned business, an independent business, and we really take that to heart.
"We want to be remembered as a great company that does things for people,” he added.
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