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Pet Dealer Focus: Invitation by Design

Posted: November 22, 2013, 1:45 p.m. EDT


Every aspect of a store’s interior décor, from lighting to shelving to color scheme to product highlighting, can welcome customers and encourage repeat business.

By Hilary Daninhirsch

Capturing customers’ attention from the moment they cross your store’s threshold and keeping them engaged could mean the difference between a one-time and a repeat customer. Pet store owners and design experts say every element of a store’s interior plays a part in creating a retail experience that resonates and stays with customers.

"To create a shopping experience that ‘sings,’ you can’t take a micro view when analyzing the layout of a store,” said Jeff Grant, owner of Grant Retail Designs in La Jolla, Calif., who has more than 30 years of retail store design experience.

For pet stores, that translates into several factors.

"You have to look at every aspect of the design,” Grant said. "That includes the storefront, the windows, the entry, flooring, ceiling, lighting, counter, fixtures, colors and finishes, and the graphics and props to make the store fun, interesting and user friendly,” he said.

"Use fluorescent or LED lights for ambient overall lighting, track spotlights to create hot spots for display, built-in cabinet lights around the perimeter of the store to create a halo effect and to make the shelves more shopable,” he said.

First Engagement
That all-important positive first impression is job one at Pussy and Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, an award-winning pet lifestyle boutique with three locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

Store Front Design
Courtesy of George

"Pussy and Pooch is a sensory experience of bright color, energetic music, pleasant smells and engaging feature displays from the moment you walk in,” said owner Janene Zakrajsek. "It’s inviting, modern, hip, edgy—many clients liken our store to a ‘human’ retail experience for pets, blending creativity with community and personalized customer service.”

Charlene Cherniwchan also believes in creating a sensory experience for her customers. While the Mut Hut Pet Emporium, located in Canmore, Calgary, Canada, is 1,500 square feet, it has a boutique feel, which is accomplished in several ways.

The Mut Hut’s local flair makes the store attractive to both regulars and tourists, said Cherniwchan. Intentional color choices, such as sage green walls, reflect the store’s prime Canadian Rockies location, while local artists have contributed to the store’s displays, including custom pet products on the walls. Photos of the staff’s dogs adorn the walls as well, along with a three by six logo behind the till, creating a comfortable familiarity.

Making the customers—both human and animal—feel at home is essential, said Cherniwchan. Between the bakery and the fact that the Mut Hut smokes its own bones, "The scent in the store when people walk in is quite nice. Having a clean and fresh store makes a big impact. Smells are essential,” she said.

Keeping the door open as weather permits is an open invitation for customers, who are welcomed with a greeting immediately upon entering.

"It’s a combination of sights, smells and a good feeling when you walk in the door,” said Cherniwchan. "It’s a combination that you are not getting in the big box stores.”

When Zack Grey established his Los Angeles-area The Urban Pet stores, one challenge was to erase the misconception that his store was high end.

"People misinterpret high quality with high end,” he said.

While the store might look like a boutique from the exterior, the interior’s large, 5,000-square-foot space is a one-stop shopping experience.

"We invested a tremendous amount of money in how the exterior looks,” Grey said. "Giant orange contemporary awnings and beautiful aluminum and neon lighting stand out at night on Beverly Boulevard.”

"Every day, when people come in for the first time, I often hear ‘Wow, I thought this was a little boutique,’” he added. "On the contrary, it’s a sprawling and open loft-style space with wide aisles.”

Despite its size, Grey said The Urban Pet differs from big-box pet stores in crucial ways. A sense of being in the forest is what customers feel when they walk through the front door: track lighting, concrete textured floors, pillowlike ultramodern chandeliers, olive green walls and earth tones. Each of his three stores also features a koi pond, which has become a brand element. Contributing to the sensory experience is surround-sound music.

"The track lighting features all of the products,” he continued. "That really lights everything up without making it feel sterile,” he said.

The proprietors of Royal Pets Market and Resort in Carrollwood, Fla., know a thing or two about creating an inviting shopping atmosphere—the store won an award at the 2012 Global Pet Expo for Excellence in Store Design.

Establishing a connection with customers the minute they walk in the door was co-owner Denise Wolin-Gore’s number-one objective.

"If we didn’t get a ‘wow’ factor, we weren’t achieving our goal,” she said.

Among the artwork of pets, statues of dogs and cats, the warm tones and dramatic lighting, entering Royal Pets is like walking into an upscale boutique but with a comfortable feeling, said Wolin-Gore. And it works, she added, despite its 17,000-square-foot size, 8,000 of which is the marketplace. The remaining space is devoted to a pet hotel, a grooming salon and a new veterinary center.

Layout and Highlighting
Store layout and the implements used to display wares are crucial to keeping customers engaged. Grant recommends highlighting products in a cool or funky way.

"Use some gondola-type shelves for standard food and supply items, but mix up the rest of the fixtures with nesting tables, tier tables, slat wall pinwheels and towers, vendor racks and the occasional funky bathtub, dog house or prop,” he said.

The walls of the stores should not be long runs of shelves, Grant added.

"Create feature presentations with merchandise displays backed by graphics that might include lifestyle photos,” he said. "Back that up with a feature display and great information, and customers will always stop. These should be changed often.”

"Graphics, ID signs, way finding signs, information signs and staff selection signs all make the store easier to shop and add interest. Lifestyle shots, artwork, murals and lettering on the walls all add significantly to the type of look you’re trying to create, whether it’s vintage, homey, village or contemporary. The graphics combined with the displays and the finishes will set that tone,” Grant continued.

He recommends selecting a design theme to make your shop stand out.

"It’s important that everything has its place within the store,” said Pussy and Pooch’s Zakrajsek. "The layout, as well as the individual fixtures, are purposeful and have a merchandising standard to which we adhere to when stocking inventory or displaying merchandise. Using a ‘less is more’ approach, the stores are open in layout with shopping ‘zones’ to make the experience inviting and easy to browse and navigate.”

Product placement is another vital aspect of store layout.

"We do a majority of merchandising on shelves and use slat walls strategically for hanging presentations where it makes the most sense,” said Zakrajsek. "Having a combination of fixtures allows for the greatest flexibility in merchandising.”

One creative way Mut Hut displays products is with a wagon filled with toys, which can be moved around the store and changed out, said Cherniwchan. In fact, most of the store’s fixtures are movable, which, she said, "makes it easy to change the look of our store quite easily.”

"One thing that’s really important is combining the merchandising aspect,” said Wolin-Gore. "We change our endcaps and aisles, so you’re not walking into the same store. Some products, such as bones, are displayed in nice baskets instead of on shelving, and they change out the theme every several weeks.”

Wolin-Gore said shoppers can browse for an hour before they even begin to shop.

"You can see everything that’s going on in that 8,000 square foot market, which is great for customers and great for us because we can provide a high level of customer service; I can see exactly where the customers are,” she said.

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