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Independent Stores Can Run Circles Around Big Box Chains


November 6, 2018

It’s true that big box retailers have a buying advantage over independently owned pet stores. What they don’t have is the ability to offer tailored services for a specific market area or to quickly respond to changing circumstances. They also don’t have the ability to make decisions based on their customers’ needs. When a company has to manage more than 1,000 stores, t has to restrict store associates’ freedom to negotiate price and limit what is stocked in the stores.

The big box retailers’ profits are impacted by their huge overhead; therefore, they operate on higher margins. Because of their size and the cumbersome check and balance requirements, product category reviews have a set schedule, giving the independent stores an advantage on new product introduction. Also, for the most part, their stock will be general merchandise and any trendy item or new concept items may never make it to their shelves.

If handled properly, the independently owned pet store should be able to run circles around the big national chains with service and variety, as well as price. I’ve heard the constant lament from independent retailers that the big box chains are always advertising on television and they can’t compete with that. The fact is that any pet-related advertising is always a good thing, no matter who’s doing it.

Word of mouth advertising has more value than big budget media advertising because it’s personal. I’ve heard over and over again how some clerk at a big box store has recommended the independent pet store down the road when they are asked for something the chain doesn’t stock. The clerks know that their company isn’t going to bring in the item in question so sending the customer to a store that can is their general go-to solution.

Independent retailers also say they can’t compete with the big box when it comes to dog food prices and, especially, aquarium prices. This is true, but there are always promotions on dog food, which, if passed along, will make the independent store look more competitive.

As far as the ongoing chain store give-away prices on aquariums, that is only on tank sizes the store stocks. There have always been loss-leaders in the aquarium category, so compete if necessary on the sizes you have to, and make up for that on the larger aquariums or through astute purchases or selling customized starter kits.

One really important advantage the independent retailer has is in-store services. If you can service what you sell, you will have something big box chains will never be able to compete with because they have to take into account implementing a national program when they offer a service.

Some of the services that could be offered by just about any pet store are:

1) Pet training, specifically puppy crate-training. Dog crate manufacturers will be glad to show how to set this up, and they have support literature and display units to help.

2) Aquarium quality water testing and disease identification service. Admittedly, this does require some knowledge, but most stores who have aquatic sections already deal with this, so why not make it official with signage in the front window and on the store’s Facebook page?

3) Aquarium replacement parts. There are several national aquatic distributors that stock every aquatic part you can imagine. Google “aquarium parts, wholesale” and scroll down to the wholesalers.

4) In-store care classes for puppies, kittens, small animals and reptiles. If you have extra room, set up a space for small seminars and advertise them through bag stuffers and on your Facebook page. If you don’t have the space for seminars, set up a free pamphlet learning center and refer to it often. Check with your distributor for manufacturer literature—there’s plenty out there.

Other services might include flea and tick dip days and free dog wash days, or perhaps credit toward a free wash for each bag of dog food purchased. Even though the big box has grooming, don’t discount that as a seriously advantageous service, especially if you can arrange an owner-operator groomer. Personality is a big part of any grooming service.

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