Looking for Loyalty


What can pet stores do when a brand they have invested time and effort into suddenly jumps into a new retail channel or—maybe even worse—aligns itself with an online outlet that offers retail pricing below what most brick-and-mortar establishments pay at wholesale?

This is, by far, the biggest question on the minds of most independent pet retailers today as some key brands, particularly in the pet food category, seek their fortunes on the shelves of mass-market retailers or in the automatic reorder queues of e-commerce juggernauts like Wag.com. Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer as of yet.

Some retailers have begun addressing this conundrum by using their formidable pet care expertise and brand equity with consumers to develop their own private-label product lines. As you will read in this month’s cover story, this approach can provide retailers with the ultimate exclusive, thus differentiating their offerings from what can be found online or in the aisles of the big-box stores.

Yet, while the growing availability of contract manufacturers and smaller order minimums have made private labeling a legitimate possibility for more retailers than ever, building a successful program requires a lot of time and effort that many small pet store owner/operators will ultimately find prohibitive. 

One solution that I found intriguing was brought up by Biff Picone and Nadine Joli-Coeur, owners of the 20-store Natural Pawz chain in Houston and Austin, Texas, when I interviewed them about their Callie’s Naturals private-label line for this month’s cover story. 

"As brick-and-mortar retailers, we’re all in this together," says Joli-Coeur. "And I think there is an opportunity for retailers that do have private-label products to share those brands among themselves without directly competing with each other and, more importantly, without competing with the online and big-box stores."

From where I’m sitting, this type of cooperation seems to make perfect sense, as it would be a win-win for both sides. Small retailers that simply do not have the wherewithal to get an effective private-label program off the ground would benefit from brands that are carefully created by their peers, while the retailers who supply those brands would open up new revenue streams to further develop their private-label programs. 

The best part, hopefully, is that these retailers-turned-vendors would presumably remain loyal allies to the independent pet stores they partner with. After all, as Joli-Coeur points out, you’re all in this together.