Washington, D.C.-based store owners become Retailer of the Year.
By Devon McPhee
Pet Products News International’s editor-in-chief, Carol Boker, was pleased to present Chateau-Animaux with the honor of Retailer of the Year 2008-2009.
“My editors were impressed with the level to which Chateau Animaux’ owners have taken their store, with all the products and services they offer and their involvement in their community and the pet industry.”
Taking a look at the store’s history illuminates the PPNI staff’s observations.
Owners Dennis Bourgault and Michael Suddath began their business under the name “Doolittle’s” in 1994 at a local weekend market. Their product mix focused on upscale items and top-quality food and treats. Their business idea blossomed from a simple observation.
|Chateau-Animaux owners Michael Suddath, left, and Dennis Bourgault.|
“When we moved to Capitol Hill, we realized that everyone on the Hill had a dog and there was only one store in the area,” Bourgault says. “We wanted to start an upscale pet boutique.”
One year after setting up shop at the market, Bourgault and Suddath opened a full-time retail outlet. The 1,600-square-foot upscale pet shop offered supplies, gifts and accessories, as well as a delivery service and an in-store pet adoption program. In 1996, a full-service grooming salon was added and the store set up its first website.
The next major step in the evolution of Chateau-Animaux happened in 2000. That year, the owners bought their current 5,000- square-foot location and began renovating the space. The move-in date was July 2005.
Between renovation and move-in, several upgrades were made to the store’s website, including an expanded product selection and more payment options. It was also then that, in an effort to differentiate themselves from the competition, the owners decided to make a name change from Doolittle’s to Chateau-Animaux.
|The store’s Capitol Hill location has an old-fashioned look and feel.|
“Things got complicated with the Internet,” Bourgault says. “There are a lot of other Doolittle’s and there was no way to protect the name. We changed the name to Chateau-Animaux, a nod to my Canadian heritage, and copyrighted it.”
Awards and accolades have blessed the store practically from day one. Bourgault, Suddath and their staff regularly win recognition for their community involvement and unique retail environment.
“Dennis and Michael and their staff should be very proud of their accomplishments,” Boker says.
Of course the reinvention of Chateau-Animaux did not end once the operation settled into its roomier new digs. Bourgault and Saddath have recently completed a series of innovations in an effort to remain competitive in increasingly tough economic times.
The store expanded the number of services it offers to include obedience training, nail trimming, aquarium setup, water testing, educational seminars and a self-service dog wash. They also began selling freshwater fish.
“In recent years, commercial property values in Washington, D.C., have skyrocketed and the resulting property taxes have been forcing many small, independent stores out of business,” says Dennis Bourgault, co-owner of Chateau-Animaux, an upscale pet boutique in the Capitol Hill area of the city.
Bourgault, an active member of the local business community and former attorney, decided to do what he could to help independent store owners like himself. He joined a task force, organized by the Washington Chamber of Commerce, which was working toward passage of commercial property tax relief for small-business owners.
The task force testified twice before the Washington city council to urge passage of the measure. Its efforts paid off. The group succeeded in getting some relief for small business owners in the city’s 2009 fiscal year budget.
A customer rewards program, Mon Ami, was developed to encourage customers to shop exclusively at Chateau-Animaux. The program was needed to compete with similar ones offered by the big-box stores, Bourgault says.
“We began noticing at the point of sale that customers were carrying reward cards from the superstores,” Bourgault says. “We began wondering why they were shopping there some of the time and shopping here other times. We knew we had to create a similar program so they would shop here more.”
Under the Mon Ami program, for every dollar a customer spends at the store or through the website, they earn a point. Once a customer accumulates 100 points, they earn $5 on their card, which they can redeem at the store.
Since implementing the program, sales at the store have soared, Bourgault says.
“Last year, for the first time, we were able to surpass $1 million in sales, in part due to this program,” he says.
In the past year, the store completed a thorough review of all its product lines. It made the decision to change its product mix to focus on all-natural, holistic and organic products—items that seemed especially popular with its clientele.
“We have a really personal relationship with our customers and that gives us insight into what we should and should not do,” Bourgault says. “We really looked into what works for our customers.”
Focus on Customer Service
|The bakery counter greets visitors at the store’s entrance.|
Focusing on the customer was at the heart of another one of the store’s most recent initiatives. Over the past year, Chateau-Animaux has renewed its efforts to provide top-notch customer service, Bourgault says.
“We provided a seminar for employees on customer service and we circulated several articles directly on the issue and, in particular, how to deal with difficult customers,” he says.
Additionally, the store streamlined and increased awareness of its home delivery and special-order services programs to make them easier for both customers and employees, which resulted in increased use, Bourgault says.
