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Opening A Pet Store – Your Keys To Success

Pet sales have been on a steady upward trend, and the American Pet Products Association estimates that in 2020, Americans will drop a whopping $99 billion on petcare. Some of that cash will be put toward vet visits, but pet food, treats, supplies, OTC treatments, the pets themselves, and services like training or grooming make up the vast majority of that sum.

Many hope to open a pet store of their own, both to fill a growing need and to pay the bills while pursuing their passion. But with any venture, there are always things to know before beginning. So if you’re dreaming of owning a pet store, we’re here to help with some fundamental keys to success. Here’s to sound footing on your journey.

Find Your Niche

When you’re developing a plan for your business, it’s vital to have a clear view of what you’re going to offer clients. You’ll also want to identify what makes your business different from the rest. Will you offer a full array of furry, finned, scaled, and feathered creatures? Will you cater to pet health and dietary concerns? Maybe you’d like to focus on products and services for training, grooming, and lifestyle? Or it could be that you’ve spent time and money researching and formulating your own line of products and are eager to share them.

Regardless of what you decide, finding a focus will help you to narrow down your store’s selection and develop a brand and store name that accurately reflect your specialty, goals, and values.

Father and daughter enjoying their visit to the pet store with a puppy.

Identify Your Client

As a small retailer, it will be key that you appeal to a specific demographic. These folks will appreciate the care and work you’ve put into curating your selections and building your brand. The ideal client is someone who naturally fits with your brand’s own values and ethos, but don’t discount the potential clients who may have a different take.

Ask yourself some key questions about who you hope to attract to your store:

What is the general demographic of my anticipated client?
What are my potential clients’ concerns or preferences in petcare?
Which values are most important to my goal demographic?

It will take some digging to find the answers, but doing thorough market research will be invaluable when it comes to planning and decision making.

Build Your Brand

Far more than a business name that’s legally yours, a ‘brand’ refers to the whole package – values, interests, and influences that come together to build your company. Once you’ve identified these elements, they can become threads that run through every business decision you make. From the store name, logo, and style of language, to the layout, color scheme, and the types of products you offer, every aspect should be tied to your brand. Your store name should be something easy to remember, but one that clearly differentiates you from similar businesses. Look for ways to make strong associations between what you offer, and what the door sign reads.

If there are inconsistencies in branding, or if stated values don’t match up with product selections or animal care, customers will be quick to notice. In today’s cancel culture, businesses cannot take that risk.

There are many elements to consider when setting up for your pet store.

Know Your Business

Filling clients’ knowledge gaps will be vital. If you decide to specialize in one type of pet or a narrow product selection, be sure that you and your employees are veritable encyclopedias when it comes to care instructions and product use. During your planning phases, take into consideration what pets you’re already experienced with or skilled at taking care of. Your intrinsic knowledge will give you a one up. Then be sure to keep your personal data bank up to date. If you can prove to clients that you’re the expert it will go far to distinguish you from the crowd. On the flip side, know your limits. If you aren’t comfortable carrying a certain type of pet or can’t handle more than a small range of products, own that decision.

Choose Location Wisely

Dreamy visions do need to be tempered with reality. And even if you’re the best at what you do, if your store is hard to find or access, you’ll likely struggle to build a client base. So while you’re on the hunt for that just-right property, here are a few factors to keep in mind:

Foot traffic. Is the location near or within a shopping center or other well-known community stores? You need people to know you’re in business.

Accessibility. Is the building in an area that’s accessible by personal vehicles, public transportation, biking, and walking? Is the location ADA-compliant? These factors equalize access and make things easy on customers.

Competition. Are other pet stores nearby? If so, you know that pet owners are too, and your specialty products or services could be just what they’re looking for.

Size. Is the space large enough for what you’re planning to sell? Animals, tanks, cages, and products should fill the space without it feeling tight or cramped.

Flooding. Is the building within a flood zone or plagued by inadequate drainage? Beyond product loss, you wouldn’t want pets to be in danger.

Other things to look for when choosing a location:

  • Stock space
  • Office space
  • Reliable utilities and infrastructure
  • Structural issues
  • Energy efficiency
  • Building maintenance
  • Bathroom
  • Staff room

In the end, you want to find a welcoming space in an area with people who will want to shop at your business. Remember that the shopping experience you offer is key to both gaining and retaining customers.

