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Business Builders: Is Expanding Services Right For You?

Posted: February 18, 2014, 11:25 a.m. EDT


Making smart choices can build customer loyalty and bring new clients to your door.

By Anthony Stoeckert

People are more involved in the lives of their pets than ever before. They not only want the best food and pet care products available, but they also want their dogs, cats and other pets to be healthy, happy and even pampered.

And many pet lovers want it all from one source that they trust. This has opened a door of opportunity for pet stores to expand their offerings, and more and more retailers are doing just that. They’re discovering that selling food, toys and leashes just isn’t enough. Modern (and busy) pet owners want a one-stop experience, where their pets are groomed, boarded and even provided with veterinary treatment.

Expanding by offering services falls under the category of "organic growth,” which, according to BizBuySell.com, is the most common form of small business expansion. An article on the site, "Four Ways to Expand Your Business,” states that customer perceptions of your services can change as their needs change. Adding new services that other stores might offer is one way to keep customers from having a wandering eye and considering taking their business elsewhere.

Curt Jacques, owner of Wet Lebanon Feed and Supply in West Lebanon, N.H., said his store added grooming services a couple of years ago—even after resisting the idea for a while—partly because groomers can build up a client base and then relocate, taking their customers with them.

Instead, the store introduced a detailed dog-washing business, but customers kept asking for grooming services, Jacques said. The store was able to find a certified groomer, who had moved to New Hampshire from Connecticut.

"We hired her as our groomer, and made her the manager of our groom shop,” Jacques said. "We doubled the size of it, this is about three years ago, and now we’re at a point of actually making it about four times larger because we can’t keep up.”

The store needs more space and more tables so that it can offer more services, including facials, Jacques said, adding that he expects the expansion to start in the spring.

"It certainly has taken on a life of its own and it certainly has grown to the point that it is profitable and we are thrilled that we are able to do that,” he said.

Building on a Brand
Reber Ranch in Kent, Wash., is a pet and feed supply store for pets, horses, wild birds, chickens and other animals. Last September the store began offering a veterinary hospital, a grooming salon and a self-dog-wash area with seven stations.

"Before this, we were an 18,000-square-foot pet, farm, feed, tack store,” said owner Bill Greene. "We still sell most of all of that, with the exception of tack; we’ve moved away from tack, although a lot of our business is still horse, with feed, health and nutrition.”

The self-service dog wash concept is popular on the West Coast and is making its way to the Northwest, where Reber Ranch is located, Greene said. For a price ranging from $11 to $22 depending on the size of the dog, owners can use a station that has a convenient shower and all of the supplies needed to clean their dogs, Greene noted.

It not only gets dogs washed, but also, according to Greene, for many owners the wash becomes part of an outing, creating a special time for the dog and owner to share.

The Doctors Are In
Adding grooming or boarding services to your store is one thing. Adding a veterinary hospital to your store, the way Reber Ranch in Kent, Wash., has, is something quite different.
Owner Bill Greene said the decision to bring in veterinary care is similar to what PetSmart has done with its Banfield Pet Hospital. If it didn’t work, the big store wouldn’t do it.
With a 30-year history and devoted customers—including 5,000 Facebook followers and 20,000 customers in a frequent-buyer program—Greene said he knew it was time to add a hospital.
"We needed to make it a truly one-stop place for both pet and horse lovers,” Greene said. "And we really have just about everything those folks need.”
Reber Ranch is almost there, he said, adding that all it lacks is a doggie daycare and a pet hotel, and those are coming.
"We’re starting on those here in about three months,” he said. "We’re in the middle of final design and will be going in for permits pretty soon.”—AS

In addition to fulfilling customer needs, Greene said expansion also has helped Reber Ranch stay ahead of the competition.

"There are lots of really good competitors around that offer premium pet specialty supplies, but this gives us an opportunity to differentiate ourselves because we truly are the one-shop stop,” he said.

Cat owners also can pamper their animals at Reber Ranch with the store’s grooming services.

"We don’t get many cat washes, but we do get some cats in the professional grooming salon,” he said. "It’s very upscale, a lot of people joke and compare it to the nice salons where women get their hair done and say, ‘This is actually nicer than where I get my hair done.’”

Satisfying Customers
Lorin Grow saw the need to expand her store, Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., a few years ago when she talked with customers about their desire for one store that offered all of their pet care needs.
"We had already established trust with them and the additional services just made sense,” Grow said.

"They may have expressed a desire to not have to leave their dogs all day or to not have their dogs kenneled. Perhaps they had a fearful or nervous dog that needed more time and less of a high intake of dogs on the schedule in an average day. We listen to what our clients say, what they’re expressing, and it just became so glaringly obvious that we needed to add these services.”

Grow offers what she calls "homestyle” boarding, in which she brings boarded dogs to her house. This gives the pets the comforts of home, and a routine while their owners are away, she said.

"They go back to the store in the morning with me and spend all day in daycare,” Grow said. "This is a repeated routine every day and night that they are boarded.”

Grow said adding these services has brought many new clients to Furry Face, but the bigger benefit is creating stronger relationships with existing customers.

"People love when you help make their lives easier,” she said. "And being able to get your dog groomed, pick up food, and get a new leash and collar all in one stop is much appreciated.”

Time for a Change
Adding new services doesn’t always mean expansion. Sometimes adding services can be a shift, a way to replace one service with another so that a business can continue.

Elizabeth McNeilly of Equus & Paws in Missoula, Mont., started her business in 2006, offering massage for horses and dogs. Explaining the benefits of massage was an involved process, so she added grooming in 2008. That brought in customers to get their animals groomed, which helped McNeilly build relationships where she could explain the benefits of massage to customers as well, she said.

She did that for four years, but two injuries and physical therapy required another change, she said, so earlier this year she was working on adding a dog food delivery service to her offerings.

"I’m adding full-service delivery on dog food,” McNeilly said. "I got smaller, but I’m doing something different.”

Early in the year, McNeilly said, she was talking with distributors figuring out what she was going to offer, and expecting to add the delivery service sometime in February. She has stopped the grooming services but continues to offer massage, she said.

When it came time to figure out what new service to offer, McNeilly said the delivery idea was a natural.

"I was already doing it,” she said. "I have about six to eight clients that do special orders, not just come into the store and pick up bags, but order specific items every month, or every month when I do cat food. I always seem to end up delivering straight to their door.”

It Takes a Plan
Obviously, adding services involves issues such as insurance, staffing and investment in new equipment.

Grow said Furry Face made the decision to add grooming a few months before SuperZoo in Las Vegas, so her trip there focused on new equipment and products.

"Even before the final decision to add those services was reached we started to set funding aside just in case,” she said.

The store’s team also attended trade shows when they were deciding whether to introduce boarding services, and the goal was to look into on-premise boarding equipment, she said.

"Since our store is in a historic part of a downtown area, physical expansion was not an option, and we are extremely limited in on-site availability to add boarding suites,” she said. "That’s when we chose to look at boarding in a different way. Many suggested moving from our current location, but that isn’t an option that we are interested in at this time, though we spent some time considering that as well.”

Expanding was relatively easy for Furry Face as Grow said she didn’t have to change the layout of the store, but was able to expand by repurposing space.

"It all came together easily and naturally,” she said. "It took some time to make the decision, but once you start hearing an increasing number of clients express the same desire of the one-stop shopping experience, the mind can’t help but to mull that over. You start thinking about whether or not that would work and how. Part of arriving at the decision to do so is because you can see in your head just how it could work. The logistics are pretty much figured out mentally.”

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