Pampering our pooches
With many pet owners feeling like their dogs or cats are their babies, ready to be pampered and spoiled, the market for innovative products and healthy treats is on the rise.
Fido & Stitch, a dog boutique and salon in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is at the forefront of that market. The 1,500-square-foot store offers upscale and often hard-to-find dog food, treats, accessories and cleaning products. Alli McDonough, armed with a newly acquired master’s degree in business administration, opened the shop in December 2015.
“I used to live in Chicago and there they have all these dog shops and boutiques around the city,” she said. “It just kind of popped in my head — we don’t have anything like this in Grand Rapids or really in West Michigan. I thought it would be the perfect fit with all the development going on in Grand Rapids. I have dogs and I love them, and I know there are so many people who love their dogs and spoil them.”
McDonough did plenty of prepping and research before opening her store. She meticulously scouted product lines, spoke with other dog boutique owners and developed a business plan with help from Mark Lewis of Neighborhood Ventures, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses.
“He kind of became my mentor in making sure I had everything down and I was ready to start,” she said. “(Including) sitting down with the bank, looking at locations and making sure I had everything set and thought of everything.”
McDonough also visited or reached out to existing dog boutiques in Chicago, including Dogaholics founder Candace D’Agnolo, who authored “A Petpreneurs Guide: 3 Secrets to Making an Extra $2,000-$10,000 This Weekend.” “I talked to one of her managers about products, what worked and what didn’t work so much,” McDonough said.
When it came time to pick products, McDonough knew she wanted to start with “premium, top-of-the-line foods and healthy treats” and “organic, ingredient-limited and allergy friendly,” things that wouldn’t be readily available at big-box stores. Her plan eventually grew into creating a one-stop shop — including a grooming service — so the product search expanded to accessories and cleaning products. She found WholesalePet.com to be a great resource.
“It’s pretty much a hub for all of these different vendors, a lot of which only sell to independent stores,” she said.
In addition to looking beyond the well-known brands out there, McDonough also recommends looking local first. She carries several Michigan-made brands, such as Riker’s All Natural Dog Treats, and others made in Grand Rapids, including Go Green Pet Accessories.
Treats are near the top of Fido & Stitch’s best-seller list, but premium foods, T-shirts and accessories have all done well. “I’m hoping food becomes the bread-and-butter,” she said.
Located in a refurbished warehouse that now houses apartments and retailers, McDonough created a simplistic, rustic decorating scheme that fits in well among its surroundings in Grand Rapids’ trendy North Monroe district.
“Everyone seems to love it. They love the simplicity of it, so they know they can come in and find what they need without having to search aisles and aisles,” McDonough said. “I like to switch things up, so … when people come in, they know they’re not going to see the same exact thing.”
In less than two years, Fido & Stitch has developed an enthusiastic and loyal following, which continues to grow. McDonough has added several new lines of products and has even created a “Bone Bar,” which
offers more than 20 kinds chews and bones, and a VitalEssentials Raw bar, which has a variety of freeze-dried treats and chews.
At the start, McDonough put an emphasis on hosting pet-centric events to increase awareness of her store and used social media heavily to promote them. It definitely worked, although the downside is less time and space to host in-store events. McDonough still picks her spots, however, such as the annual Block Paw-ty, a benefit for a nearby animal shelter.
“Our customers still love that we host events,” McDonough said.