Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique uses clever displays and a passion for pairing to succeed at pet retail.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
Sometimes, all it takes is a clever hook—such as a pet store sales floor filled with baby bassinets—to draw customers in droves.
|The Palm Beach Puppies team takes pride in providing top-quality accommodations for the dogs in their care.|
Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique, a growing franchise with four locations throughout Florida, specializes in sourcing top-quality small- and toy-breed puppies that the United States Department of Agriculture has approved, and placing them in ideal homes, along with all the supplies and accoutrements they’ll need to be comfy, healthy and stylish.
The venture began just over six years ago, when Heidi and Alan Garson, D.C., of Boca Raton, Fla., sought a new canine addition for their family. They searched pet stores throughout the area and left each one feeling disillusioned and disappointed with what they had found.
“My dad went to a bunch of stores around the area and didn’t find anything of quality,” Ryan Garson, Dr. Garson’s son and business partner said. “The stores smelled bad, the puppies were in cages and the customer service wasn’t good, so he ended up going to a breeder.”
Around the same time, Ryan Garson had graduated with a degree in business from the University of South Florida and was considering different money-making ventures, including a dating service franchise.
|An original approach to showcasing puppies for sale, Palm Beach Puppies places the dogs in cozy bassinettes, complete with blankets, toys and other comforts, during business hours.|
“That fell through, so we thought, let’s do a pet store instead,” Garson said, laughing that his matchmaking aspirations switched from connecting humans to connecting dog lovers with their ideal pet.
The family is not new to the pet industry. Dr. Garson worked at a retail pet store years ago while in medical school, and he and his wife bred and raised Old English sheepdogs for many years.
So with some cursory pet-store knowledge, a business education and years of living with dogs, the Garson family launched their first shop in Boca Raton in 2005. Ryan joined the team in 2006, and he drew on his schooling to help expand the store to its second location in Wellington, Fla., in 2007. A short year later, Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique launched the franchise portion of the company, along with stores in Orlando and West Palm Beach. Today, a total of four locations have popped up throughout Florida, with a new one slated to open later this year in Tampa.
No matter the location, “… it’s all about the puppies,” Garson said. He and his father screen breeders and make sure they are licensed by the USDA before they even consider carrying their puppies. They remain in constant communication with the breeders while the puppies are in their care. They work with a local veterinarian to ensure the pups are healthy while in their charge.
The Puppy Cam Cult
Around the world at any given time, someone is likely logged on to Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique’s website, www.palmbeachpuppies.com, and watching the puppies do puppy things live via puppy cam. Ryan Garson, co-owner of the retail franchise, said his store’s live-streaming videos have amassed a cult following, thanks to social networking sites.
“People love our website because it has videos of all our puppies,” he said. “One major thing about our concept is the website. We’ll also put videos on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all the social networking pages, so we now almost have a cult following of people who want to see the puppy videos that we release.”
Garson said if someone in London or Toronto wants a puppy from Palm Beach Puppies, he’s happy to ship it out.
“Someone across the continent will fall in love with a puppy, and we’ll work with the major airlines to ship her,” Garson said.
Once the puppies are adopted, the store provides dog registry information, pedigree, health history of the parents and their colors and coat patterns, and if the new pup parent needs more, Garson said he’s happy to provide it.
“We stand behind our puppies,” said Dr. Garson, adding that he trains his franchisees to follow suit. “We issue health certificates with each dog, and if there’s a problem, we will cover it for up to two weeks.”
Designer-breed puppies remain popular at Palm Beach Puppies, including Shipoos, Maltipoos, Yorkiepoos and Maltese Shih Tzus, Garson said. The shop also offers a range of large-breed pups, such as golden retrievers, Labradors and German shepherds, as well as toy breeds, such as poodles, Maltese’ and Shih Tzus.
“A lot of our target market is families, and they want a dog that they can raise from a puppy and they know where it’s from,” Garson said. “Some people want a certain breed, and we feel like we’re puppy matchmakers. A family will come in and describe a certain characteristic of dog, and we try to guide them toward the right dog.”
Matchmaking is one thing, but the idea for the bassinets—the unique hook of the boutique—was the brainchild of Garson’s mother, Heidi.
“When we started the store in Boca and were deciding what to put the puppies in, my mom said, ‘They’re babies, so let’s put them in cribs,’” recalled Garson. “Displaying the puppies is really important. When they’re in cages, they seem unhappy and it doesn’t seem fair to them. But in the cribs, they’re happy. They love their environment.”
Plus, the cribs get people’s attention, he said.
|Palm Beach Puppies acquires their pups from United States Department of Agriculture-licensed breeders from across the country.|
“People really love the whole look of Palm Beach Puppies,” Garson continued. “It has a positive feel to it and it has nice energy. You want a puppy store to be a happy place. We try to create a positive atmosphere in our store.”
Indeed, a walk into any of the store’s four locations illustrates how happy a puppy store can be.
Rows of puppy cribs lined with colorful bumpers and easy-to-clean Plexiglas sit carefully positioned on the store floor. Each crib contains only one puppy, along with its favorite bed, blanket, chew toy and water dish. The store owners keep them separated from their canine cousins to prevent the spread of disease, Garson said.
“We try to keep the numbers of our puppies to a minimum for their health,” he said. “We try to have no more than 15 to 20 dogs in the store so we can really give the puppies that are in the store the care that they need. They’re babies; they can get sick. We’re really on top of them and make sure they’re healthy and eating right.”
That’s where the Garsons’ puppy care team takes the lead. Wearing veterinary-themed scrubs rather than street clothes, Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique’s staff, which number between five and eight per store depending on the location, dote on the pups, clean the cribs regularly and make sure every need is met, Garson said. They tuck the pups into their kennels at night and bring them out into their cribs in the morning.
“We definitely put a lot of time and effort into training our staff,” he said. “We make sure they’re knowledgeable in the breeds and they’re knowledgeable about the systems in place to feed and clean up after the puppies. We like to hire veterinary technicians, trainers, groomers—people who have experience in the pet industry.”
|Palm Beach Puppies owners and franchisees host red-carpet fashion shows to promote their extensive line of puppy and pint-size dog fashions.|
While the bassinets are just for show, the stores do stock a full range of high-quality puppy and small-dog gear, much of it selected by Heidi. From fur-lined harnesses and four-poster beds to couture and crystal-covered collars, goods for pint-size pups run the gamut. They stick with merchandise not found at mass merchandisers, Garson said.
“Petsmart and Petco have a lot of the same stuff, so we’re really trying to differ ourselves from them,” he said. “We go for the high-end products, but our prices aren’t really that much higher.”
Clothing also draws attention, especially during the store’s red-carpet fashion shows, which they host during grand openings, charity events and clubs.
“Anywhere we can get a group or big gathering, we’ll have the red carpet,” Garson said.
Garson said he and his folks hope to one day plant a Palm Beach Puppies and Boutique in each major city in the United States.
“We feel that we have the right model for selling quality puppies,” he said. “It’s our system that we feel is so powerful: From the way we get the puppies to the way we take care of them and the way we sell them. We have that system, and that’s what we want to multiply and cookie-cut throughout the country.
“There’s definitely a challenge ahead, but we look forward to it,” Garson said. “It’s a passion business for us, and it has to be a passion business for the people we get involved with, too. We want them to love what they do.” <HOME>
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