From Show Ring to Winner's Circle
The owners of New Jersey-based Cherrybrook transformed a modest retail booth at traveling dog shows into an award-winning pet store chain.
When Roy and Claudia Loomis came across the Cherrybrook retail booth in the dog-show circuit in 2005, Roy was looking to invest in a local business while on sabbatical from his career as a technology and management consultant. The New Jersey-based company, which was founded in 1969, was well known among dog-show enthusiasts as a premier provider of tools and products that dog-show handlers need to win in the ring. Its mobile retail booth sold products at over 100 dog shows a year, and the company also had an established catalog that shipped worldwide.
The Loomis’ quickly fell in love with Cherrybrook and its history, and purchased the company later that year. Roy never returned from sabbatical.
When the couple took ownership of Cherrybrook, the company was still being driven by dog show sales; a model the Loomis’ knew they could expand upon. “We thought that with that history and experience in the dog show ring, we had a lot of products that were very well suited for pet owners,” Claudia says. “Our model for growth for Cherrybrook was to open pet retail stores.”
The goal was to transition the Cherrybrook brand into one that resonated with pet owners. “We felt the growth opportunity was to provide a high-service store for local pet owners that focused on nutrition and health and provided the high service that is required for those kinds of things, in terms of a knowledgeable staff, etc.,” Roy says.
In April 2009, the Loomis’s opened Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, a 3,500-square-foot store in Bedminster, N.J. Staying true to its roots, the store offers a larger-than-average assortment of grooming products, as well as high-quality pet food, treats, toys, health and wellness products, flea and tick products, crates, beds, leads, collars, apparel and travel products. Where the dog-and-cat-focused store truly shines though, according to its owners, is in its nutrition expertise.
“While Cherrybrook had traditionally looked at the dog from the outside in, with our retail model, we were looking at the dogs from the inside out,” Claudia says. “We offer the proper nutrition and have a nutritional philosophy that says we do not sell foods with corn, wheat, soy, animal by-products, artificial colors or preservatives.”
Bedminster residents welcomed this philosophy, and the store quickly gained a strong customer base. The Loomis’s capitalized on this rapid growth in August 2010 by opening two more 3,500-square-foot locations simultaneously—one in Garwood, N.J., and one in Washington Township, N.J.
“We made a strategic decision that the future of our company would be based on the independent retail model that we created in Bedminster,” Roy says. “We saw very rapid success in Bedminster that told us we were ready to move to the next level, which is why we opened the next two stores very quickly.”
Cherrybrook—which was named Best Overall Multi-Unit Retailer (2-10 stores) at the 2014 Global Pet Expo Retailer Excellence Awards—now operates those three retail locations, in addition to a warehouse store in Phillipsburg, N.J., thriving online and print catalogs, and a mobile retail booth that is still a fixture at more than 100 American Kennel Club dog shows per year.
The recipe to all this success is what the company calls “the Cherrybrook difference,” which is founded on the company’s expert employees. “We have always made it a priority to hire people with professional dog experience,” Claudia says. “Of our employee base, which includes 36 employees, everybody has a strong pet-related background—whether it is through breeding, grooming or other pet-related experience.
“These aren’t minimum-wage jobs,” Claudia adds. “We expect our customers to come into the store with questions, and we want to have people in place that can answer those questions, which is why the depth and breadth of their experience before they come to us is significant.”
Cherrybrook’s employees receive ongoing training to stay informed and motivated. The company takes advantage of distributor and manufacturer training sessions, as well as the Pet Industry Distributor Association’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. The company also regularly holds ongoing internal training sessions to keep employees abreast of new information and trends.
“An overwhelming amount of our employees are full time,” Roy says. “It’s a very big difference between us and a big-box retailer. Our employees have to make our customers feel welcome and let them know they have the knowledge base to be able to assist them.”
In addition to one-on-one assistance, Cherrybrook offers its customers a wealth of information on its social media sites and through in-store events. For example, at the Bedminster store’s fifth anniversary party, which was held in April, Cherrybrook hosted a variety of entertaining and informative sessions for customers. Celebrity dog groomer and author of DIY Dog Grooming, From Puppy Cuts to Best in Show, Jorge Bendersky signed books and answered grooming-related questions. In addition, the event featured an animal communicator, portrait artist, rescue organization, two food companies offering nutrition sessions and a dog trainer.
The five-year anniversary party also gave customers the opportunity to earn triple points through the Cherrybrook Champions rewards program, which offers coupons, specials, promotions and more based on a points system tied to purchases.
“We had our best day in sales ever in any of our stores that day,” Roy says. “It’s a tangible demonstration that shows how well connected we are with customers and how our customers are with our stores.”
For Cherrybrook, connecting with customers extends beyond in-store events. The company does a lot of marketing through its community events, such as local fairs, dog walks and costume parades. “These events bring people into the stores, while creating some positive association in the community,” Claudia says, noting that Cherrybrook also regularly donates to rescues and charities.
The Loomis’ feel that they have succeeded in providing high-quality service to the community, and their local customer base clearly feels the same way. In January, New Jersey Monthly named Cherrybrook the “Best Pet Boutique in Northern New Jersey.”
“Our customers always say wonderful things about us,” Claudia says. “And they voted for us to receive that honor. It’s been a very special year for us.”