Throughout the COVID crisis, brick-and-mortar pet stores have had to adjust to a new retail environment in which consumers overwhelmingly favor shopping options such as home delivery and curbside pick-up, rather than wandering through aisles. However, now that it appears we’re entering the final phase of the pandemic, retailers must prepare their stores for a resurgence of customer traffic by making sure that pet owners can come into the store with confidence that their health and safety is being protected. Providing an agreeable and safe environment is more important than ever in retaining loyal and valuable in-person shoppers
Of course, everybody has different comfort thresholds when it comes to shopping, but there are several design updates that pet stores can make to their space in order to keep employees, customers and their furry friends happy.
Tip #1: DIVIDE & CONQUER COVID-19
Where interaction isn’t optional, use plexiglass dividers to separate customers and employees. These are available in any number of shapes and configurations, including pre-fabricated sizes that can be easily moved from place to place or securely mounted onto counters and checkout areas. Ensure that there’s a pass-through window for cash transactions and make sure that credit card machines and other touch points are accessible enough to be wiped after every customer.
Tip #2: CONTROL TRAFFIC FLOW
Throughout your store, gently guide guests through their shopping experience by controlling their movement flow. This is best done with a mixture of physical barriers, as well as visual cues. Crowd control ropes—often seen in movie theaters or amusement park lines— are the simplest, least intrusive and easiest-to-move option. Their placement can be adjusted as restrictions/best practices are adjusted and needs change.
Visual markers vary in size, shape and placement. An easy-to-read, highly-visible sign at the entrance can set the tone and ground rules for your COVID protocol, outlining your masking policy, sanitary practices, and other need-to-know information. From there, use floor-mounted markers that indicate direction throughout aisles and proper spacing in checkout queues. Vertical signs can be used to remind guests about these requirements at other points of congestion throughout the store.
When using visual indicators, keep accessibility in mind. A mixture of text as well as easy-to-understand visuals can accommodate those who are more comfortable with either method of identification. For visually impaired guests, ensure that staff can comfortably communicate these needs with ease.
Tip #3: CONSIDER FURRY FRIEND SAFETY
When there’s pets in the store, consider the unique challenges that these customers (and their companions) may bring. Alongside your typical protocols used to keep furry friends in check, evaluate other items that might be high touch. For now, it might be best to discourage pets in order to maintain six feet of distance between people. Some stores may choose to leave out treats for dogs and cats, but these can be handed out by staff to keep everybody happy.
Tip #4: UPDATE THE GROOMING WAITING AREA
Some stores may have grooming services with waiting areas. Following the current practices instituted at many veterinary clinics, encourage customers to wait in their vehicle or complete their shopping during this time. Should this be difficult due to inclement weather, ensure that your waiting area is designed for distancing and cleanliness:
• Select chair upholstery that’s made from vinyl, which can be cleaned with the harshest solvents. Other polyurethane or synthetic leathers are an option as well. Avoid fabric. Wood is a warm and inviting material, but it is easily scratched, chewed or damaged by frequent cleaning.
• Use end tables or fake plants to ensure that space remains between chairs and discourages guests from pushing the seating together.
• Remove some seating if the area is inherently cramped; gradually reintroduce pieces as restrictions are lifted.
• Put away any amenities, such as a beverage bar or magazine rack, to keep contamination to a minimum.
• When animals are involved, accidents will happen so waiting spaces should be designed to be cleaned frequently and with potentially harsh disinfectants. Flooring should be a hard, non-skid surface like laminate or tile so that spills and accidents can quickly and easily be cleaned up.
Tip #5: PUT GUEST SAFETY FIRST
Cleanliness and control of infection should be a first priority to keeping humans and any pets safe in the store. Most importantly, a sanitization station with hand sanitizer and wipes to ensure carts are clean should be provided. For those who forgot their mask, providing a small number of disposable masks is an added kindness that many will appreciate.
Ensure that employees are properly cleaning carts and baskets between guests, so everybody can keep clean from the moment they step into the store all the way through checking out.
Designing a safe and welcoming retail space is critical to moving forward in this new normal. Making some small modifications demonstrates your business’ commitment to your customers. PB
Tonya Dybdahl is a space planning and design assistant manager for National Business Furniture (www.nationalbusinessfurniture.com).