The Top 25 Pet Retailers in North America

The 2018 Pet Business Top 25 Retailers list shows that North America’s largest pet store chains continued to experience phenomenal growth over the past year—a trend that shows no signs of slowing.




“A rising tide lifts all boats,” is a saying that seems perfectly apt for describing the 2018 Pet Business Top 25 Retailers list, which reveals extraordinary growth among North America’s largest pet store chains as the pet care market grew to reach an estimated $69 billion in sales in 2017. And while not every retailer on the list got the same rise out of this swell in pet-related spending, its impact on the group as whole is undeniable.



Territory: U.S. & Canada
Stores: 1,608 (approx.)
Phoenx, AZ

Territory: U.S. & Mexico
Stores: 1,472 (approx.)
San Diego, CA

Territory: Canada & Mid-Atlantic, Northeast & Midwest
Stores: 937
Markham, Ont., Canada

Territory: East Coast, Midwest, TX, CA
Stores: 429
Farmington Hills, MI

Territory: Southeast, CA & NV
Stores: 243
Sunrise, FL

Territory: Canada
Stores: 185
Brampton, Ont., Canada

Territory: U.S.
Stores: 168
Scottsdale, AZ

Territory: U.S., Canada & Mexico
Stores: 124
Chillicothe, OH

Territory: CO, IL, MI, MO, MN, NC, WI 
Stores: 122
Lincolnshire, IL

Territory: NV, TX, TN, NC, GA, FL, NJ, KS, SC, VA, CT
Stores: 98
Orlando, FL

Territory: Metro NY
Stores: 84
Brentwood, NY

Territory: U.S. 
Stores: 80
San Diego, CA

Territory: TN, TX, AL, AR, MS
Stores: 66
Memphis, TN

Territory: CA
Stores: 63
San Leandro, CA

Territory: Quebec
Stores: 63
Quebec, Canada

Territory: Canada, AZ
Stores: 58
Calgary, AB, Canada

Territory: OH, IN, MI, IL, NC
Stores: 49
Hilliard, OH

18. Kriser's
Territory: IL, So. CA, CO, TX, VA
Stores: 45 *
Santa Monica, CA

Territory: WA, OR
Stores: 45
Olympia, WA

Territory: MN, CO, WI, KS
Stores: 43 **
Mahtomedi, MN

Territory: AZ, CO
Stores: 41 ***
Tempe, AZ

Territory: Canada 
Stores: 36
Richmond, BC, Canada

Territory: U.S., Canada
Stores: 35
Glendora, CA

Territory: CA, NM, KS, TX, OH, FL, SC, GA, NJ
Stores: 30 ****
Canby, OR

Territory: DE, PA, NJ, MD
Stores: 28
Wilmington, DE

Total # of stores, as of March 1, 2018: 6,152

*Kriser's also operates eight Bark! stores in Maryland
**Chuck & Don's also operates three All Paws Pet Center stores in Kansas
***Pet Club also operates three Arizona stores under other names: Tucson Feed, Superstition Feed & Ramsay Canyon Feed
**** Earthwise's parent company also operates 18 Nature's Pet Market Stores in Oregon and Washington

Consider the total number of stores encompassed in this year’s edition of the list—approximately 6,232. This represents a 679-store (12 percent) increase during a period of a little more than 12 months, which outpaced the growth experienced in 2014 and 2015 combined by nearly 100 stores. Clearly, not only is the top echelon of pet store chains growing, that growth is gaining momentum.


Of course, PetSmart and Petco maintained their positions as No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, respectively, again this year. Interestingly, however, the two big-box chains continue to account for a smaller and smaller percentage of the total number of stores operated by the Top 25 Retailers overall. For example, while almost 58 percent of the stores represented on list in 2014 were operated by PetSmart or Petco, that number dropped to 56 percent in 2016, 54 percent in 2017, and now 52 percent in this year’s edition. The implication, it seems, is that the rest of the field is slowly but surely catching up to the top two players in the pet specialty channel.


