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Five Q’s with Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus

Pet Age Staff//May 7, 2018//

Five Q’s with Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus

Pet Age Staff //May 7, 2018//

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Q What has been your focus since joining Pet Supplies Plus in 2012 and becoming CEO of the company in 2014?

A The majority of our energy has been spent on laying a solid foundation for growth, which is built on three pillars: a culture of engagement with the neighbors; a fun, quirky store environment; and a connection with local community.

All three of those things are directly tied to having the right people in our stores to engage with the neighbors. We don’t do a lot of external hires. In fact, most of our field managers and store managers—about 80 percent of them—come from being promoted internally. Our thought is that we can train people to start with us as cashiers, who become district team leaders and beyond. We take them along with us as we grow, as it’s challenging to bring somebody in from the outside and get them to understand the culture that we built. We hire people who are passionate pet lovers and who love neighbors, then we teach them the specific aspects of the job. We’re not interested in whether you have worked at a retail job before; rather, we care more about your passions. If your passion is pets, then that’s a great foundation.

As a Pet Supplies Plus franchisee or store team member, you’re down on your hands and knees playing with puppies or taking selfies with pets throughout the day. Look at our social media and you’ll see all kinds of evidence of fun and quirky: our Halloween costume events or photo contests neighbors send in of their goofy dogs. Our sign package embodies our culture, where we say it’s not about perfectly groomed dogs, it’s about dogs and cats who are getting into trouble, doing the things that make us laugh and make pet ownership fun. It’s about celebrating the FUN with pet ownership and it’s about connecting with like-minded people.

Connecting with the local community truly has to be done at the store level. It’s not something that can be done out of Pet Central (corporate office). Our job at Pet Central is to give the stores the right tools to engage with pet parents and the permission to be fun and quirky. For example, when we go out and do store visits, the whole intent is to meet and greet the team. We aren’t there to audit the store or look for things that are wrong. Our whole focus at Pet Central is to support the franchise owners and store managers to carry out their primary job—connect with the neighbors and especially connect with the neighbors with their pets.

We love that you are in the store, we want to have fun with you—we don’t just want to sell you dog food.

Q How would you describe your company’s tag line, “Minus the Hassle”?

A It comes from our vision to make it easier for pet parents to find better products for their pets, while saving them money. We know you come into Pet Supplies Plus primarily to buy products. We want to make it easier for you to get in, get out, get the products you need and save money.  We are kind of like the convenience store you go to buy milk, except we don’t overcharge you —we actually help you save money.

“Minus the Hassle” also means that Pet Supplies Stores are close to your home and you can get in and out of them quickly. More than 95 percent of our neighbors confirm they get an automatic carryout if they have 25 pounds or more of product. We don’t want you lugging your food out to your car—that’s our job. So if you want to come in, buy your dog food and walk out with somebody carrying it out for you, that whole interaction should take you a couple of minutes.

That’s why we carry a larger assortment of natural dog food. We don’t want you to walk in and not have the product you need—because quite frankly, that’s a hassle. We don’t want you to have to order it and say that within 48 hours it will be delivered to your home… that’s a hassle. You need dog food tonight, not two days from now.

“Minus the Hassle” also refers to price point. We’re not going to say that because we provide this amazing, convenient experience with knowledgeable team members to answer questions, “well that’s worth more, so we’re going to charge you for more.” We don’t charge you a premium for something you should be entitled to receive.

Finally, we have things like the pet wash and grooming. Instead of making a mess in your house, you can bring your pet into our stores and either we groom your dog or you can wash your dog yourself. Either way, the mess is left at Pet Supplies Plus and you can go home and enjoy your nice, clean pet and play without having to clean your kitchen or bathroom.

We also eliminate hassle for our franchisees. We take care of everything for our franchise owners so that the thing they have to take care of is the neighbor and having fun with their team members. We do their merchandising, marketing, supply chain; set their promotions, pricing; manage their social media, and we have the processes and procedures intact. The franchisee only has to get the product in the back door, sell it and carry it out to the neighbors.

Q Why is “Natural” so important to Pet Supplies Plus?

A Just like the human trends of natural foods, people want their pets eating healthier food and living longer, healthier lives. Natural pet foods are less widely distributed, so they aren’t always available at Wal-Mart, the grocery stores or the department stores. Many of the natural food brands won’t sell the food to the big-box stores, but they will sell to us. We carry all the natural brands that both independents and national stores carry. We’ve got the natural food category covered, and our neighbors know it. It’s yet another reason they love coming to our stores.

Q What plans for the future have you confident in PSP’s long-term success?

A We have figured out a way to blend the convenience of e-commerce into our experiential, personal-service store model. With our order online and in-store pickup program (which has been testing and is in process of rollout), instead of having a big, unknown entity shipping you dog food, it’s all going to come from your local store. You can order online, set it up monthly, and we will have it ready for you in store for easy pickup and carry out to your car. When you buy from us, you’ll get a letter from the local owner with discounts and coupons and offers on a free service (grooming, pet wash)—things that aren’t available online. The letter will also inform the neighbor of upcoming store events.

Pet parents want to connect socially with other pet parents. They want everyone else to experience their pet, but online retailers don’t have the ability to make that happen like we do. We created community rooms and welcome neighbors to create bonds with other pet parents.

People also shop with their pets—not just because it’s convenient, but because they want social interaction for their pets.

It’s important to note that about 25 percent of our customers are new pet parents. They are not going to go online to do their shopping because they don’t know what they need. At Pet Supplies Plus, we educate them with a checklist and show them what they need. Finally, people want to touch and feel potential purchases. For example, I recently purchased a small collar for my own dog Lexie (a Pekingese). She’s tiny, but I found out that she would need a medium-sized collar, not a size small. I had to be there with her to learn that. We also sell live animals in the stores, yet another thing you can’t do online.

Our competitors have all but erased the customer experience. Major pet retailers haven’t given consumers a compelling reason to go to a pet retailer. Pet Supplies Plus gives you plenty of reasons to want to come to your local store.

Q What is the story of how Phoebe, your cockatoo, joined your family?

A I actually met Phoebe during an in-store visit in Ohio. I noticed such a dramatic difference in the way the employees engaged with me when I was holding her. I’m a passionate pet person just like them. It’s a bond that brings everyone together when they walk through the doors of our stores.

I decided to make Phoebe the office mascot because we wanted the same openness and culture that I experienced in the store that day when I met her to translate at Pet Central. She’s since been promoted to chief bird officer. She participates in meetings, goes on stage at conferences, meets all franchisees and is always excited to take selfies.

Phoebe has an extremely charming demeanor. Phoebe goes everywhere with me, including board meetings. Everyone loves her. Sometimes I think they really don’t care that I’m here; they just want to see Phoebe. Having her at work each day reminds the company of our main objective, which is to serve pets like her and their pet parents. It’s also why we offer a “Peternity” stay for Pet Central team members to bring their newly adopted pets to work to build that lifelong bond.

Again, it comes down to the culture. No one questions why she’s in the room, and people laugh when she’s screaming in the background when I’m on board calls. No one tells me to remove her. They might say, “Can you please shut her up?” but we’re laughing about it. If you’re in this industry, you’re passionate about pets. You either embrace it, or you get out.