The Evolution of Jack's
Built on a strong foundation of three generations of family ownership, Jack's Pets began operating on a whole new level when it was re-branded a few years ago.
Officials at Jack’s Pets say it is no coincidence that the chain’s sales started to breakout soon after they changed their name from Jack’s Aquariums & Pets about three years ago.
In fact, these executives are quite sure that the minor name change—after all, it was just one word and an ampersand—was enough to help set this family-owned, Beavercreek, Ohio-based operation running in the right direction. By changing the name to Jack’s Pets, the company hoped to clearly communicate to pet owners that they service the needs of all pets, not just aquatics.
“Four or five years ago, our name was Jack’s Aquariums & Pets, and we carried only five brands of dog foods and very little cat food,” says Scott Brenner, the company’s president. “We did great with those enthusiasts interested in aquatics, reptiles, small animals and bird products. But, a lot of other consumers simply did not realize that we were also in the dog and cat business at that time.”
As the chain re-branded, it also started to change its merchandise assortment. While aquatics remain a big part of the set—around 20 percent—the company took some space away from that segment and started to emphasize other areas. “Over the last two or three years, with our new name and our expansion in the dog and cat departments, our volume has grown substantially. Now, we have more than 30 brands each of dog and cat food, and we are looking for even more products in these categories.”
Today, Jack’s is a 32-unit chain making quite a bit of noise throughout its marketing territory, which is, for now at least, Ohio, Indiana and Northern Kentucky. For that reason and more, Jack’s Pets has been selected as the 2014 Pet Business Retailer of the Year.
Jack’s Pets has a tremendous leadership team that is consistently ahead of the curve in pet specialty. They have taken the opportunity to strategically open new stores and to continually develop their existing locations, along with their online sales. To go along with the retail locations, they have well placed advertising. Their monthly “Advo” has been a great catalyst for the growth that we have seen with Jack’s.
— Wade Nilson, Vice President of Sales, Independent Sales Division, Natural Balance Pet Foods
Jack’s is definitely an American success story. Jack and Margie Brenner, Scott’s grandparents, started selling guppies out of their basement in 1950. A year later, they opened their first store in Dayton, Ohio. The second generation, including Rick Brenner, K-Ann Harry, and Scott’s father, J.B., took over and grew the chain to 25 stores by 1995, with units in Ohio and Florida.
A year later, the company started PetSolutions, a side catalog business. In 1998, it evolved into an online business (petsolutions.com), which now commands a significant share of total company revenues. Interestingly, among its selection, PetSolutions offers between 300 and 400 types of fish for sale through the Internet.
“We were one of the first pet retailers on the Internet,” says Brenner. “Right now, we have a very good balance of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce [sales]. PetSolutions allows us to expand our reach nationwide, and not a lot of other pet retailers can say that. We are one of the largest sellers of pet products on the Internet right now. But our endgame goal is to continue to grow both aspects of our business. Our revenue is growing very nicely in both of our divisions.”
As for its traditional stores, Brenner is confident that a combination of assortment, price and service is helping the chain stand out amongst its competition, including the big-box retailers that are well represented in Jack’s marketing area. “Frankly, I think it comes down to service and how we treat our customers from the moment they walk into our stores,” he says. “We hire people who care. Our associates care about pets and want to know what consumers need for their pets. They also do a great job remembering our shoppers and their pets’ needs. We take great pride in our staff and treat them like family. Many of our staff have been with us for 20-plus years. For example, one of our regional managers, Rick Elliot, just celebrated his 44th year with our company.”
As one family-owned business to another, Nulo Pet Food is especially honored to see Jack’s Pets awarded the Pet Business Retailer of the Year. It’s not uncommon for third-generation family businesses to rest on their laurels, but Scott Brenner and his team have grown Jack’s by taking chances and embracing innovation at every step—in their product offerings, store designs and employee training programs. Jack’s Pets really provides an exceptional customer and product experience for pet parents.
— Michael Landa, CEO, Nulo Pet Food
The product assortment is also designed to help the company stand out with consumers. The dog category is definitely at the forefront, with an average store devoting between 104 and 120 linear feet to dog food. The cat section is also getting a lot more attention. And the company wants to reach out to even more suppliers to stock these two vital departments.
