Entrepreneurial Spirit: Doggie Style Thrives With Multiple Locations Despite Tough Economic Climate


Doggie Style, a pet specialty shop with locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, isn’t letting the recession stand in the way of its expansion plans. In 2009, the retailer opened four new stores, for a total of nine locations, and launched a franchise program.

What makes Doggie Style a thriving business despite the economic downturn? The company’s management attributes the success to a unique business model that combines the customer service typically associated with independent stores and the product assortment and pricing typically found in big-box stores.

“We believe in this model,” said Claudia Gutierrez, COO and senior vice president of Doggie Style. “We believe every pet owner can get the best bang for their buck, the best quality service, education and experience.”

From Leather Belts to Leads
Company CEO Ira Goldfarb made his foray into the pet industry in 2006 when he opened the first Doggie Style pet specialty shop, located on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. However, Goldfarb’s business ventures started long before that.

Goldfarb is by all definitions an entrepreneur. At age 19, he opened his first retail operation, a leather apparel store. By age 28, he owned 18 stores, which he eventually sold. He then went on to start several other business endeavors, but it wasn’t until 2005 that his ambitions turned to the pet industry.

While shopping at pet stores for his three dogs, Goldfarb was struck by the disparity he found between product quality and price, he said.

“They were gouging on price and not delivering quality items,” Goldfarb recalled. “Something I knew could be [sold] for $10 was retailing for $40.”

Goldfarb said that upon taking a closer look at the pet industry, he found inefficiencies in the supplier network that resulted in several mark-ups. It was then that he decided to open his own pet store with a goal of “trimming the fat” from the pet industry.

Trimming the Fat
Doggie Style’s mantra is to provide customers with the best quality for the best price. In order to make good on that philosophy, the company started its own pet product manufacturing business. The company currently manufactures pet carriers, apparel, toys, beds, leashes, collars and other accessories, both domestically and abroad.

“We really did it for our retail stores to be able to offer our customers high-quality, fashionable items at affordable and accessible pricing,” Gutierrez said.

In addition, Doggie Style buys directly from vendors and engages in what Gutierrez called “proactive negotiations.”
“We’ve really stuck to our motto that we’re going to give you the best products for the very best prices,” she said.

Quality Customer Care
Providing quality customer service is the other part of the Doggie Style business model. Drawing from the value system of old-fashioned neighborhood stores, Goldfarb and Gutierrez said they strive to be a resource to their customers. To that end, employee education is very important.

“I think that’s what helps create a sense of community,” Gutierrez said. “We have a knowledgeable staff that can build a relationship with the customer, knows the customer’s pet and can help build a better life for them.”

Doggie Style’s staff receives training twice a month on a variety of pet-related topics. Current topics include pet nutrition and dog breeds (specifically, what toys and treats are appropriate for certain breeds).

In an effort to serve its customers further, certain Doggie Style locations offer dog and cat grooming and dog training. In addition, Doggie Style partnered with the Pennsylvania SPCA to offer in-store cat adoptions at some of its locations. The company has also partnered with the nonprofit organization, Oporation Ava, which aims to help families pay for pet medical expenses. Gutierrez’s nine-year-old daughter, Ava, created Oporation Ava this past summer.

“I think it helps not only our staff, but our customers see that we are contributing to the greater welfare of the pet community,” Gutierrez said.

“And it’s a daily reminder of how much work needs to be done in the greater pet community.”

Expansion Plans
Since opening its doors in 2006, the business has been growing steadily with a total of nine locations. Overall sales are up, according to Jessica Braverman, Doggie Style’s director of marketing and public relations. She said the existing stores have been experiencing double-digit sales growth year over year. New stores, she said, have been experiencing continuous growth consistent with that of the existing stores.

Doggie Style’s newest store opened in July 2009 in the suburban town of Montgomeryville, Pa., which is about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia. This new store is unique in two ways. At 4,000 square feet, it is much larger than the company’s previous shops. It also marks a departure for Doggie Style in terms of location. Traditionally, the company has stuck to the urban market, but Gutierrez said the demand is there in the suburbs.

“You have a lot of people that live in the suburbs and work in the city,” she said. “They come into our stores and say come on, we need you out here. We wanted to provide the suburbs with the same customer service, knowledgeable staff and great, fun environment as we have in the city.”

The new location has been “wildly successful,” according to Gutierrez.
“The one thing that it demonstrates is quality products, quality customer service and accessible pricing translate to all shopping areas,” she said.

The success in suburbia has spurred Doggie Style to scout out similar sites for additional stores. At deadline, the company planned to open three more stores within the next six to seven months, focusing on main streets and power shopping centers. The new stores should be between 2,300 and 5,000 square feet in size.

“We’re really happy with the way the stores are performing, and that’s why we’re investing in more,” Gutierrez said.

All in the Family
Aside from corporately owned stores, Doggie Style also launched a franchise program in October 2009. Goldfarb and Gutierrez reported that, for now, they are focusing on building a solid franchise foundation in and around Pennsylvania, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland. They expect to open five franchise locations within the first 12 months.

“It’s been very exciting,” Gutierrez said. “We’re looking for people that are going to be part of the Doggie Style family for life. That relationship between the franchisee and us is very important.”
The first franchise is slated to open in Haddonfield, N.J. in late February/early March 2010. At deadline, Gutierrez and Goldfarb expected to sign two more franchisees within the next three to four weeks.

“We really believe in what we’re doing, and we really believe that it greatly benefits the pets that come into our stores,” Gutierrez said. “We want to be able to spread our philosophy across the country.”

This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Pet Product News International.

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