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Economy takes a bite out of specialty pet businesses
by Kathy Gordon, For the Tribune
Dec 01, 2009 | 1674 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Cortney Maddock - Vicki Madalinski, owner of Reigning Cats and Dogs on Disc Drive and Vista Boulevard in Sparks, sits on bags of dog food with her dog, Gaby.
Tribune/Cortney Maddock - Vicki Madalinski, owner of Reigning Cats and Dogs on Disc Drive and Vista Boulevard in Sparks, sits on bags of dog food with her dog, Gaby.
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With the ups and downs of the economy continuing, local pet shop owners are feeling the squeeze of a depressed economy.

Jacque Lowery, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Reno, decided to close up shop.

“The store has been around for five years,” she said. “It’s the only store of its kind in the area.”

Lowery opened the store during what she called her mid-life crisis.

“I was fed up with working for other people,” she said.

She chose to become a franchisee of the Wild Birds chain because of her lack of knowledge with retail. The support she received from the company was good, she said.

“The toughest hurdle is convincing people that better seed brings better birds,” Lowery said.

Birds will kick cheap fillers out of the feeders and that attracts mice and grows weeds, she said.

“It’s a tough market to convince people that they can have a better bird-feeding experience if they don’t feed seed from Wally World,” Lowery said.

The annual gross revenue for the store reached its peak in 2007, Lowery said. Its financial downfall began around May of last year and hasn’t improved since.

“We’ve lost 30 percent or more of our regular seed customers over the last 12 months,” Lowery said. “And I don’t see it getting better for at least two years.”

While she is closing the doors of her business, she isn’t turning her back on the birds.

“I’m working on finding someone else to supply seed,” Lowery said.

Other local pet businesses are also noting the effects of the economy.

Teresa Martin, manager of Scraps Dog Bakery at the Sparks Marina, said that they have seen a drop in general sales.

“People are buying needs, not wants,” Martin said.

She said that while there has been a drop in the want department – clothes, toys and accessories – people are still buying their food at the specialty shop.

People are often disturbed when she educates them about the fillers often added to pet food sold at supermarkets, Martin said. They are willing to spend a little extra on food that is good for their animal.

Vicki Madalinski, owner of Reigning Cats and Dogs at 1338 Disc Drive in Sparks, has also seen a drop in sales of the extras.

“People are worried about making house payments, not about dog food and accessories,” Madalinski said.

To help give the customer what they need, Madalinski brought in new lines of food. The new lines, she said, help keep the pricing competitive.

“People don’t want a $50 bag of food,” she said. “I think about how much is this going to cost them.”

Kim Hunter, owner of Bag of Bones at 4820 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, agrees.

“We specialize in having a better quality food but for a good price,” Hunter said. “We focus on U.S.-source human grade ingredients.”

While the economy has hurt a lot of specialty stores, Hunter said she has seen an increase in business since she relocated the store in March.

“We didn’t realize we were being so smart,” she said.

They moved from the D’Andrea Shopping Center to Vista Village.

In the old store, she said, they were seeing a downturn in the number of customers buying the non-essentials for their pets. At their new location on Vista Boulevard, they are seeing it pick back up again.

“We really focus on niches, trying to do more sales,” Hunter said. “We’ve changed the format of how we do a lot of things in the store now.”

Some of those changes include asking vendors for free samples for her customers to try, sending out monthly e-mails with coupons for different foods and having a trainer on site on Saturdays.

“Nobody is doing fabulous in this economy,” Hunter said, “but we’re more than holding our head above water.”
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