Being classified as a micro-independent really doesn’t have anything to do with the square footage of your space, but for many of us, we are also working in small shops.
My business square footage is very small. This means it can be difficult to change the store around, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. During the 16 years I have been in business, I have changed my store layout about 100 times. There are really only two reasons I go through the pain and agony of changing my shelves around: a new product or a new freezer.
I started with a white standup freezer a manufacturer gave me with my first frozen ISO. About a year later, I ended up with a used two-door glass-front freezer. Another year, another freezer. Lately, walking into my store made me feel like I sold appliances. I had glass-front freezers, chest freezers, vertical freezers, glass-top chest freezers. I even had a glass-door refrigerator at one point. (You can probably gather that I sell a lot of raw.)
I knew I needed to do something.
I started keeping an eye out on the asset liquidation sites and stumbled across a major retailer selling off banks of refrigerators and freezers from its stores. These freezers were not like the two-door glass-front freezers you see in most pet stores. These were the large units like you would see in your grocery store. I quickly made a deal with the liquidator, and, after jumping through multiple hoops, I got the units removed from the store on the deadline they wanted and put them into my storage garage. I would’ve loved to have been able to take them from where I bought them directly into my store, but the size of the units meant I had to take out my storefront glass just to get them inside. I also had to take out my center aisle of shelving, not to mention all the shelving where I was going to put the bank of freezers. Complicating matters further was the fact that I had to use several contractors and vendors to get this done, which meant I could not do it on a Sunday or after hours when we were closed.
I had no idea when I would be able to do this without completely disrupting my business; then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We were forced to close, so it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to get this done. My wife and I have made several leaps of faith when it comes to our business, but this was a big one. My entire team had been laid off, we were forced to close by the government and I didn’t know how or when it would end, but I was going to spend a significant amount of money to get these freezers in my store. Was I crazy? Well I made the jump, and I am so glad I did.
Once we were able to open and got back to our "new normal" of business, I immediately saw an uptick in sales of my frozen foods. It wasn’t that I had an influx of new customers—it was that my existing customers were able to see everything I offered. Even with great signage on our various freezers, customers didn’t want to open up the freezers and explore what was in them. Customers were used to walking to freezer A to get their product, but they were not comfortable exploring the various freezers to see what else I had to offer, such as a line of frozen treats in freezer C.
Now when my customers walk in, they can browse all of the glass doors and see every product we offer. I also was able to get some of my kibble customers to explore the freezers. I feel like it was because of my store’s bold statement about frozen foods. The entire back wall of my store is freezers. There is absolutely no way to miss the freezers now. Having such a large footprint of my stored devoted to freezers really adds legitimacy to the product lines compared to having them hidden away in six different freezers throughout the store.
The icing on the cake was being able to negotiate deals with my existing product lines and new product lines to get into my new freezers. When you purchase your own freezers, as opposed to using a program from the pet food manufacturer, it allows more flexibility to negotiate discounted products, free product fills and assistance with advertising.
I realize not all stores will be able to devote such a large footprint to frozen foods, but I encourage you to look at glass-front freezers. There are several programs from manufacturers and distributors that will help stores get glass-front freezers, but you will be limited on your options. If you are stuck with only white chest freezers, I encourage you to group them together to make a bold statement about frozen foods in your stores and to get creative with the front of the freezers. One of my favorite advertisements on the front of a standard freezer was an image to make it look like it was a glass door. You don’t have to go to a manufacturer for this. Stock your freezer the way you want it and shoot a picture. Take that picture to any sign company and they can produce a vinyl decal you could put on the front of your freezer.
Frozen foods were a lifesaver during the "essential businesses only" phase of the pandemic. Customers are still not comfortable with getting their frozen foods via shipping. I believe now more than ever in the mantra: If you build it, they will come.
B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.