An Emphasis on Education
With a motto like “When you know better, you feed better,” it’s no surprise that The Natural Pet Enrichment Center prioritizes helping customers make healthy decisions for their pets.
Some retailers balk at the idea of specializing in only one type of product, out of a concern that sacrificing variety costs them potential customers. But for The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, the choice to only offer natural and nutritious pet products is incredibly rewarding. This retailer has embraced its reputation for having only the best brands available.
Based in North Royalton, Ohio, The Natural Pet is owned by husband-and-wife team Christine and Mark McCoy. During a 30-year career with FedEx, Christine McCoy set her sights on having her own pet store. A friend ran a small shop in Hinckley, Ohio, and in 2008, McCoy purchased the store and its merchandise before moving to a 900-square-foot location in nearby North Royalton.
“[The previous owner] gave it a name; we gave it a future,” she says.
In her business’ early years, McCoy juggled daytime shifts at FedEx with overseeing the store in the evenings. In 2015, she was able to fully devote herself to The Natural Pet.
The store’s growing success allowed McCoy to focus on a new goal: obtaining a bigger space that would better accommodate more customers and products. In May 2016, the McCoys found a new location just two miles away from their old store in a busier, more central part of North Royalton. They spent the summer renovating it and were able to have a grand re-opening in October 2016.
A lifelong lover of animals, McCoy makes sure that The Natural Pet only offers healthy and natural pet food. She has firsthand knowledge of the impact that natural food can have on pet health and longevity due to her experiences as a dog owner.
McCoy’s English Bulldog suffered from seizures and medication did little to help. In researching her options, she decided to switch her pup to a raw diet. The frequency of the seizures decreased and McCoy was able to wean her off medication. The dog ended up living a long and healthy life and served as the inspiration for McCoy’s interest in pet nutrition.
“Nutrition is the basis for good health,” says McCoy. “What we put into our pets’ bodies is so important.”
Her experiences led her to stock The Natural Pet with natural and nutritious products that do not contain byproducts or artificial flavors or colors. She only works with companies that exclusively produce natural products—their offering can’t just be a single natural food line among many other options.
McCoy also remains wary of the made in the USA trend and how that could cloud retailers’ judgment in choosing products to sell. She believes that retailers should not be afraid to ask questions about ingredients and quality.
“Not all great products are made in the USA,” says McCoy. “There’s got to be quality within that company and their sourcing.”
Catering to Customers
While its focus on nutrition helps make The Natural Pet special, the store is also known for its exceptional customer service. This very feature earned the store the Customer Service Excellence award in the 2017 Retailer Excellence Awards at Global Pet Expo.
For McCoy, customer service is key to a small, independent retailer’s success and survival. “To compete with what’s going on in the marketplace now with online retailers, the only thing we can offer is service,” explains McCoy. “If we don’t continue to go above and beyond with service, that’s what’s going to close stores.”
At The Natural Pet, providing quality customer service begins with having knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Making sure that employees are best able to answer customers’ questions, particularly those centered on the benefits of natural food, is part of staff training and education at The Natural Pet.
McCoy finds that sending all her employees to trade shows like SuperZoo and Global Pet Expo helps them prepare for working the store floor, since they get valuable face time with the companies whose products they sell and can ask any questions they have in person. These interactions allow the staff to better handle customers’ concerns and offer more detailed product suggestions.
Paired with this knowledge is a genuine love of animals possessed by all of McCoy’s employees. “There’s no way to train passion,” she explains. “Everyone that works with me has been a customer.”
This passion shines through in the way the employees interact with consumers. Anyone who enters The Natural Pet is warmly greeted and asked about their day. “We take the time to talk to them and listen,” says McCoy.
Making conversation is important because it helps staff figure out if there are any issues a customer is facing in terms of pet care. “Anything can change how our pets thrive and behave,” says McCoy, noting that this is the philosophy her staff uses to figure out how they can best help an animal in need.
The Natural Pet staff also strives to cater to customers’ specific circumstances. The retailer extends store hours for customers who are running late and call ahead to say they need pet food. Special deliveries of pet products are made to the homes of new mothers. If a family doesn’t have time to unload all the kids from the car and make an in-store trip, staff will run pet food orders out to the parking lot. It’s this kind of personalized treatment that keeps customers coming back.
Coupled with this high caliber of customer service are the educational resources provided by The Natural Pet. With such a strong emphasis on making sure employees are knowledgeable, it’s no surprise that the retailer wants the same for its customers.
The new store location has afforded The Natural Pet more room for holding educational sessions. The store has a Paws and Relax area where customers can take a breather on plush couches, hold discussions with one another or watch television on a big screen. This area was extended into a lecture space that can seat up to 50 people.
In addition to seminars on pet nutrition, the retailer hosts natural food companies that come in to speak about their products and answer any questions that consumers may have. Pet bereavement groups meet there once a week and offer attendees emotional support and information on how to cope with their loss.
Another popular resource are the dog training classes held by the retailer. “Everyone loves a well-behaved child and a well-trained dog,” jokes McCoy.
The Natural Pet also currently offers popular lectures given by a holistic veterinarian, which McCoy hopes to make more frequent. She has future plans to hold more health-focused events such as pet CPR classes and vaccination clinics.
With a strong foundation of success, it makes sense that McCoy is already looking ahead. As The Natural Pet’s new location celebrates its one-year anniversary, it’s clear that this retailer’s future is both very busy and very bright. PB