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Retailer of the Year 2012-2013: Outstanding General Pet Store

Posted: March 12, 2013, 2:55 p.m. EST


Serving Up Good Ol' Southern Hospitality
Providing top-notch service—whether to its customers or community-—is the name of the game for Savannah, Ga.-based TailsSpin, and it does it all with a touch of down-home charm.
By Lizett Bond

Outstanding General Pet StoreGracious Savannah, Ga., often referred to as the “Hostess City of the South,” exudes hospitality and charm. By embracing that genteel Southern style, TailsSpin Premium Pet Food & Accessories, 2012-2013 Retailer of the Year award winner for Outstanding General Pet Store, has flourished.

When TailsSpin co-owners Jusak Bernhard and Jeffrey Manley relocated to the historic port city from Southern California in 2006, they arrived with a vision: creating a neighborhood store with an inviting “Mom and Pop” ambience.

TailsSpin pet store
TailsSpin pet supplies
TailsSpin, which has three locations in Georgia, focuses on high-quality, holistic and hypoallergenic food and accessories. Photos Courtesy of TailsSpin Premium Pet Food & Accessories
Having toiled in the Los Angeles film industry prior to their move, where 14- to 16-hour days were the norm, neither men were strangers to hard work and both were familiar with the saying, “You are only as good as your last job.”

“You always have to put your best foot forward. I think that attitude really sustained us,” Bernhard said.

“One of the things we learned is that we had to be willing and able to fulfill promises,” Manley added.

While still living in Southern California, they adopted their beloved dog Kai from a local rescue agency. Kai suffered from food allergies, thus shining a spotlight on the role proper diet plays in the health of a pet. After a year of research and plenty of trial and error, a holistic veterinarian helped them select a diet that alleviated Kai's symptoms. Their journey sparked a deep interest in the topic of nutrition.

“We studied nutrition and dog behavior and thought, ‘This might be our calling,'” Bernhard said.

That enthusiasm fed their desire to establish a high-quality, hypoallergenic and holistic pet food and accessories store and to provide a service within the pet community. They wanted to become personally acquainted with customers and their pets and to partner with those folks to help solve pet issues. The pair knew that education and outstanding customer service were crucial attributes to reaching that objective.

“We wanted to provide the best shopping experience for our customers and to be their friends,” Manley said.

On Oct. 5, 2007, the pair put that passion into play with the opening of their first TailsSpin location adjacent to Savannah's historic Forsyth Park.

“Our goal was to help people so they didn't have to go through the same trial and error that we did,” Bernhard said.

Drawing on past business know-how, including an involvement with nonprofits in New York, the duo began to create a community and support system within the store.

The shopping experience was a hit, and by April 2009, TailsSpin had outgrown the original 600-square-foot location, necessitating a move to the current, 2,600-square-foot building in mid-town Savannah. In October 2011 doors opened at a 3,500-square-foot location in nearby Pooler, Ga., and the 3,700-square-foot Macon, Ga., store welcomed customers in November 2012.

Dog park opening
TailsSpin co-owners Jeffrey Manley and Jusak Bernhard (1st and 2nd from left) help open a public dog park.
At all three stores, listening to consumer needs and changing to meet those requirements, if necessary, has been another essential element in creating the desired atmosphere. That evolution includes adapting to the economic changes experienced by customers.

“We always are evolving, and when the bad economy hit, we decided to start looking around for more affordable products that fit our philosophy,” Manley said. “We still sell all the different brands, and we have a ‘good, better, best' system.”

All TailsSpin food offerings are corn-, wheat- and soy-free, he added.

Beyond pet food, the product mix includes collars, leashes, supplements, shampoos and toys. The Pooler and Macon locations each feature a self-serve dog wash, with two and three tubs respectively.

With education and service always the focal point, it takes outstanding employees to embody the TailsSpin experience.

“Our employees are our mouthpieces, so we always are looking to increase their knowledge,” Bernhard said.

The extensive training includes seminars from manufacturers, trainers, veterinarians and groomers. As these experts impart their expertise, employees, in turn, become well-versed in diverse aspects of pet ownership, including reading food labels. That education then is applied daily as employees assist customers with their selection of foods and supplies.

