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Successful Pet Business Series: Part I

by Bob Fenner

Got to know the what first...

To Be Or Not To Be, That's the Question;

Business; is it for you? The pet industry is, indeed,

a tough boat to row. On the positive end; it is exciting and enjoyable to interact with pets and people; it can even be profitable! On the downside, there are many, long hours (endless) to be put in, several aspects of finance and marketing that few folks are well-versed in to develop and implement, and hassles galore, both large and small.

This article is intended to present an overview of the pros and cons of retailing in the "nature racket". I hope it will serve to stimulate more critical thinking for those considering making the plunge.


Everyone ought to try it out at least once; especially civil servants! As they (?) say, small business is the backbone of the economy. However; being a small business owner/manager is not for everyone.

Do you take on responsibility readily? Do you realize that Accountability with the big "A" is manifest with having your own business? Many persons state their primary desire in self-employ is being "in charge"; not having to answer to the boss. Ho-boy; you've only just begun... The government, insurance, banking, accounting and legal matters are soon to be your new overseers; not to mention pleasing your customers.

Money Matters:

 How much do you really "have"? That is, how much money can you get in a short while in cash? How long can you, are you willing to go without income? How about your significant others?

The costs for site selection, financing, staffing, setting up, stocking and running a retail business have sky-rocketed in the last twenty years. Leases now often include minimum square footage rents plus triple net plus a percentage of your gross sales; & the landlord is serious about you sticking to the terms and conditions you personally guaranteed.

Costs before opening run about $60.00 per foot for a full-line or pet-specialty retail shop; or approximately $90,000.00 for a fifteen hundred square foot store. When prospective retailers contact us regarding aiding in design, construction and initial help in running a new operation, we suggest they also have readily available another 20-50K for operating expenses. This is done in recognition that their business may run in the red for the first year (or two).

These are figures are realistic guesstimates!

 Believe me, it is very easy to spend more. There are examples of shoe-string financed start-ups that have gone big time but these are the extreme minority. There has been and is a trend for fewer and smaller stores nationwide these last two decades.

Other Hassles:

So; you've been successful keeping and reproducing aquatic life. Well, being a good hobbyist should easily translate into being a good retailer, right? Or perhaps a brain surgeon! Actually, the knowledge, skills, methods and attitudes of being a good pet-keeper are vital to successful retailing; but they are just a beginning to being a pet business person. Another, roughly two-thirds of your business falls outside this tactical, "doing" work. As illustrated:

Retail Management

Marketing, Operations, Finance

Marketing is basically "getting the work". i.e. advertising, promotions...

Finance is collecting and doling out the proceeds of the business including payrolls, handling credits and payments for materials

and livestock purveyors, payroll, business and resale taxes, liability & Worker's Compensation Insurance, rent, utilities, bank deposits and statements, loans... you get the idea.

& Operations: You say you've never had livestock die (?) or get sick (?). Welcome to never, never land! What is this stuff? Oh no!


And now for some uplifting notes:

Help is available! Please, please, puhleeease take my advice on this: Do your homework: use this 1-2 punch:

1) Work in the industry, in the retail, in a similar setting to what you intend to have for a few months. Something like taking care of someone else's children for a while before deciding to have your own. At the same time or before...

2) Study all you can get your hands on about retailing, livestock and inventory control, personnel management, locating a small business, blah, blah, blah ad nauseum in the areas you feel weak in; and you are going to feel weak. Where can you find all this information?

A) In hobbyist and trade magazines. Like this one! They are the best source of up to date advice.

B) The Small Business Administration: Thank goodness for the SBA! Yay! Write them for a list of free and for sale publications at Small Business Administration, Washington, D.C. 20416. Order their publications, read them, believe them, live them. If possible, visit one of their Regional Offices and pick up this info in person. Also through the SBA, look into SCORE, The Service Corps of Retired Executives: a free source of fantastic help from people who have been there and want to help you make it.

C) Go to the nearest large local library: if possible in a metropolitan center or college and ask a Reference Librarian for directions for locating the above documents and more on the science, hobby and business of pets/your specialty.

D) Get help from the Industry; you and their future are one! Ask the more local manufacturers, distributors/wholesalers/jobbers, collectors/breeders/cultivators for help. Do they suggest anyone going into the business as you've planned? Will they help you? you bet.

So; having said all this, should you go into the retail pet industry, along with the 10,000 or so other outlets in the U.S. ? If you really like people & you really like the livestock and the systems and you have your eyes open regarding the long hours, low equivalent pay and potential & probable hassles; the answer is... maybe

Please see the other installments in this series: New Retail Ventures: Five Critical Elements

Robert Fenner was President of Nature Etc., Inc., a California Employee-Owned Corporation engaged in aquatics; design, construction, service and retail. He may be contacted through this website


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