The Top 25 Pet Retailers in North America
The pet store chains that make up Pet Business’ annual Top 25 Pet Retailers list are facing many of the same challenges as their smaller counterparts in the channel.
TOP 25 PET RETAILERS LIST
Territory: U.S. & Canada
Stores: 1,660 (approx.)
Territory: U.S. & Mexico
Stores: 1,472 (approx.)
San Diego, CA
3. PET VALU*
Territory: Canada & Mid-Atlantic, Northeast & Midwest
Stores: 840+ (approx.)
Markham, Ont., Canada
4. PET SUPPLIES PLUS
Territory: East Coast, Midwest, TX, CA
Farmington Hills, MI
5. PET SUPERMARKET*
Territory: Southeast, CA & NV
Stores: 220+ (approx.)
6. GLOBAL PET FOODS
Brampton, Ont., Canada
Territory: U.S., Canada & Mexico
9. WOOF GANG BAKERY
Territory: NV, TX, TN, NC, GA, FL, NJ, KS, SC, VA, CT
10. HOLLYWOOD FEED
Territory: TN, TX, AL, AR, MS, SC, FL, GA, IN, KY, LA, NC, OK
11. PET PEOPLE
Territory: OH, IN, MI, IL, NC
12. BOSLEY'S BY PET VALU*
Stores: 70+ (approx.)
Richmond, BC, Canada
Montreal, QC, Canada
14. PET PLANET
Territory: Canada, AZ
Calgary, AB, Canada
15. UNLEASHED BY PETCO
San Diego, CA
16. PET FOOD EXPRESS
San Leandro, CA
17. LOYAL COMPANION**
Territory: Northeast, U.S.
New York, NY
19. CHICO PET STORES
Montreal, QC, Canada
20. CHUCK AND DON'S PET FOOD**
Territory: MN, CO, WI, KS
New York, NY
21. BENTLEY'S PET STUFF***
Territory: IL, MO, MN, WI
22. EARTHWISE PET SUPPLY****
Territory: CA, NM, KS, TX, OH, FL, SC, GA, NJ
Territory: IL, So. CA, CO, TX, VA
New York, NY
24. CONCORD PET
Territory: DE, PA, NJ, MD
25. PET DEPOT
Territory: U.S., Canada
Total # of stores, as of Feb. 1, 2020: 6,209
*Pet Valu, Pet Supermarket and Bosley's by Pet Valu are owned by Pet Retail Brands, which also operates 18 Paulmac's Pets stores in ON & NS, Canada; as well as 16 Total Pet Stores and 7 Tisol Pet Nutrition & Supply Stores in BC, Canda.
**Kriser's, Chuck & Don's and Loyal Companion are owned by Independent Pet Partners, which also operates 23 Natural Pawz stores in Texas.
**Bentley's Pet Stuff also operates 9 Protein for Pets stores in Southern CA, 2 Muttz stores in CO, 2 Pooch n Pawz stores in GA, one Green Pawz in MI and one Natural Pet Market in IL.
****Earthwise's parent company operates 19 Nature's Pet Market stores in OR and WA.
The past year turned out to be quite an eventful one for the pet store chains that make up Pet Business’ Top 25 Pet Retailers list, and not all of the developments that took place were positive.
In fact, two formerly prominent chains—Petland Discounts in New York and The Pet Club in Arizona, which started 2019 with 78 stores and 28 stores, respectively—shuttered their stores permanently, while two other perennial members of the Top 25 list—Pet Depot and Bentley’s Pet Stuff—each closed a significant number of locations. As a result, the number of stores encompassed by this year’s list (6,209) was actually lower than the previous year (6,286) for the first time.
Of course, there were a variety of unique circumstances that led to the store closings mentioned above, but it is safe to assume that growing competition from a number of directions—including online outlets like Chewy and Amazon—played at least some role in each case. In this way, the Top 25 Pet Retailers have proven that they are not nearly above the forces that are challenging much smaller pet store operations today.
Still, economies of scale and access to advanced resources do give many of these chains a decided advantage in being able to refine, evolve and grow their brands, as well as their relationship with pet owners, even in the face of a tougher competitive climate. As a result, there were a number of members of the Top 25 Pet Retailers list that added stores over the past 12 months, including several chains that expanded significantly since the last edition of the list was published in March 2019, including: Pet Supplies Plus (+26 stores), Hollywood Feed (+13 stores), and Pet People (+13 stores)
To get a better sense of both the opportunities and challenges deciding the fortunes of pet specialty retailers of all shapes and sizes, Pet Business sat down with executives from four pet store chains on the Top 25 list to see what they had to say about how the past year has gone for their businesses and—more importantly— what forces they expect will have the biggest impact in the year ahead.
