The Challenges and Opportunities for Pet Specialty Retailers and Brands

IPP Pushes Boundaries to Remain an Incubator for Advancement

When Jon Martinek was approached by Independent Pet Partners, he was looking for an opportunity in a small organizationIPP was a startup at the time and he had been working retail for 25 years with large companies, such as Mars and Walmart. Today, Martinek is the Chief Merchandising Officer at IPP, which has grown to about 160 stores in over 14 states, operating under their banners: Loyal Companion, Kriser’s, Chuck & Don’s and Natural Pawz. As Martinek says, by pushing boundaries of bringing in new ideas, products, and feeding methods to market, “independent pet remains the incubator for advancement in pet nutrition. 

Recently, Martinek took some time to discuss the journey for the pet specialty industry and what IPP’s approach is to differentiate. Nutritional needs and feeding methods are evolving for pets, making it vital to understand how those are developing, and catering to the changes. Good data can help understand how these methods are evolving, providing the appropriate insights to be prepared.  

Martinek points out how pets are part of the family, so what IPP offers is marketed towards customers who are curious about nutritional value and want to look at what’s best for their pet’s health, the same way they do for themselvesFor example, shelters have seen a huge pet adoption boom, especially coming from millennials, who are now very much invested in the quality of products when it comes to their furry friends.  

In our marketplace today, we have also seen a significant rise in ecommerce everywhere. Enhancing the in-store experience, as well as online, creates a place where people want to go and engage withMartinek stresses, Remain customer-centric and understand that there is an intersection between physical and digital, and you can work both sides to meet the needs through all challenges.” These sides complement one another, so you need to be “prepared to interact in every way and communicate in every way.

Enhancing Customer Interactions and Assortment Optimization with SPINS Data

Being able to develop a channel and provide useful insights out of that to make informed business decisions is key. As Martinek puts it, “The differentiation that SPINS had was real focus on the medium- to smaller-sized businesses and understanding their needs.” IPP’s focus is to always be customer-focused, wanting to be able to provide the right education and personal interactions, providing them with the experience they are really looking for.  

SPINS data can answer all their questions about how the market is evolving, what products are driving in more revenue, where regional variation is happening, and what opportunities are open based on category, subcategory, and optimization. IPP pushes on utilizing their space as it is limited, which is why moving forward with SPINS as a partner, they hope to gain better insight on assortment optimization next to continue striving.  

Stay Innovative and Differentiated

Martinek believes that if you have products that align with a specific customer need, and it is differentiated in the way it’s being presented to a customer, then you have a compelling reason to discuss with retailers about why “that niche can be met by your product”.  

People are very open and curious to exploring new products, which is why if brands have a new pet product, the likelihood for success with independent pet is high. Martinek explains that over time, brands will evolve and develop through independent, maybe even moving up into specialty and mass, but independent pet is a good start for emerging brands.  

“We have to continually fill the pot with new innovation and differentiation to make sure that we are bringing customers back in and taking responsibility to push the boundaries of nutrition going forward,” Martinek says. As the pet specialty industry keeps growing and evolving, IPP continues to strategize, with the help of good data and insights, to innovate and differentiate. The importance of quality and nutritional value for pet products will keep changing, especially as adoption increases, and IPP is prepared to adapt to any shifts that come their way.  

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