The Easy Way to Add Grooming
Having a solid plan in place while being prepared to adjust course are keys to maintaining your sanity when expanding or debuting a pet store’s service offerings.
The pet product supply market is a crowded one these days. Competition comes from the unlikeliest of places—from hardware chains that sell dog treats to supermarkets that are upgrading their pet food selections to include premium options.
So, it is no surprise that independent pet specialty retailers are looking for new ways to diversify and add revenue streams to bolster the bottom line. Often, pet services provide the perfect avenue for such expansion, and among the most popular of services are grooming, self-service dog washes and onsite training, boarding or daycare. These additions not only help fill retailers’ coffers, they also create one-stop-shops for consumers, who will be pleased to discover a multitude of needed services and products under one roof. The net result is that adding services can be a win for everyone involved.
Still, there is a hitch to adding these revenue-building, customer-friendly services: It can be expensive—there are build-out costs and the expense of buying equipment and supplies. And that may be just the beginning. Maintenance costs can include higher electric and water bills, or the added expenditure of hiring additional employees. Before you know it, a retailer can wind up spending more than he can hope to generate with a new service. Or a business owner may find that the addition simply causes more headaches than the potential for added revenue is worth.
With this in mind, before a retailer jumps in feet first, it makes sense to plan carefully to avoid a wash out.
Among the first things business owners should assess before calling up the banker or dipping into their life savings to cover build-out costs is the level of customer demand in the local market for the services in consideration. After all, there is no sense adding services that no one wants. Holly Gibson, marketing manager for Shor-Line, which manufactures kennels, cages and a host of animal care equipment, suggests that business owners strive to align their services with their clientele and their needs and wants.
Gibson says, “Start by gathering some research about your potential customer base—will they be affluent and able to pay for extra features and services, or will money be a deciding point and good quality care at a reasonable price would work better? This will help you plan the size and breadth of your offerings.”
Of course, it is not always immediately apparent what will work and what won’t in any given market. Sometimes, an educated guess is your best bet. Matthew Moorefield and his business partner Michael Morris knew from the outset that they would have a services component to their pet specialty store, Yarn and Bone Pet Supply Company in Camden, Del. In fact, they were counting on the self-service dog wash being a unique feature that would set them apart from the competition in their fairly rural community. But there was no guarantee.
“It is very nerve wracking to drop your life savings into something and not be sure how it will turn out,” he says
Similarly, Stacy Busch, owner of Busch Pet Products & Dog Wash in Cape Girardeau, Mo., certainly had a strong hunch that expanding her pet store to include self-service bathing would be a good fit for the community, but it was not a certainty.
“I was in the unique position of being the first one in town to have a dog wash, so I knew it would go over; I just didn’t know how well it would go over,” Busch says, adding that the service has been a hit.
In both scenarios, among the chief indicators that their endeavors would be successful was that the suite of services and products they were preparing to offer filled a void in their community. And experts agree that the success of a service ultimately hinges largely on how relevant it is to the local clientele.
“Anytime you can add a necessary service for your customer, you are on the right track,” says Gina Dial, vice president of sales and marketing for John Paul Pet.
A firm believer in the value that comes for retailers when they add services, John Paul Pet markets product packages that are designed to make retailers’ self-service dog washes and grooming services stand out. Each treatment package offers a value-added proposition and a promise of quality. Treatments include Soothing Oatmeal, Ultra Moist Hydration and Super Highlighting & Brightening.
“Many customers have to make two stops, one to the groomer and another to the pet store for supplies,” Dial says. “By adding bathing to your services, you add service dollars; retail dollars, as the customer will spend more time in your retail area checking out the newest items; and fun.”
Still, as great as the potential is for profit, without comprehensive planning, even a seemingly great idea can go bust. Many successful business owners start the process by studying those who have already paved the way.
“We went on endless trips to different stores that had pet washes and decided how we wanted to set [our store] up,” Moorefield says.
Networking with others in the industry can also be fruitful. Although a business owner who is looking to expand her services may not want to turn to the direct competition for advice, retailers located safely outside of the competitive zone may prove more obliging.
“Other small business owners are happy to help when you’re starting out,” says Deborah Coelho, owner of Give the Dog a Bath, a self-service dog wash that debuted earlier this year in Milford, Conn. “It was nice to talk to people in Maryland or Chicago, who were more than willing to help out.”
She adds that even bankers and government agencies such as the Small Business Administration can offer valuable assistance. “I went to a lot of seminars, something that the state of Connecticut offered,” Coelho says. “It gave me a discount on [accounting software] and four sessions on how to navigate around it.”
Still, while the value of careful planning cannot be overstated, most business owners who have built out a new store or added new services to an existing store know that it is always wise to expect the unexpected. Timing and costs, as they relate to any number of aspects of a project—from equipment delivery and installation to construction—are almost always impossible to predict with pinpoint accuracy.
“I underestimated the construction costs for sure—and I had done a tremendous amount of homework—but when you are trying to estimate your construction costs, it’s just that—an estimation,” Coelho says.
Moorefield, too, says the unpredictability that comes with a build-out only became clear to him in hindsight. He recalls having a house full of pet products after misjudging how long it would take to actually have the store ready to receive shipments after first signing the lease on the property.
“If I would change anything, I would have had the understanding that the timeline as far as opening can be very fluid,” he says. “One small thing can change the whole outcome—something as simple as having the wrong door knob.”
Since diligent planning cannot prevent every possible hiccup or misstep, sometimes it is necessary for retailers to make adjustments on the fly. Again, adopting a go-with-the-flow mentality in this respect can come in handy.
“We started out with a 50-gallon hot water heater; we thought that would be enough,” Busch recalls. “Now we have two 50-gallon hot water heaters, and if we have a full day of baths, like on a weekend, the two can’t keep up.”
Even something as sacred as pricing for services needs to be considered highly vulnerable to change. After painstaking consideration that accounted for a number of factors—from electricity and water consumption to how much time each bath would take—Moorefield settled on a price of $13 per bath when he opened shop. However, it wasn’t long before a pet specialty chain opened nearby with pricing that was a few dollars cheaper than what Yarn and Bone was charging.
“They have a set price of $10, so at that point, we made the decision to have a lower price,” he says, adding that they had the advantage of having broke even on the capital investment for the bathing service. “Why not offer a better price?”
Still, business owners need not be discouraged by random mishaps, mistakes and the occasional need for readjustment. After all, says Moorefield, “that’s also the beauty of owning your own business; you have the ability to make a change just like that.”