I need to change up my business

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Blue Ridge, Dec 11, 2011.

  1. Blue Ridge

    Blue Ridge Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2011
    In November 2007, I handed over my successful house painting business to my foreman to pursue something I really wanted to do: open a pet store. I had a fair nest egg saved up, and my home almost paid for, and the economy was good so I took the plunge. I had hoped to become operational without going into debt. Naturally, everything cost more than it was supposed to get the doors open, and then the Dow Jones tanked. But I am clearly doing something wrong. I know it's a bad economy, but I'm the only pet store within miles. The Internet is killing me on electronic stuff for aquariums, too. Some of my best customers have bought online and not even checked to see what I could get it for.

    Here's a phrase I hear several times a week when customers walk in for the first time "Oh, I had no idea this place was this big... followed by - I didn't know you had stuff besides fish!" My store also includes the storefront to the right of this unit, which has the aquariums.

    Here is a photo of the left store front:

    I thought the logo on the sign obviously showed a dog's paw, and dog food and dog supplies are 60% of store sales. I keep shrinking other departments and expanding dog and it just keeps growing. I personally love the fish and reptiles, but it's not only a pain to keep clean, but I'm constantly asking people not to tap/put their hand in there, etc. And livestock is fragile and that's the only thing people rarely get online. They buy the tank, gravel and fish from me, and all the expensive stuff is bought online. I can often match or beat it, but there's no way I could try to stock thousands of dollars in light fixtures, etc. that I'm making less than 10% on. So I know two things -there is money to be made special ordering. And dog stuff is what's keeping my doors open. How do I emphasize these two facets? Has a brick and mortar store ever tried the "It'll be here next week" motto? And should I change the whole name of my business? I'm just brainstorming, and I need some sleep but if things don't change for the better soon, my next 1911 is gonna be a Chiappa.
  2. Samcro

    Samcro US Army Retired 1911 Supporting Addict

    Nov 19, 2011
    Yep Time to do a Make over and add Online shopping, plus custom ordering on the window some where . that is a Huge bill board screaming paint me .

  3. AlchemyCustomWeaponry

    AlchemyCustomWeaponry Crabby Old Gunsmith

    Nov 4, 2011
    It took me a long time to find the dog's paw on the sign. Honestly, people driving by are only going to see...Blue Ridge Reef, and they are going to assume that you are selling coral. You need to make it look more mainstream pet friendly looking. Lose the "Reef".

    I'm just going by what I see in the picture. Get some more eye catching stuff in the windows too.
  4. Nyack1911

    Nyack1911 1911 addict

    Sep 20, 2011
    walk in retail right now is not for the faint of heart or wallet. not to dog you but your logo though clever was so busy i had no idea what is was. i am amazed at all the new business signs on buildings have clever wording but their main advertising media needs to say what they sell and what they do.(reef could mean a dive shop)if your market is large enough, "bow wow doggie wear"and supply could be a hit. you may be better off to become an online source without the store front overhead.good luck.
  5. Drgracin72

    Drgracin72 Supporting Addict Supporting Addict

    Oct 9, 2011
    def agree with the signage... took me a minute to find the dog paw, and its is very busy.... def think the sign needs a change, possibly the hame, and need some more catchy stuff in the front and on windows that catches peoples eyes
  6. IraG2362

    IraG2362 Supporting Addict Supporting Addict

    Sep 3, 2011
    Get on facebook with it, add your friends and run ad's on FB.. it helps.. best of luck with the biz..
  7. DAT85

    DAT85 BIG OL' BALD HAID ! Supporting Addict

    Aug 26, 2011
    Get an FFL and give a fish away with every new gun purchased!

    Creative marketing and all that ***** ! :lol:

  8. deadguy

    deadguy Eddie Van Halen Supporting Addict

    Sep 7, 2011
    Want attention? Rename it "****ing pet shop"

    Seriously, online shopping will help.

    Blue Ridge Pet Supply?
  9. Blue Ridge

    Blue Ridge Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2011
    We're on Facebook, I seem to update that in spurts, but try to... Thanks for the wishes.
    Maybe "Fish and a Barrel?" :lol:

    Yeah, the name was a mistake in retrospect. I knew we were going to be full line, but the reef hobby was strong when I opened. So many things I didn't anticipate.
  10. minderasr

    minderasr Member

    Aug 20, 2011
    I've worked at multiple reef aquarium stores that also sold snakes & reptiles. I'm also a moderator at reefcentral. One thing I've learned. The money is in tank maintenance.

