A Personal Odyssey

At Odyssey Pets in Dallas, customers are treated to a menagerie of sought-after services and down-to-earth, unassuming courtesy.



 

Mike Doan’s passion since childhood has always been animals. Dogs and cats, lizards and fish—you name the pet, and he has an enthusiastic appreciation for it.

Yet while this passion is undoubtedly helpful in running the pet store he co-owns with his wife Sherry Redwine and her parents Jo Ann and Bill Redwine, it is clearly the staff’s competence for working with people that has earned Odysssey Pets’ some of its highest praise. “I tell people that the pet industry has little to do with pets, and a lot to do with people,” says Doan. “It’s a people business.”

Located in a busy shopping center in Dallas, Odyssey Pets is a 9,000-square-foot facility, nearly half of which is retail. The store covers the basic needs of dogs, cats, small animals and reptiles. The palatial store also boasts an area devoted to aquarium and fish sales, as well as a custom aquarium installation and maintenance business. The rest of the sprawling petropolis is devoted to dog services—daycare, boarding and grooming.

The finesse with which Odyssey executes and integrates these specialties, combined with the staff’s unwavering emphasis on quality customer service in every department, has become Odyssey’s claim to fame among its fans. “We are a very service-oriented company,” says Doan. “Service is key for us.”

Winner of the 2014 Retailer Excellence Award for Multi-Service Excellence, awarded at Global Pet Expo in Orlando last March, Odyssey generates approximately 50 percent of its revenue through its services. The business’s grooming section is booming; Doan says the shop grooms as many as 40 dogs on a busy day—without compromising on quality or safety. He credits this success to Odyssey’s adeptly led team of groomers.

“We have managed to bring in a really talented lead groomer,” he says. “She was an instructor for many years, and she’s just an amazing groomer. She’s been able to lead the other groomers in a very effective way to set a very high standard of quality.”

The boarding segment is also thriving. It is run boutique style—at maximum capacity, boarding accommodates up to 15 dogs in five-by-five or five-by-10 kennels. The facility does not have much outdoor space in which dogs can roam, but boarded pets are able to play off-leash indoors, and each dog is hand-walked multiple times daily. Doan says the service is in such high demand that it is currently booked three weeks out. “We could always add more kennels, but at this time, I’m comfortable managing the smaller number,” he adds. “The revenue isn’t as high [as it could be if it was expanded], but the quality of the boarding is probably better for the dog.”

Yet while dogs are given royal treatment at Odyssey, the store has plenty of love to spare for other animal species. It often teams up with rescue organizations, promoting the rescue of cats and birds, as well as dogs. Odyssey has also remained committed to its tropical fish segment, despite the hardships in the category recently.

“It has been a little bit bumpy over the last several years in aquatics,” Doan says. “I’ve noticed a dip in merchandise [sales] over the last couple of years, and I’m hoping it’s cyclical and that we’ll see an upturn soon.”

The store’s aquatics sales have been driven largely by the demand for small aquariums, as Doan says there continues to be a market for tanks and livestock at the lower-end of the aquatics spectrum. It also attracts hobbyists from both near and far with its hand-raised coral assortment. On the service side of the aquatics department, Odyssey specializes in large, high-end custom aquarium installations and maintenance, and the store’s team is looking to expand that business.

“We are poised to add new accounts and bring in service technicians,” he says. “I have several people who work in our fish department who are qualified to do service.”

Still, the real magic happens on the sales floor, in the interaction between customers and the staff, who are often on a first-name basis with the store’s patrons. New faces are greeted with a simple “hello,” and are encouraged to just let the staff know if they need assistance. Odyssey’s management discourages any hard-sell or upsell techniques, and promotes down-to-earth honesty, simple courtesies and a lack of pretension. “We don’t use fancy phrases,” he says, referring to how staff greet customers and answer the phones.

Odyssey also stresses a judgment-free approach to sales—meaning employees are instructed to avoid sizing up potential customers based on superficial observations. “Some of my customers come in dressed in sweats, and for all practical purposes, on the wrong day, they may be qualified as ‘unpredictable’ by law enforcement—yet the person is a millionaire,” he says. “I tell my staff to not judge a book by its cover.”

He admits, however, that getting every member of an entire staff—even a modestly small one—to exhibit the flair for people that perhaps comes naturally to Doan himself is not automatic or easy. There are no hard, fast rules dictating each and every customer/employee interaction; instead, he says, he and Sherry set the standard through example.

“For the most part, [the staff learns] through osmosis, and by showing people how we want it done,” he says. “Both me and Sherry are very customer-service driven. We are going to make sure your experience is good.”

Of course, not every hire works out. Those employees who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not meet Odyssey’s high standards of service do not last long. Doan also recognizes that certain skills are innate and come naturally to some—while for others, the skills needed on the sales floor can only be learned through concerted effort and with constructive guidance.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a coffee house for the tenth time to the same barista at the same time of day, and that person will look at me with a glazed-over expression that says ‘I don’t recognize you,’” he says.  “That’s a soft skill, and it’s difficult to teach.

On the other hand, employees in the boarding, daycare and grooming segments do have a strict set of rules by which they must comply. These departments require hard skills, he says, and they are not negotiable. Take dog walking, for example. Employees have to know how to hold the leash and walk dogs securely and safely—every single time.

“No one will ever be walking dogs willy-nilly, and not paying attention to what they are doing,” he says.
Meanwhile, although the services may be a major cornerstone of the business, retail carries equal weight. Odyssey devotes about 5,000 square feet to retail, including a comprehensive premium food assortment.

“We carry only the top selection foods, and we focus on having foods that aren’t carried even in Petco and PetSmart,” he says. “And for foods that do cross over, we maintain very competitive pricing. In many cases, our prices are better than in big-box stores.”

Likewise, the store’s assortment of toys and other supplies is also meant to differentiate the retailer from big-box competitors. Doan says the goal is to always offer distinctive products that clients cannot find elsewhere and to streamline the product selection to accurately reflect customer preferences and needs. “We have definitely honed our purchasing skills to equal the demand, and not just what we think is awesome,” he says. “We pay close attention to what people buy.”

The store’s stalwart devotion to personalized customer service is as present on the sales floor as it is on its grooming tables or in its boarding kennels. For example, employees carry dog food out to customers cars without being asked—unless the customers turns down the service. Also, customers who cannot find exactly what they are looking for are encouraged to order it through Odyssey—it is a service Doan says is considered invaluable to many customers. “We have a lot of people who like to order things and have it sent it the store,” he says. “We put a small handling fee on it, and they are happy to pick it up somewhere where it is safe.”

At day’s end, however, despite Doan’s assertions about the importance he and his staff place on customer demands—and the people part of the pet business—it is the animals that keeps him enchanted. “I’m in this for the animals,” he says. “That’s where my joy is, and fortunately, we can earn a living doing it.”

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