The Mud Bay Experience


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After spending several weeks exploring just about every facet of the Mud Bay retail operation, I came away with one burning question. Can they please open a store in my neighborhood?

Of course, there is little chance of that happening anytime soon—if ever—given that I’m on the opposite coast from the 33-store Pacific Northwest chain, which is Pet Business’ 2015 Retailer of Year and the subject of this month’s cover story. Despite a relatively aggressive growth strategy that is expected to expand Mud Bay’s store count by about 15 percent a year, I did not sense aspirations of becoming a national chain among its executive staff.

That is a shame. Mud Bay offers a customer experience that every pet owner—heck, any shopper in general—longs for. The stores have a warm yet modern aesthetic, with sensible layouts, beautiful fixtures and clear signage that make them easy to shop. And if pet owners do not see exactly what they are looking for while shopping the approximately 4,000 SKUs that line the shelves, they can probably find it among the additional 2,500 items that the chain offers through special order—and have it delivered to their location of choice within a couple of days.

The centerpiece of each Mud Bay location is the “apothecary” that resides behind the checkout counter. Sliding chalkboard doors featuring staff-generated artwork and information on seasonal wellness and nutrition themes cover large wooden cases filled with a wide range of free samples. These samples, which are given out liberally, enable customers to try out many of the products—particularly food and treats—that are carried in the store before committing to a purchase.

But the experience that pet owners will find at Mud Bay goes well beyond the physical features of the stores. The staff does a great job providing helpful service centered on solution-based conversations without devolving into a pushy sales pitch. “Not everyone wants to be helped,” notes one Mud Bay official, who went on to say that customers are often blown away by the fact that store employees are not trying to sell them something. It is an approach that makes it clear that, at Mud Bay, building relationships is more important than closing sales. In fact, if a store simply cannot deliver what a pet owner is looking for, the staff will even recommend a different retailer that can.

Rounding out Mud Bay’s customer-friendly approach to retailing is the chain’s pricing policies. The company eschews periodic promotions in favor of a strategy that hinges on consistently offering fair prices that are quite competitive with even the national big-box chains. As a result, Mud Bay is not beholden to particular vendors for discounts, and shoppers do not have to scour weekly or monthly flyers for deals on their favorite brands, or make compromises based on what is on sale during a given period.

Unsurprisingly, all of this adds up to make Mud Bay a retailer that enjoys a very strong level of word-of-mouth promotion and a stalwart customer base.

So, sign me up. I’m ready to become one of those loyal customers. I know it probably is not in the cards, but a pet owner can dream, can’t he?

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