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Saying Goodbye to an Independent Pet Store

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  1. E West

    Susan,
    I wrote a near identical article about a month ago. You are bringing up points that people don’t take into consideration when choosing where to shop based on price alone.

    1. Susan Thixton Author

      It’s important – and it is concerning what might happen in the near future.

    2. LINDA

      I am having the same problems being an independent high quality pet food store. I work very hard for the small companies I believe in only to have had several of them allow their products in the “big box” stores and online pet food companies. I am also finding that my local Tractor Supply is buying in bulk and charging below my cost for a line of food that they recently picked up that was suppose to be for “independent only”. I surely cannot compete with that, but when I complained to the pet food company, it fell on deaf ears.
      We are educated, very caring people and treat our customers and their pets like family. It is very discouraging, but we keep on keeping on! We pray that the big box and online trend will end and people will come back to where they are treated well with great customer service and friendship!

  2. Lanette

    Susan, I am very glad that you are posting about this because it is a concern that I also have. We have a few really good independent food stores in Houston, but one in particular I found stands above the rest…Nourish Pet Care. It is owned by a former vet tech and her husband. I have switched to buying pretty much all my pet food from there because of the service and advice provided by the owners. When I was suddenly dealing with a diabetic cat and spending countless hours searching for high protein alternate foods to the prescription diet my vet was recommending, Linda spend a lot of time discussing with me her experiences, what products had worked for other customers, recommending websites and forum I could join for more information, etc. They also provide cat boarding at there store, so that when I needed to be out of town I could board my cat there and they handled the insulin shots and sugar level testing. I would get daily updates via email on how she was doing with photos of her. I can’t tell you how much it eased my mind knowing she was taken care of.

    Linda also helped me with another cat who for years had a chronic issue with patches of hair loss. The vet simply chalked that up to him being a nervous animal and over grooming. Linda asked me what protein base I was feeding (chicken), suggested it may be a sensitivity to poultry, and recommended switching to a fish based food. Lo and behold, a few months later he had the fullest, thickest coat I have ever seen!

    Although I know I can buy the food online for a bit less and have is shipped directly to me, I will continue to use them because I want to support a local business and help them to stay in business. This is indeed one example where I don’t price shop, because having a knowledgeable resource to help is way worth any additional cost or the extra trip over to their store.

    So how can we help them stay in business? I let all my friends with pets know, but would like to spread the word farther. One thought I had was to establish an online list whereby readers can submit information about stores in their area that stock the smaller brands and provide the types of advice and help that businesses like Murphy’s and Nourish provide. Since you have such a large following of readers interested in quality food options for their pets, do you think this is something that could be added to your site? Then your readers could submit their own recommendations and share them with everyone.

    1. Jo

      What a great idea!

  3. Nina Wolf

    I feel for Kim. As an independent pet nutrition store owner, I struggle to stay afloat as well. It seems that unless we are willing to carry at least some of the big name brands and bully sticks, we all struggle. And I will not compromise the health of any of the animals who eat or play with items from out shop. We too do tons of educations, follow ups, programs, everything we can think of. Bottom line is that there is no money in this…we do it because it is our passion, and we try our best to make ends meet.

    One of the things that is on my last nerve is the upswell of smaller shops calling themselves “healthy” and putting out the image that their food is safe. That they know a lot, are on top of things, are actively protecting pets. When in fact they are carrying Wellness, and Taste of the Wild, and rawhides, and toys made in China. These shops are subjecting the public to misleading marketing, and the public want to believe.

    So…if you are a consumer, please know that your pet FOOD provider should be able to tell you if some food is food or feed, if it contains GMO ingredients, where it is manufactured (incl. if the manufacturing facility is human grade or not), if there have been recalls or issues. and if the company is responsive to questions or not. A good pet store will know if there are vitamin packs from China in a food or not. They will know if a dog with, say, colitis will dog in on this food or needs something else. They will be able to give you backup information to support their stance. They will give you a way to contact them with follow up. They will be able to explain why this or that product is better…and with very detailed information about bioavailability, quality of ingredients, local sourcing options, all kinds of expertise.

