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Been There, Done That:
“I don’t collect stuff, I sell it.” So says Mel Toellner, owner of Wholesale Distribution Company Gold Crest Distributing, in business since 1995. I interviewed him by phone in December 2008 and found him to be an amazing source of very specific advice that owners of any type of pet business can appreciate.
Concentrating on products for critters that make backyards their homes (birds, squirrels, bugs and more), Toellner has carved out a niche that now features more than 5,000 “backyard nature” products that are distributed to over 1900 retail stores in the US and Canada. He also has a retail location in Columbia MO.
Toellner’s most important piece of advice to would-be pet product retailers is to make sure to analyze your market and provide what’s needed, not what’s already there. Don’t get emotionally attached to a particular product or idea. Look at what people want, look at the numbers (gross profit per square foot), and keep your merchandise moving.
For example, in mid-Missouri, nice collars with matching leashes and breed-specific gifts for dog lovers weren’t available 2 years ago, so he started offering them at his retail store. Now sales of such products are going strong, so he made a business decision to highlight this type of merchandise and make a stronger appeal to people who loved not only “backyard birds” but dogs and cats, too.
Toellner now welcomes well-trained pets in his retail outlet and even features photos of customer’s pets on a PowerPoint presentation that’s shown on a large-screen TV. He calls it his “Parade of Stars” and it’s an attention-getter when customers proudly point to their pets on TV.
Another piece of advice Toellner shared was to “Merchandise it well or don’t get into it.” It’s not just the product – it’s the promotion and presentation. For example, Toellner hired a local antique reproduction furniture maker to craft some of the displays at his store, adapting a look he’d seen at Barkley’s feed stores.
Which brings up another piece of advice – be open to new ideas for products and promotions. The pet photos presentation was an idea from a hog dog stand he saw in Chicago.
And don’t forget that people make purchasing decisions for their pets based on emotions as well as logic or statistics – that can have a huge impact on your business.
Toellner is a national distributor for a particular kind of pet food, so his preference is to offer just that brand in his retail location. However, he’s found that it’s hard to get people to change brands of pet foods, so he’s adding more varieties to his store.
All in all, Toellner’s passion to be “the customer store”, offering a blend of uniqueness, customer service and price, has paid off for his pet product distributing business. His business was #168 in Inc. magazine's 2002 listing of the 500 fastest-growing, privately held companies.
I truly appreciated the chance to interview him – and please check out his website, at http://www.goldcrestdistributing.com or call his toll-free number (888-985-2473), if you’d like to find some outstanding pet products to offer in YOUR store or to YOUR customers!