PetSmart drawing crowds
By Hugh Fisher
Salisbury is going to the dogs … and the cats, lizards and guinea pigs, too. Since the new PetSmart store opened in Salisbury’s Innes Street Market shopping center in January, locals have flocked there to shop for, and with, their animals.
The “pet supermarket” allows well-behaved animals, and many people bring their dogs shopping.
“We’re here for a treat, and to give them an outing,” Ronald Denison of Mocksville said on a recent Saturday visit.
“Now, you behave yourself!” his wife Judy said to Tyler, their tan Pomeranian, as she picked him up.
Tyler seemed to grin, panting, while Jo-Jo, the Denisons’ Chihuahua mix, rode in the shopping cart, looking eagerly from side to side, tail wagging vigorously.
The Denisons are among many who have started shopping at the Salisbury PetSmart, according to manager Julie Brown.
Before the new store opened, the nearest PetSmart locations were in Concord, Mooresville and Winston-Salem.
“The community has been very welcoming,” Brown said.
With more than 1,100 stores, as well as a chain of pet “hotels” and training facilities, PetSmart has been flourishing despite the sluggish economy.
As of Friday, PetSmart stock was trading around $39 per share, up from about $26 in February 2010.
Spend a Saturday morning at the Salisbury store and you’ll see why things are going well for the company.
The doors open on Saturdays at 9 a.m. By 9:30 on the day of our visit, the aisles were already filling with shoppers.
Many of them had their dogs on leashes, the hounds sniffing excitedly and sometimes pulling their owners along the aisles.
Brown said that the sheer volume of products being offered attracts curious pet owners.
For instance, Brown said that Martha Stewart’s own line of toys and accessories, exclusive to PetSmart, has drawn a lot of interest.
The store also has a trainer on staff to help new and current owners learn how to interact with their dogs.
Teresa Scamardo is a PetSmart area trainer based at the Salisbury store. Her position means she not only works with customers and their dogs, but helps train other PetSmart employees, too.
Scamardo said her duty is to train owners how to understand and work well with dogs.
“Everything from potty training to keeping dogs from running away,” Scamardo said. “People are thrilled to have a dog training area at the PetSmart here.”
On-site grooming services are another major draw.
One customer, Bryan Taylor of Salisbury, said he trusted PetSmart’s grooming services more than any others’.
“They’re one of the only places that offers grooming on Saturday,” he said.
And on this Saturday morning, he brought three of his dogs for bathing, grooming and nail-trimming.
In a wave of exchanged leashes, wagging tails and lolling tongues, they headed back into the grooming salon with staff members, ready for a doggie day-spa experience.
Taylor said he’d previously taken his animals to the PetSmart store in Charlotte, and was glad to have a location nearby.
Kelly Leach of Rockwell, one of the grooming staff, said working at PetSmart is both challenging and fun.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Leach said. “Every day is new.”
Leach is one of 23 new employees hired to operate the Salisbury store, Brown said.
Twelve other employees, including Brown, moved to the Salisbury store from other locations.
In the current economy, any new jobs are good news for more than just pet owners.
PetSmart stores are also home to efforts to find homes for cats and dogs who might otherwise be put to sleep.
In the back of the Salisbury store, cats rest and play behind a Plexiglas partition, while signs nearby remind customers of the importance of animal adoption.
Regular pet adoption events are held at PetSmart stores, but customers can come in anytime and see animals looking for homes.
Allison Justice, a student at Catawba College originally from Maryland, said she’d come to PetSmart the morning of our visit just to see the animals.
“I’ve had dogs all my life,” Justice said. “It’d be nice to adopt one and give one a home.”
But she also said hello to Oscar, a 5-year-old cat who meowed and looked attentively as everyone who passed by … waiting to see who’d take him home.
Brown said that PetSmart works with local and regional animal rescue groups and adoption agencies to help place pets into good homes.
Store Operations Manager Melissa Novak said Rowan-based Faithful Friends Animal Sanctuary is one of the groups already working with PetSmart.
In the near future, the Humane Society of Rowan County should also have such an agreement.
Novak said PetSmart requires all potential animal rescue partners to go through a multi-step approval process, which she described as “confidential.”
The process includes a visit to the site where pets awaiting adoption are held to make sure that PetSmart’s standards are met.
Reached by phone, Jane Hartness of the Humane Society said that her group’s application to work with PetSmart had been delayed by a computer problem.
She said she expected approval “very soon.”
The Salisbury PetSmart store also partners with animal rescue groups in neighboring counties.
Whenever a new national retailer moves into a city like Salisbury, people wonder how smaller, independent shops will be affected.
But one local pet store owner said PetSmart isn’t causing him a lot of concern.
David Lore and wife Angela have owned Pet Place for about four years.
They were based at the Webb Road Flea Market for most of that time.
Their shop survived the blaze that destroyed most of the flea market. In September, they moved to a storefront at 848 S. Main St.
David said that business has “about doubled” in the months since then.
And, he said, PetSmart isn’t exactly a competitor for Pet Place.
“They’re a dog and cat store. We’re everything else, birds, fish, snakes,” Lore said. “Our specialty is their offshoot.”
As far as prices go, Lore said he’s able to stay competitive on most of the items he sells.
He said Pet Place also has a loyal customer base.
“Our customers stick with us. We’ve got a knowledge level that (PetSmart employees) don’t have,” Lore said. “The hard part is getting people to find us.”
As more and more people spend money on their pets, PetSmart and other local retailers will likely have more people seeking them out.
No bones about it, that’s good news for the pampered pets of Rowan County.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.