A Fresh Coat

Regularly freshening up a pet store’s image is essential, regardless of the state of the economy. Luckily, this process needn’t break the bank.


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We don’t know how deep the economic recession will cut or how long it will last, but one thing is certain: This is no time for pet retailers to hunker down and adopt a bunker mentality. Do that and risk losing the edge that can make your pet store competitive when good economic times return. That’s what retail and pet industry consultants are advising pet retailers. “It’s like the old adage: when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” says Jim Dion, president of Dionco. Inc., a Chicago-based retail-consulting company.

Now is the time for pet retailers to get aggressive and try things that can push them ahead of their competitors, and improving your store’s look and the image it projects is a great place to start. “A spruce up or even a new look may be the strategy that can help pet retailers excite their customers or even keep them,” says Dion.

The remarkable news is that remodeling your store can boost sales, whether there is a recession or not. “In tough times, a retailer needs to project a positive image to their customers,” explains Chris Miller, president of the Garden Grove, California-based design/building firm Pacific Store Designs Inc. “A fresher look speaks volumes to your customers. You are saying to them that times may be tough, but I’m doing okay. You can have confidence in me. A look of doom and gloom in a down economy can almost be a self fulfilling prophecy.” 

Some studies show that a remodel can actually boost sales by as much as 20 to 30 percent. “Remodeling can revive your store and make it an exciting place to shop in again,” explains Jami Dolinski, marketing manager for the Cerritos California-based CASCO Group, a leading provider of acrylic aquarium displays and installations. “Customers will not only want to come to your store, they will stay longer.”

Since the current state of the economy is impacting every industry, a remodel may be more affordable than you think. “By remodeling in the current recession, you can save money by taking advantage of today’s prices,” Miller explains. “For instance, steel prices have dropped 25 percent and gas prices have fallen. We don’t have many of the surcharges we once had. Also, labor is more competitively priced in tough times.”

Of course, a substantial remodel will probably still cost a few thousand dollars or more, but the store’s appearance can be freshened up for just a fraction of that. Take on what you can afford. What’s important is that you answer the call to action.

“Even if you are hanging on by your fingernails, there are some basic things you can do to bring back excitement into the store,” Dion says. “Merely adding a fresh coat of paint can brighten up a store and make a world of difference.”

Take a look around the store and let your senses go to work. Can you detect anything that could turn off customers?

Don’t be afraid to seek other perspectives. Meet and brainstorm with employees, family, friends, mentors and advisors, as well as customers. Ask them for ideas or a frank assessment as to how you can improve the image of and bring excitement to your pet store. The more ideas received, the more options you will have to give your business that edge.

To gain even more feedback, train employees to be the eyes and ears of the store while they help freshen up the sales floor. “Employees hear a lot of stuff that indicates what customers think of your store,” Dion explains. “Customers are not experts at retail management, but they can get vocal when something bothers them.”


Keep It Clean
The first place to look when assessing a store’s image is cleanliness. “The pet supply store I use is conveniently close to my house, but sometimes it’s dirty,” Dion reveals. “How many other customers notice that and are turned off? It doesn’t take much money or effort to keep a pet store clean.”

Miller advises making each employee responsible for keeping a pre-determined area of the store clean. “You can take a photograph of a clean module and display the photo in the employee room,” he explains. “You’ve established a non-negotiable standard for how the store must look before the employees go home at night.”

Do you smell anything foul? Customers understand that a pet store, by nature, may have certain smells, but are the odors out of control? Use an exhaust system to air out the store. “Most retailers don’t bother to air out their stores,” Miller explains. “Or when they do, they use an inefficient exhaust system. A good exhaust will cost from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the type of store. It will be less if you don’t have live animals.”

In a tough economy, the look and attitude of a store’s employees can be just as important as the product and services provided. And freshening up the workforce will cost no more than a song.

Make every worker wear the same type of clothes.  “I’ve noticed that a growing number of pet retailers have relaxed their dress codes,” he explains. “But how an employee looks and acts goes a long way in making your average customer feel comfortable.”


Sprucing Up Signage
Another area that should be carefully looked at is the store’s signage. Are the signs confusing or boring? Handwritten signs look unprofessional–discard them.  You can simply print signs from a computer or use pre-printed signage supplied by vendors.

“Use signage to engage customers,” advises Nancy Reed, marketing director for Companion Habitats Inc., a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company that provides animal fixtures for the retail industry. “For instance, if you have a sign about lizards, include a short paragraph on the sign about their habits.”

Reed suggests that retailers go a step further, particularly when trying to engage younger shoppers who are easily bored by traditional merchandising strategies. “They are the buyers of the future, and we know they are into technology. So use interactive displays to engage them,” she says.


Clear Out the Clutter

Are your aisles cluttered? Do they make you feel like snake when trying to navigate them? Keep products in an orderly manner and off the floor. Taking photos of the front, middle and back of the store and analyzing them can provide some valuable insight in this regard. “What you see will shock you,” says Dion. “Many retail stores are too cluttered. The products on the floor really belong in the stock room.”

According to Diane Benson Harrington, a business writer who publishes articles that help small business owners with their most pressing management problems, narrow aisles and boxy configurations give a store a discount-store feel. “Open floor plans with a curvilinear sensibility encourage shoppers to linger and move around the store,” Harrington explains.

You can control customer traffic flow by delineating a walkway through the store. Known as the ‘main drive aisle,’  this pathway can create what Miller describes as the “yellow brick road effect.” He explains: “A pet retailer can put a red main drive aisle through the store, similar to what the Target discount store chain does to help move their customers smoothly. It’s not costly and it works very well. I’ve done 3,000 stores with this principle in mind, and I have not had to make any changes.”


A First Impression
Don’t forget that the front of the store is where the customer gets a first impression. “Make your window display as simple but as inviting as possible,” says Dion, also noting that the first two to three feet of the sales floor should be clean and open.

Miller agrees, explaining that customers will form an impression of a store within two or three steps inside the front door. Woe is the future of the pet store where the music is too loud or jarring, the aisles too cluttered or the employees too sloppily dressed.


Shed Some Light
Lighting is a key element in remodeling a store. The three keys to good lighting are atmosphere, attraction and appeal. A store needs to use different types of lighting, depending on the objective.

“To enhance the general shopping experience, use florescent full spectrum color bulbs,” Miller says. “Accent or track lighting should be used to highlight window displays or endcaps and should be placed where you want the customer to spend more time. Track lighting is used for special purposes, such as to highlight animal enclosures or for showcases or neon signage. Track lighting’s psychological goal is to trigger impulse buying.”

The above remodeling tips are inexpensive ways to spruce up a store and freshen its image. “You don’t need to do major remodeling overhaul, but it’s important that pet retailers be proactive and do everything they can to attract and keep customers,” Dolinski say.

Contributing writer Ron Chepesiuk (dmonitor1@yahoo.com) is a South Carolina-based freelance business journalist.

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