A Family Affair
By Seth Mendelson

Larry Mutschler Sr. has the model set up right. As the longtime owner of Concord Pet Foods and Supplies, Mutschler has developed a blueprint that has enabled his 21-store chain to thrive amongst such heavy hitters as Petco, PetSmart and Wal-Mart.

As you will read in our cover story this month, Mutschler and his team at corporate headquarters in Wilmington, Del., have developed a strategy that combines personal interaction, rational and flexible merchandising, and a sound pricing program that competes with the big box and mass chains. The plan has helped the chain compete head-to-head with the larger competition in the four Mid-Atlantic states in which it operates.

More importantly, it shows that despite ominous signs to the contrary, independent retailers can still be successful in this increasingly competitive and complex marketplace. For these reasons, Pet Business has chosen Concord as its 2011 Retailer of the Year.

Our article, written by editor-in-chief Mark Kalaygian, shows that Mutschler’s rational approach to retailing is truly the real secret to his chain’s longevity and success. He and his team, including his two children, Lindsay and Larry Jr., have developed a model that calls for experimentation of new concepts and the ability to quickly determine whether they work or not and whether they should be permanently included in the merchandise mix. It is also one that counts on interaction with the consumer and gaining a unique knowledge of local landscape to gain an advantage over the competition.

While different programs work for different retailers, it should be clear to other pet merchants that they can also develop a strategy to compete against larger retailers in this arena. The key, as Concord shows, is having enough flexibility to develop a game plan that allows your operation to implement the right strategies. In turn, that will get consumers to bypass the big-box store and its supposedly great price points and go to the locally based retailer that may have a much better understanding of their needs, not to mention the in-store support to get consumers to buy products today and keep coming back tomorrow for more items.

Concord has developed a reputation in the pet industry as a chain that thinks out of the box to get the job done. It does not have to be the only independent pet retailer to operate that way. As the Mutschler family shows, innovation and flexibility can be the catalyst to strong, sustained growth.