    Good luck with the store.
  11. Bugs

    Bugs Well-Known Member

    Oct 19, 2011
    Pet supplies is a tough business. I used to breed Parrots & African Cichlids and sold food etc. as a side line. Some thoughts:
    1. Change name to incorporate what you make $$ on.
    2. As someone already mentioned reeling in some big tank maintenance customers is money in the bank as you also supply the fish, food and maintenance supplies. A buddy of mine in RI started his fish business first as a tank maintenance business and then opened his aquarium store. He touted himself as the Fish Doctor and was even interviewed on the radio. He bred most of his fish supply and used others such as myself to supplement his stocks.
    3. Get the word out. CABLE ADVERTISING. Coupon mailers.
    4. DOGS & CATS. You might love your reef business but your CUSTOMERS love their CATS & DOGS. Just look at some of the more successful large petshop chains. PETSMART, PETCO, PET SUPERMARKET, etc. A common theme which you already touched upon is the majority of their business is DOG & CAT FOOD. Evolve your business around this and SURVIVE.
    5. Lots of BIG BOYS in the pet business out there. You need to find a niche and specialize in some facet of dog/cat care to get people in your store.

    I sincerely wish you the best & hope you succeed. I like to see people do what they truly love. BUGS
  12. Blue Ridge

    Blue Ridge Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2011
    Thanks for the well-wishes Bugs! I'll try to touch on your points one by one -not to be snarky. If I tried to answer in paragraph form, I think I'd ramble.

    1) The name change has gotta happen.
    2)There are two individuals and one store in my area doing maintenance, and all are struggling. There used to be one, and he did quite well (I actually looked at his W2's) up until his suicide. The new big aquarium store had opened in town and had chipped away at his contracts, after his death everyone started maintaining tanks here! I bet there were over a half dozen in 2008. It can support one, maybe two if it wasn't their only source of income. I've done a bit of it, but I am at the store 10 hours a day 6 days a week and haven't missed a day in almost three years. For holidays, we close on Thanksgiving and Christmas day (so no day off even for Christmas this year). Sundays I shoot. I do stop by the store and check in, make sure everyone has water, etc., but that would be the only time I to maintain tanks. And my Sundays are downright holy to me! In time, I can hire employees, but for now it's me and a part-time buddy I pay under the table, and my Mom keeps the books and works about 20 hours a week. I'd love some supplemental accounts, but I have to be able to leave first...
    3) I've never done TV. Radio and tons of print, few have felt worthwhile. Doing something through the local cable company is a thought. I'll look into that. So far, cliche as it sounds, word of mouth has been everything. A guy came by last year who did long form commercials that featured the store for like 15 to 30 minutes. I had watched one on a pawn shop and couldn't change channels! I don't even remember what it cost, but that and a traditional ad shouldn't be too expensive to try.
    4) We beat everyone's price on dog and cat food, even Tractor Supply's. Because of that, our markup is about 10% rather than the 30% needed for an item not to become a loss leader. But people are starting to realize they shouldn't be feeding their dogs corn (90% of most commercial dog foods), and food without it is hardly marked up to try to keep the retail price down. To make any money it has to FLY out of your store. It moves, and I've added a freezer and offer frozen raw, which is also catching on. That stuff costs more per pound than most things I put on my grill. But people with money buy it. I guess some people would think I'm crazy to spend 4 digits on a handgun, though.
    5) As for a niche, I had thought about making my own frozen raw food. Grind up proper amounts of meat, bone, organs, vitamins, etc. and freeze into rolls or patties, and pay about a buck a pound rather than 5. But then I started looking into what it would take to become certified to legally sell it... you'd think I was trying to start my own pharmaceutical company. Something tells me my niche is going to find me, but I am all ears for ideas from any of you guys. Even you wise guys!