While all of the companies on the list this year were also part of the last edition of the Top 25 Retailers list in 2017, the deck has been shuffled a bit, in terms of ranking. The biggest change, to the surprise of no one who has been monitoring the pet specialty channel over the past couple of years, has been the position of Bentley’s Pet Stuff. The chain made its debut on the list last year, when it came in at No. 18 with 43 Bentley’s Pet Stuff stores. (Editor’s note: because the Top 25 List ranks chains based on consistent store branding,19 additional locations operated by Pet Stuff America under different brands were not counted in determining Bentley’s positioning in 2017.) Now, a continuation of that buying spree has propelled the company up to No. 9, with 122 stores. In addition, the key acquisitions that Bentley’s Pet Stuff has made over the past year have extended its reach into new markets, including Michigan, Colorado and North Carolina.


Bentley’s acquisition-fueled transformation into one of the most prominent and fastest-growing pet store chains is just one example of a broader trend that is playing out in retail. After transforming the pet industry’s manufacturing and distribution landscape over the past decade, consolidation has become a major force in reshaping the pet specialty retail channel. Several chains on this year’s Top 25 list made key acquisitions over the past few years, including not only Bentley’s Pet Stuff, but also Pet Valu, Kriser’s and Chuck & Don’s.


To get a snapshot of this quickly changing and growing world of pet store chains, let’s take a closer look at five of the chains on this year’s list to see what their executives had to say about their company’s past, present and future growth.





The Market Leader

PetSmart defended its position as the No. 1 chain on the Top 25 Retailers list again in 2017 by continuing to grow in diverse directions. While the company made a big splash in the world of ecommerce with the acquisition of early in the year, increasing the number of physical locations it operates (currently more than 1,600 in all) remains a priority for industry’s big-box leader.


“Continuing to expand our brick-and-mortar footprint is an important part of our strategy to be the most convenient, best-in-class pet retailer,” says Brian Amkraut, PetSmart’s executive vice president, store operations, services, supply chain and real estate.


PetSmart’s focus on brick-and-mortar retail is not just a matter of adding locations, though. The company continues to evolve its approach to retail as it grows.

“Beyond our standard store layout, we continued to innovate and test new concepts including a new more experiential design at Highlands Ranch, Colo., and The Groomery, a new stand-alone store focused solely on grooming services,” says Amkraut, noting that the chain opened three The Groomery by PetSmart locations last year, with more to come in 2018.


“The Groomery is an important innovation of our pet grooming services. Pet grooming is often viewed as a neighborhood business and The Groomery, with is smaller store format, lets us go into neighborhoods to bring PetSmart’s grooming expertise closer to those communities,” he says.


This move into grooming-only locations is the latest chapter in PetSmart’s ongoing efforts to leverage service offerings as a point of differentiation in a competitive retail landscape—efforts that can be observed across the entire organization. Noting that the chain will continue to offer training, grooming and adoption services in its big-box stores, as well as pet boarding and daycare at its 200-plus PetsHotel locations, Amkraut says that PetSmart aims to continue driving innovation in pet services.


One such innovation was a new training program that the company launched last year.  “In May of 2017, we were the first national pet retailer to launch Dog Therapy Training Services, a training program that prepares pet parents and their dogs for Therapy Dog evaluation, which is conducted by third parties dedicated to registering therapy pets,” notes Amkraut.



A Secure Place at the Top

Pet Supplies Plus (PSP) has been a fixture near the top of Pet Business’ Top 25 Retailers list—at No. 4 in this year’s edition—since we started tracking the growth of pet specialty channel’s biggest chains more than a decade ago, and this year is no different. North America’s largest pet store franchise has further cemented its position by adding more than 50 locations over the past year.


