Pet Age went to Farmingdale, New Jersey, to speak with Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy, and to learn more about his independent pet store.
Q How have your retailer strategies changed since The Hungry Puppy first opened?
A [My wife] Teresa and I opened The Hungry Puppy 31 years ago. At the time, the concept of a store that carried only pet products without the animals was new. Most people went to pet stores to either buy pets or to have their dogs groomed. With the changing perceptions of how pets became more a part of the family, manufacturers came out with more products to accommodate pet owners’ wants. This “humanization of pets” concept allowed for all these new products to come to market and created the concept of the pet supply store that doesn’t sell pets.
Fast forward to today, and society has gone from a concept of “pet owners” to “pet parents.” As an owner of a pet supply store, we have gone from primarily bringing new and unique products to market to now also creating an experience/event and community that our customers have come to expect.
Q What product categories (dog, cat, bird, reptile, small animal, horse) perform best in terms of sales with your customers?
A Approximately 75 percent of our business is related to dogs—whether it’s food, supplies or services offered. The product mix for our store’s model is predicated on several factors, the first being demographics. We are in an area that is part rural and part suburban. Our customer base ranges from young professionals who travel to Manhattan or Philadelphia to equine farmers and retirees. This requires us to have a broader array of products for different species than the regular pet supply store.
Another factor that contributes to our selection of products is the size of our showroom. We operate out of about 3,000 square feet of space. Since our space is limited, I would not consider our store as a place to find new or unique products in the industry. Our product mix consists of most popular products found in Petcos or PetSmarts, but at a lower price point. This model ensures that product turns very quickly. Simply put, we would be considered the go-to store for replenishment and not necessarily for discovery of new products.
Q What are the hottest trends that customers are seeking for their pets?
A It seems products today in our industry are becoming almost ancillary to the retail services that customers have come to expect from pet supply retailers. Whether services like free delivery, training, grooming, self-bathing dog washes or even veterinary care, it’s the one-stop shopping mentality that customers today expect, in addition to competitive prices for products with online, big box or mass market.
Q What are the benefits of offering events to your customers?
A The idea is to create an experience for the customer that your competition can’t do, won’t do or doesn’t know how to do. We have our own free dog park with a covered veranda attached to our store. During the year, we hold events with the express purpose of allowing us the opportunity to celebrate the relationship people have with their pets. These events create the fond memories and experiences which inherently creates brand ambassadors of The Hungry Puppy. The park/veranda is also used for play dates among people in the community or simply by those who need to exercise their dog because they don’t have a backyard. These are concepts that cannot be easily replicated online or with big box stores.