Located in the tony seaside community of Bethany Beach, Del., Yuppy Puppy has made an art form out of converting summer tourists into a loyal and profitable customer base.
Running a profitable retail pet business can be tough, even when a store is perfectly placed to capture a steady stream of shopper traffic year round. So, how is it possible to thrive when your store is only open for half the year and sees the bulk of its sales over an eight-week period? Well, it helps if that store is located in an affluent seaside community like Bethany Beach, Del.
This two-square-mile beach town, which draws high-end tourist traffic from a wide geographic area that spans from northern Virginia to New York City, is the home of Yuppy Puppy, a small (700 square feet) dog-centric pet store that proves knowing your customers can make all the difference.
Operated by Jamie L. Idzi, who went from part-time summer help to storeowner when she acquired the business in 2007, Yuppy Puppy was founded as a seasonal pet store in 2002. Since then, the business has built a loyal, if transient, following by combining a well-devised product mix and high level of service with an award-winning approach to merchandising. In fact, the store was honored at the 2014 edition of Global Pet Expo with the Retailer Excellence Award for Outstanding Merchandising.
To serve the local customer base, which explodes each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Yuppy Puppy features a product mix that is fitting of a seaside tourist community. Of course, with such a small footprint, Idzi does not have much margin for error, so she sticks with best-selling categories such as collars and leads, toys and gourmet treats—all of which reflect a nautical, coastal sensibility. For example, Idzi points out that the store’s toy selection heavily features souvenir-like products inspired by sea life.
However, Yuppy Puppy’s selection is far from kitschy and falls squarely on what can be considered the high end. To ensure that her store’s offerings are appealing to the affluent shoppers in the surrounding community, Idzi takes her inspiration from outside the pet world. “I look at where they would shop otherwise,” she explains, noting that she takes the same approach when devising the store’s merchandising scheme.
When it comes to merchandising, Idzi benefits from first-hand experience outside the pet world. When not running Yuppy Puppy, she is a visual stylist for Nordstrom and says that her work at the high-end department store serves as a constant source of ideas when it comes to product presentation. The goal, she says, is to make the store warm and inviting for customers through the use of strategies such as color blocking. Also important to the store’s unique aesthetic appeal are its attractive fixtures, many of which Idzi makes herself, with the help of her father, using the home décor market as inspiration.
Of course, there are significant challenges that come with operating a pet store that experiences a majority of its sales over a short, two-month span. During that period, Idzi says that, “Every day is the busiest day, and I have to make every day count.” To this end, the store is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. Under these conditions, two aspects of day-to-day store operations can be particularly difficult—delivering a consistently high level of customer service and balancing the store’s inventory levels.
On the customer service front, Idzi says she is able to cover her sales floor with just two of the store’s four staff members during the busiest hours—a practice in which employee retention has proven invaluable. “I have the same returning staff coming back year after year, and we all work really great together,” says Idzi, noting that this has been instrumental to cultivating a loyal following for the store. “I’ve had a huge returning customer base—in some cases for up to 10 years—and it is a really awesome experience to watch their families grow.”
As for keeping the store shelves full without carrying a lot of inventory that she simply has no room for, Idzi says she must stay on top of every order with her vendors, which obviously play a key role. “It is very important that I have great relationships with my vendors,” she says, noting that her suppliers are mostly located on the logistically friendly East Coast and include a mix of distributors and manufacturers that sell direct.
Another important factor in keeping Yuppy Puppy’s shelves flush with product is the fact that Idzi does not reset her merchandise mix during the busy season. Instead, she selects the majority of her new products for the year at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. At the end of the season, she will sell-through trendy items to make space for the following year’s additions, but timeless staples are usually carried through to the next season.
Despite the rigors of running a seasonal pet retail business at its busiest, the inevitable down time that comes afterward can be just as important to its ongoing success—as is the case with Yuppy Puppy. Idzi credits the months when the store is closed for giving her an opportunity reevaluate and reenergize for the next year’s rush. “It’s great to have a few months off,” she says. “It allows me to reset and start fresh. I never go through a burnout phase. Every year, it’s like opening the store for the first time.”