Running any small business in today’s economy can be very tricky but it can be even trickier trying to run a pet store. Not only do we have to worry about Amazon and Chewy, now even Target is starting to lean into the pet industry to fight off their Amazon losses. I have some clients that have over 150 locations with one lane at each store, and some that have 20 lanes in a single location. Within the same hour, I have spoken to an exotic fish retailer in Florida, and the owner of a specialty dog food store in Virginia. I have found one concern in common with all of them though, and that is, “Is now the best time to invest in technology, staff, and marketing?”
Now as you all know there is no “Golden Gun” when it comes to running a pet store, but what if we can get advice from some of history’s previous Industrial Revolutions and their effects on small businesses. According to Forbes, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution describes the exponential changes to the way we live, work and relate to one another due to the adoption of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Systems.” So today’s topic will be on what insight we can glean from the previous 3 revolutions, and how we can apply that to our potential investments of today.
1. If You Don’t Hire Chewy and Amazon Will
Before the Industrial Revolution, Europe was covered with small businesses. This “pre-industrial” society powered most of its machinery using falling water, wind, animals, or human labor, but then the Industrial Revolution changed all of that. Steam power and gasoline allowed the rise of factories which led to factories lowering prices for their products and offering higher wages for their employees. This forced many small businesses to close their doors. It was shortly after that the factories drastically reduced pay which gave them even more power over price and so on. If we apply this knowledge to today’s revolution one could surmise that if you don’t hire, your competition will, but eventually they will be able to do so for less, driving down their prices even further. Unfortunately, the price race to the bottom is a fast one.
2. Large Rewards Can Await Early Adopters
When the printing press was invented many of the social elite looked down on it. They felt that books were a sign of class and wealth and that cheaper paperback books were an affront to their power. Yet publishers who took advantage of it were able to do extremely well. Flash forward more than a century and we find companies like Circuit City seemingly having a similar attitude towards eCommerce. One need only look at companies like Uber and Lyft to see that by getting in early we have the ability to take root. While cities like NYC may still have a healthy cab community, I rarely see cabs anymore where I am from. If we apply this knowledge to today’s revolution one could surmise that we can’t just wait this out. You really can’t afford to just hope the “Retail Armageddon” passes by.
3. Find Your Niche and Carve it Out
Between 1850 and 1914 it was critical for small businesses to move to sectors where there was too little demand to require large-scale production. This was one of the only ways for small businesses to really avoid competing with the giants. “One company named Buckeye Steel Castings Company of Columbus, for example, was formed in 1881 and “thrived for many years by producing automatic railroad car couplers.” Other companies survived by producing clothing for the “constantly fluctuating seasonal-clothing market.” Today in the Pet Industry we have seen success with pet training classes, “wash your own dog” stations, pet play days, etc. I have one client that told me she even attends some surgeries of her client’s pets. What I’m saying is find something you can do in your store that Amazon can’t and make it a cornerstone of your business.
4. Doing Nothing Will End in Failure
Many of my readers may actually be surprised that we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Mostly because of the fact that we are facing two back to back revolutions. In all my research I couldn’t find another case of that taking place. So, this section isn’t for a majority of my clients but it’s so important I wanted to speak directly to the readers it does matter too. If you are a pet store that’s running a cash register, doesn’t believe in eCommerce, and potentially still utilizes just print marketing I am begging you to pay attention. By continuing with what you are currently doing, you are not taking advantage of anything good from the last TWO revolutions. Now I’m not saying go crazy and throw caution to the wind, but I am saying that you run a very very high risk of running your company into retail obscurity.
Mark Nelms is a Business Development Manager for Pet Rewards POS. He has conducted over 400 interviews with retailers from almost every vertical and size. In prior roles, he’s assisted clients like Cumberland Packaging Corporation (Sweet N’ Low), The New England Patriots, and NCR (National Cash Register.)