Petsmart—J.K. Symancyk, CEO
What have been your main priorities during the year-and-a-half since you took on the role of CEO at Petsmart? I stepped into the organization after it had gone through a lot of change, so my No. 1 focus has been on how to set this business on the type of long-term, sustainable growth trajectory that does three things—honors the customers we serve and improves how we serve them; honors a great, loyal base of associates that really love pets; and builds the kind of base we can reset and build against in what is still a growing industry. Our team has really rallied around that and focused on a couple of things to deliver that: How do we build out what is already the largest and leading deliverer of services in this space to be even better? How do we refine our merchandise assortment to evolve from what was probably a business built on breadth to be one that’s built more on choice, point of view and advocacy on behalf of pets and pet parents? How do we mobilize and strengthen the culture of a strong base of associates to be able to serve customers better? And then, finally, how do we evolve our business from what was a mass, general marketing organization to one that really best serves customers on a one-to-one basis.
Petsmart has had a lot of success with offering services in its stores. Has this part of the business become more competitive? I would frame it in a couple of ways. One, Petsmart has a big lead in this space. We provide over 15 million unique services each year. There’s no one who sets a higher bar, as it relates to not only the standard of care, but also the level of transparency and accountability—for example, what we do with air purification systems in our hotels, what we do with hands-on health and safety assessments with every pet we see, the fact that our groomers complete not only 800 hours of classroom training before they start seeing pets, but they also complete more than 200 supervised grooms before they start taking clients on their own. So, we really do set the bar higher than any other organization in this space.
We certainly see demand and competition growing, yet we’re still able to grow our business—it’s one of the fastest-growing pieces of our business.
How does the explosive growth of some of the regional pet chains impact your strategies? We live during a time in which retail is more competitive than ever. Competition is everywhere, and it’s not really channel specific as much as it is brand specific. There are a lot of brands that do great things, and frankly it’s complicated because, in some cases, those brands are also partners. But that’s what you should expect when you are in an industry that has experienced the level of growth that the pet industry has over the past 25 years and is still ahead of us. There are a lot of people looking at how to tap into that growth, and the impact of that competition looks a lot different from market to market—in some cases, it’s digital, in other cases it’s independent operators or the influence of mass. At the end of the day, as a leader in the space, we have to make sure we’re doing our job to set the pace. That means bringing innovation and valuable solutions to the forefront of what we do.
What are your goals and expectations for the year ahead? I led with pointing out our focus on how we continue to build on services, how we evolve our merchandise assortment, what we’re doing in terms of culture and supporting our associates, and how we leverage customer relationships to be a better partner. Those all remain the focus, but we’ve graduated from freshman-level work to the next level of higher education.
In terms of services, we are very focused on digital integration and how we make that customer relationship even stronger. In merchandising, we’re leaning in even more heavily into refining our assortment overall, with proprietary brands being a really big part of that—it’s the fastest-growing part of our business. That is something that allows us to lead innovation, particularly in some categories where there is not a national brand in play. When it comes to customer relationships, over the course of a year, we’ve grown our treats loyalty program from nothing to over 30 million members.
If you look at our business since I had the privilege of joining the team, we have built momentum and seen sequential improvement in every quarter. We will continue to build on that in a sustainable way where we’re not over promoting or signing up for short-term bursts.
Pet Supplies Plus—Chris Rowland, CEO
What does surpassing a milestone like $1 billion in annual sales mean to a chain like Pet Supplies Plus? It allows us to have more buying leverage to pass those savings on to our franchisees in margin and our neighbors in lower retails.
Our neighbors love our stores; they are locally owned and conveniently located with lower prices and more personalized service then our national competitors.
How has Pet Supplies Plus’ culture and approach to growth evolved since you took over as CEO in 2014? In the past, the company was built around the old philosophy of “stack it high and watch it fly.” It really was a grocery store for pets, largely self-service and all about the merchandise.
Now, we spend most of our time talking about connecting locally, through highly educated team members and authentic, friendly service. That happens on the very first meeting with a prospective franchisee. We aren’t interested in a candidate unless they have a passion for pets and enjoy working with the public. That has been possible, as we invested and spent the first few years building a much more robust infrastructure to support our stores.
We try to “Minus the Hassle” for our operators to make it easier for them to help our neighbors find better products for their pets. Compared to an independent, our franchisees are provided the merchandising, marketing, IT, supply chain and operations support so they can spend most of their time in the aisles making connections and helping their neighbors. That’s a huge advantage that has allowed the culture to move to the top of the priority list.
While about 55 percent of PSP stores are currently franchised locations, you envision that ratio moving up to 90%. Why do you believe this is important to the chain? It will take some time to get there, but yes, we will open 90 percent of our new stores as franchise locations, and we have started to re-franchise some of our corporate stores as well. We firmly believe a local owner/operator with real skin in game and a tie to the local community—with our support and buying power behind the scenes—is the best model to make that authentic connection with the neighbor and their pets.
This is a highly emotional, passion-driven industry, and what better way to bring that to life than to have a franchisee who is also a neighbor and shares that same passion for their pets? Our vision is to be America’s Favorite Neighborhood Pet Store, and that starts with having a local neighbor own the franchise location.
What are the biggest challenges to realizing your goals for the chain moving forward? It all begins and ends with our franchisees and our neighbors. We’re focused on what the shopper wants, and our franchisees are committed to delivering on those demands, so we will be fine.
