Monday, August 08, 2005

Large pet chains finding Solano County and Fairfield a good place to curl up

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 06, 2005 - 09:37:10 pm PDT

Large pet chains finding Solano a good place to curl up

By Jeff Mitchell

- The dog-eat-dog world of the mega pet stores has officially come to Solano County.

As increasing numbers of people leave the Bay Area's urban core for the suburban, semi-rural climes of Solano and Yolo counties, they're naturally bringing their beloved pampered pets with them.

And following right behind are the leading pet product retailers such as Petco and Pet Club who see only full bowls of chow (read dollars), a belly scratch and plenty of love coming from what they say is an underserved, emerging market.

In the last 12 months alone, two major pet product retailers have built large stores in the Fairfield area - a Petco at the corner of Travis Boulevard and Holiday Lane and a Pet Club in the Costco shopping center north of Cordelia.

And Phoenix-based PetsMart Inc., the pet megastore industry leader, plans to build a new 20,000-square-foot store in Vacaville within the next year, company official Jennifer Pflugfelder said. It will be the company's first store in Solano County.

Together with Petco, PetsMart with its 750 stores, controls 15 percent of what calls a $37 billion retail pet product market.

"We're looking forward to building in Solano County," Pflugfelder said. "The array of products and services we offer pet owners closely fits the market demographics found there."

But while PetsMart locks in a site for its first store in Solano County, the smaller San Diego-based Petco Inc. has already opened three stores in Solano County. (The chain's Fairfield store opened June 9.)

Solano County has been on Petco's list of locations to build for some time, spokesman Don Cowan said. Such vital infill locations - upscale spots located between major metropolitan centers - are part of the company's growth strategy, he said.

"When we locate a store somewhere, we like to find properties that are convenient for consumers - places where they can easily stop in on the way to or from the supermarket or some other daily, local activity," Cowan said.

And, increasingly, these mega pet product retailers aren't just about selling you a nice pet, some food or maybe a flea collar. Increasingly, these retailers are making high-margin profits on pet services - grooming and veterinary care, day care and boarding, to name a few. recently reported PetsMart has even opened a pet hotel operation at some stores where pets can be boarded into custom private suites replete with TVs tuned to the Discovery Channel's "Animal Planet" show.

Smaller pet store operators are concerned but not bowed by the increasing presence of the bigger competitors, they said.

The key is keeping prices reasonably comparable to the bigger outlets and then out-do with them with superior levels of customer service and product knowledge, many said. But the larger companies could force them to become more specialized in a given line of pets and associated products over time.

"There is a level of fear about them," said Holly Gideon, an employee at World of Pets, a 25-year-old pet shop on North Texas Street in Fairfield. "But what we have noticed is that while some of our customers will go and try the larger stores, they end up coming back for the personalized service."

Paula Rosales, who with her husband, Joe Rosales, own Paula's Pets at the Marina Shopping Center in Suisun City, agreed.

"First, there's not a lot we can do about it," she said. "If anything, the presence of these larger stores just gives us even more incentive to take care of the loyal customers we have."

Reach Jeff Mitchell at 427-6977 or

March of the mega pet stores

Who's here in Solano County:

-- Pet Club Food and Supplies Inc.

5125 Business Center Drive, Fairfield, 864-9688.

-- Petco Inc.

1370 Holiday Lane, Fairfield, 427-8162.

210 Nut Tree Parkway, Vacaville, 448-2020.

161 Plaza Drive, Vallejo, 649-8081.

Who may come:

-- PetsMart Inc.

20,000 square foot store to be built in undisclosed Vacaville location, second fiscal quarter, 2006.

Source: Various company officials.

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