Who Will Guide the Evolution of Petco?



As we discussed in this space last week, in a recent interview with Pet Business, Petco CEO Ron Coughlin put forth an ambitious vision for the future of the chain—a future that he says will see the company focused on better understanding pet owners, offering a wide variety of services and providing the highest-quality nutritional guidance and products. But what also came through loud and clear in that conversation was a healthy dose of confidence that he and his team will be successful in delivering on that vision.


That well-earned confidence is founded in the fact that, before taking the reins at Petco, Coughlin helped usher in a new era of success for two very different consumer packaged goods companies—HP and PepsiCo—and this experience should serve him well in his latest role.


“I have a history of transforming businesses,” he says. “At PepsiCo, I was part of the team that transformed it from just a sugary soft-drink business into a total beverage company, including healthier products like Tropicana, Aquafina and Gatorade. At HP, I helped transform the business from a purely hardware business to a services-oriented business.”


Of course, Coughlin is not alone in his mission to transform Petco. The big-box chain recently made several key additions to its executive team to help him achieve his vision, including Tariq Hassan (another HP alum) as chief marketing officer, and Justin Tichy (formerly with Best Buy) as chief stores officer.


“Both are very talented,” says Coughlin. “In the case of Justin, his Best Buy experience is particularly relevant, because Best Buy shifted from more of a commodity transaction business to a value-added, selling-in-the-aisle business, which is analogous to what we need to do around nutrition. He’s was also part of the team that drove the Geek Squad, which is a shift to a service model, which is very much where we are headed.


“From Tariq, what we need is a marketing organization that can get underneath the skin of our customers and understand them better than anyone else on the planet. That is something we did at HP. Second, we need to take messages like the elimination of artificial [ingredients] and bring them to life in a powerful way in our marketing. Tariq knows how to do both of those things very well.”


Rounding out the new additions to the executive team are chief human resources officer Michelle Bonfilio, as well as chief supply chain officer Laura Wilkin, whose previous experience as Walmart’s senior vice president of logistics and replenishment makes Coughlin believe she can help Petco achieve “best-in-class supply chain management.”


Of course, as we’ve seen time and again over the past few years, transforming a large retail business to thrive in a new era of competition is no simple task, and nothing is guaranteed. Still, it seems that Petco’s CEO has surrounded himself with an impressive team to help effect the sort of change he is looking for, and that is an important first step.


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