This represents the latest in a series of increases in PSP’s growth rate over the past several years. The chain averaged 13 new store openings annually in 2012 and 2013, before adding about 23 new locations each year in 2014 and 2015, and 44 locations in 2016. It is an impressive arc, and one that company CEO Chris Rowland says can be expected to continue in the years ahead.


“Over the short term, we’re looking at adding anywhere from 55 to 65 new locations [annually],” he says.


While the chain has traditionally been split evenly between franchise and corporate locations, Rowland says that PSP’s recent growth is skewing more toward franchisees. “We’re opening 12 to 15 corporate stores and 40 to 45 franchise stores per year,” he explains, noting that franchisees are a valuable part of company’s retail model. “If you look at what is going on in the industry, we think the local owner/operator—the local feel, the local touch—is a differentiator versus some of the larger competitors and big-box stores.”


When considering where PSP’s ongoing expansion will take place, Rowland says that while the company is seeing opportunistic growth across the U.S., the southern region of the country holds significant potential for the chain. “With the population growth that is going on, and because we’re underpenetrated in the southern states, we obviously have more areas for growing the brand,” he explains.


Key to the continued growth of the PSP chain has been and will continue to be the infrastructure improvements that Rowland and his team have been working hard to put into place since he took on the role of CEO in 2014. While he will always view these improvements as an ongoing work in progress, Rowland says that he is happy with what the company has accomplished over the past four years.


“Our five year plan really calls for minimal infrastructure additions,” he explains. “It really revolves more around taking advantage of what we have built to ramp the company up.”


To Rowland, despite the operational improvements that have been made, one of the most important elements of the foundation that PSP has built for future success is a winning culture. “The biggest thing for me was to be able to come in and build a culture that was conducive to driving the business without losing perspective on our roots. While the investments in our infrastructure were what kept us busy, the most critical part of our growth story has been keeping that local touch.”



Making a Lot of “Sense”

After quickly rising to become a force in the pet retail landscape over its first decade in business, Petsense (No. 7) continues to flourish under the ownership of Tractor Supply, which acquired the chain in 2016. In fact, its growth arc has actually increased under Tractor Supply’s stewardship. After averaging about 12 new store openings annually over the first decade after PetSmart founder Jim Doughtery established the chain in 2005, Petsense opened 25 new stores across 11 states in 2017, and plans to open approximately 20 more in 2018.


All indications are that this escalated expansion is the product of pairing a well-crafted pet specialty retail model with the considerable resources wielded by Tractor Supply. “[Petsense] has an established, successful concept with a proven track record of growing smaller-format pet specialty stores,” says Petsense president Steve Neibergall. “Now, as a part of the larger Tractor Supply family, we bring together expertise in the category, as well as advanced site selection and store growth, creating a unique pet specialty retail business.”


Being part of the larger Tractor Supply family hasn’t just helped Petsense expand into new markets, it has also led to the development of a private-label brand and given the chain an opportunity to enter the world of ecommerce.


”Utilizing the Tractor Supply test-to-learn methodology, one area of focus has been on the development of exclusive brands,” Neibergall explains. “Through this effort, we launched an exclusive brand of premium dog and cat food in Petsense stores called True Source.


“Petsense also launched an ecommerce site late in the fourth quarter for purchasing online, and Buy Online Pick up in Store will be available sometime in spring of 2018.”


Moving forward, industry observers can expect to see Petsense continue grow stronger with the help of Tractor Supply’s influence. According to Neibergall, “2017 was a year of progress and learning with Petsense, and 2018 will be a year of system and process integration as we apply best practices from Tractor Supply to our Petsense stores.”


These best practices—combined with a retail model that the company president describes as catering “to a niche segment of consumers who desire a high service level and a greater mix of premium brand products that they often can’t find in the small towns in which they live”—will continue to put Petsense in a great position for growth.



