Multifaceted Merchandising

When building displays and crafting its product assortment, Pet Food Express takes a purposeful approach that reflects several parts of its larger philosophy.




When building displays and crafting its product assortment, Pet Food Express takes a purposeful approach that reflects several parts of its larger philosophy. From evaluating product quality to considering the needs of customers and manufacturers’ approaches to doing business, the retail chain has a multifaceted view of what makes for successful merchandising.


“Pet Food Express’ No. 1 merchandising strategy is to love what we put on our shelves,” says Jim Castleberry, director of merchandising.


With the constant flow of new and innovative products in the pet industry, the company focuses on working with manufacturers that share its commitment to independent retailers.


“With all these choices, we offer products we love and focus on the brands that support the independent pet channel,” Castleberry says. “We define these brands based on a manufacturer’s commitment to stay loyal to independents for the long term and to back that up with who they choose to sell to, as well as fair and enforced MAP or MRP policies.”


Pet Food Express then applies its purposeful product strategy to creating displays and arranging the store to best meet its customers’ needs, such as by addressing a specific problem. A new section dedicated to first-aid products serves as a prime example.


“We had all the common necessities like wound care and cones, the trouble was the products were spread out in different locations throughout our stores,” Castleberry says. “Once we decided to take a look at this section with our purposeful products strategy, we expanded it with a vision of what customers might need after leaving their vet.”


Castleberry notes that this focus on a first-aid solution section was driven by the desire to help customers provide the best possible care for their pets, rather than promoting a profitable category.


“This is not a big category for us, in terms of dollars,” he says. “But we invested the time, space and cost because we know it is so important to have the right item for someone when their pet is sick, hurt or just uncomfortable.”


The retailer’s commitment to pet health also shows through in its food merchandising strategies. The majority of its customers still prefer kibble for their pets’ main source of nutrition, but Pet Food Express works to expose shoppers to the many choices on the market to allow them to find the best option for their pets. In addition to providing a variety of kibble alternatives, the company has integrated its new Healthy Sides concept throughout its stores as well.


“The principle idea is that a customer does not have to go all in to reap the benefits that these ‘sides’ offer,” Castleberry says. “A side can be any of the raw foods or a scoop of dehydrated food with their pet’s kibble. Goat’s milk, a raw bone or a dollop of pumpkin are all great Healthy Sides.”


Pet Food Express’ focus on purposeful merchandising also provides an advantage in the increasingly competitive retail landscape, Castleberry says. The company takes a proactive approach, keeping up with new developments in pet nutrition and continuously adjusting and updating its stores to offer the best possible selection.


“While the overall competition in pet retail has increased significantly in the last few years with the growth of e-commerce, we are well equipped to compete,” Castleberry says. “After all, these new competitors are focused on what was selling, and we continue to focus on what will sell through our brand building and recommendations.”


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