    Here are a couple of test questions:

    I need a low-protein diet for my cat who is in kidney failure. What do you suggest? (they should now explain it is not the protein levels to be concerned about…they should be able to talk about phosphorous, and different meats having different levels, and new studies in appropriate protein levels)

    My dog has itchy skin. Do you have a shampoo for that? (There should follow a bunch of questions about where the dog is scratching, what the dog is eating, what kinds of chews and treats the dog gets, if the dog has been to the vet, a flea inspection – yes, the pet shop person would get out a flea comb and CHECK. This is a really lengthy discussion and involves lots of backup articles etc.

    My dog is a heavy chewer. Have you got any really sturdy rawhide? (Age and weight of dog? Breed? No toy should be offered that is synthetic in any way, or that would be dangerous if swallowed or could be partially swallowed. Discussion of bones, etc)

    My flex-lead broke. Where are yours located? (there shouldn’t be any. It is that simple.)

    You get the idea.

    And once you find a really great store, support the h*&^ out of them. Rate them everywhere. Send people there. Talk them up.

    Every one of us little guys appreciates your loyalty.

    1. Jo

      Nina,
      What is wrong with the Wellness and Taste of the Wild brands? Not questioning what you say…just trying to learn!

  4. Hope Williams

    Amen, Susan! I have a health food store for pets in Washington state. We enjoy a fairly large customer base despite having a Petco in our small town. Many of the humans in our community care deeply about their pets as family members and that is projected into their shopping at a store–ours– that has their pets’ best interests in mind every day of the year. Twenty-five percent of our food sales are raw and 5 years ago that number was 10%. Our customers are smart. However we’ve worked very very hard to get that number higher and we’re not letting up. It’s not an easy business to be in because there is a certainly part of the community that uses our store as a “showroom” and then turn to the internet for their purchases. We have been known to point out to certain shoppers that if they seek our advice and shop elsewhere they are contributing to us possibly not being around in the future when they need us again. Some people don’t care and are offended by our comment. But there are a few, when we say that, as well as remind them we employ people from our community and contribute to our tax base and help our town thrive that will say, “my, I never thought about that!”. Our role as a health food store for pets is to educate people above and beyond our every day expertise. Your article is a wonderful reminder to people that “you get what you pay for” in more ways than one.

  5. Barb

    I so appreciate your article here, Susan, and am saddened by a fellow independent in the pet business industry doing such a knock out job who is closing it’s doors. I have been in business since 2004, always passionate about what we do here, why we do it, and the products we carry. We work tirelessly to help our customers do better for their dogs. We know our customers and their dogs and we truly care. Many we can call our friends. And yet, I guess it’s hard for people to truly understand and believe that we do it all for the right reasons and with honesty, integrity, passion, and lots and lots of knowledge. That’s the hard part. After 11 years in business, it’s still all about the dog for me. Thankfully, the bills do get paid, but I can say that each and every sale is appreciated because, in small business, it takes only a few tough days and it can all change. We’re not the big box stores; we’re in communities and neighborhoods, living right alongside of our customers. My business truly has a heart. Folks have said ‘it’s their happy place.’ But a business can’t sustain on words.

  6. Jane Eagle

    So many times consumers look at the price and not the VALUE. This reminds me of a story I overheard a few years ago in a small computer store. A customer had come in and the proprietor spent about 2 hours helping them figure out the best computer and equipment for theor purposes. The customer went to a big box store, bought the equipment for $100 less, and then had the audacity to go back to the small store and ask them how to use their new stuff! They were told to get instructions where they bought. Of course, there was NO help at the big box; so they paid several hundred to a geek squad or some such to learn what they could have learned for free if they weren’t so bent in saving a few bucks.
    It’s not always price: look for the VALUE.

    1. Hope Williams

      Yes, your story reminds me of a quote, “this is the high cost of paying cheap”.

    2. Connie Chauvel-Gomez

      when asking about “good quality” foods at a big box store….the gal waS very annoying but knew much less than we do re; quality foods!!! WE ORDER ONLINE NOW!! we are pet-sitters. We have a client who feeds her dog Beneful!! I have taken articles to her and stressed the dangers; her comment is that she “cannot afford other foods”!!!
      Yet, she CAN afford vacations and outings!!!