“If there is a question about food ingredients, we can turn the bag over and show them,” Manley said. “We have to basically be walking signs and talking brochures.”

At a Glance
TailsSpin Premium
Pet Food & Accessories

Location: 3 stores: 4501 Habersham St., Savannah, GA 31405; 473 Pooler Parkway
Pooler, GA 31322; 570 Mulberry St., Macon, GA 31201

Owners: Jusak Bernhard and Jeffrey Manley

Size: 3,200 square feet, average

Employees: 26

Years in Business:5

Products and Services Offered: Grain free, hypoallergenic pet food, collars, leashes, supplements, shampoos and toys, self-serve dog wash, adoption days, vaccination clinics.

Website: www.tailsspin.com

Should an associate be unable to answer a question, he or she is encouraged to seek help in finding the solution.

For this reason, a positive attitude and a sincere desire to work with customers in solving their issues are essential attributes for TailsSpin employees.
“We also send our management team to business seminars and trade shows,” Bernhard noted.

Because customers are encouraged to bring their four-legged family members along for shopping trips, a treat bag completes the employee uniform. Not only does this bag bear special goodies for visiting pets, it also holds a tape measure, pens and a notepad.

To further assist customers, TailsSpin created a local pet care directory with referrals for service providers, such as trainers, veterinarians and groomers. This publication also is included in adoption packages.

As an important component to the TailsSpin philosophy, adoptions are encouraged and promoted with in-store events and fundraisers held throughout the year. New pet parents receive an adoption kit that includes a free engraved tag, a bag of food, a discount coupon for the first purchase and a complementary dog wash. For fundraising purposes, the self-serve dog washes often are put to use with rescue agency volunteers scrubbing away and TailsSpin providing the suds.

“The customer gets a full-serve dog wash at a self-serve price and the rescue keeps all the proceeds,” Manley said.

Besides in-store adoptions and fundraisers, several large adoption events are held each year. The annual Halloween PAWrade features local rescue agencies with adoptable dogs along with vendors, games and a pet parade and costume contest. Funds raised benefit area rescues and a local elementary school, which partners in the fete.

“We invite all the local rescue agencies and usually raise from $20,000 to $35,000,” Bernhard said.

The annual Pet Care and Adoption Fair, which is set up in the large parking lot adjacent to the Savannah store, features participation from area veterinarians, trainers, groomers and local, independent shop owners. Monies raised benefit area rescue agencies and the neighboring elementary school.

TailsSpin staff memeber
Store employees go through rigorous training to help customers select the best food for their pets' needs.
At the downtown Macon store, with street parking only, a “Tailgate Adoption” takes place curbside with the street closed during the event. Rescue agencies set up in the backs of trucks or vans as potential adopters stroll from vehicle to vehicle to be greeted by pets yearning for a forever homes.

“We provide a venue where all the rescue agencies can come together and bring a little more awareness,” Manley said. “It's important for us to support each other.”

That support extends to students, seniors, the military and low-income households with low-cost vaccination clinics held monthly in conjunction with local veterinarians and the Humane Society.

Upcoming for 2013, the “Woof-Woof Run” will meld the running and pet communities as participants pound the pavement to spotlight pet cancer. TailsSpin will team up with a local running shoe retailer to raise funds for this cause.

Supporting the Savannah canine community is always at the forefront, and in 2011, through tireless effort, Bernhard and Manley were instrumental in establishing Herty Pines Dog Park, Savannah's first city-run public dog park.

“It took us 21/2 years, but we got almost three acres in a corner of a beautiful park,” Bernhard said. “It's widely used and is bringing people from outside of Savannah to come and visit because of the dog park.”

TailsSpin low-cost vaccination clinic
TailsSpin teams up with local groups to host pet adoption events and low-cost vaccination clinics.
Community involvement and a sincere desire to serve, combined with outstanding customer service, is the best form of advertising for TailsSpin, but getting the word out also is accomplished via print, radio and local television ads.

For the future, an online store is in the offing as well as home delivery service for downtown residents and an expansion of events. Additionally, the partners envision opening two more stores.

“We will keep evolving, that's our goal,” Bernhard said. “But our mission is about serving, we want to help our community.” 

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