Pet Age recently spoke with Amanda Wilbourne, owner of The Nautical Dog in Williamsburg, Virginia, to learn more about her journey in the pet retail market.
Q What can you tell us about the origin of The Nautical Dog?
A I originally opened Nautical Dog in October 2006 at the age of 20. I had my first dog as an adult (a Corgi named Roxy), and I was constantly looking for fun new things for her and became kind of obsessed. My whole world revolved around her, and one day I woke up and said, “I want to open a dog boutique,” and so I did it—with the support of family, friends and my fiancé (now my husband). I knew nothing about running a pet store—in fact, my first location was very small, and I sold an array of dog merchandise and gifts. I learned everything on my own since I didn’t know anyone in the pet industry. For me, I was young, naïve and had a no-fail attitude, which I think contributed to the success of The Nautical Dog. I moved the store to a larger location and bigger town (Williamsburg, Virginia) in 2008 while my husband was deployed to Iraq serving in the Marines. That was the best decision I ever made, and The Nautical Dog has grown every year since.
Q How would you describe your typical customer?
A Our typical customer is someone who is conscious about the quality of their pet’s food, treats, supplements and even their toys. Our customers want to know where their pet’s food comes from, and they know that whenever they purchase a product from us that we stand behind it. Our customers love our bone bar, which has over 75 different types of bones and chews to pick from in addition to our famous cookie bar that has 14 rotating flavors of biscuits. Some of other popular items that our customers look for is CBD products and tough toys like Fluff and Tuff and West Paw. Being in a tourist town, we also have many customers traveling with their pets or pet parents looking to take back a gift. We stock a lot of gift items such as shirts, artwork, breed gifts and more for customers that are looking for gifts for the pet lovers in their lives.
Q What is your pet food philosophy?
A Plain and simple: If I wouldn’t feed it to my pets, you won’t find it at Nautical Dog. I want my customers to be able to come in and pick anything from our shelves or freezers and feel confident that they are feeding a quality and healthy pet food. Whole foods, fresh ingredients and quality sourcing are a must.
Q How do you educate the customers of The Nautical Dog?
A First and foremost, the staff at The Nautical Dog are always up to date on pet nutrition, and they are a direct source of information for our customers seven days a week. We also have seminars, movie nights and guest speakers frequently in the store to help educate customers on different aspects of the pet industry, including labeling, raw food and industry regulations. These events help our customers learn about the pet food industry and what to look for in food for their pet. We also regularly give out samples of foods with brochures and encourage customers to do their own research to keep educating themselves. These brochures can be about a particular food or supplement, or about general ingredients included in pet food so that the customer is aware of what the FDA thinks is OK. We also attend events outside of the store to provide information and introduce people to healthier food and treats for their pets.
Q What do you look for in a new product to add to your inventory?
A Is it safe, healthy and tasty? Is it fun? Is it interesting and unique? It is a good value for the customer? If so, you’ll probably find it at The Nautical Dog.