The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. Phrases like“social distancing” and “flattening the curve” have entered the lexicon, muchlike “loose lips sink ships” did during World War II. We are now engaged in aprecarious balancing act, weighing lives against livelihoods. The new normalis not normal at all.

Pets have been one of the bright spots during the pandemic quarantine, givingthose shut off from friends and loved ones companionship as only pets can.Shelters were emptied as adoptions and fostering spiked. One humane rescue inthe San Francisco Bay area posted a litter of nine puppies on its website andhad over 1,000 adoption applications. A pet retailer in the Midwest saw anearly 50 percent increase in small animal, reptile and fish sales shortlyafter government stimulus payments went out, as families with bored childrensought ways to keep kids engaged.

Thanks to the quick action of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council(PIJAC) , with the support of the American Pet Products Association(APPA) and other trade associations, pet retailers were deemed essentialbusinesses in most jurisdictions, as were manufacturers and distributors ofpet food and products. The pet care community exists to keep pets happy andhealthy, so it was appropriate that businesses remained open to meet the need.But just as grocery workers and other essential personnel have put their ownhealth at risk to serve the public, so too have pet store owners andemployees.

The safety of customers and store associates has been paramount as petretailers adapt to provide for pet owners during the crisis. Some haveinstituted shorter store hours to allow for deeper and more frequent cleaningof exposed surfaces. Plexiglass panels have been installed to protectcashiers. Home delivery and curbside pick-up options have been added tominimize customers’ time in the store. The result has been less store trafficbut higher sales per visit. Some stores have created bundled solutions as add-ons to food purchases, particularly for customers who are picking up curbside.

The Future of Retailing
The pandemic has had a profound effect on retailing and will likely worsen theprospects for some who were already struggling. Fashion retailer J. Crewwas the first to seek bankruptcy protection during the crisis, followedby Neiman Marcus ; and experts predict more will follow. Online sellers ofpet products are continuing to take market share from brick-and-mortarcompetitors. According to Packaged Facts, e-commerce and pet specialtychains were neck and neck in pet food sales in 2019, with each controllingabout 22 percent of the market. The coronavirus crisis has served toaccelerate online sales at the expense of B&M, with 2020 sales forecast at 31percent and 18 percent, respectively.

APPA Business Edge consultant Dave Bolen observed that, while e-commercewill continue to take market share at a rapid rate, local businesses may see aresurgence as communities pull together to support their neighborhoodretailers. And if new pet acquisition trends hold, the pie may be bigger foreveryone in the pet space. Feeders Supply CEO Brannon Dixon seesopportunity for pet specialty stores to grab market share if they focus ontheir core products and connect with consumers. Having a robust online andsocial media presence is essential. New pet owners are looking for solutionsand advice, he notes. Use e-mail and online tools to connect with new loyaltycustomers and target them for promotions.

Industry Events
The opportunity to get out of your store, see new products, engage withvendors and learn from industry experts is at the heart of most industryevents. Large gatherings are still curbed nearly everywhere for now, so we areturning to virtual events as a safe substitute. Under the Pet IndustryLeadership Summit banner, APPA has partnered with the Pet IndustryDistributors Association, PIJAC and the World Pet Association toproduce two Virtual Town Hall presentations featuring panels of petindustry business leaders discussing steps that manufacturers, distributors,animal suppliers and retailers are taking to keep the supply chain open. Theseevents are archived on the APPA website and are available at no charge toanyone in the pet care community.

Regional distributor shows and national trade shows will return, albeit withsocial distancing measures in place for everyone’s safety and comfort. It maybe some time before you can walk into a booth, shake hands with a vendor andexamine their new products. But the value of gathering to learn, to interact,to assess has not changed. We will work to deliver such opportunities safelyand in compliance with federal and state guidance.

The power of the human-animal bond to help us get through times of crisis hasnever been more evident than in the past few months. The pet care communityhas a great obligation to provide the products and services that our pets needto stay healthy and happy. We owe a debt of gratitude to the workers who makeand sell these products. We will pull through by pulling together.

Source: Steve King is CEO of the _ American Pet Products Association._and published in USA Pet Business

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