  7. Diane R

    I try to order my dog food from the local store. However one brand I use for my allergenic dog they cannot get at all (none of their distributors carry it) so that is an always buy online food and the other food they have to special order and sometimes it does not come in and then I have to order online. Price wise they are the same as most places online so that is not why I order online. I want to know the day I order the food if it actually will or won’t come in. As to what they carry IN store, they keep getting rid of the great foods and pretty much carry what sells to the average joe walk in sale which is not anything I’ll feed my dogs

    1. Hope Williams

      Are there any other pet supply stores in your community you could turn to for solutions?

      1. Diane R

        no 🙁 not locally (I have limited travel ability) we have the small pet store, Walmart, Tractor Supply, Grain stores, grocery stores, Home Depot and that is it
        I used to manage a large kennel and sell pet food so appreciate this article, but if I can’t reliably get what I want to buy locally I am going to buy it online

  8. Audree Berg

    Hi Everyone.
    As an independent pet store owner, I also feel her anguish. But it’s not just the big box stores that are a problem. In fact, we feel online retailer – like Chewys and Amazon, etc are really the competition. Petco, Petsmart, etc can’t carry small brands. But online retailers can and do. It’s up to the retailers to contact the manufacturers and let them know that we expect their support against online stores. We – the brick and mortar stores – are their sales force. We buy the product to carry in our stores, educate the public to the benefits of a particular product, and give out samples in the hopes of providing a healthy product. I can’t tell you how many times the customer comes back and tell us she was able to find it for a dollar less online (and it includes free delivery). Not only do we have to educate our customers about the qualities of the products, but we need to further enforce the importance of buying from local retailers.

    1. Peter

      Audree, what you describe is similar to how customers regard “brick and mortar” booksellers: they find books at the local store (they wouldn’t know the book exists, otherwise), then go to Amazon to buy it. Now, in a major suburban area where I live, we have NO booksellers left. Our local pet store works mightily to stay abreast of the marketplace, and has been hit hard by competition from Petsmart moving in (who needs another Petsmart) and recalls, after which they removed entire lines from the stores. Good food costs more, and it is difficult for them to compete. I want to be able to support a local merchant.

    2. Jo

      I understand the serious competion issues facing brick and mortar pet food stores, and fully agree that we all should support them as much as we can. However, I feel compelled to respond to the complaint about chewy.com. I have done business with this company a lot, simply because the brands I wanted were not sold locally. Where chewy.com excels IMO is in their quality customer service. They are fairly well known for their no questions asked return/refund policy, immediately issuing full order refunds, even when the “problem” is due to no fault of their own–such as when a pet dies and there is no longer a need for the remaining food. Chewy not only issues a full refund, but also regularly advises customers to donate that food to a shelter or local animal welfare organization. This includes full cases and unopened bags of food! I believe they should be commended for that.

      1. Sarah Melcher

        Jo,
        I completely agree that Chewy should be commended for full refunds/no questions asked but so should every pet store owner and by no means is Chewy the only store with that policy. I, for my online store, have spent a lot of money in paying for shipping for large purchases to be returned because it is the right thing to do. I don’t think the level of customer service you rightfully applaud is in any way limited to Chewy, which gets back to the other issues if that aspect of customer service is equal.

        Recently, a customer wanted to return an 11″ Ratherbee Big Kicker because her 6-month-old kitten didn’t like it. Absolutely! AND, I have just shipped (entirely on my nickle) two 2″ Ratherbee Nips and one 4″ Ratherbee Nip which are more suitable for a kitten and still suitable in a few months when she is older.

        I hope I am respectfully saying that good customer service should be taken for granted.

        Thanks,
        Sarah

  9. Stephen

    In Business, they say that, as a Customer You can not have All Three.

    [] Product

    [] Price

    [] Service ( Knowledge )

    The Small / Independent Stores are typically run by Regular Men & Women ..who happen to love Animals and wish to mix their Passion for Animals with a “ Respectable Living” …

    It is because of their Passion that they Seek Out and offer highly vetted Premium Products .. backed up by their Top Shelf / Product Knowledge ..

    They can offer Cutting Edge Product Selection and exemplary Product Knowledge / Service … but can not Touch the Discounts / Buying / Logistic Leverage of the Big Box.