    Well, I started the process today. I started condensing one of the fish isles, and consolidating reptile and small animal supplies. Stuff that has been on the shelf too long went on the half price table. The isle I will have cleaned off tomorrow will go 100% towards dog toys, treats, and chews. I'll spread out what I have crowded elsewhere and that will fill about half of it, the rest I'll get new merchandise for. I really should sign up to some dog forums and ask the people crazy enough about their dogs to get online over them what they like!
  13. Samcro

    Samcro US Army Retired 1911 Supporting Addict

    Nov 19, 2011
    check with the local folks see what they are looking for by the way of Pet place. that is after all your customer base the locals .
  14. Blue Ridge

    Blue Ridge Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2011
    True, I just don't know of a local place (internet site or real) where local *pet owners* hang out. Maybe the dog park, but besides that, all I can think of would be another pet shop! :lol:
  15. Bugs

    Bugs Well-Known Member

    Oct 19, 2011
    Blue Ridge hang in there it's tough out there right now. Can't imagine how tough it must be to run a private pet shop in this economy and have to compete with super stores and the net. Crazy things happen. At one point I was selling my birds to a wholesaler (part time gig) and running another business full time. Then a little old lady decided she just liked breeding birds and started undercutting my prices to where there was no point continuing and I sold my stock. It's a tough business.
  16. EdS

    EdS Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    Have you tried working with other semi local pet oriented businesses? Network? dog groomers? trainers? kennels? ect...? Offering them coupons to your store.. to be displayed in their place if you reciprocate?

    Online store... but make it niche... try catering several online shops towards specific markets you think you can do well in. The websites that try to sell everything, at higher prices than big box, are going to have a hard time of it.

    Decent websites are not expensive compared to brick & mortar... cater to your local clients, and let them know they can buy direct via online. do a fish store.. a reptile store.. ect... link 'em together, and start pushing them via FB, ebay, and meta tags.

    Run sales on ebay... and use your ad's to offer your weblink to other deals.

    The more poles you have in the water.. the more fish you'll catch.
  17. jcp907

    jcp907 Member

    Sep 28, 2011
    Some thoughts...
    Find some local dog clubs...training clubs, breed specific clubs, etc. See if you can get those that show as your key customers. Those that show answer a lot of questions from those that want information.

    Have a booth at the local shows and if there are rescue events, get involved there as well...word of mouth (even if on the Internet) is still best. Maintain Facebook and get a twitter account. And use them

    The paw isn't obvious in the logo. Change that and the name, if you must. Have a competition for logo and name ideas, if you want. Ask your good customers what brings them in and what you need to do to keep their business. An owner on site definitely helps.

    Oh...and get some signage in the windows!
  18. Gress

    Gress Don't need no education Supporting Addict

    Nov 21, 2011
    If you have enough space open a puppy playground. Free of charge. the place where little puppies would safely play and perhaps learn socializing. Later on you may want to start providing obedience training for charge. But undoubtedly this is much later though. The idea of a playground is to bring dog owners into your place. Who would be the best to bring into your store if not new puppy owners :smile:
  19. jcp907

    jcp907 Member

    Sep 28, 2011
    Good content for Facebook/Twitter. Weekly, or even daily specials should be broadcast and the only cost is your time.
  20. Blue Ridge

    Blue Ridge Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2011
    Good points, both of ya. About three years ago, we got in with a vet who sends all her clients to me for the items she knows I stock, and lets me know when there's something she's going to be wanting. No doubt, she has had a bigger impact on the store's sales than all our advertising combined. I called all the local vets and asked if I could speak with them. Even said I have customers in asking for a vet all the time, and would like to know who sees birds/reptiles/etc./what they're philosophies are, etc. so I could send clients to who seemed the be the appropriate vet for them. Only one vet ever returned my call, and she's brought me 1000 times more business than I have her! I have also called the local humane alliance and both rescues, and none has ever taken me up on hosting an adoption day event at my shop. They do it at PetSmart every other week, it seems. But they get more eyeballs on puppies there, I guess.
    The only way I could currently compete with what is already online would be livestock. Dry goods are already cheaper than I could buy and ship them, for the most part. I'm starting to think that getting out of livestock all together might be a better idea. Name and logo change are a must. All the old people make their checks out to "Blue Ridge" so I think Blue Ridge Pets or Pet Supplies is the way to go, and feature a dog prominently. Maybe stick my bulldog up there:
    Or maybe go with a generic dog, or cartoon one. The new year would be a tall order, but it's something I need to do early next year.

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