Last week in my Confessions of a Pet Store Owner I mentioned briefly the challenging, and potentially fatal competitive forces to the local pet store. Here are a couple reasons why I have hope, with more to come.
1. We are easy to find and we can’t avoid you.
As pet stores disappear (which is happening), and people start buying their pets online, it will become quickly evident how useless the average online retailer is in providing you the help you need.
Last month a young couple purchased some baby turtles online after getting inspired in our store because ours were too expensive (As a side note, the ones they got were illegal in Oregon, and if we could have had them, they would have been even cheaper than the online guy). One of the turtles came in looking pretty shabby and they weren’t getting any help from the breeder with unanswered emails and messages, so they had to come in to Critter Cabana for help. Last I talked to them all the turtles had died despite their best efforts to get them back to good health. Think they’ll buy a turtle online again?
The fact is, online retailers don’t build that kind of support into their costs. As people experiment with purchasing pets and pet supplies online they will have the same expectations for their online retailers as they do for us and the online experience just can’t compete on any level other than selection and price. That, to the advantage of local stores like us, is only half of what people need when it comes to their pets.
2. Manufacturer Support
I’m no expert on the ins and outs of running a manufacturing business, however what I have discovered is that companies don’t particularly enjoy selling through either big retailers or online retailers. Can you blame them? It’s kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket. Walmart wants one of your products, but the catch is that they only want two products from your line and they want you to drive down your price even if it means you have to switch all those nice metal parts you built your brand around to plastic. So your sales surge, you increase your manufacturing, develop some new products. But then Walmart says they don’t really want those new products, and to boot, your products aren’t turning fast enough so your time in Walmart is done. Then you go to the indpendent retailer looking for some sort of salvation, pushing everything you got to try to support your new investments, but the independent says eh, we just can’t make enough money with the new price points and the product is crap because you ditched your metal parts. (A true story, I was the one who said “eh”)
I had a sales rep attempting to restock my Frontline the other day. I said, “Eh, I can get it cheaper at Costco and so could my customers so I really have no interest in the brand at this point.” My guess is that vets have been telling them the same thing. The rep attempted to convince me that Costco had purchased bootlegged versions of the product and was selling it outside the authorization of the company and that it would be out soon. If you ask me, they probably got the axe from Costco and realized they had destroyed their reliable channels. And the fact is, nobody is really all that attached to Frontline. I’ve been selling Bio Spot like crazy and will soon have Fipronil to boot.
The online story is not much different. Every week I get emails from manufacturers who have instituted M.A.P. policies. If you don’t know what that is it means they are requiring people selling their products to abide by a minimum advertised price. This is pretty much just a ruse to help pet stores like ours or even Petco or Petsmart (who has similar pricing model to us) that they can still make enough money on products that are sold online.
The bottom line is that getting products in the brick and mortar mass merchandisers may increase sales, may expose product to a lot more people, but it may be a deal with the devil. On the online side it seems brilliant to have products available to anyone anywhere at rock bottom prices but similary if the brick and mortar channels that expose the product get burned, then the manufacturer may lose critical support as well.
Agree or Disagree? Like this post? Or not interested in the business side of a pet store? Let me know.