Figure the Financials

Once you’ve pinned down the type of pet store you’re looking to open, and you’ve found a workable location, it’s time to do some financial research. How much capital will you need to get this dream rolling? Experts vary on amounts, but figure you’ll need enough on hand to be able to do the following:

  • secure a storefront
  • pay for applicable licenses, certifications, inspections, and insurance
  • set up and renovate or repair the space
  • purchase inventory and equipment
  • pay staff
  • handle monthly bills like rent, utilities, etc.
  • create a website and initiate a marketing plan

Shelving units and display stands are a must, along with a phone system, animal cages, tanks, handling equipment, and a point-of-sale system. Whether you opt for the traditional cash register and monitor or you decide on more tech-forward options, these are things to factor in to the overall cost to set up shop. Banking accounts to handle related costs and keep your business and personal finances separate are also a must. Keep in mind that the sum you hope to borrow is for the initial set up – many of these purchases should last years before replacement is an issue. And once business is up and running, your client base should give you a steady cash flow to work with.

If preliminary planning seems too challenging, working with an advisor can help you to get a better feel for the amount of cash you’ll need to get moving. Of course, that’s another cost to factor in.

Do The Legal Legwork

You’ve settled on a sum and you have a location in mind, but before you can fill out all that paperwork accurately, you’ll want to choose the best legal structure for your new business. Whether you’re going for a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, various laws apply. You’ll also need a tax ID number, or employer identification number. Really, it’s best to consult a legal authority for help here. And though it’s tempting to rush and pull in employees to help out, before hiring anyone be sure to draft contracts and clearly spell out what’s expected.

It’s also wise to take time now – before money is invested – to be sure that you can obtain the necessary licenses and permits that you’ll need to operate the business. If you do plan to sell live animals, you’ll need to check with national and local authorities to learn of any restrictions. There are also legal requirements for the animals’ care and housing, and the size and layout of your proposed storefront could dictate what’s ultimately possible. It’s also vital to devise an emergency plan in the event of evacuation or natural disaster.

A non-negotiable element to a sound legal approach is a comprehensive insurance plan. As a small business, you will have special concerns. But as a petcare business, your needs are even more fine-tuned. Be sure that the policy you opt for will be there to protect your dream, come what may. Your plan should also provide for clients and customers should something go awry. Working with a dedicated petcare insurance company is your best bet for a tailored policy.

Track Down Technology

Beyond getting your payment and phone systems set up, technology should play a key role in any new business. When someone searches online for pets shops in their town, you want to be in that list. Of course you’ll need an online presence, whether that means a website, Facebook page, directory listing, or a combination thereof. If this aspect of the business is out of your wheelhouse, partner with a local expert to develop the digital side of your business. And of course you’ll want your brand to reflect across all platforms so that your business is instantly recognizable to clients. Once business is running, work on developing an email list, regularly posting to social media, using traditional advertising, and finding inventive ways to stay in touch with clients. These avenues are key to staying relevant and bringing in new clientele.

Exercise Ethics

Long before you are ready to bring in pets, you’ll want to do your homework. Most consumers are aware that big box pet shops have been embroiled in scandals and that at times animals have been sourced from less-than-humane sources. You don’t want any part of that, so take the time to thoroughly vet breeders and suppliers. Visit their locations and ensure that their stated and real-life values line up with yours. Compile a list of ethical criteria that breeders must adhere to, and don’t ever compromise. Check the health credentials of animals before contracting to buy, and don’t be timid about investigating a company that you aren’t familiar with. Oftentimes a simple online search or social media connections in the pet industry can offer helpful information. Trade shows are another great networking and informational resource. 

Pet store goods - new and old - can appeal to a variety of pet owners. Choose wisely for your target clientele.

Be Attentive and Intuitive

Knowledge and customer service are vital, but so is an observant nature. If you’re seeing that some products are quickly selling, consider expanding product offerings in that brand or in related items. Stay connected with other industry professionals to know what’s new and what’s up-and-coming. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry and understanding how that affects your business is vital.

Stay The Course

Now that everything is in place, it’s time to make your dream a reality. It’s impressive and inspiring that you’ve come so far – keep that forward momentum going. Staying true to your brand and loyal to customers will keep your business thriving. And by utilizing the technology at your disposal you’ll be able to keep growing and making connections. So as you work on developing your business, know that Zinc will always be here, cheering you on and protecting you, every step of the way.