Posted: August 8, 2013, 5:00 p.m. EDT
The enduring legacy of Reber Ranch and its commitment to customers, community and what’s to come is boundless.
By Lizett Bond
Reber Ranch embodies the catchy phrase, "Here we grow again!” But cute clichés aside, had Darrell and Sally Reber gazed into a crystal ball upon opening their Kent, Wash., equine boarding stable, the duo might have christened their operation with such a motto from the start.
The family-owned business, named 2014 Pet Product News International’s One to Watch Retailer of the Year, began its journey in 1984 by converting a small portion of a large barn, sited on its 46-acre boarding facility, into a feed and supply shop. Intended to support boarders and the local horse community, the customer base included trainers and their equine athletes from Longacres Racetrack in nearby Renton, Wash. The track closed in 1992, but the Rebers adapted, constructing barns and a quarter-mile training track to accommodate the animals displaced by the closure.
Currently 18,000 square feet, Reber Ranch plans to open an on-site veterinary practice on Sept. 1, 2013. Courtesy of Reber Ranch.
A 1991 fire destroyed the original store, but the family rebuilt, expanding into the entire 18,000 square-foot barn.
Today, equine feed, tack and supplies still comprise a large percentage of Reber Ranch’s business. To accommodate changing demographics, and as the area has become more urban, dog and cat food, treats and supplies, including toys, beds and leashes, have become equally significant. In addition, small animal and wild bird products, poultry and supplies, apparel, home décor and gift items are in the mix.
"Our mission is to serve all of domesticated pet ownership, with a focus on the horse, canine and feline,” said Bill Greene, general manager.
Reber Ranch stocks more than 28 brands of premium pet foods. Recently, to increase display efficiency, newly designed shelving was installed along with eight brightly colored glass-door freezers.
"A year ago, we had one solid door freezer and one chest freezer,” he said. "We are running over 64 percent on raw foods.”
Their commitment to the health of furry family members will soon include an on-site veterinary practice.
The clinic, with three veterinarians on staff, is slated to open Sept. 1, 2013, and will benefit dogs, cats and small animals.
Reber Ranch also is dedicated to customer convenience. At the same time, a grooming salon and a seven-bay self-serve dog wash will join the vast and wide-ranging array of products and services.
Local equestrians are anticipating this month’s launch of a revitalized, full-service boarding concern.
Barns and turnouts will receive a facelift, and the updated facilities will accommodate up to 46 horses. Boarders will enjoy access to one indoor and two outdoor arenas.
Presently, equestrians use these amenities to participate in training clinics, demonstrations and horse shows.
Human and canine customers alike reap rewards for visiting Reber Ranch. Courtesy of Reber Ranch.
Not stopping there, a doggie day care, a pet hotel and canine indoor training and agility facilities are all in the planning stages and slated to open in 2014. Because the weather in western Washington is often inclement, the new canine facility also will feature an indoor dog park to complement two existing outdoor parks.
"On a nice day, the outdoor parks are packed,” Greene said. "We have people show up with their dogs in the morning before they head off to work.”
These new amenities will be sited in a retrofitted barn building adjacent to the retail store.
Reber Ranch is not just about expansion. Meeting the needs of its community and engaging in outreach are crucial components to its way of life.
Outreach includes supporting local rescue and adoption agencies through fundraising efforts and adoption days. In true Reber Ranch fashion, these efforts include goats, horses and small animals, as well as dogs and cats.
For example, when a fire swept through the nearby town of Ellensberg, Wash., in summer 2012, the store combined efforts with a local horse rescue to send feed and supplies to equines and other animals affected by the disaster. Spreading the word to 5,000 Reber Ranch Facebook followers generated a considerable reaction.
"The customer response was just amazing,” Greene said. "We sent three trailers full of supplies and feed.”
Likewise, adoption day participants include a local goat rescue and several local 4-H clubs engaged in rescue work. One club focuses on rabbits and small animals.
"The club members usually walk away empty handed after placing all the animals,” Greene said. "It’s just incredible.”
Currently, the store partners with Kings County Animal Shelter by providing a permanent feline adoption facility within the store. Future plans are in the works to support nearby Auburn Valley Humane Society by offering the same type of in-store facility with a focus on dogs.
"We are here to help foster and care for the community of pet ownership, from rabbits to horses,” Greene explained.
Embracing community activities includes sponsorship of and participation in the city of Auburn’s yearly "Petapalooza” event. The fete, which attracts approximately 30,000 pet lovers and their four-legged companions, features a myriad of activities, including a Dog Trot, demonstrations, a pet parade and more than 150 vendors exhibiting their wares, including Reber Ranch.
