Partner or Competitor?
By Mark Kalaygian

Are pet store owners directly supporting a new breed of retailer that is quickly becoming a formidable source of competition for their businesses?

The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “yes.”

Over the past few years, a disturbing new trend has been underway that is putting pet stores in direct competition with some of the same pet adoption organizations that they have been financially supporting for years. These adoption organizations have started retailing pet products within their adoption centers, under the premise that doing so will make the centers more pleasant for prospective pet owners and provide much-needed financial support to drive more adoptions. They also say it is a great convenience for adopters to be able to obtain all of the necessary supplies for their new four-legged family members at the center—for a price, of course.

They are right; it is a great convenience. No longer do new pet parents have to go all the way around the corner to a local pet store to pick up the essentials for their adopted animals. And if the addition of a retail component makes the adoption center pleasant enough, and the product selection is robust enough, maybe those pet owners will become loyal shoppers there and will be able to forgo trips to a traditional pet store altogether.

For decades, pet retailers have understood the drawing power of offering live animal sales (and/or adoptions) side by side with retail fare—puppies in the window has become the iconic image of the neighborhood pet store. This brings up a point that takes the pet adoption center/retailer phenomenon from an inconvenient trend to an almost seemingly nefarious plot.

Consider this: two of the highest-profile examples of adoption centers adding a retail component have come in areas where live animal sales have been banned in pet stores. First, there’s Animal Humane New Mexico, located in Albuquerque, which added pet product sales to its pet adoption services in 2010, presumably after taking part in the lobbying efforts that led to citywide ban on live animal sales in pet stores in 2006.

Then there’s Adopt & Shop, which is essentially a pet store that FoundAnimals, a Los Angeles-based adoption organization, opened last year in Lakewood, Calif. While there is no municipal ban on selling live animals in Lakewood, Adopt & Shop is located in a mall operated by Macerich, a retail property developer that made headlines late last year when it decided to ban live animal sales on its properties. The concept has proven so successful that FoundAnimals says it plans to open two more locations in 2012.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that pet retailers should stop supporting their local pet adoption organizations. However, they should be fully aware of the type of organization that support is going to. Is it one that will be a valuable partner, or one that will be a dangerous competitor?