Yet, the chain also seems to be true to its aquarium roots. Paul Kamm, vice president of sales and operations and a 19-year veteran of the company, notes that Jack’s Pets carries up to twice as many live fish as the big-box chains. “It’s more than that,” he says. “We offer a lot of varieties of products for a lot of different animals. Plus, we do a tremendous amount of special orders. We are all about tracking down products that may not be on our store shelves for consumers.”
While the average Jack’s Pets store stocks about 4,500 items, Brenner says that the company’s 100,000-square-foot distribution center, which stocks and distributes products for both the website and the stores, carries about 12,000 SKUs. The distribution center is attached to the company’s headquarters. “That assortment is there for special orders,” he notes. “The amount of special ordering we have is absolutely amazing. We can ship the product directly to the consumer’s home or ship it to a store for pickup there. That makes us even more unique from the competition.”
Jack’s Pets is one of the cutting-edge retailers providing quality service and premium products to pet parents. Jack’s Pets has been a valued Central Garden & Pet partner for many years. We congratulate Jack’s Pets on their success and industry recognition.
— Jim Heim, President of Business Development, Central Garden & Pet
To complement its successful merchandising strategy, Jack’s Pets has also thrown its hat into the service arena. Brenner says the company has installed self-service dog-wash systems in five stores. “People love it, and we have developed a very upscale look in those stores that have it,” he says, noting that the wash costs $12 each, but consumers get a free wash with every five purchased. The company also has an Aquarium Maintenance division, which installs and services aquariums in commercial businesses, as well as residential homes. Operated by Nick Brenner, Scott’s cousin, this division now services hundreds of clients each month. “People love to have a beautiful, clean aquarium that they can show off to their relatives, friends or customers, but sometimes, they don’t want the inconvenience of taking care of it. That is where we come in, we provide that service,” Nick says. “From custom aquariums to the everyday aquariums we sell in our stores, we will install it and service it for a lifetime.”
Marketing is another important component of the company’s plans. Brenner stresses that Jack’s Pets must connect with consumers in its marketing territory. Its Jack’s Pets Rewards program, with over 175,000 customers signed up, is designed to do just that. Consumers receive a $10 coupon for every $300 spent at the chain. Also, the company offers a Baker’s Dozen plan, where consumers receive a 13th bag of food free after purchasing 12 of the product, as well as exclusive emails, direct mailings and coupons.
I have had the pleasure of working with Rick and Julie Billups over the years in many different pet specialty roles for all three of us. They are the most honest and sincere people I have come across, and are more friendly and knowledgeable than most of the other chain-run operations. They truly care about their company as well as their suppliers.
— Fritz Condon, Mideast Sales Manager, CANIDAE Natural Pet Food Co.
“Our whole marketing strategy is grass roots,” adds Rick Billups, vice president of marketing and merchandising. “For example, each store has its own rescue program they work with. It is all designed to get our associates at each store involved with their own customers. We think it is the right touch and creates an energy level that is simply very exciting. Our employees take a lot of pride in the fact that they know the shoppers who visit their stores.”
Jack’s top officials appear to be chomping at the bit to expand the chain. Though not willing to discuss the company’s total annual revenue, Brenner says that sales have increased “substantially over the last few years, and we expect that to continue.” Jack’s Pets has over 400 employees, and it will open its 33rd store in September.
The plan is to open three to five new stores every year, and Brenner says that the chain is always open to entering new areas where company officials see opportunity. At the same time, Brenner and staff appear committed to updating existing stores, creating new color schemes, and introducing more modern fixtures and lighting. “Each time we do it, we see an up-tick in sales,” he notes. “Consumers are a lot different today. They want a clean, well-designed look from their pet stores. We are creating that warm feeling for them. At the end of 2014, we will have 14 of our 33 stores under our new format.”
In the end, however, it may just come down to the energy level at the company. Brenner is proud that he has been able to re-energize the company over the last few years. Kamm says basically the same thing. “With Scott at the helm, this company has really taken off,” he says. “We are very excited about what we are doing here and how we are expanding the whole business. In the end, this is just a lot of fun.”