"It was like Grand Central station at our booth,” Greene said. "Next year, with all the services we are adding, we’ll have our own pavilion.”
Grow Have Fun
In June, Reber Ranch becomes its own hub of activity when the Customer Appreciation Day sale takes place.
"Customer Appreciation Day is our biggest Saturday traffic day by six or seven times,” Greene said. "It’s a tremendous effort, but the fun people have!”
In addition to the sale, the 2013 event featured a pony ride with the proceeds benefiting the local Humane Society. Those not wishing to straddle a pony enjoyed a hayride tour of the facility and perused the many vendor displays and demonstrations.
All that activity required sustenance, and busy shoppers enjoyed a coffee and donut breakfast progressing to a hot dog lunch. Many brought their pets along to enjoy the good times. The day culminated in a grand-prize giveaway.
"We not only had a store full of customers, but we also had pets,” he said. "It was just a blast.”
Pets and their people kick off the holiday season with the store’s annual Halloween "Howl and Prowl.” The wide aisles of the store are transformed into a parade route, and contestants arrive dressed in their spookiest best to promenade before the judges. In addition to costume prizes, the festivities include pumpkin carving, food and hayrides. At the end of the evening, a photo provided to revelers creates a lasting memory.
"From a participation standpoint, it is probably our largest event,” Greene said.
Fall ushers in the holiday season, and patrons look forward to the store’s "Photos With Santa” event.
Pets pose with St. Nick, and shoppers browse through country- and western-themed Christmas ornaments, snow globes and pet wear.
"We did close to 140 Santa photos last year,” Greene said. "The customer interaction and participation is great.”
Customer interaction also is accomplished via Facebook and Constant Contact, through which customers enrolled in the Reber Ranch Rewards program receive notifications of special sales. In addition, members receive a $15 in-store credit for every $300 spent in purchases.
"We definitely find that people are responding to Facebook and Constant Contact,” Greene added.
The Reber Ranch Team. Courtesy of Reber Ranch.
Word of mouth remains vital.
"It is absolutely chief and paramount,” Greene said.
Personal and Personnel Growth
A principal element to the Reber Ranch experience is customer education, and the store regularly offers a variety of workshops and seminars covering a broad range of subjects.
One well-attended seminar addressed the growing interest in urban chicken farming.
"People are really embracing chickens,” Greene said. "We sold just shy of 10,000 chicks last year. The numbers increase every year, and that includes sales of chicks, feeders, waterers, supplements and coops.”
Because of this growing popularity, "Chicks Gone Wild!” is another of the store’s more successful promotional events. Taking place in the spring, the arrival of new chicks, turkeys and geese are heralded via Facebook.
"Within a matter of 20 minutes from posting, the store is full,” Greene said. "During chick season, the phone just rings off the hook.”
But neophyte chicken farmers considering a chick purchase want to learn how to nurture their infant flock. For this reason, the wildly popular chick-raising seminar was hatched.
"We ended up with 80 participants this past spring and had to set up in our covered outdoor arena,” Greene said. "Our staff even has ‘Chicks Gone Wild’ T-shirts to wear during the promotion.”
Such a broad range of products and services calls for a special employee, and Greene said that candidates first and foremost must be pet lovers.
From there, he looks for an outgoing and helpful personality with an attitude open to learning. New hires are then provided with the training necessary to assist customers in finding solutions to their needs.
"Any type of retail environment is about offering solutions,” Greene said. "If you can’t provide that, customers go elsewhere.”
Location: 28606 132nd Ave. SE, Kent, WA 98042
Size: 18,000 square feet
General Manager: Bill Greene
Employees: 25 full-time, 2 part-time
Years in Business: 29
Products and Services Offered: Equine tack and feed, premium pet food, treats and supplies, toys, beds and leashes. Small animal and wild bird products, poultry and supplies, apparel, home décor, gift items, adoption days, educational seminars and clinics, grooming, veterinary services, training, horse boarding and dog parks.
Training is extensive; seminars, vendor product presentations and staff meetings take place in the new "BLT” or "break, lunch and training” room.
"I can’t tell you another store that does more training than we do,” Greene said. "It’s a big commitment, but it’s part of that whole solution idea.”
So Grows the Legacy
For the future, Greene noted the possibility of a few smaller concept stores in town.
"What’s amazing is we really haven’t reached anywhere near our potential when you start talking about all the new services we are bringing in,” he added.
With a third generation of Rebers arriving on the scene, those future possibilities truly make Reber Ranch "one to watch.”
Darrell Reber passed away in 2005, but Sally still assists customers, some of which have been acquaintances now for 30 years.
"The brand Reber Ranch is a trusted name,” said Greene. "It’s been a family business since day one.” <HOME>
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