    While this is True .. it is Surprising How Little $$ difference an Independent Price can be from a Big Box ..

    Unfortunately …

    “Some” Pet Parents use the Independent Store for these Qualities …

    for their High Product Selection / Knowledge Product Consultation / the First Order .. but then with future orders, it is Click & Order for a “Slight” Saving to them

    In addition to Skimming this added $$ from the Pockets of the Small / Independent .. which can $$$ Make or Break a Small Guy …

    The Sad Part is that these same Customers are the first to do the same thing ..over and over .. to the Independent as they hear of New Products…

    This is Heart Breaking .. not only for our Independent Mom & Pop Pet Boutiques ..

    But it is Replicated all over the USA for many other Products …

    Solution ?

    Hope the Customer becomes “enlightened” to their Hello / GoodBye behavior ?

    Unfortunately, I am not Hopeful that this will happen.

    Future ?

    Heart Break of small Independent Pet Boutiques ..

    Welcome to Big Box

    What do they say in Business ?

    Follow the Money !

  10. Sandra Murphey

    My local independent pet store in Northern California has been in business for over 20 years. I shop there rather than the big box stores. They are a very large spacious store, as big as PetCo or PetSmart. They carry a lot of the same crap that BigBox sells, and none of the quality brands I’d like to buy there.

    They have a small frozen section for raw pet foods for dogs and a little area for cats.
    They don’t seem to know much about the food they sell, and I was told recently that dry food cleans teeth!

    Recently in my transition to raw food for my cat, I discovered a company about 10 miles from me that makes
    raw food for dogs and cats, and delivers! They also offer a half hour nutritional consultation for $35. They have a very extensive questionaire about your pet. I’ve never seen an ad for them, and only found the company because of a post in my local bulletin board.

    They do have a few retail stores that carry their food, and before I made a commitment, I wanted to try a lb.
    container to see if my cat would actually eat it. The pet store was nearly sold out of their product, but had two
    containers left of a turkey/sardine mixture.

    I was thrilled to see my cat eating it each time I put it down. She rarely eats everything on her small dish, but she did with this stuff. It’s worth driving 10 miles to get it a pound at a time, since I don’t have freezer space for more.

    What really caught my eye on their website was the words “nutritional counseling”. I think this is a wide open area of need. So, those independent pet store owners that seem to know so much, and give free help on this topic, might consider moving in a direction to solve a problem and to serve an unmet need. Nutritional counseling for pets! I have a feeling it could work. They wouldn’t even need a brick and mortar store, but could refer people to pet stores they have a relationship with.

    I’ve done a lot of research, and a lot of posting about pet food on my community bulletin board. I have people emailing me for advice! I usually create a questionaire to get the history and details about the pet, then make a few recommendations. I let them know I have no formal nutritional education or any certification in nutrition. I’ve referred them to Susan’s site, and a few others, and they could get the information they
    need by doing research, but many people don’t have the kind of time I do, as a retired person.

    So, because of my experience, which in no way compares to pet store owners, I believe that this can work.
    I’ve received emails from grateful pet guardians for the information I’ve shared because I care.

    I look forward to comments on this idea.

  11. Sandra Murphey

    Follow up on my recent post about nutritional counseling for pets: I just did a search, and came up with this:
    http://petnutritionconsulting.com/about-pnc/

    It’s being done already, and this is just the first one I saw. So, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel! Follow
    in someone else’s jet stream.

  12. Janelle

    Thank you for this great article! It’s most frustrating and sad when customers who have come to us year after year and we have helped them time and time again just to have them tell us that they are buying their food online because it’s cheaper. They don’t realize that online foods are the short-dated foods that we said NO to…. And sometimes they don’t realize that we have rewards programs and loyalty programs that help out immensely with the costs. When you can buy 12 and get 1 free from us and not the big boxes, why shop there? And we’ll take returns and exchanges of open pet food! Will Amazon do that? Heck no….

    And we’ll stand behind the counter and out on the floor and talk to then for HOURS on end, day after day to help them with their pet’s health! From supplements, to suggestions about vaccinations, to alternatives to spot-on topical flea and tick treatment… Ugh! And we do it because we sincerely want to HELP!

