A number of questions and concerns sat at the forefront of my mind while I shopped for a new car harness and seat belt for my dog, and for quite some time afterward. I knew going in that I was not fully prepared to find the perfect option—I didn’t even have my pup with me to try the products on—but I knew I needed a basic option (no bells and whistles necessary) that I could trust to keep my pup safe in the back seat. Being that we were also experiencing high temperatures at the time, I also wanted to find something to protect her paws outside.
Despite my unpreparedness, I expected to find multiple brand and size options that I could look at and ask questions about, but what I found was a surprisingly limited (almost non-existent, actually) travel/adventure section. To make matters worse, I couldn’t even ask questions about the few items that were on the shelves because floor staff was nowhere to be found.
Even if there had been more travel products somewhere else in the decently sized store, there was nobody to point me in the right direction until I got up to the register. Even then, while the team members at the front of the store were cordial enough, they only confirmed my suspicions that their offering for the kind of products I was in search of was wildly deficient.
It’s no secret that staff shortages remain an issue across the retail and service industries, and the pet industry is no exception. Something else that has become increasingly apparent to me since joining the workforce and the Pet Business team in particular is the importance of education, guidance and friendly customer service.
In addition to reading, writing and learning from industry professionals about the importance of making customers confident that they’re interacting with knowledgeable, caring staff members when walking into a pet store, I also appreciate this point as a pet parent. While I have been immersed in this industry for over a year now, there’s plenty that I don’t know, so I expect the experts to assist me in ensuring that I’m purchasing products that not only meet high quality standards and are trustworthy, but also meet the specific needs of my pets.
Of course, a smaller independent pet store would likely deliver on all fronts, but unfortunately, we don’t have a wealth of great indie pet stores where I live, on Long Island, N.Y. That’s surprising, given all the growth experienced within the independent retail channel over the past several years—particularly among indie pet store chains like Earthwise Pet Supply, Hollywood Feed, and Woofgang Bakery & Grooming, just to name a few. How that growth has not made a significant impact on my local market, which is fairly affluent, densely populated and full of pets, is beyond me.
But if that gap exists here in the suburbs of a major city like New York, there must be more spread across the country. That’s good news for independent retailers of all shapes and sizes, because those gaps represent opportunities to show pet owners that there is a better option than the big-box outlets that have blanketed the country–driving your own growth in the process. You’ll have to be fast to take advantage of those opportunities, though, as those gaps won’t be around for much longer; sometime soon, one or more of our industry’s fast-growing indie chains is sure to gain a foothold in those underserved markets—and then it may be too late.