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5:02 AM   December 19, 2014
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Sandy’s Pet Shop

A family finds life-long love in the pet industry.
By John Tullock

If longevity is the criterion for small-business success, then Sandy’s Pet Shop has certainly been successful. The Louisville, Ky.-based store has been in operation since its inception in the late 1970s as a dog-grooming shop. In 2001, Sandy’s opened its present 7,000-square-foot location in the Germantown neighborhood, a densely populated urban residential section of Louisville. From it’s beginning with just 15 10-gallon fish tanks, Sandy’s now has more than 200 aquariums with nearly 3,000 gallons of freshwater and 2,500 gallons of saltwater.

Sandy’s Pet Shop has been owned and operated by the Davidson family since its doors first opened nearly 30 years ago. Courtesy of Sandy’s Pet Shop
Sandy Davidson, owner of Sandy’s Pet Shop, has always loved animals. As a stay-at-home mom, her first job was at a veterinary clinic. She assisted with surgeries and did lab work, as well as dog grooming. In the early 1970s, the state of Kentucky began to require licenses for veterinary assistants. Sandy passed the licensing test and worked in that capacity for several years.

In the late 1970s, she purchased a dog grooming shop. After adding some dog supplies, she noticed the dog owners had more pets at home than just dogs. Following extensive research, Sandy learned everything she could about the pet retail industry and expanded the business to include fish, birds, reptiles and small animals.

The pet shop helped influence many of the Davidson family’s lives. Sandy’s youngest son Chris was her first employee. He met and eventually married his wife Michelle, while they worked together at the shop. After earning a business degree from the University of Louisville, Chris stayed in the pet industry, where he is currently the business unit manager for lawns and gardening at Cincinnati-based United Pet Group Inc. Michelle and their son Tyler are also employed in the pet industry.

As the family and business have grown over the years, so has the need for renovation. Sandy renovated a larger building less than a mile from the original location. During this renovation, her eldest son Bruce also decided to make his career in the pet shop, after completing his service in the Air Force. It was Bruce’s idea to add the store’s profitable saltwater fish department.

The major disadvantage of Sandy’s location was that it only afforded street parking. As business boomed, the family realized that the store needed a parking lot. The family purchased another building in 2000, less than a mile away from the previous location. Bruce designed and oversaw the renovations, and the current location opened in 2001.

Although aquatics are Sandy’s Pet Shop’s best-sellers, the store also carries products for dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Courtesy of Sandy’s Pet Shop
“Since we moved to our current location, annual gross sales have grown to exceed a million dollars,” Bruce said. “We have seen a slight increase each year since the move. The fish department is responsible for 75 percent of the revenue while taking up about one third of the total floor space. Sales are evenly split between marine and freshwater.”

However, the economic downturn has not been without its effects.

“I think more people are shopping for what they need as opposed to what they want,” Bruce said. “We see a consistency in the number of sales per day but have noticed a drop in the average dollar amount spent by $5 to $10. In the past, sales generally averaged $25 to $30 per transaction.”

“Designing and installing large high-end complete aquariums in homes and businesses has dropped off by more than 50 percent, and we are seeing an increase in the number of adult shoplifters,” he added.

To counter the decline in sales, the store has upped its advertising and promotional efforts.

“In the past eight months, we have been using our database of customers and mailing out 20-percent discount postcards every quarter,” Bruce said. “We couldn’t be happier with the results. So far, we have been getting a 15-percent return on cards mailed. We plan to ‘sweeten the pot’ and add an additional 10-percent discount each week in a specific department.”

Bruce said the online training tools from NexPet.com and PetStorePro.com have been extremely valuable, adding, “We tied test results to pay raises and have employees excited about learning.”

He is especially happy that the courses explore business skills, such as selling and merchandising, along with product knowledge.

The industry’s full range of aquatic products available has made it easy for many of Sandy’s Pet Shop’s customers to move from the freshwater side of the hobby to marine set-ups. Courtesy of Sandy’s Pet Shop
Even though the store offers a full line of pets and supplies, “Aquatics have always been our strongest category,” Bruce said. “With so many options available for small, cube-style, complete aquarium systems, it has allowed hobbyists to make the move to a marine aquarium with a smaller initial investment. The top-notch filtration and lighting that comes with these cube packages makes success easier.”

The wide variety of products the Davidsons stocks brings a variety of shoppers, yet the family seeks creative ways to remain in the public eye. The shop was featured on Kentucky Educational Television’s “Louisville Life” program earlier this year. The store has always maintained a high profile in the local community.

“We have, since Sandy’s beginning, sponsored area youth softball teams,” Bruce said. “We’re sponsors of many events at church and social clubs in the area. We work with two elementary schools just down the street.”

He thinks it is important to work hard to attract new hobbyists and has launched a summer project aimed at children ages 9 to 14.

“It’s called ‘Future Aquarists,’” he said. “We plan to set them up with a 10-gallon tank, gravel, filtration and plants for a nominal fee. I will conduct the class once a week for four weeks.”

To help kick-start the project, he has arranged to appear on local television.

A good location, knowledgeable employees, community involvement and a commitment to customer service are the keys to the Davidson family’s success in the pet business. After nearly 30 years, Bruce said, Sandy’s Pet Shop continues to focus on long-term goals.

“We emphasize creating a customer for life,” he said. “All of our employees know that the success of the customer is the success of our store and their jobs.”

Clearly, the strategy is working. <HOME>

After 50 years, John Tullock still enjoys aquariums. He is the author of 11 aquarium books. He also owned a retail store and maintenance business.


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