Critters Pet Shop in South Elgin, Ill., is known for its selection of live animals, and co-owner Caroline Janczak says in the last few years, the store has emphasized its rescued pets more.
Pet Product News: How did your journey begin with Critters Pet Shop?
Caroline Janczak: We purchased an existing store on Valentine’s Day of 1988. We were 26 years old and young and crazy. It was a very tiny shop that had been in the community for many years. The owner was having personal issues, and the store needed work. It barely had any inventory, so we pumped up the inventory and worked at it 24/7. We cleaned it up and stocked it, and it took off. The best thing we ever did was computerizing inventory management. This allowed us to track inventory efficiently, prevent out of stocks and enabled us to nearly double business in a very short time. After four years of owning the store, we moved it within the same strip mall and nearly doubled the size. Then, we moved again in 2013 to a busier mall.
PPN: You offer adoptions for cats, dogs, small animals, reptiles and birds. How has adoption evolved for you over the years?
Janczak: We enjoy it very much and always have. It adds a layer of work for me because I do the rescue, but it is rewarding. We have offered rescued pets for years, but the last few years we have chosen to emphasize them more. We have noticed people are much more interested and accepting of rescued pets now then they were years ago. Helping the rescued pets gives me a feeling of renewed purpose after having been in business for 30 years. I must say my husband and I really fall in love with some of them—they really touch your heart. Several of the senior pets are so sweet and memorable. People thank us for offering rescued pets every day, and customers who have adopted are extremely loyal. Our staff loves it too, so for us, it has been a win-win. It has been challenging though; we have had to dedicate much time, energy and money to their care, and managing their veterinary care is stressful.
PPN: What are the top-selling products in your store right now?
Janczak: We are known for our live animals, and they are definitely still a reason people visit our store so we sell all of their associated products pretty well. Natural foods are a top seller. Fromm, Stella & Chewy’s and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals dog and cat foods are doing the best in our store. We also sell Oxbow small animal products like crazy. Reptile products of any kind do really well and are expanding. We have seen a renewed interest in fish lately. Treats and chews for dogs are always popular ... people really like spoiling their pets!
PPN: What are your favorite products right now?
Janczak: I really like the new bone broth products by Primal and Nature’s Logic. We use it to encourage picky eaters. I also like the Wigzi waterproof collars. They stay clean and vibrant looking and have pretty colors.
PPN: What industry trends have you been keeping your eye on most closely?
Janczak: Online sales of dry goods and unique protein sources in dog and cat foods.
PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the process of tackling?
Janczak: Retaining good staff members after we have spent time training them so we can have personal time to refuel our energy. It is easy to get burnt out because we work a lot! Keeping up with inventory growth and finding places to put it in the store.
PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve this year?
Janczak: Taking the plunge and adding some online sales to our website.
PPN: What is your best tip for connecting with customers?
Janczak: Social media, word-of-mouth as well as occasional email blasts. But the most important thing of all is making sure you and your staff talk with customers and form a relationship by being friendly and welcoming when a customer walks in. We have many regulars, and they are very loyal because they know we care about them and their pet. Our regulars will refer people to us.
Get an inside look at Critters Pet Shop in our gallery below.