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Retailer of the Year 2012-2013: Outstanding Companion Animal Promotion Award

Posted: Dec. 21, 2012, 1:00 p.m. EST


Joie de Chats et Chiens
Southern California-based Pussy & Pooch celebrates and promotes the benefits of companion animals—and the accompanying pet-owner lifestyle—through a variety of in-store and community events, as well as a select offering of quality products.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

What’s one of the hippest hot spots for trendy Southern California pets and their owners? A retail and pet service boutique called Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar.

Reatiler of the Year Outstanding Companion Animal PromotionDescribed by co-owner Janene Zakrajsek as “an interactive pet lifestyle destination and retail environment for pets and their people,” the boutique’s two locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., offer a range of modern luxuries for dogs and cats, including a walk-up food bar, a full-service spa and a variety of trendy and top-quality products for discerning pet owners.

Talk about living the life—but it wasn’t like that in downtown Los Angeles before Zakrajsek and her husband and co-owner, Rob Gaudio, residents of the area, opened Pussy & Pooch five years ago. The cat and dog lovers had to leave their neighborhood to shop for their pets.

“We developed the concept for Pussy & Pooch while living in downtown Los Angeles, which, at the time, was a community underserving its professional and residential inhabitants with pets,” Zakrajsek said.

Pussy & Pooch in Long Beach, Calif.
The Long Beach store’s windowed front invites passersby to come inside. Photos courtesy of Pussy & Pooch.
When Pussy & Pooch opened its doors in 2007, it filled that need by providing the community with top quality pet supplies and services. Zakrajsek and Gaudio expanded to the Belmont Shore area of Long Beach in 2009.

Zakrajsek, Gaudio and their staff of five full-time and 12 part-time employees do a great deal to promote the joys of companion animals—which is why Pet Product News International’s editorial team chose Pussy & Pooch as its 2012-2013 Retailer of the Year Outstanding Companion Animal Promotion award recipient.

Mix and Mingle
What better way to celebrate companion pets than to throw a party for them? Pussy & Pooch hosts monthly Mutt Mingles and Meow Mingles, which are social mixers for pets and the people who love them, Zakrajsek said.

“The Mingles provide a great way for pets to learn valuable social skills and interact in a social setting that isn’t intimidating,” she said. “We host the events at both Pussy & Pooch locations, and pets are welcome to be off-leash while supervised by their owners.”

The success of Meow Mingles is something Zakrajsek is most proud of.

“Why should dogs have all the fun?” she said. “We successfully launched the Meow Mingle event series in 2011 with our cat’s 15th birthday (Quincenara) celebration. The cat socials were an instant hit with our feline-forward clients, proving cats and their humans can be social, too.

“Like our monthly Mutt Mingles, the Meow Mingles are festive in-store socials where cats bring their humans for a sip, nibble, some mingle and lots of petting,” Zakrajsek continued. “We mix the cocktail party up with raffle prizes, swag bags, special guests, kitty adoptions, free claw trims and fresh-made, take-away cat treats. We have had up to 20 cats in the store—no cat fights here, just a celebration and appreciation for our feline friends.”

Mutt Mingle at Pussy & Pooch's LA location.
Pets and owners party at a Mutt Mingle in L.A.
Adoption events, such as Paws on the Patio, are another way that Pussy & Pooch promotes the companion animal lifestyle. Partnering with rescue groups, such as Downtown Dog Rescue, Kitty Bungalow, Los Angeles Animal Services, Long Beach Spay and Neuter, Seal Beach Animal Center and Lu Parker Project, the shops provide the perfect environment for prospective owners to meet and greet dogs and cats seeking homes.

“Interested adoptive parents are given easy access to all furbies in need and are encouraged to touch, hold and snuggle in an effort to bond with their potential, and new, fur family member,” Zakrajsek said.

For those who take home a new pet, Pussy & Pooch provides a $25 bag of healthful food, as well as a complete list of all the products they’ll need to welcome their new dog or cat.

“We want new pet parents to get started on the right path to health and wellness,” Zakrajsek noted.

Inform, Educate, Inspire
Because Pussy & Pooch employees have a keen understanding of what suits customers’ pets and their combined lifestyles best, they strive to “inform, educate and inspire customers” on a range of products and topics, including nutrition and wellness, Zakrajsek said.

50/50
What’s in a name? In Southern California-based Pussy & Pooch’s case, it’s everything.

Founded by husband and wife “petrepreneur” team Rob Gaudio and Janene Zakrajsek, Pussy & Pooch is “completely and equally dedicated to cats and dogs, 50/50,” Zakrajsek said.

“We truly live what our name implies, which is something we find quite different in the market.”

Before they opened their first shop in Los Angeles five years ago, the couple—Gaudio a dog person and Zakrajsek a cat person—found they had to go to several different stores to stock up on supplies for their pets. They saw an opportunity and pounced.

