Friday, 9 December 2022
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Petco launches PetCoach, where goods are leashed to services

SAN DIEGO — Bounding beyond its big-box roots, Petco is opening a new kind of retail store where animal-friendly amenities such as dog baths, play yards and snacks fit for humans are meant to win over picky pet parents who might otherwise snub the mainstream brand.

Called PetCoach, the pilot San Diego store, officially unveiled on Tuesday, is the old pet store re-imagined. PetCoach takes the place of a former Petco venue in San Marcos.

Instead of a smattering of products, shoppers will find that services such as veterinary care, grooming and doggie daycare dictate the experience. Food, clothing and toys are also available, of course, but they’re displayed by task, based on the premise that customers will come for the care but find a relevant product — or five — in the process.

PetCoach is the brainchild of Brock Weatherup, a Petco executive who runs the firm’s new-initiatives arm. He moved to San Diego from Philadelphia after Petco acquired his PetCoach app in April 2017.

“The whole premise of this was, could we bring this high level of education and validation all together … and make it physically viable?” he said. “So you would be excited to walk in and go, ‘This doesn’t exist anywhere else.'”

And it doesn’t.

Rather, PetCoach looks like this: Walking in, customers will see the animal hospital on their left, where resident veterinarian Dr. Christie Long presides over a clinic that can handle 90 percent of standard vet services, pretty much everything but surgical emergencies. To the right is the grooming section visible to curious onlookers, along with an adjacent self-wash room with all the amenities that allow for a proper dog bath. In the center, a full scale dog daycare and training facility will watch over Fluffy and teach her to mind her manners.

Toward the back of the store, a curated selection of vet-vetted food is paired with a JustFoodForDogs pantry. The refrigerated section represents the first fruits of an extensive human-quality food partnership announced in May with Los Alamitos-based JustFoodForDogs.

If the San Diego-based firm is onto something, pet parents will subscribe to a new model at PetCoach, where a $9 monthly membership, inspired by REI’s co-op program and Amazon Prime, nets them discounted goods and services — and improves the odds of their repeat patronage.

The membership model is meant to help Petco navigate its way through a pet-product industry that has split, where boutique shops have won over discerning customers and bargain-hunters are opting for better value from the likes of Amazon, PetSmart’s or Walmart.

The company, Weatherup said, is trying to get up to speed digitally (launching store pickup for online shoppers, for instance) while leapfrogging its competitors. The latter is where the mostly unrecognizable Petco concept store comes into play.

In fact, the roughly 12,000-square-foot PetCoach location has so little in common with a traditional Petco store that you might enter and exit without realizing that the Rancho Bernardo-based company is behind the retail endeavor. That’s by design, said Miro Copic, a San Diego State University marketing lecturer who inspected the location during its soft opening.

“Not having a direct link to Petco, that’s a great way to get people who shop at PetSmart or boutique stores to try this out,” he said.

In other words, PetCoach is for the discerning pet-goods shopper,a growing number of people who refer to their animals as fur-babies or members of the family and who are willing to pay a markup for quality over quantity. Presumably, that starts with buying better food.

Americans spent more than $29 billion on pet food last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“Interest in high end, premium pet food and treats continues to be a key driver for increased spending in the pet food category,” the American Pet Products Association, a trade group for pet product manufacturers, found in its annual pet industry report.

That helps justify the JustFoodForDogs tie-in at PetCoach’s inaugural store. Plus, Petco’s bet is that the more discriminating food buyer will want more regular vet checkups, particularly since the membership program comes with five visits. He or she may then take an interest in regular dog care, whether that’s frequent walks booked through PetCoach’s dog-walking app or a visit to the daycare facility. And, because a self-wash costs just $2 for members, a bath seems like the inevitable next step.

“It’s a clever solution … for a business model that has been killed by [the competition],” Copic said.


The Bark Box

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