Nation & World

Where the picky 'pet parents' go

Petco pilots store with vet and day care services

San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS

Veterinarian Christie Long speaks to a customer in the Animal Hospital of the new PetCoach store in San Marcos, Calif., this past Friday.
San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS Veterinarian Christie Long speaks to a customer in the Animal Hospital of the new PetCoach store in San Marcos, Calif., this past Friday.

SAN DIEGO — Leaving behind its big-box roots, Petco is opening a new kind of retail store where animal-friendly amenities such as dog baths, play yards and treats fit for humans are meant to win over picky “pet parents” who would otherwise snub the mainstream brand.

Called PetCoach, the pilot San Diego store — officially unveiled on Tuesday — is the old pet store re-imagined. PetCoach takes the place of a former Petco venue.

But here, instead of a smattering of products, shoppers will find that services such as veterinary care, grooming and dog day care not only dominate but dictate the entire experience. Food, clothing and toys also are available, but they’re thoughtfully displayed by task, meaning customers should come for the care but find a relevant product in the process.

PetCoach is the brainchild of Brock Weatherup, a Petco executive who runs the company’s new initiatives arm and who relocated to town from Philadelphia after his app with the same name was acquired in April of last year.

If the San Diego-based company succeeds in its mission, pet parents will subscribe to a new model at PetCoach where a $9 monthly membership, inspired by REI’s co-op program and Amazon Prime, nets customers discounted goods and services — and secures their repeat patronage.

The membership model is a fresh idea meant to help Petco navigate its way through a pet product industry that’s become bifurcated, where boutique shops have won over discerning customers and bargain-hunters are opting for better value from the likes of Amazon, PetSmart’s Chewy.com or Walmart.

PetCoach is for the pet snob, as in the growing number of people who refer to their animals as fur babies or members of the family, and who are willing to pay a markup for quality over quantity. Presumably, that starts with buying better food.

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Americans spent more than $29 billion on pet food last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“Interest in high end, premium pet food and treats continues to be a key driver for increased spending in the pet food category,” the American Pet Products Association, a trade group for pet product manufacturers, found in its annual pet industry report.

That helps justify the JustFoodForDogs tie-in at PetCoach’s inaugural store. Plus, Petco’s bet is that the more judicious food buyer will want more regular vet checkups, particularly since the membership program comes with five included visits. He or she may then take an interest in regular dog care, whether that’s frequent walks booked through PetCoach’s also-new dog-walking app or a visit to the daycare facility. And, because a self-wash costs just $2 for members, a bath seems like the inevitable next step.

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