“[We’re] entrepreneurs at heart; it provided an exciting challenge,” Zakrajsek said. “Could we create one destination catering to cats and dogs with a focus on pet health and wellness, products good for the environment that were also design-forward, and a place to socialize, educate, rescue and serve a community in need? The answer was yes, and Pussy & Pooch was born.”

Lucky for Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., cats and dogs—and their owners.   —WBW

A main feature of the shops is the Pawbar, a walk-up food bar created and trademarked by Zakrajsek and Gaudio that allows pets to sample nutritious raw-food meals before their owners purchase them.

“Like with people, tasting is believing,” Zakrajsek said. “The Pawbar provides us with an opportunity to educate and really show pet owners healthy nutrition options and how they can incorporate healthy goods from their home into their pets’ meal for additional nutritional value.”

Nutrition is one of their passions, she noted.

“We are outspoken advocates for healthy pet nutrition and animal wellness, and we are passionate about sharing our knowledge and experiences to better educate pet owners about the importance of a natural diet and quality of ingredients,” Zakrajsek said.

Pussy & Pooch also promotes healthy nutrition through its annual “What’s in Their Bowl? Win Food!” campaign. Using advertising, flier drops, in-store displays, educational articles, social media, special events, giveaways and contests, the shops create awareness of natural pet nutrition and a holistic pet lifestyle during the four- to six-week event, Zakrajsek said. 

“We encourage pet parents to learn more about healthier pet food ingredients and how to feed a more natural, complete and balanced diet to their pets,” she said.

“One of the most compelling elements of the campaign is our online photo contest where pet parents enter to win free food for a year,” Zakrajsek continued. “Response to the campaign has been stellar with entry submissions growing each year.”

In addition to marketing campaigns and its one-on-one attention at the Pawbar and on the sales floor, Pussy & Pooch uses email newsletters, “The Hydrant” blog, and social media channels as regular communication tools, Zakrajsek reported.

“We also host a variety of in-store events throughout the year with a deep focus on education and advocacy across a variety of petcentric themes and trends, including healthy pet nutrition, socialization, health and wellness, learning and stimulation, rescue, spay and neuter, trap and release and other key topics,” Zakrajsek said.

Retail Savvy, Too
In addition to celebrating pets through social events and teaching owners to make the most of the “pet lifestyle,” Pussy & Pooch holds regular retail campaigns that boost its bottom line. Two of them—Go Green! Bark & Meow for Green! and 12 Days of Twinkle—have become annual events.

Pussy & Pooch's pet product display
Artful touches are featured in every display.
“Our annual ‘Go Green!’ campaign runs throughout the month of April and is our way to showcase the best in eco-friendly and eco-chic products for dogs and cats,” Zakrajsek said, adding that the shops already are committed “365 days a year to helping reduce a pet’s carbon paw print.”

Throughout April, the shops transform into even more eco-friendly environments with bright visual displays that showcase top eco-friendly product picks and special in-store events that educate customers about being environmentally conscious.

“From everyday essentials to toys, bedding, scratchers, apparel, accessories, nutritional supplements and diet, we make ‘going green’ and ‘living green’ with pets easy, every day,” Zakrajsek said.

During the store’s annual 12 Days of Twinkle campaign, Pussy & Pooch features a range of holiday-themed promotions, limited-time sales, special Mutt Mingle and Meow Mingle holiday socials, charitable gift wrapping and Operation Santa Paws Donation Drives.

“There’s also lots of cheer and a very festive environment for shoppers to find unique holiday gift ideas for pets and their people,” Zakrajsek said. “To help those pet buying gift-givers ease the pain of what to buy, we offer the Pussy & Pooch Holiday Gift Guide featuring the best in pet products as well as staff picks.”

Expanding the Lifestyle
To stay competitive in the marketplace, Pussy & Pooch continues to grow the “pet lifestyle” concept in its shops.

At a Glance
Pussy & Pooch

Location: 2 stores; Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

Owners: Janene Zakrajsek and Rob Gaudio

Size: 2,500 square feet, average

Employees: 5 full-time, 12 part-time

Years in Business: 5

Products and Services Offered: Products include boutique, cat, dog and gift; services include adoption days, grooming, delivery, educational seminars and obedience training.

Website: www.pussyandpooch.com

“We always are looking at ways to evolve our business and best serve our customers and their lifestyles,” Zakrajsek said.

In the past year, the stores have grown their Meat Market (food) sections, added local delivery and curbside pickup services, boosted their online shopping presence and expanded their full-service grooming repertoire to include creative pet styling, Zakrajsek reported.

“Providing an exceptional customer service experience for pets and their people, as well as continued growth in all areas of our product and services offering and opening additional locations will have the largest impact in continuing to positively grow the Pussy & Pooch brand,” Zakrajsek said.
Being able to affect the community is rewarding, she added.

“We are able to make a positive change and influence, whether on a large scale, as in our community, or on an individual basis, one animal/human at a time,” Zakrajsek said. “We are very proud of what Pussy & Pooch has contributed to our neighborhood communities and to our local animal welfare groups. We are passionate about consistently delighting our customers as they discover new products or helpful solutions in caring for their animals.”

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