How Pet Stores Survive Coronavirus

One week after pet industry leaders created an open letter to state and local government officials on why pet businesses must remain open through the coronavirus pandemic, the same case is being made in countless pet stores across the country as shoppers flock to local independent retailers to stock up for their animal companions.

Pet store owners are reporting sales spikes in the past two weeks ranging anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent more. There is evidence that traditional pet stores are stealing business from online retailers like Amazon as pet owners don’t want to wait even a couple of days for products to arrive.

These sales spikes have largely been a product of shoppers loading their pantries with enough supplies to survive the coming weeks, so they were destined to taper eventually. The fact that pet retailers are still doing even that much business during a time when many stores are empty is very telling about the important role that businesses play as a resource for pet owners.

These customers will need to resupply at some point, and their local neighborhood pet retailer will be ready and waiting to help—provided they take the right steps to ensure the health of their business in the long term. Here are some key steps pet stores must take to survive this ongoing crisis for weeks, and maybe even months, to come.

Delivery Is Crucial
As consumers increasingly limit their exposure to public places, business has been particularly brisk for pet retailers that offer home delivery and curbside or in-store pick up. Retailers that don’t already offer same-day home delivery and curbside or in-store pick up must consider adding these services as soon as possible. For those that do offer the convenience of buying pet supplies without having to roam the aisles, now is the time to ensure that this part of their operations is reliable and scalable.

Communicate with Suppliers
One of the great things about the independent pet retail industry is its in-it-together culture. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers all seem to understand that the future of their businesses depends on the health of their supply chain partners and support each other accordingly. Whether it’s a distributor making extra deliveries to keep product on the shelf or manufacturers offering any assistance they can provide during these trying times, pet stores are finding that they can count on their supply chain partners as vital resources in an unprecedented sales environment. But help cannot be supplied to retailers that won’t (or don’t know how to) ask for it, so it is essential that pet store owners and operators maintain a clear and open line of communication with their suppliers. Doing so will give these partners an accurate picture of what’s going on in the stores and what retailers need to maintain the health of their business. 

Use Technology to Engage Customers
With fewer shoppers venturing out to their local pet shop, it is becoming more important than ever for retailers to reach outside the four walls of their stores to communicate with customers. That means leveraging tools like websites, email and social media to pass along important pet care information, updates on store hours and the availability of services, and—most importantly—what the store is doing to ensure the safety of shoppers. But despite the prevalence of computer-based communication, it’s also important that pet businesses don’t forget the telephone. Customers, who have become more isolated than ever, will appreciate being able to reach a friendly voice when they call the store for information, or even getting a call from their neighborhood pet retailer to check in on their pet. 

Make Contingency Plans
A big competitive advantage that most independent pet retailers have is they are nimble enough to quickly adapt to changing business conditions, and now is the time to put that to use. Whether that means expanding delivery services, shortening store hours or even temporarily consolidating locations, retailers must have plans in place for how they will react to these changes as they come. And this doesn’t just apply to dealing with negative developments; there will be life after the pandemic subsides, and those businesses that start planning for that day sooner, rather than later, will have a decided advantage.

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