Brookside Barkery & Bath has combined polished merchandising and marketing with a holistic approach to nutrition to reach the forefront of the pet wellness movement in Kansas City, Mo.
In the pet specialty channel, there are many retailers that do a great job with merchandising and marketing, offering their local customer base a clear, polished sales proposition to draw them into an attractive environment in which it is a pleasure to shop. Likewise, there are quite a few independent pet stores built on a solid foundation of providing their customers with the right mix of sound nutritional knowledge and high-quality products necessary to ensure the ongoing health of their furry friends.
More rare, however, are retailers that offer the best of both worlds by effectively combining best-in-class marketing and merchandising with an approach to pet nutrition that is firmly at the forefront of the animal wellness trend. Yet, that is exactly what Brookside Barkery & Bath has accomplished with its two stores in Kansas City, Mo.
Like so many in the pet industry, co-owners Delena and Larry Stout were inspired to start up their retail business when faced with the serious health issues of their beloved Saint Bernard, Aspen, which was not expected to live past the age of six years.
“Delena, who is a firm believer in the Hippocrates quote, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,’ started looking around for nutritional ways to extend her dog’s life,” says marketing director Jason Heck, noting that she quickly found the local Kansas City market lacking, in terms of retailers that could help. “We’re not the east coast or California, and trends in food and health are a little bit slower in getting here, so there was really no place for her to find extremely healthy, all-natural pet foods.”
Committed to changing what she saw as a major deficiency in the marketplace, Stout set about doing as much research as she could on pet nutrition while seeking out the best vendors that the industry had to offer. Once armed with the necessary education and contacts, the Stouts opened their first store in 2003 in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City to provide pet owners with the assistance they could not find for their own dog.
The Stouts’ approach clearly struck a cord with the local community, as Brookside Barkery & Bath has grown steadily over its 12-plus years in business. In addition to taking over two adjacent storefronts to expand their business’ retail space from about 800 sq. ft. to approximately 3,000 sq. ft., the Stouts opened a second, smaller location (approximately 1,700 sq. ft.) in Lee’s Summit, a Kansas City suburb, several years after opening the original store.
Despite the considerable size difference, both stores offer a wide selection of dog and cat products, featuring approximately 6,000 SKUs each. “The Lee’s Summit store just has lower quantities, and there is some seasonal stuff that we just don’t have the space for in that location,” Heck explains.
Not surprisingly, much of the business’ emphasis is placed on nutritional products, with a particular focus on some of the cutting-edge nutritional concepts emerging in the pet category. For example, each store features a five-door cooler for raw foods, in addition to a wide selection of freeze-dried raw diets. In addition, the Brookside location utilizes separate coolers for feline raw foods and raw bones.
“We are big believers in raw,” says Heck, noting that it is a concept that has been gaining a lot of traction with Brookside Barkery & Bath’s customers. “We find we’re having fewer and fewer monthly specials on raw foods, because they’re not really needed anymore.”
To keep the stores’ product selection fresh and at the forefront of the latest pet nutrition trends, the Stouts attend the industry’s major trade shows to see and learn about the newest offerings in the market, selecting items to try out on their own dogs before adding them to their store shelves.
In addition to encouraging customers to feed their pets the best possible diet by offering a well-crafted product selection, Heck says that Brookside Barkery & Bath utilizes a highly educated staff and its loyalty program to steer pet owners in the right direction when it comes to nutrition. For example, since the Stouts are big advocates of making sure felines get adequate moisture in their diets, the stores offer five times the number of loyalty-program points (which are based on dollars spent) on purchases of canned cat diets.
A Splashy Way to Drive Traffic
As the stores’ name implies, pet grooming is another cornerstone of the Brookside Barkery & Bath business model. While the self-bathing stations have been a key feature from the beginning, today the Brookside location features not only four DIY tubs and drying stations, but also a large grooming salon that employs four professional pet stylists and inhabits one of the additional storefronts that the store took over.
“We made [the salon] sort of a showpiece,” says Heck. “It has a nice, large waiting area, and nice big glass panes that make the groomers visible to the public. It’s a really beautiful space that we’re proud to show people.”
Of course, the Lee’s Summit location also features DIY grooming, as well as professional services. However, due to space limitations, the smaller store has just two self-bathing stations and a smaller grooming salon in the back, which employs one stylist.
The grooming salons in both locations play classical music and utilize an essential-oil diffuser to keep dogs calm in the kennel area. They also utilize all-natural shampoos and Hydrosurge systems and offer a number of specialized services to meet the various needs of customers’ pets.
“We have all sorts of upgrades for dogs with skin and coat issues—from protein treatments to oatmeal baths—ranging from $2 to $5,” says Heck. “We also provide spa services, including essential oil treatments to address achy joints, itchy skin and nervous dogs.”
As proud as the folks at Brookside Barkery & Bath are of their DIY and professional pet grooming offerings, Heck explains that these elements are important less because of the direct contribution to the bottom line, and more because of the business they drive in other areas of the stores. “Grooming contributes, certainly,” he says. “But it is not a mammoth revenue generator. It is a halo product.”
An Award-Winning Approach to Marketing
While its selection of products and services is enough to set it apart from many other pet stores, the company also stands out for its polished approach to marketing. In fact, Brookside Barkery & Bath was honored with a Retailer Excellence Award for Marketing at last year’s Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. But what may be most interesting about the stores’ award-winning approach is how much is accomplished with a modest two-person marketing team comprising Heck and art director Steve Flores.
“I essentially craft the message and slogan, make ad buys and handle community outreach,” says Heck. “Steve is essentially our visual marketer. He does all of our in-store signage and brochures, and he saves the stores thousands and thousands of dollars each year by doing all of that [in house].”
According to Heck, the key to Brookside Barkery & Bath’s marketing success is in the consistency that permeates every aspect of the business’ approach. “Our stores look like big-box, high-end retailers with a lot of marketing money because we have marketing materials that are uniform,” he says. “Our logo, our fonts and our messages are the same across everything from our brochures to our bathing boards, from our signage to our cookie cases.”
This consistent approach is also shared with the marketing agency that Brookside Barkery & Bath employs to maintain its website and social media presence under Heck’s direction. Here, marketing efforts are split between showcasing the stores’ products and promotions, and educating the local customer base through the regularly updated blog section of the company’s website. These are further complemented with promoted posts on social media (a paid service) that allow Heck to target the right audience for a particular marketing message, as well as small advertising buys with traditional media outlets in the local area.
Another critical component of Brookside Barkery & Bath’s approach to marketing is the company’s extensive involvement with the community it serves. These multi-faceted efforts range from lectures given by Delena Stout based on her expertise on pet nutrition to participating in the Bark at the Park events held at the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium. Of course, charitable efforts are also included. The stores host rescue groups every Saturday and regularly donate and raise money for worthwhile causes, such as Chain of Hope K.C. and the Kansas City Pet Project.
After achieving so much success in just over a decade and positively impacting the lives of numerous pet owners and animals, it is clear that the journey the Stouts began when they got a heart-breaking prognosis for their Saint Bernard will end up having a happy ending. In fact, thanks in large part to the Stouts’ commitment to learning about and providing the best possible nutrition, Aspen ended up living to the ripe old age of 13 years—far beyond the lifespan expected by his vet.