Like everyone, we’re seeing some neighbors migrate online, but that trend is slowing, and we haven’t had a competing offering. We just rolled out Buy Online / Pick up In-store, which is going well. We will launch our full E-commerce solution later this year to allow our franchisees to deliver direct from their stores. Millennials are the best pet-loving generation we’ve ever seen, so that certainly helps to fuel our future growth. We just need to keep making it easier to shop while maintaining those local relationships. Our smaller, convenient stores help with that strategy, but further investment in technology will be required to satisfy the increasing demands of a tech savvy neighbor.
Independent Pet Partners—Mike Foss, Co-Founder & Managing Director
Tell us why/how you rebranded the chains you operate in the Northeast to Loyal Companion. We had three different brands in the New England area, and four in the Baltimore/Washington area. One of the things we aspired to—for ease of use for our customers and to give them the maximum flexibility of being able to shop and use their loyalty program in a broad set of stores—was to try and get to a single brand in a market. As we looked at the strength of the individual brands we had, we saw that they were all well known around their particular stores, but there wasn’t as much strength the further you got from the stores.
We did a lot of work over many months and came up with Loyal Companion as the brand that we could align our New England and Washington stores behind. We have no intention of rolling that brand into any of the other markets in which we operated. Between Chuck & Don’s, Kriser’s and Natural Pawz, we have some really strong brands with good, strong customer backing. So, Loyal Companion will operate from Washington up to New England. We will continue to fill out the whole region over time with, I’m sure, a combination of new-build stores, as well as potential acquisitions down the road.
How do you keep the distinct personality of your retail banners while leveraging economies of scale? If you think about the benefit of scale, it’s volume-based procurement—obviously, we believe we can drive a better overall cost through higher-volume buying, whether it’s products we buy straight from manufacturers or our private-label products.
There is also an efficiency to having centralized merchandising, accounting, finance or marketing. But we try to keep the product selection within the major brands—Natural Pawz, Kriser’s, Chuck & Don’s and now Loyal Companion—targeted to the local communities they serve. We also try to keep the marketing message consistent with what has made each those brands strong.
In the Natural Pawz world, we continue to upgrade stores. We’ve added several bigger stores with full service offerings. In some cases, we’ve relocated a store from a 1,100 square foot space to a 4,000 square foot space. In other cases, we’ve taken two very small stores that were close to one another and replaced them with a 4,000 square foot full-service store in a location in between. We’re trying to give people even better experiences over time and grow the brands.
How do you balance growth across all of these successful chains? We look at the markets they serve and the opportunities within those markets, and it becomes somewhat of a capital allocation play to see where we think we can get the best returns. We know that as we build more density in certain markets and make it easier for customers to shop, they tend to reward us with a greater share of their purchases. So, we’re big into trying to build the right kind of density around the markets we serve.
However, I wouldn’t say that our goal is to grow Kriser’s by X number of stores, or grow Natural Pawz by Y number of stores. We’re looking at the individual markets and building strategies for where we need stores. We’re continually looking for real estate, and when the planets align right and we can find the right size store in the right kind of center in an area where we have a gap, we jump on it. So, we fully expect to grow all four of our brands.
In general, do you see future growth happing organically within the brands you have, or could there be another major acquisition in IPP’s future? I think there will be a combination of both. We’ve opened up a whole bunch of new Loyal Companion stores in Boston, as well as a number in the Washington, D.C. area. We’ve opened some new stores in Texas. We’re about to open some new Chuck & Don’s locations in Minnesota. So, we want to continue growing stores organically. At the same time, though, if there is an awesome acquisition opportunity out there in a market that we think is strategic for us, we would be all over it.
Bentley’s Pet Stuff—Giovanni Senafe, Vice President
Tell us about your acquisition of Protein for Pets, a nine-store chain in California. [Protein for Pets] had a great buy online, pick up in store business and model. California is where the majority of our e-commerce business is, so as we add locations and services, we have a built-in client base.
We have not decided on what name [these stores will have] for the long term—this is always a debate and we don’t have a clear answer decided. The plan is to build on the great food sales they had, along with chews, bakery and CBD products. We are already planning on a few more acquisitions in this market, and bigger spaces to add services.
In 2018, Bentley’s began expanding grooming services across the chain. How has this process gone? Services have been wonderful addition to the company and create the stickiest of customers. We are continually adding more and more locations as we can. Challenges are always people but the growth potential makes it far worth it.
What are some of the key goals and challenges facing Bentley’s today? I think the biggest challenge is brands going direct-to-consumer. People always thought Chewy and Amazon [were the biggest challenge], but I think we are seeing promo dollars, offers and energy going direct to consumer. We are preparing ourselves for dog food to be available at the movie theater someday and are always promoting rotating and mixing it up.
Our goal is to continue to offer the best value, best service and commitment to our customers based on quality, not brands. We will be singularly focused on adding services to our existing stores and have several acquisitions in the pipeline, as expected. [We’ve] never been more excited for the industry and space. PB