In the Foxhole
By Mark Kalaygian
Published: January 31, 2012


Despite what their cash registers may be telling them today, all independent pet retailers are engaged in a fight for survival.

Yes, many pet stores out there are doing well, even thriving, despite the bad economy. But I’m not talking about how your bottom line looked last year, or even how it will look at the end of 2012. What I am focused on—and you should be too—is the dual-fronted battle that independent pet specialty retailers are fighting against two forces that threaten to eventually put them out of business.

On one front, mom-and-pop pet shops are pitted against growing competitive pressures from pet superstores and non-pet-specialty retail channels that are quickly making new inroads into pet owner pocketbooks. While this is not a new battle, the low price points and convenience that these foes wield have become more dangerous than ever in what has been—and will certainly continue to be—a troubled economic battlefield.

As you will read in this month’s cover story, a good counter offensive is key for pet stores, which must constantly reassess their businesses for any signs of weakness and shore up their position by making improvements in areas such as category management, and staff training and retention. Luckily, retailers are not in the foxhole alone. Pet industry distributors are ready and willing to cover their customers’ flank, whether it is by providing the necessary planning and logistical support to keep the right products on the shelves, or by providing valuable training to the store associates on the front lines (visit www.petstorepro.com for more on that).

The other significant threat to the long-term survival of the pet specialty retail trade may be even more dangerous than that posed by competitors because it could end pet ownership altogether. On one hand you have organizations that actively promote the abolition of pet ownership. On the other are loving pet owners who unintentionally further the cause of these fringe organizations by supporting what looks like animal-rights legislation but is actually a slippery slope to regulation that make pet sales impossible or even outright bans.

Pet retailers have allies in this battle too; but in this fight, it is the pet stores’ that need to provide the support. Organizations like PIJAC, the HABRI Foundation and the Pet Care Trust are the ones on the frontlines of the battle to keep pet ownership a proud American tradition, whether they are directly opposing harmful regulation, promoting the health benefits of pet ownership or introducing children to the concept. Pet retailers must get in the foxhole and do their part to support these important organizations, just like manufacturers and distributors are doing. Because without pets, there is really no battle to fight at all.