    It’s sad the way the industry is going… We love our customers, we love their pet’s as if they were our own. It is why we are in business! Passionate about pet health! No one else is going to help them — REALLY help them — except for the independent pet FOOD retailers!

    10 years later, my business still is going strong, but we also have dog grooming. Sure does make a difference.

    Build up those services folks! Retail may become secondary down the road…

    Thank you,
    Janelle
    Wags to Whiskers – Plainfield Illinois

  13. Robin

    This is not just an issue with pet food. Big box stores and online retailers are putting most independent retailers out of business. It matters where you shop.

  14. Cait

    When the big box stores started offering holistic brands here, I comparison shopped. They were NOT cheaper. In fact, many brands are as much as $10 MORE per bag. The big box stores are jumping on the “holistic bandwagon” and taking advantage of pet owners. There is a perception that they are cheaper and offer better pricing because they can buy larger quantities, but they are actually raising the prices and consumers are none the wiser. Pet owners want convenience and they don’t want to take the time to comparison shop. If they did, they’d probably find they’re still spending more, plus they’re not getting the better service offered by independent retailers.

    1. Hope Williams

      Cait: you are so correct. Big box pet stores and the internet are truly pulling the wool over the consumer’s eyes for most pet food products. A leading brand of dry food kibble, Orijen, is typically advertised at 20% off on most internet resellers. Go to that page and you see this very high price SLASHED with what looks like loads of savings. Turns out to me the same price on my shelf. And I have a frequent buyer program for the consumer that saves them even more money. The big box pet stores spin almost everything too to create the image that they are top brands when a close inspection of ingredients reveals terrible things to put into a living carnivore at inflated prices. So, what’s it all about? Sigh….

  15. Grateful

    I stopped buying the freeze dried raw portions of my cats’ diet when Petsmart bought out all the on line stores I used to purchase from. I won’t support Petsmart in any way, ever. Now I get this product at my independent owner store, the same place I’ve always bought the frozen raw brand my cats are fed. I pay a little more, but it helps keep them in business, and it does NOT support Petsmart.

  16. Sandra Murphey

    Not sure if everyone knows this, but Banfield Vet services are part of PetSmart, and offer “declawing” as a part of
    a “wellness package” for kittens and cats. PetSmart profits from these unnecessary surgeries, which are painful, and in many cases produce behavior problems that create shelter cats that get euthanized. I no longer step foot in PetSmart since I found this out.

  17. B Dawson

    The last few years that I had a bricks and mortar store (and I’ve been closed for 4 years now), I saw a huge increase in folks who would come in, ask all sorts of questions about which food or supplement would be appropriate for their dog or cat, thank me for the 45 minutes I just spent with them and then tell me to my face they were going to buy it on line because it was a buck cheaper. I stopped offering advice over the phone for the same reason. People would call, access 25 years of knowledge and again, tell me straight up they would buy it on-line.

    When I started zinging these folks with “my knowledge won’t be around if you don’t support my store”, I knew it was time to close up shop. I only do nutritional and herbal consultations now as well as educational workshops for small local independents. I refuse to sell on-line.

    The more we shop on line, the fewer products we will have available locally and the more we will be forced to mail-order. It’s a black hole.

    A great big thank you and sloppy puppy kisses to all of you who are willing to pay a little more for the great service, knowledge and personal attention you get from your local independent pet supply.

    1. Sandra Murphey

      B Dawson,

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and what you’ve done to change things for yourself. Giving educational workshops at local independent stores is a great idea. How long are the workshops and what do you charge? I would think this is a way to share your wealth of experience, while bringing people to a local pet store. How long have you been doing this? Are you able to make a living? Sorry for all the questions, but I think your answers can be helpful to others who may be considering a change out of necessity.

    2. Connie Chauvel-Gomez

      plan to buy locally from now on!!!!

