BY ALYSSA BREWERPublished:
For many pet specialty retailers, the reason behind starting their business follows a theme of love for pets—or perhaps one pet in particular—that inspired them to open a store to bring great care and products to more pets. For Nancy Guinn, founder of Dog Krazy, the path from pet owner to retailer was an especially direct one.
“I had a bulldog named Piglet that was the love of my life, and I wanted to take her to work every day,” Guinn says.
When her job at the time wouldn’t allow her to bring her dog in every day, she quit and opened the first Dog Krazy location in Fredericksburg, Va., in 2006, all within just a few short weeks. Shortly after, she met her husband, Christopher Guinn, now co-owner of the business, who began working with the store in addition to his full-time job. Guinn ran the Fredericksburg store for several years, and by 2015 Chris was able to quit his job and begin working for Dog Krazy full-time.
“After four months of working together, we realized it was difficult to work in the same building together every day, so we opened a second location,” Guinn explains.
Since then, the Guinns have opened several more stores in nearby towns and now have a total of five locations. Guinn credits her husband—the more business-minded, change-loving half of the couple—with being the motivator behind their growth, but her love for dogs and pet nutrition knowledge has built a strong reputation for Dog Krazy and an extremely loyal customer base that has driven the business’ success. She is a clinical pet nutritionist and providing nutritional consultations, especially for pets with special medical circumstances, is a key part of the business.
“When the recall hit in 2007, we had so many people coming to us with questions about food, and one of my customers suggested I go back to school to study pet nutrition,” she says. “Most of the vets around here, when they can’t help their patients with food, they send them my way. We have specific types of foods for dogs that have diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and we can tell them what herbs or supplements will interact with drugs they’re taking for those conditions.”
For Guinn, careful research into any consumable item in her store is essential. By putting brands and products through a careful evaluation process, she can be confident recommending them to her beloved four-legged customers.
“If it’s in my store, it’s something I would bring home to my own pets,” she says, noting that she and her husband currently have four dogs and a retired service pig. “We would not put it in the store if I wouldn’t feed it to my dogs.”
Building on Success
Caring for pets at Dog Krazy goes beyond ensuring it has the best possible nutrition. The stores also offer stress-free grooming with their 17 groomers, and two of the stores have bakeries with treats homemade by Guinn herself.
“I just hired a second person to help me because I’m doing all of our custom treats myself,” Guinn says. “I got tennis elbow because I made 1,400 treats in three days, and that only lasts about a weekend in our stores.”
Treats are just one of the areas that Guinn is looking to continue to grow the Dog Krazy business. She is working toward expanding her treat creations, especially to develop treats specifically formulated for dogs with different allergies, and start producing and distributing the treats more broadly.
Dog Krazy was also nominated for and placed third in a ranking of local businesses for best doggy daycare—even though it doesn’t have one. Guinn says she and her husband have taken that as a clear sign that their customers want them to offer boarding and daycare options. Of course, they are also planning to continue to grow the number of store locations in the coming years.
“I will be happy at 10,” Guinn says. “My husband would like to see 22.”
Although this is the first year in several that Dog Krazy has not opened a brand new location, the Guinns did double the size of one of their existing locations. Plans are in the works for two new stores in the near future, and they will be expanding their second location to a new, larger building to become an all-in-one product and service provider with retail, grooming, bakery, distribution center and doggy daycare.
Dog Krazy has also found significant success through its online store, where it offers free local delivery and will ship anywhere in the U.S. Dog Krazy’s online sales volume has more than doubled in the last two years, and it is redesigning its website now. Despite the issues many retailers report with being undercut on price online, Guinn says they have had success despite not trying to compete on price.
“If that’s what you’re looking for, cheaper products, then you do you,” Guinn says. “I’m not trying to be the cheapest store in town, I’m trying to be the best store in town. We have people who get upset about it, but I always tell our employees, that’s not our customer.”
While Dog Krazy has certainly found its customers, Guinn says finding the right employees is one of the most difficult parts of running her business.
“It’s hard to find good employees,” she says. “We’ve overcome it, though; we have 59 people now. We look for a certain type of person—a lot of our employees have social anxieties—but they’re so great when dogs are involved.”
No matter the challenges, Guinn emphasizes that their four-legged customers make everything worth it.
“The best thing about it is the dogs I get to meet. I fall in love every five minutes; I have like 12,000 photos on my phone of other people’s dogs,” she says. “We just had custom stickers made that say ‘Tell your dog I said hi,’ that we give out to customers. Being able to share their lives with them is the most rewarding part.”
Going above and beyond in customer service is baked into the Dog Krazy business strategy—literally. In her bakeries, Guinn produces custom cookies inspired by her favorite dog customers, which often sell out in a matter of days. For Valentine’s Day, the store employees pick some of their most beloved customers to send a message to letting them know to come in and pick up a special gift from their favorite Dog Krazy employee. The store does photo contests every few months, and Guinn has the winning dog photos blown up to poster size and hung.
“It’s about getting the customers involved,” Guinn says. “We’re letting them know they’re not just a customer, they’re part of our family.”
Guinn also tries to continue to foster this personal connection even with customers who are shopping online.
“When we actually ship the order, it’s not just the products in the box,” she says. “There’s a personal note in every one, there’s a sample of our treats. As I get to know their dog, I’ll put in something new if I think they might like it.”
Guinn has found significant success with this organic approach to marketing new products and the larger business, discovering that investing in personal recommendations and giving away samples is money well spent. The personal connection helps build a bond that she says lasts even when people move away from the physical store locations, but are so loyal to the business that they continue to order their pet supplies online from Dog Krazy.
For Guinn, the best advice she can offer to her fellow pet specialty retailers is to focus on how you can make your own business better every day.
“Stop worrying about what everybody else is doing,” she says. “I’m in a lot of groups with other business owners, and one of the things I see the most is people saying things like, ‘So and so copied my idea, they’re having the same sale as me.’ By focusing on what others are doing, you’re taking away from the energy you could be putting into your own business.” PB