If Toys R Us Can’t Beat Big-Box and Online Retailers, Who Can?



Everyone in the pet industry has heard the comparison—dogs are like kids. People don’t stop spending on their kids, and they won’t stop spending on their dogs.

That connection has been credited with much of the industry’s growth over the last decade. Even as big-box retailers moved in and ate up some of the sales that once went to independent retailers—some of which ended up closing their doors—some industry experts still proclaimed that there was nothing to worry about.

Surely those retailers weren’t focused on service or made bad product decisions or didn’t have a head for business… et cetera. And maybe it was even true in a large percentage of the cases.

But if our pets are like kids, what does it mean, then, if one of the largest toy stores declares bankruptcy and announces it’s closing 180 stores across the United States?

Of course, I'm talking about Toys "R" Us.

CNBC attributes the chain’s rise to perfect timing—founder Charles Lazarus launched a store focused on children right as the baby boom of the 1950s hit. However, Walmart and then Amazon slowly moved in and gradually ate away at the toy chain’s sales.

Numbers declined, and a revolving door of CEOs failed to remedy the situation. If a business the size of Toys "R" Us couldn’t fight back, what chance do independent stores have?

The truth is, pet stores are facing an uphill battle. Small businesses everywhere are fighting to survive. And yet there are those who are defying the odds.

Take Gorge Dog in Hood River, Ore., where a strong business plan allowed owner Lisa Willis Wiltsie to build a profitable store that capitalizes on a combination of tourist traffic and local business.

Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, owned by Toni Shelaske, is another store that’s thriving —  thanks to a strong eye for design and finding the right niche, which has allowed Shelaske to go from one store to three.

Or look to any of the three retailers featured in last year’s article, Know Your Strengths, by Alyssa Brewer, all successfully growing.

The truth, though it may be a hard one to swallow, is that retailers have a real struggle ahead of them as shoppers figure out where their loyalties lie in the years ahead. But while it’ll require perseverance, industry smarts and careful planning, retailers with the right combination of skills will not only manage to survive, but will flourish. The key is to make sure your store stays on top of the latest trends, keep your skills sharp and ensure every employee knows everything they need to keep your store performing at the top of its game. 


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