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Steve Adams is expanding a successful business and serving a customer group that cannot even buy his products — pets.
Adams, the CEO of U.S. Retail, a Muskegon based ownership group, recently announced the group’s purchase of six West Michigan Pet Supplies Plus stores.
Five of the stores are in the Grand Rapids area and one is in Holland.
U.S. Retail, which is singularly focused on the pet industry, now operates 20 Pet Supplies Plus stores nationally and plans to open two more near Dallas in 2013. The largest franchisee in Detroit’s Pet Supplies Plus system, U.S. Retail has stores in Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and Alabama. The company employs approximately 400 people nationally and partners with 70 different rescue and animal groups.
“The pet industry as a whole was $8 billion in 1995, and, today, it’s projected to exceed $60 billion (by next year),” Adams said. “It’s an industry growing at twice the rate of our economic growth.”
Adams credits this growth not only to the beloved relational nature of pets, but also to a recent trend of the humanization of pets, he said.
“Now you can buy custom pet carriers and a hundred different choices of toys, high end pet spas . . . there’s even a huge trend of all natural organic foods. Where did that start? With humans,” he said. “Animals are being cared for better, but it’s a reflection of our culture. The level of affluence is much better.”
These are all reasons Adams, originally a banker, got into the pet business, he said. In 1996, the group franchised its first store in Wisconsin.
“I saw where it was going,” he said. “Bankers laughed at me but not in a judgmental way. They would be supportive, but then they would turn and shake their heads and go, ‘Really, a pet store?’”
Pet supplies are a product still doing well when it comes to in-store shopping, Adams said. Although some larger items, like fish tanks or large bird cages, are frequent online purchases, the reason for such good in-store sales is because Pet Supplies Plus sells bulky items not conducive to online sales.
Even so, every retailer is still facing the challenge to remain relevant in an era where people can just click and buy, he said. His group has stayed relevant, he said, because U.S. Retail asked what it can do that Amazon cannot.
The answer was to offer expert assistance.
Sarah Abood, Michigan State University’s assistant dean of student programs, teaches a series of eight online modules for his employees, Adams said. The company pays for the four-to-five-month program in order make its employees become certified pet nutrition advisers.
“The end result is they’re able to do a very in-depth nutrition compilation where they can provide counsel on a feeding plan for a dog. (We) have highly knowledgeable people in the stores to make sure it’s a memorable experience,” he said.
“Some of (our customers) do buy online, but it’s just not a big number. I’m not naïve to say that number won't increase, so we need to build a foundation for our stores where people will want to come in.”