Why Are Pet Stores Still Thriving?



Apparently, rumors of the death of brick-and-mortar retail have been greatly exaggerated—at least in the pet industry, that is.


Over the past few years, we’ve all seen the constant barrage of reports in the media about how traditional retailers are crumbling under the competitive pressure being applied by online outlets. So, it’s understandable that there has been quite a bit of handwringing going on in our industry over predictions that many brick-and-mortar pet stores would likely soon end up with a fate similar to that of Toys R Us and, most recently, Sears.


But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of pet retail as we know it—pet stores evolved, and thus they have continued to thrive in the face of the big, bad Amazon and Chewy. In fact, a recent retailer survey conducted by Pet Business suggests that the number of pet stores seeing year-over-year sales increases is at a five-year high, with a majority of these retailers enjoying a boost of five percent or more.


So, just how have pet stores been able to outdo players in other retail channels in not only staving off a deathblow from online competitors, but actually outcompeting them in many cases? The answer is simple, really: they’ve listened to their customers and found ways to deliver (sometimes literally) what pet owners are looking for.


Evidence of this can be seen in the products and the services that brick-and-mortar pet retailers are focusing on in their stores. For example, more than 40 percent of the retailers we surveyed reported that they now offer full-service grooming and 30 percent indicated that they offer veterinary/wellness clinics, providing customers with some much-needed convenience in their hectic lives. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that both of these offerings are great for generating foot traffic for the retailers and—better yet—cannot be reproduced by the likes of Amazon or Chewy.


But that doesn’t mean traditional pet retailers have been afraid to go head to head with the online giants on their own turf.  Nearly all of the retailers we surveyed said that they are actively engaging customers online, whether it’s through social media, email marketing, mobile/text marketing or even paid search engine advertising, with many are going as far as participating in ecommerce and/or offering home-delivery services.


That’s quite an evolution from when I started covering this industry 15 years ago, and a great sign that brick-and-mortar pet store owners and operators are not content to simply sit back and accept the fate that some prognosticators would thrust upon them. These retailers are determined to build a future where service and knowledge—not impersonal, price-first online retailers—continue to define the pet care market.


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