The Big Corporate Lie: Chain Pet Stores vs. Local

There’s an old adage that says “When you stop shopping at the megamart nobody will notice that you’re gone, but when you start shopping at the farmer’s market, everyone will know your name.” The saying applies to almost any market, not just produce. When you shop locally, you become a part of your community in a way that you probably hadn’t been before. People do learn your name, learn what kind of things you like, and how to provide the best service to you. If you care about food, you probably buy from your local farmers market. So if you care about pets, why aren’t you buying from your local pet store?

Unless you live in the middle of the Sahara Desert, you probably have a pet store within 10 miles of your home. You might not even know it’s there, until you see a sign in the window, or an ad in the paper. But when you go in, it’s a warm little place with the smell of smoked rawhide in the air, smiling store clerks, and a messy events board tacked over with colorful flyers and pamphlets. While you’re here, stop and gain a little perspective on the world of difference between local pet shops and the big corporate pet stores.

PetCo and PetSmart are the two largest pet supply stores in North America, but we don’t want to point any fingers. Let’s just say that the big pet stores are not what they seem. Because these stores are privately owned, they don’t have to report their net worth to any authorities; Forbes thinks that they pull in annual revenues of about 3.2 billion per year, and have upwards of 20,000 employees. So how is it that the big pet stores can afford to pay all of these employees, managers, board members, etc? By making choices in products, prices, and staffing that we should find downright questionable.

In the beginning, the big chain stores sold whatever products they wanted that consumers would buy. Cheaper items often made a duplicate appearance in megamarts like Walmart, and cut into pet store profits. So the corporate pet stores responded by trending toward the luxury market, choosing high-end products that could be easily marked up. It’s good business sense to let Walmart sell fifteen pounds of Meow Mix for $4.00, while they focus on specialty items that can not only be marked up more (like a $230 self-washing cat litter box), and create an image of exclusivity. The high profit from selling luxury goods gives them the ability to keep more product choices (over 10,000 items) on the shelves. This is just the first layer of the chain-store hypocrisy that has conned consumers for so long: surplus goods= better prices. Most consumers know that if you buy in bulk, you get better deals. The big chain stores are certainly buying in bulk… so they’re passing the good prices along to us, right? Of course not. Corporations exist to make profit, and they do it so well.

To quote PETCO’s employee code of ethic: “PETCO makes it’s own pricing decisions without influence from vendors, contractors or competitors.” (page 6) They can and do charge whatever they want to, and consumers pay.

While we are being dazzled by items we never even knew we needed, we are missing an important factor of good consumerism: where did this huge variety of products come from? Not far from your refrigerated tubs of raw, grain free dog meals are bins of bulk rawhide. That rawhide was shipped from Mexico in a festering, unrefrigerated truck for two weeks before being chlorinated and dried to create a crunchy, unsafe treat for your dogs. Luxury items sit side by side with cheap, garbage products that the big chains acted like they didn’t need any more! In short, the moral scruples that lend integrity to small shops are nonexistent concepts in big chain stores. And if a company is okay with buying and selling low-quality pet foods and treats, then they will teach their employees to think the same way.

Even if you do your research, and you know which products to avoid, you may still have a problem with the staff inside a big pet store. PetCo and Petsmart run a thriving salon, including what’s called a “groomer academy”, a 12 week program that certifies groomers to make full commission on their appointments. If you’re paying top dollar for a groom at these stores, your pet could be in the hands of an amateur student; some people get a “starting position” as a bather, which requires zero experience. If you want a quality groomer, consider that local salons may only have 1-2 groomers; they aren’t willing to risk the reputation of their small business on an inexperienced groomer. If you have any doubts, ask about their experience!

You will be amazed at the great prices, good people, and honest workmanship you can find in a local pet store or grooming salon. The people who work there carefully choose quality products that are good value to pet owners; a small business has limited shelf space, and can’t waste space with cheap fillers and overpriced luxury. Here at Animal Hut, we choose items with care that we are proud of, and give to our own pets. When you shop with us, you’re supporting our entire local economy with your business: we buy from local distributors, collaborate with local petcare professionals, and fundraise for local K9 units. We think it’s about time for consumers to walk away from the big corporate lie. Whether Penn Hills is your home or not, you can be proud to trust in your local pet store!


Grooming FAQ’s – PetSmart Training Academy Info

Forbes Magazine

PetCo’s Fact Sheet

PetCo Code of Ethics

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