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How Pet Supplies Plus Became a Legacy Brand

President and CEO Chris Rowland shared his thoughts on best practices for brands that are looking to seriously grow.

Pet Supplies Plus may be a major player on the national pet food and supplies stage, but what the brand truly prides itself on is providing a warm neighborhood atmosphere within individual stores.

Founded in 1988, the brand has grown to 450 stores, with 216 being corporate-owned and the remaining 234 being franchise stores. Despite this stellar market penetration, the brand is still expanding throughout the U.S., with the Pacific Northwest region a particular emphasis in its future plans, according to president and CEO Chris Rowland.

Rowland mainly attributes the success of Pet Supplies Plus to its focus on creating a neighborhood feel. Indeed, customers are referred to as neighbors, and he noted that many will visit their local Pet Supplies Plus multiple times a week just so their pet can visit their favorite team member.

“We call them neighbors because we truly feel part of the neighborhood,” he said of customers.  

The brand has also come far thanks to the thorough way in which it sets its franchisees up for success.

“It’s really a turnkey experience,” he said, adding that the brand takes care of matters such as IT and marketing, leaving the operator to focus solely on running their store.

“Their job is to do what I can’t do, which is ultimately meet neighbors in the aisle and provide a world-class experience every day,” Rowland said. “Everything else, there’s a process or a system behind the scenes that takes care of it for them, and as a result, we have franchise owners that in some cases are owner-operators, we have franchise owners that are semi-absentee and we have franchise owners that are absentee owners that live halfway across the country. And all of them work equally well.”

The biggest value the company has is that it’s all about the neighbor, Rowland said.

“We know we’re carrying dog food or pet supplies that are found everywhere else, so what we do is bring it to life in a very, very personal way,” Rowland said. “Customer engagement, neighbor engagement has always been our No. 1 focus and something that we protect, quite frankly. Whether it’s a corporate store or a franchise store, we hold them to a very, very high standard in terms of neighbor experience. How they deliver it is flexible. You could be an owner-operator, but you have to be an owner-operator who loves dealing with customers and neighbors. If not, then we insist that you hire a team member who’s passionate about pets and neighbors and reward, encourage and motivate them accordingly.”

A Pet Supplies Plus store is not successful because a customer walks in and sees a unique product or gushes about getting a discount, he said. Instead, they’re impressed by being greeted and treated authentically.

“It all comes down to that personalized, community feel,” he said. “The easiest way to explain it is, that local feel that you would have expected 50 years ago, we still pride ourselves on delivering it today.”

Brands who want to grow to a legacy level and become household names cannot underestimate the amount of work it takes to build a foundation, Rowland said.

“Without a foundation, it just doesn’t work,” he said, adding that brands have to utilize a lot of resources to build a foundation. This can encompass building processes around matters such as IT and finding real estate, but at the same time, “it’s incredibly important that you decide what you want the culture or the environment to be, and that has to continue to grow. It locks up with all of the other things you’re doing. You can’t suddenly decide to start growing stores or growing a business and forget about what got you there.”

While Pet Supplies Plus has spent a great deal of time on foundational pieces, it has also dedicated resources to the cultural aspect of the business. Even if the brand puts its franchisees through certain changes, they cannot come at the cost of impacting the local, neighborhood feel, Rowland said.

“We could not lose focus on the fact that it’s really about that individual neighbor that walks in the door with their pet,” he continued.

Prospective Pet Supplies Plus franchisees would do well to keep this philosophy in mind.

“What I tell people is, don’t look for a get-rich-quick scheme or a fad,” Rowland said. “If those are things you’re interested in, then quite frankly, go somewhere else.”

When a person elects to franchise with Pet Supplies Plus, the brand is more than willing to work with them to help them find real estate and get everything up and running. The brand offers multi-store discounts and military discounts, and will even help set franchisees up with financing partners.

Rowland said that Pet Supplies Plus looks at the franchisee-franchisor relationship as a 20-year one, one that does not involve any shortcuts and one in which both franchisors and franchisees like what they’re seeing.

“What I tell franchisees is, first, figure out whether this is something you can be passionate about,” Rowland said. “We don’t want somebody that’s not going to be passionate about the pet industry and is not going to be passionate about the neighbor experience. It doesn’t mean they have to deliver it personally, it means they have to be passionate enough that they find somebody who can deliver that personally."