More Than Merchandise


As the threat to brick-and-mortar stores from online competition becomes ever more dire, one thing remains that a website just can’t offer—in-person services. More and more independent pet specialty stores are learning that stocking the right products needs to be supplemented by a healthy slate of services and in-store experiences that keep customers coming back through the door, or they risk losing out to the ease of online shopping and doorstep delivery.


The increasing importance of services in the pet specialty business became even more apparent this week with PetSmart’s announcement of its new grooming services-only locations. The move hints that even the big boxes, with advantages of scale and financial backing, may be feeling the pressure of e-commerce on their bottom lines. Dubbed The Groomery by PetSmart, the stores include a full range of grooming services, including spa treatments, and self-service dog wash facilities, complemented by a selection of high-end health and beauty products and accessories. The first two locations have opened in New York City and Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, with boutique-sized footprints to suit their urban environments.


This shift toward brick-and-mortar stores focusing on experiences rather than products isn’t unique to the pet industry. Nordstrom is departing from its typical large department store footprint, experimenting with a smaller-format store concept that will offer services like manicures and tailoring, but won’t actually stock any clothes. The fast-growing Eataly seems to have successfully combined a specialty grocery model with sit-down restaurants, erasing the lines between the seemingly incongruous experiences of food shopping and dining out. As it becomes ever easier, cheaper and faster to have products of all kinds delivered to your door, it’s clear that the brick-and-mortar model has to adapt to stay relevant with consumers. And that’s as true for the giants of retail as it is for a single-store independent.



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