A Franchise on the Rise

Woof Gang Bakery (No. 10) is another chain that ratcheted up its growth in 2017. After expanding at annual average of 12 to 13 stores over the previous three years, the company added 17 locations over the past 12 months or so. As is the case with Petsense, Woofgang Bakery’s escalating growth arc is largely the product of the improved resources at its disposal. However, in this chain’s case, those resources did not come from being acquired by another organization, but rather through key investments ownership made in the franchise.


“[In the past], we were concerned about the speed of the growth because we’re still a small company,” says Woof Gang Bakery president Paul Allen. “So we had to look at the infrastructure we had in supporting our current franchise owners before we focused on growth. We could have easily opened another 50 stores, but it was a lot easier for us to put a hold on that and make sure that our stores and our franchise owners were successful.”


Part of the process of setting its franchisees up for success has been Woof Gang Bakery’s highly service-oriented approach, which the company instituted several years ago. The move to first incorporate professional pet grooming services—which Allen says could bring in $35 million chain wide in 2018—and now wellness clinics into the stores has created one-stop centers where pet owners can meet a variety of their animals’ needs.


This strategy has apparently worked out well for the chain’s franchisees, as Allen reports that same-store sales in Woof Gang Bakery stores were up more than 18 percent across the board in 2017, and now the company is poised to add another 24 locations this year. In fact, nine franchise sales were made in the first month of 2018 alone.


According to the Woof Gang Bakery president, most of the chain’s growth will continue to be a direct result of the success that the company has helped its franchisees achieve. “A lot of our growth this year is going to come from current franchise owners who are opening a second, third, or even more stores,” Allen says.


Despite this increased momentum in growth, don’t expect to see Woof Gang Bakery’s focus shift to many new markets. Allen still sees most of the chain’s potential within the 11 states in which it currently operates—particularly Florida, where it has its home base.


“We anticipate that we’ll probably have 70 stores in Florida in the next three years,” he says.  “We really own the markets in Florida, and we’re able to build on that.”



Growing Into a Midwest Powerhouse

Coming in at No. 20 on the Top 25 Retailers list with 43 stores, Chuck & Don’s is a perfect example of how well-run regional pet specialty chains can still find ample opportunities for growth in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The company has nearly doubled its number of locations in a little less than five years, using its solid foundation in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area as a springboard for expansion into new markets.


While Chuck & Don’s continues to grow its 29-store presence in Minnesota, the chain has also made significant inroads in Colorado, where it currently operates 10 locations in the Denver area. This represents a market in which company president Bob Hartzell sees much growth opportunity for the chain. “Denver is, I think, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation right now,” he says. “The growth out there is phenomenal.”


However, Chuck & Don’s has not limited its growth strategy to Minnesota and Colorado. The company has also taken its first steps into Wisconsin and, most recently, Kansas. These areas of expansion, like Colorado, are part of what Hartzell describes as a broader regional growth strategy.


“We see ourselves growing throughout the Midwest,” he says, noting that some of the key benefits of this approach include the ability to leverage existing supplier relationships and maintain close oversight of its expansion into new markets. “We’re not interested in going too far from our home base.”


In addition to being the next step in the company’s regional expansion plans, Chuck & Don’s entry into the Kansas market also represents a shift in the company’s growth strategy, which was once completely focused on starting up new locations.  That is because the chain gained its foothold in the new market through the acquisition of the three-store All Paws Pet Center chain in Wichita. While this wasn’t the first acquisition made by Chuck & Don’s, it was the largest so far; and Hartzell says that similar growth through acquisition will very likely be part of the chain’s future.


“We do intend to continue to look for sites where we will start from scratch, but we’re also looking for independents that want to join a larger organization like ours,” says Hartzell, explaining the growth of the Chuck & Don’s chain will probably be split evenly between start-up locations and acquisitions that bring unique benefits.


“We’re finding that [acquired] stores often have the right locations and a very similar concept to ours. They’ve already gotten to start establishing a customer base, which is a great opportunity for us, and they are tapping into our stronger, more established systems and organization. It’s a win-win.”  PB


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