Staying on Top
By Mark Kalaygian



   Mark Kalaygian
   Editor in Chief



“When you reach the top, keep climbing.”

This Buddhist proverb is a great reminder that one should never rest on past success, a sentiment that is apparently shared by the members of the 2014 Pet Business Top 25 Retailers List.

The subject of this month’s cover story, the Top 25 List is filled with success stories of how these North American retailers were able to grow from humble beginnings to build their pet specialty chains. And, while the routes that they took to the top may vary, one thing that members of the list have in common is their ongoing commitment to improving their brands and better serving pet owners. As a result, each year these retailers are able to add locations, oftentimes even extending their reach into new markets where they see opportunity.

Evidence of this can be seen at every level of the list, including at the very top. PetSmart continues to refine its retail model to put more emphasis on services, turning its stores into one-stop pet centers that produce higher profit margins than would typically come from focusing just on pet products.  Likewise, Petco has been evolving its brand with the Unleashed by Petco concept, which turns the big-box concept on its ear with small, 5,000-square-foot stores that allow the company to more easily fit into urban markets and feature more of a neighborhood-pet-shop feel.

But evolving a retail brand is not solely the domain of the corporate big-boxes. Over the past decade, a number of the chains on the Top 25 List improved their operations. For example, Chuck & Don’s has grown from 11 locations to 25 locations since 2005 by making the shopping experience increasingly customer-centric and community focused. The Woof Gang Bakery franchise, which did not even exist in 2005, now has 44 stores and counting, thanks in no small part to its evolution from purveyor of dog treats baked on site to a multifaceted retail destination that focuses on high-quality nutrition and pet-care services.

As I spoke with executives from some of the chains on the Top 25 List for this month’s cover story, many of the above themes came up again and again—the importance of high-quality nutrition, the prominence and profitability of pet care services, and most importantly, the game-changing ability of offering superior customer service.
Do you know what did not come up as a game changer? Price.

Ultimately, all of the Top 25 Retailers understand one fundamental truth about success in the pet specialty arena: while having the best price may help you get to the top, offering the best products and service is what will keep you there.