Claude Berthelot, co-owner of Feathers, Fur & Scales Pets & Supplies in Danielsville, Ga., explains why specializing in one particular aspect of the pet industry is important for mom-and-pop pet stores.
Pet Product News: As a pet specialty retailer, what is your favorite part of the day?
Claude Berthelot: Taking care of our animals. We breed the vast majority of the animals we sell at our shop, and it’s very interesting to see the variety of animals that we produce.
PPN: What are the most challenging aspects of what you do every day?
Berthelot: Trying to juggle all aspects of running this business. We are a small mom-and-pop shop. There are four family members that work here, but not all are here throughout the day or every day.
PPN: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a customer?
Berthelot: That we obviously provide great care for our animals because they look much better than the ones they see at big-box stores.
PPN: What challenges are you facing as a full-line pet store?
Berthelot: We’ve been in business since December 2004. When we first started, there were 11 independently owned pet shops within 25 miles of us, so our greatest challenge was competing with them. Today, there is only one other one left, and it has changed hands four times since we first opened. Nowadays, our greatest challenge is that we have to compete with PetSmart, which opened about 25 miles away a few years ago; Pet Sense, which opened about 10 miles away just a few months ago; and online retailers.
PPN: What’s the most notable change you’ve seen in pet specialty since you started out?
Berthelot: Most of the mom-and-pop shops can’t compete with the online retailers because most of us don’t have the buying power to order from different distributors on a weekly basis. Since some companies have arrangements with certain distributors to be the exclusive distributor for their line of products, we have no choice but to not be able to carry that particular line of products.
PPN: Given all the changes that have occurred in the pet market in recent years, where do you see your particular niche of the market—as a full-line retailer—heading in the future? Do you foresee growth?
Berthelot: I foresee a continuing decline of the number of mom-and-pop full-line shops that can survive the way things currently are. I think the only way that "little guys" can compete is to specialize in one particular aspect of the pet industry. We are seriously considering transitioning from a full-line shop to a reptile specialty shop focusing solely on reptiles and feeder rodents for that exact reason. We just simply can’t compete with the "big boys" in regard to their pricing of animals or their selection of products. The mentality of the majority of customers is that since PetSmart is a huge company, their prices must be better than ours. So, they come here first to check our prices, and then go to PetSmart to get it cheaper. Problem is that once they get there, they see that they’re not always cheaper than us. But, since they just drove 25 miles to get there and little Jimmy has been screaming that he wants a snake, they just go ahead and get it there even though it costs them more to do so. Then, when the animal is having issues, we have at least two customers weekly that come in with an animal they purchased somewhere else, and they need help because the animal isn’t doing well.
I recently went on [PetSmart’s] website and looked at its pricing for 60 identical items that we both carry. We were cheaper on 28, they were cheaper on 27, and we were even on five. The problem for us is that the perception is not reality. What’s also difficult is that on some animals, we just simply can’t compete with their pricing and still be able to make a profit on that animal. For example, our cost for a young guinea pig from the only major distributor that we can get them from is $24, and we are charged $2.50 for the box they are delivered in, making our total cost $26.50. If we are to compete with PetSmart’s price of $37.99, there’s no way for us to make a profit on that animal if it’s here more than a week to 10 days.
On the few that we have sold over the past few months, less than 10 percent of those customers also bought the housing to go with them. The majority of those customers just bought it on Amazon, because it was $10 cheaper and they didn’t have to pay sales tax. If we can’t make up the loss that we’re taking on the animal by selling the housing required, then there’s no point in continuing to carry them. If some national companies are closing their doors mainly due to online retailers undercutting them, then what chance does a mom-and-pop have?