Pet Age spoke with Kristina Pierce, manager for Pet Barn’s two locations in Maryland, Annapolis and Fulton. She reflected on how the store has found success in the holistic niche.
Q What has been challenging and rewarding about managing a store focusing on the natural, holistic and eco-friendly niches?
A The biggest challenge has been push-back from conventional vets. There are a few holistic vets in the area that we have a reciprocal relationship with, but it is challenging when most vets aren’t educated about the kinds of diets we sell.
I’ve had many rewarding moments over the years… This was about 11 years ago but I will never forget this woman. She had a 9-year-old Pomeranian who had struggled with digestive issues his whole life. I convinced her to try raw, which 11 years ago was still pretty fringe, but she agreed since she felt she had tried everything else for him. She came back and told me with tears in her eyes that her dog had completely turned around. He loved the food and for the first time in his life was having normal, healthy poop. Those moments make it all worth it.
Q What’s made you stay with Pet Barn for 14 years?
A I like the relaxed atmosphere working here. I worked in banking for a time and it was all, “Sell, sell, sell.” Here, the focus is on helping the customer first instead of sales first. If you take care of the customer, the sales come naturally. You end up developing a real relationship with your customers because you really get to know them and their pets.
Q How have you seen the pet industry change over the years?
A There have been huge changes since I started in the industry… About a year before grain-free debuted, I was really starting to push raw because of my own experience. There were only a handful of distributed raw foods at that time. When I started at Pet Barn, my Yorkie had allergies and nothing was helping, so Kelly filled a bag with Amore raw food that we had in a tiny four-foot tall freezer and said, “Here, try this. Some people say this helps.” Fast-forward five years to when we were building out the second location and deciding to install a seven-door walk-in freezer. Nine years later, our only regret is that we didn’t make it 10 doors.
Q What sets Pet Barn apart from other pet stores?
A Education. That has always been our focus. We believe that if you educate the customer, and encourage them to educate themselves, you’re more likely to have a customer for life. A hard sell will get you one sale; I want them to understand why they’re buying what they’re buying for their pet. Otherwise, the next pet store they go into will just talk them into buying something else.
We’re also very picky about what goes on the shelf. We don’t just look at the ingredient panel—we want to know where each ingredient is sourced and who manufactures the food.
Q Tell us about your role in opening a second Pet Barn location. What would you recommend to other pet retailers opening a second location?
A My role was purchasing every last product we put on the shelf and securing deals and discounts for those products. I thought I’d go blind choosing collars—I think I spent eight hours a day for at least two weeks deciding on collars. The owner, Kelly, handled all the logistics and paperwork/permits…
My advice is to sleep whenever you can. The first two months I was working 12-18 hours a day every day. It was a ton of work, but it was worth it.