Perhaps the biggest change to hit Chateau-Animaux and its parent company, Doolittle’s Ltd., was expansion into the manufacturing business.
Location: 524 Eighth St. SE, Washington, D.C.
Owners: Dennis Bourgault and Michael Suddath
Size: 5,000 square feet
Employees: 10 part time, five full time
Years in Business: 14
Products and Services Offered: Accessories, toys, food, treats and grooming supplies for dogs, cats, birds and small mammals. Live freshwater fish and fish supplies. Additional items for wild birds and ponds, as well as gift items. Services include adoption days, grooming, delivery, obedience training, self-service dog wash, nail trimming, aquarium setup, water testing and educational seminars.
Several years ago, Chateau-Animaux worked with Zanadoo, a Washington state-based manufacturer of all-natural dog treats, to produce a line of private-label dog treats. Eventually, the store was able to purchase the business. This past year, the partners opened up their own baking facility in Beltsville, Md.
“Setting up our own baking facility will allow us to expand the line of packaged Zanadoo treats and produce decorated, bakery-style treats for wholesale distribution,” Bourgault says.
Currently, Zanadoo offers dog biscuits in six flavors: apple, blueberry, cheese, Italian oregano, ginger and peanut butter. In a nod to the Chateau-Animaux’s forward thinking, labels on the packages are printed in both English and French, with the goal to eventually expand into the Canadian market, Bourgault says.
When asked about the future of Chateau-Animaux, the owners hint at some big plans.
“In the long run, we may consider opening another store or expanding our website business,” Bourgault says. “Right now we’re going to continue to look at and refine our product mix, and we’re going to continue to expand our grooming and home delivery services and our dog biscuit business.”
If the past is any indication, Chateau-Animaux will succeed in each of these endeavors.
Retailer of the Year Runners-Up
Choosing Retailer of the Year is a difficult task. Pet Product News International editors received almost 200 applicants this year. The majority of them are well qualified to receive recognition for their achievements.
Each year, in addition to the top award, we honor 11 other pet stores. In the past we have given category awards, such as best promotions, best customer service or best merchandising. This year the 11 runners-up have so many strong qualifications that it was difficult to decide who was “best” in a particular area.
Therefore, we just present the following runners-up, in no particular order. Each of these businesses will be profiled in an upcoming issue of Pet Product News International.
Owners: Vern and Dottie Allen
Aquatic Village is in Ventura, Calif., and its owners, Vern and Dottie Allen, have been in the pet business for 25 years. Their most recent store concentrates on teaching customers how to properly care for freshwater and saltwater fish and ponds. They provide specific services as well, including water testing, aquarium and pond setup, aquarium maintenance and educational seminars. One of the highlights of the store is the décor, reflecting a tropical look with murals and thatched roofs.
With the economic slowdown, we commend the Allens for working hard to show customers the most successful and economical ways to maintain their aquariums.
Coastal K-9 Bakery
Owner: Jackie Oakes
Jackie Oakes opened Coastal K-9 Bakery in 2004. She started baking pet treats for her dog that had severe yeast intolerance. Besides dog treats and baked goods, the shop carries dog, cat and boutique products. Oakes does pet adoptions and is also a founding member of SADD (Save Animals During Disaster) and sits on the board. Her business also raised the most money for adding fencing to Wilmington’s dog park.
Coastal K-9 is situated in a tourist area, so Oakes is expanding into a one-stop pet resort, with two pet sitters, dog boarding, day care with wading pool, grooming facilities, retail shop with bakery and eventually a veterinarian.
From treat baking to seeing the bigger picture for pets in her community, we see that Oakes works hard to make it all happen.
Owner: Donna Garrou
BirdStuff is located in Orange, Calif., and its owner, Donna Garrou, has more than 25 years of experience keeping all species of birds. She also has a strong marketing and product design background. The shop was recently voted by customers of Bird Talk magazine as one of the top 12 bird stores in the nation. The 1,200-square-foot store does not sell birds, just bird products and gifts, but does offer grooming and boarding services. It has improved its website, www.birdstuffonline.com, in the past year. Among other things, Garrou supports The Lily Sanctuary with donations of toys, food and supplies, and donates to Amazornia.us, an organization dedicated to conserving wild parrots in Southern California.
We recognize Garrou and birdStuff for successfully educating the bird-loving community.
Locations in The Woodlands, Tomball and Sugar Land, Texas
Owners: Biff Picone and Nadine Joli-Coeur
With an emphasis on all-natural products and services, Biff Picone and Nadine Joli-Coeur have already expanded their 3-year-old business to three locations in Texas. Natural Pawz stores carry dog, cat and boutique products in the approximately 1,900-square-foot facilities.
