Swinging for the Fences

For independent pet specialty retailers, access to the right metrics is the key to making a data-driven play for success.


Imagine a baseball team run without data. Which shortstop should we play against a hard-throwing lefty? Which pinch hitter is our best bet with the bases loaded in the seventh inning? In a data-deprived world, the manager wanders around the dugout gathering opinions–mostly conflicting–and then just makes a decision based on a gut feeling.

This scenario is so far removed from today’s reality that most baseball enthusiasts would find it comical. Professional baseball in the 21st century is driven by data—terabytes of stats on every conceivable aspect of players’ in-game results. If anything, managers have more information than they can conceivably use.

And yet we know for a fact that, in pet retail–and many other businesses–some storeowners are doing business like our hypothetical manager. They may have some information, based on observation and one or two spreadsheets about their own store’s performance; but when it comes to what other stores are doing, what is new in the marketplace, and trends from quarter to quarter or year to year, they are operating without the equivalent of baseball’s sabermetrics.

While some storeowners may actually be data averse–uncomfortable with numbers and unable to make good use of them–most are hungry for more information to run their businesses. That is where GfK comes in. To stores that contribute their point-of-sale data to our pet specialty retail panel of over 11,000 pet shops in the U.S., we provide quarterly reports on nationwide trends in pricing, discounts, uptake of new and existing categories, and more.

Like a manager in baseball, the key to success for a storeowner is finding the right balance of MVPs, hot rookies, up-and-coming prospects and veterans who are showing new signs of life. And just as a baseball lineup only has nine slots, pet stores have limited shelf space. That means tough choices have to be made. The kind of comprehensive, third-party data that GfK produces gives retailers the information they need to achieve that perfect mix.

To anchor their lineups, storeowners need proven performers. Today, that would be natural foods, which now account for 68 percent of pet specialty retail’s $5.2 billion in annual sales, according to GfK’s data. And grain-free SKUs have grown from up-and-comers to reliable all-stars, bringing in $2.5 billion at pet specialty retail in the past year.

You also need young talent to keep a team growing and vital. With this in mind, think about the freeze-dried food category, which has posted 64 percent year-over-year sales gains in pet specialty. In addition, we are keeping our eye on holiday-themed treats, which have been hitting it out of the ballpark (dollar-wise) during key sales seasons.

With comprehensive data, retailers can also keep their eyes on players that seem to be struggling. For example, the frozen pet food category has been growing by leaps and bounds (up 33 percent in the past year at pet specialty retail), but continuing recalls may be shaking confidence in this emerging star. Will there be a tipping point of consumer concern that begins to show up at the cash register? Those who keep their eyes on the data will know first and have time to minimize their exposure.

Data like GfK’s helps to create a level playing field, giving small teams access to some of the same information their larger, richer competitors are seeing. The key is knowing not just how your team is doing, but also what is going on across all regions and leagues. Data drives great business successes, just like it powers smart teams. So plug into the data revolution, and make your bid for Manager of the Year.

Maria Lange is Business Group Director (Pet Specialty) on GfK’s POS Tracking team. She can be reached at maria.lange@gfk.com.

Want to get savvier about data? Join GfK’s pet specialty POS panel by contacting Dave Stevens at dave.stevens@gfk.com.

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