Keith Zeiler started Paws on Chicon for one reason: to improve every dog’s life, including his own. When his beloved pet fell ill, Keith immersed himself in canine nutrition, took an in-depth course on the subject and will soon be sharing his knowledge through his pet store in East Austin.
“Every person that walks through that door and every one of my employees that I train is about helping this dog,” Keith said. “It’s not about making that dollar [off of] because if we can help their pet, it builds their loyalty and it makes me and my staff feel like we did an amazing job.
For Keith, building loyalty also meant expanding to a second location in South Austin, where he could help even more dog owners with the well-being of their pets.
Opening a second storefront can seem like a big hurdle for a small business, from maintaining consistency across stores, managing two different teams, and choosing inventory for different neighborhoods and demographics. But it can also be an incredible opportunity for growth, allowing customers to enjoy the same connection and service in a location that suits them.
Below, Keith shares three lessons that have helped him grow the business while staying true to its mission.
1. Keep the customer experience consistent
Location is one of the most important factors in the success of a business – a brick and mortar in a neighborhood presents different advantages and challenges than the same business across the city.
For example, Paws on Chicon opening a plaza in South Austin was a big draw for Yelp reviewer Nicole B., who was thrilled to support local businesses in a neighborhood dominated by chain stores. “I’ve heard amazing things from co-workers about Paws on Chicon’s other location, but I never made it to it,” she said. “When I saw that they had opened an outpost near my house, I was so happy.”
However, when building a brand, consistency across placements is key. Imagine if Nicole had visited the South Austin site only to find that the service or offerings weren’t up to par at the more established East Austin store. If both locations can’t meet the same expectations, you risk losing that customer.
Keith puts it this way: “My greatest [pet peeve] when I didn’t have a store, I would go to a pet store and [getting] different answers… i want [my customers] to get the same answers. I want them to be able to walk into any store and feel, no matter what store they end up in, that they will always walk out with the best knowledge and the best service.
To ensure consistency across locations, Keith recommends using checklists and streamlining employee training to ensure every aspect of the store looks and feels the same as the original.
2. Empower your employees
Employees are on the front line as the face of the company. They represent your brand and culture when you can’t be there in person. With two stores, Keith can’t be in two places at once, so he designed training for his staff to ensure they all send the same message to their customers.
“We go through a four-week extensive training with our staff, who I understand are [unusual] in the pet industry,” he said. “We try to be very careful because we don’t want pet owners to feel like they’re doing anything wrong.”
At Paws on Chicon, employee training includes compassion education, as well as customer service. Keith wants to make sure his team invests in building relationships, instead of being judgmental. By using this gentler approach, he’s created a safe space for pet owners who want the best for their pets, even if it means losing a sale.
“We try to give [customers] the tools to educate themselves if they don’t have time to talk to us in store,” he said. “For example, if their cat or dog had bladder stones or kidney stones, and we’re like, ‘Well, you’re feeding [them this] food and that’s why”, it doesn’t help. You’re not here to be ashamed because people don’t know. Our approach is always: ‘Let’s see how we can help them.’ »
3. Stand out from the competition
As you grow, it’s important to replicate all the features, offerings, and values that make you unique in your industry. Opening multiple locations doesn’t make you a monolith – Paws on Chicon is a hit because it works differently from its competitors. “My approach is not about the money,” Keith said. “It’s about healing and giving the best for the dogs.”
Additional features can also set your business apart from the competition. When Keith expanded his first store, he added dog wash stations – equipment that isn’t necessary to run a pet food store, but it certainly makes a tough, dirty job that much more convenient. for the customers. He also made sure to provide private laundry rooms, which puts anxious dogs and owners at ease.
Keith said: “We have a system that’s simple, it’s like a car wash. So shampoo, conditioner, everything comes out the pipe. We have tried to make it as simple as possible. We have little hoodies for the dogs, so when they’re dried off, it doesn’t hurt their ears. We have an upgrade where there is a Peanut Butter Lick Mat they can lick on while they wash up. And then owners get a free drink while they do their dog wash, too.
For clients like Nicole, this bonus creates a moment of surprise and delight, in addition to putting the animals at ease in the space. In fact, the dog wash is such a hit that Keith has upgraded the amenities to include frozen dog yogurt with a toppings bar.
Pictures of Paws on Chicon on Yelp; Emily Washcovick interview and editorial contributions by Holly Hanchey
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the review, the weekly podcast from Yelp & Entrepreneur Media. Listen below to hear Keith and Nicole, or visit the episodes page to learn more, subscribe to the show, and explore more episodes.
The above information is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional advice and may not be appropriate for your situation. Unless otherwise stated, reference to third-party links, services, or products does not constitute endorsement by Yelp.