Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet is finding success and growth in a market dominated by big-box stores through two simple focuses: product knowledge and  customer service.

The Mahtomedi, Minn.-headquartered retailer caters to the needs of dog, cat and other pet enthusiasts by offering more than 30 brands of pet food from major national brands such as Natural Balance Pet Foods and Royal Canin to specialty brands such as Nutrisource and Fromm Family Pet Foods. With this kind of variety on hand, having team members who understand each brand is absolutely essential.

“We put a tremendous emphasis on educating our team so they can help customers select the product they’re looking for,” President and CEO Bob Hartzell says. “We don’t push one product over the other, but every product we sell is one we stand behind.”

Team members are offered a variety of product and other training programs to give them the ability to help customers find the best food for their pets. This goes beyond knowing what’s on its shelves. “We pride ourselves on being able to find unique items for customers,” Hartzell says. “We are very service-oriented when it comes to people looking for particular breed-specific or low-calorie foods. There are so many different pet foods out there; we can’t carry them all, but if someone comes in with a special request we typically can order it for them.” The company relies on an automated POS system to determine which items to replenish and to prevent overstock. 

Recruiting and training team members is part of the company’s culture, which has proven invaluable particularly in light of its growth strategy. Chuck & Don’s recently opened its fifth store in the Denver area, its second major market after the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, While Minnesota remains the company’s largest base with 17 stores, the Colorado market is a logical geographic expansion opportunity. “We see possibilities for at least half a dozen other locations in Minnesota, but we’ve come to Denver because we realize the Denver market is very similar to the Minnesota market,” Hartzell adds.

Building Customers

Each Chuck & Don’s outlet is 3,500 to 4,000 square feet, a size that allows room for diverse stock while offering a friendly atmosphere with attractive and easy-to-find items. “Our stores are organized and clean which lends itself to a pleasant shopping experience for customers and their pets,” Hartzell says. “We offer exceptional customer service. In fact, our team members will carry your purchases to your car.”

The customer service, quality products, team member knowledge and the inviting atmosphere of its stores help keep Chuck & Don’s customers coming back both to shop or to just bring their pets and talk to other pet owners. Chuck & Don’s has a loyalty program entitled Friends of Chuck that offers rebates and a quarterly newsletter; roughly 80 percent of the company’s customers are enrolled in the program.

Community involvement also plays a strong role in creating a dedicated customer base. Each location works with local rescue organizations and humane societies as well as local dog trainers and veterinarians.

Founders Charles “Chuck” Anderson and Don Tauer opened their first location in 1990, and brought Hartzell on board in the mid-1990s. Hartzell is a former restaurant owner and board member of manufacturer Hartzell Corp., a business founded by his father that was sold in 1993. Since joining the company, Hartzell has guided the company’s growth while helping to retain the founders’ original vision of being a local, hometown pet supply store.

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