::this post ID is 15120::::in categories of ..Features....Retail..::

Family values at Pet Valu

Jeff
At first, there weren’t any locations available in St. Catharines, which was a major problem for us. As we both share joint custody of our kids with their other parents, we couldn’t move away. We had to stay in the city.

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Therapy dogs always get a free wash.

In the end, the franchisor offered me a local corporate store. It’s in the west end, which is the only place St. Catharines—which is waterlocked on three sides—can continue to expand. And it’s a new store that replaces a previous one nearby.

We’re in a plaza on Vansickle Road, which we share with Walmart, Canadian Tire, Best Buy, Mark’s, Payless ShoeSource, McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and a Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store. There used to be a high-profile, big-box pet store here, but it closed at the end of its lease. Once it left, there was an opportunity for Pet Valu to move right across the road to this higher-profile spot. We opened on September 10, 2014, and the franchisor sent people in to help walk us through everything and get started.

This is where you want to be in town, where the growth is. There’s a new hospital that opened about four years ago. At press time, Princess Auto was set to open a 20,000-square-foot store here. The whole area has changed since we got here and just continues to grow.

Rhonda
Jeff owned his house and I owned mine. After we moved in together, I rented out mine. That gave us enough equity when we applied for our loan and Pet Valu backed us up.

As he mentioned, there was nothing available in St. Catharines at first and we weren’t about to move, but in the end he got the location he wanted. We took it over just two weeks after it was moved kitty-corner from where it had been.

With the previous spot, a lot of people didn’t know it was there. It had lower visibility. These days, however, the franchisor has been getting into bigger and better plazas and establishing a stronger presence with beautiful store designs.

Jeff
Compared to my earlier prospects in 
the retail sector, Pet Valu allows me to have a life, with the freedom to come and go as I please, and enjoy better profit margins. That’s because it offers expertise, rather than a big-box shopping experience. It’s a bit like Home Hardware compared to Home Depot. We’re not just a bunch of high school kids stocking aisle upon aisle of shelves. It takes a certain level 
of skill to provide customer service in a Pet Valu store.

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You need a lot of product knowledge to work at or run a Pet Valu franchise.

Also, we’re only open 12 hours a day. 
I feel like I’d be dead if I were trying to run a coffee shop that’s open 24-7!

Pet Valu promotes not just its own brand, but also the high quality of the food it sells. Our customers are more health-conscious than price-conscious.

I have the greatest staff in the world. Most of my employees have worked at other Pet Valu shops before, including this franchise’s previous location, so they’re already pet experts. And they’re all very open and reliable people.

My store manager, Lindsay, was formerly a corporate store employee. She might become a franchisee herself in the near future, so I’ve trained her to do everything 
I do around here.

Rhonda
With Pet Valu, customers will wholeheartedly trust your suggestions, so you need a lot of product knowledge. We have amazing staff, which is why when new customers come in our door, we usually end up keeping them.

There are always two to three people working in the store at any time. Our customers expect to speak with us in a detailed way, so you need to be ready and able to spend as much time as required with each of them.

We get all kinds of customers: single people, senior citizens, parents with kids who want to look at animals. Some pet owners come in every day just to socialize. And with our dog wash, we get them after they’ve been hiking with their dogs along the trails.

I quit my job at the bank in September 2016 and that’s when I began really learning the business from Jeff. We’re sharing hours as he teaches me. I didn’t do training at the corporate head office when he did, so I’m just now working through all of the online educational modules. This way, I’ll develop all of the skills they taught him. Our amazing staff teaches me a lot, too.

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In 2016, we took over an empty unit next to us and expanded our store.

The true difference between a corporate-owned store and a franchised location is compassion for the business. In a corporate store, you hope the manager and staff will put their heart and soul into the business. And some will. But we will do that no matter what, because this business is us. And the customers notice that difference.

Jeff
My wife and kids are very involved in the franchise. We bring our dogs into the store. With our staff, we’re like a big family. We’ve all shared a traditional Christmas dinner, held a barbecue and gone to the movies together.

I also focus a lot on marketing the store through public outreach. We support the local Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team, the Niagara IceDogs, which means we get to display their logo and canine mascot at events. I carry free dog-wash coupons with me and hand them out all of the time. Therapy dogs always get a free wash. We also extend free services to all working dogs. That has helped create a huge sense of loyalty within the community. We also get involved with pet-related charity events for human societies and dog rescue groups.

The store became successful quickly. We recently expanded it less than two years after opening, from 3,300 square feet to 5,000 square feet. I’d love to go multi-unit, especially now that Rhonda is out of her bank job and into helping me run this business, but there aren’t currently any opportunities nearby and we also know this store by itself can support us well.

As Rhonda gets more involved, she will focus on bookkeeping, scheduling and event planning, while I’ll focus more on the store layout, inventory and day-to-day retail floor operations. Our sales figures are now one-and-a-half to two times what they were when we started. And I love my job every day. My wife and I know we are truly blessed people. Everything just fell into place along the way and the struggles and challenges haven’t been too bad.

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