  18. Sarah Melcher

    Susan,
    Thank you so much for posting this. As the owner of a small online boutique store (and many cats), I cater to helping cat owners find the right products for their cats (be it treats, supplements, beds, toys…) but in no way can I compete with the Big Online stores, who — as you say — cannot possibly pay attention to the details about their customers. Chewy.com is my biggest competitor (and anything on Amazon). I cannot sell much food because I cannot stock it and shipping cans is not really feasible. But I can stock Primal Freeze-Dried Food which I LOVE and my cats love it and I believe in this product for many reasons. Chewy.com sells it for the same amount I can buy it. But it’s not just about food. Chewy.com sells beds from my favorite bed supplier (West Paw Design, an awesome Small American Business, super-environmentally friendly) and they sell each bed for $5.00 over wholesale cost, which is about 45% BELOW MSRP. The MSRP is the recommended price the manufacturer sets to make a level playing field for big and small businesses. I called West Paw Design to find out the bulk quantity Chewy purchases for that kind of discount. They told me Chewy does drop shipping direct to the customer, so after the drop shipping fee, Chewy gets $2.00 for every bed. That’s fine when they sell thousands of beds … and then I don’t sell any. Meanwhile, West Paw Design is going to have to deploy limited resources for an attorney to attempt to get them to cease and desist. So if I can’t sell anything Chewy sells and I go out of business, customers who have subscriptions for all natural products at my store, plus my personal to their cats, will have nowhere to turn, and fewer resources to trust for everything and anything.

    Amazon meanwhile allows people to put in a retail price and a sale price, and I’ve noticed that frequently that sale price is in fact the MSRP. And then there is this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGRNK0M — that is a picture of a bag of treats from Whole Life Pet but the price and description are absolutely NOT that treat! The ingredients are NOT that treat — the bag says 100% chicken and this listing includes garlic and other crap. The real treat wholesales for $2 more than the sale price of this Amazon listing. Someone is selling something else under that label and Whole Life Pet can’t do anything about it.

    I know you are primarily focused on food and treats (which is why I love your column) and yet there is so much more than food for happy, healthy cats. I can tell my customers, “this bed works great for my 19-year-old-geriatric cat but this one not so much because…”. Chewy.com can’t. They sell cheap and ship cheap. And they will soon put me out of business.

    It makes me sad to read about intelligent pet owners supporting that. Me? I shop American Small Business even if the price is a little more because I feel better about helping real people, not corporations, because these small business owners are the people — as you say — who really know and care.

    Keep up the battle, we are all behind you!

    My best,
    Sarah

    1. Jan Beardsley-Blanco

      wholelife pets! we buy direct from them!

  19. Jan Beardsley-Blanco

    Susan, I think what you’ve pointed out is something that many of us in pursuit of good pricing have not stopped to think about. Well, you’re article made me sit up for sure! I have just made a commiittment to myself to help our local small stores stick around by buying food from them – prices be damned! I have one small store in my town – which we do buy from – and another excellent small store about 30 minutes drive from here – also excellent – a young staff who knows their dog and cat business!
    as the saying goes, penny wise , pound foolish…………….

  20. Daniel Podobed

    Independent pet stores have been supporting their customer’s pets for years now, and with mass stores moving into the neighborhood and with online food options multiplying like cancer, it is time for those same customers to start supporting their independent pet stores.

    Customers need to pay more money per product. There is a reason. Independent retailers have lower margins, buy at lower volumes, and pay their employees more money. This paying employees more is directly related to the amount of knowledge, care, and service you receive at these independent pet stores.

    There is a difference between price and value.

  21. Paula

    Susan,
    Thank you for an explanation of Murphy’s closed. I came across The Orlando Pet Pantry (www.orlandopetpantry.com) for my beloved Rhodesian Ridgeback’s food and treats, and I am excited to tell everyone about it. Rebecca in the Longwood store consulted me as to the best and most cost-effective alternatives. Now set up for free home deliveries. Lets all band together and support this local business! Paula

  22. jeff boverman

    Susan,
    Excellent article and all true. There are over 29,000 independently owned and operated “neighborhood” pet retailers in the US and they are undermined by big-box retailers and on-line discounters. There are over 70,000 independent veterinarians with similar issues from companies like VCA and Bainfield.

    In Long Beach, California we have started a growing community of pet lovers and suppliers to help “fulcrum” the corporate effect. You can take a look at our offering at http://www.kriddr.com/

    All pets welcome!

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