One of the unique features for their customers is the Natural Pawz Demo Center and Treat Display. It includes a TV with Internet connection so pet owners can check information about product choices they are making. The stores hold adoption days and obedience training and provide pet wellness seminars, among other community services.
Picone and Joli-Coeur show that they are doing things right in the natural trend for pets.
Canine Creek Pet Wash and Boutique
Owner: Susie Atherton
As our Retailer of the Year in 2006-2007, Susie Atherton, owner of Canine Creek, continues to improve her pet wash and boutique business and stay involved in many community and pet-related activities. Atherton relocated her store and doubled the space to almost 3,000 square feet. Her store showed an explosive sales growth so far this year, despite the slow economy. She continues to manage Pet Industry Retailers, a 400-plus member peer-networking group; founded a nonprofit pet rescue group; petitioned to build an animal shelter in her community; and is working with the city to develop its first off-leash dog park.
We are proud of Atherton and the work she does with her business, the pet industry and her community.
Poochey Couture Inc.
Owner: Heidi Taiger
Poochey Couture is a luxury pet boutique begun two years ago by Heidi Taiger, who combined her business background with fashion sense and a love of dogs. The shop presents unique products from throughout the world. Taiger also created a website in English and French—a plus for her Montreal clients. Poochey Couture works with established community events, such as fashion shows and walkathons, to help raise money for important causes. Poochey Parties and Playdates are part of the business’ promotional events.
We admire that Taiger, who has a financial background, realizes that in today’s market—and always—it’s important to maintain your established clients while also constantly attracting new ones.
Raising Rover & Baby
New York City
Owners: Jeffrie Silverstein and Frankie Foronjy
Raising Rover & Baby’s owners, Jeffrie Silverstein and Frankie Foronjy, decided that pet boutiques were saturating the marketplace, so in 2006 they opted to open a business that catered to babies and pets. Offering unique matching products for both markets, including many of their own creations, the owners also sell teacup and toy puppies. In addition, the shop offers grooming, walking and boarding services to its clients—some of whom are celebrities and visitors from abroad.
We commend Silverstein and Foronjy for their unique approach to spoiling baby and doggie at the same time.
Owner: Patti Storms
Well Bred owner Patti Storms has reinvented her business several times to meet the demands of the marketplace—from a boutique in a historic area to a store that rebalanced the inventory to fit the market and created an active website. Recently Storms moved to a larger location and was able to incorporate pet foods into her product mix and allow for pet adoptions and other events.
Educating the community about pets and pet care is one of Storms’ main goals. To do this, she writes local pet care columns and holds seminars on pet parenting.
Knowing how to reinvent a business in a changing market and economy is what impresses us about Well Bred and its owner.
Rivertown Feed and Pet Country Store
Owners: Tamara Lewis-Benson and Don Benson
Rivertown is an old-fashioned feed store that sells most pet products except saltwater fish items. But one of the owners, Tamara Lewis-Benson, has done a thesis on the attachment rates of people and pets and is also an aviculturist who raises the majority of the birds the store sells. In addition to birds, the store sells pond fish and farm animals, such as poultry, game birds, waterfowl and rabbits. Services include obedience training, vaccination clinics and adoption days.
Our editors love this pet store, which has great ties to its agricultural community and does a lot more than just sell pet products.
The Paw Stop
New York City
Owner: Dan Rubenstein
The Paw Stop carries dog, cat and gift products that are local, organic and green. But city folk want even more from their local pet store, so owner Dan Rubenstein gives them services galore—from grooming to dog walking and pet sitting to day care and overnight boarding and training.
In addition, the business and its owner are deeply involved with the community. The Paw Stop works directly with the Mayor’s Alliance of New York to foster animals and hold an annual fundraiser to help an organization that places pets with inner city kids.
Our praise goes to Rubenstein and The Paw Stop for focusing on relationship management for pets and their people.
The Pet Shoppe
Owners: Gina and Craig Pijanowski
The Pet Shoppe is a full-service, 5,300-square-foot pet store for most products, including natural, holistic and organic foods. The store sells hermit crabs, tree frogs and freshwater fish. Pets and owners also frequent the self-serve dog wash and Canine Café. A Cat’s Den holds shelter cats until they are adopted. The shop holds adoption days for other animals as well and raises money for other pet shelter and rescue groups. The Pijanowskis started a Kid’s Club and also hold doggie and children’s birthday parties.
We think The Pet Shoppe is a well-run full-service business that deserves recognition. <HOME>
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