Bill Trufant is the owner and operator—along with his two sisters, Sally and Mary—of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Alabama. A self-described life-long fish geek, he’s learned a lot on his journey to opening the pet store of his dreams.
How did you come to be a pet business owner?
I am one of the few people that actually got to do what they wanted to when they grew up! Growing up in Metairie, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans), I started working at 50 Fathoms Pet Shop, a local, family-owned store, when I was in 7th grade (1972). I would ride my bicycle to work after school and got paid in fish. I worked there for several years until I got recruited by the pet department manager at Sears… I made many contacts back then and when, in October of 1981, I opened my own store, I was able to draw on those contacts and got a ton of advice and expertise that the average business owner probably wouldn’t have had. I was 22 years old!
What are some of the strategies you employ to drive customers into your store?
The most important thing that we do is have identifiable (due to dress code), trained, knowledgeable sales staff available at all times. I know that it is old fashioned and quite expensive, but this is something that other stores just do not do!
Well cared for animals are a huge draw. We also allow customers to hold and/or touch the animals. The look on a little kid’s face when he gets to have a parakeet perch on his finger for the first time or that little girl who gets to pet the bunny rabbit. Speaking of tag lines… “You Can’t Get That Online!”
We have a Rewards Club that keeps track of customers’ purchases through the point of sale and it then allows us to market to them specifically based on what our promotion might be. We [also] have monthly events. We do everything from hamster races to pet photos with Santa to a birthday party for our store bird, Pickles the Cockatoo. We also have monthly promotions like the Two-fer Tuesday fish sale (once a month) and the Wet Dog Wednesday dog bath special (every Wednesday). We are [also] open 7 days a week!
What’s the secret to running a successful pet business?
The first thing is that there is no way that you can do it alone! You must surround yourself with people that you can count on, preferably people with different skill sets but a similar passion.
Join a pet retail group like Nexpet. To have access to a group of like minded successful retailers from across the country is priceless! The real key here is to participate. I can’t tell you how many times over the years that I’ve been able to get answers to specific animal questions, potential sources for products and even just an outlet to vent not only frustrations but also successes!
Another “secret,” if you will, is that I have monthly meetings with my various department heads. We go over their department’s performance not only in general but also get down to reviewing specific sales numbers. They not only know how the department is running but also how the whole store is doing. We employ a philosophy of “Open Book Management” with our supervisors and literally review the Income Statement and Balance sheet each month.
How do you keep yourself and your staff educated?
Most of my krewe are so passionate about what they do that they stay up to date on their own! We do in-service training whenever we have manufacturers’ reps come to the store. It can be as formal as an employee meeting after hours or as informal as gathering the available krewe members on the sales floor.
We are members of and support PIJAC! The daily PIJAC Firstlooks are a quick, easy way to stay on top of things. We go to the two major trade shows, SuperZoo and Global. The day before SuperZoo is a “Day of Retailer Education” and we always arrive the day before that in order to attend as many of the seminars as possible.
We also support our two main local wholesalers by attending their open houses. This is not only a great buying opportunity, but it is also a great networking opportunity!
What’s it like running a family-owned and -operated business?
I have to say that now, after 37 years of running this store, I am still not burnt out! We try to keep things loose and fun around here but at the same time we do have some pretty strict rules and regulations—you kind of have to with almost 50 employees! I get to work with my sisters, Sally and Mary. To have not only one, but two, people that you can trust implicitly is invaluable. So many of the krewe have been here for so long. The average “time of service” my 10 department heads have is well over 10 years and they, too, are family! [Lastly,] the buck stops here! If we want to try a new way of doing something or bring in a new product, we can just do it.