I can’t tell you how many times, over the past 10 years, I’ve heard pet product manufacturers talk about how fiercely they support independent pet retailers. “The independent pet specialty channel is our focus,” they say. “We need a strong independent channel. Mom-and-pop pet shops are what made our business what it is today.”
And to their credit, in the past, eight or nine out of 10 suppliers that professed such support of the independent channel actually backed it up with their go-to-market strategy. But I’m not so sure that number holds true today.
While the rise of the big-box pet chains and increased attention on pet products from mass retailers like Walmart have certainly tested the strength of many vendors’ commitment to the independent pet store channel, it appears that the promise of Internet sales has proven particularly alluring to pet product manufacturers—and even some pet product distributors. As a result, many pet product suppliers are dipping their toes in the online sales pool—to the detriment of the very retailers who made them successful in the first place.
Make no mistake about it, whether suppliers are selling directly to consumers through deal sites like Groupon or Fab.com—both of which feature a devoted “Pets” page that includes products from recognizable manufacturers—or doing order fulfillment for Amazon.com, they are hurting independent pet stores.
Now, most experts will tell you that online sales still represent less than 10 percent of the market for pet products; but is there anyone out there who doesn’t expect that number to grow significantly over the next decade?
The fact is, if things continue along their current path, with suppliers that were once devoted to mom-and-pop pet shops essentially cutting out the middleman, the Internet may be able to accomplish what the Petco’s and Walmart’s of the world haven’t so far—sinking the independent pet store channel.