Pet Age recently spoke with Renee Lauer, founder and owner of Animal Hut, a Pennsylvania grooming salon that’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
What inspired you to open Animal Hut Grooming Salon in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, in 1989?
I began showing my first Bichon Frise in conformation shows in 1987 and fell in love with the dog world and dog people. I decided then that I wanted to make a career in the dog world. My husband Vaun had always wanted to own a business, so I learned to groom and he handled the retail side.
What are some of the major changes in the pet industry that you’ve noticed over the past 30 years?
Obviously the growth of the internet is making it so much easier to communicate with our clients! On the downside, it has increased competition for brick and mortar stores from websites such as Amazon and Chewy.
The growth in the number of various pet foods is staggering! And yet I am loving the research and science that has so improved the nutrition for our pets. There is literally a perfect food for each individual pet! Owners are definitely more educated on pet nutrition and seeking better foods for their pets, with human-grade ingredients. We at Animal Hut strive to provide our clients with the most nutritious foods and treats made and sourced in the USA.
How would you describe your relationship with your customers?
Our motto for 30 years has been “We Care About Your Pets.” I believe our customers realize this. We enjoy educating our customers on new products and those that would benefit their individual pets. Our customers trust our expertise to recommend grooming procedures, grooming products and retail products for their pets. They have participated in many fundraisers we have held for organizations such as our local K-9 Officers and Pets for the Elderly. Our customers have supported us by attending many events we have held such as pet fairs, our adoption event and educational seminars by some of our pet food representatives. I feel they are all part of the Animal Hut community!
What are the benefits of selling pet products in your salon?
We can immediately fill a customer’s needs, particularly for grooming and health products. If the groomer finds a tick, notices a skin condition or if the owner tells us their dog has arthritis or another issue, we can say that we have seen certain products work and that you can get those same products right now. It’s a great convenience for our customers.
What are the best sellers among food, treats and accessories at Animal Hut?
Our most popular foods are the NutriSource products, including their Pure Vita line. NutriSource uses nutrient-dense recipes. More nutrition…less food, less money, less waste. From a retailer’s point of view, NutriSource helps us promote their products by providing us with free samples and educational literature, and they have a great frequent buyer program! The pets of all our clients who use their products are thriving!
On the wet food side, the Merrick Lil’ Plates have been very popular! They are a great choice for small breed dogs and are specially formulated to meet their particular dietary needs. Also, they’re very tasty!
Currently, the treats that sell the best for us are Gibson’s Dog Treats and Lancaster Meatballs made by Wild Meadow Farms. They focus on making high-quality treats right here in the USA with human-grade ingredients. They are a small company in Pennsylvania; their treats have no grains or soy, and the Gibson’s are toasted! Dogs really love them!
One of the best accessories we carry are the Seresto flea and tick collars. I really believe in them, as we see great results with our grooming clients. Their ease of use and comparable cost help make them a great product!
What recent trend has been most popular with your customers?
We have definitely seen a growth in the sale of our supplements. More consumers are looking to us to help them with issues their pets are experiencing. Fairly recently, I discovered Bramton’s Vet’s Best Seasonal Allergy Chews. Our customers are thrilled that they help with the itch that often comes with allergies in dogs.
Within the past couple of years, we have had an increase in people requesting products made in the USA (and we have always strived to carry those products). We feel strongly about selling only American rawhide products—for quality and safety reasons—and our customers share a love for the Wholesome Hide products we sell.
In the toy department, our customers lean more toward plush toys now versus the old rubber and latex toys. And they are looking for more durable plush toys; our goDog toys fit the bill and have performed well!
People are looking for more all-natural products in foods, treats and even shampoos; we choose to sell all-natural products whenever possible. We look for these products as groomers, as pet owners and from interacting with our customers. That’s why the popularity of these items is never a coincidence, but the result of this community’s experiences.