feel of big-box stores.
The intended purpose of
this refreshed look is to make
customers feel at ease as they
peruse the store’s products.
“Perception is everything,”
says Mellace. “When stores
look dismal, customers have
something to say.”
Perception proves to be
particularly important for a
retailer like Pet Express because
of its live animal offerings. Even
though the Lynn location does
not sell puppies like the mall
locations do, the store still sees
its fair share of protestors.
“They care about animals. We
care for animals,” says Mellace.
“If there are advocates for
animals, it’s people who care for them everyday.”
This compassion for pets shines through in
the personal and attentive touches taken in
accommodating the stores’ live animals. Every
puppy at Pet Express is purchased through USDA
certified, trained and inspected breeders/dealers.
None of their enclosures contain grating, so the
puppies build up muscles in their knees and hips by
walking on solid ground. The cages are temperature-
controlled for maximum comfort. On-staff veterinary
care ensures that they are happy and healthy while
waiting to meet their families.
This devoted care continues even after the puppies
go to a new home. Every pup receives a free vet visit
within seven days of being purchased at Pet Express.
Low-cost neutering/spaying is available, along with
a one-year health guarantee. Puppies also get free
and discounted visits to the Lynn location’s pet spa.
Special care is taken in preparing the staff to work
safely with the puppies. A month of intense training
goes by before a new employee is even allowed
to handle a pup. Store uniforms are never taken
home by employees and are instead sanitized by a
professional cleaner to ensure that they’re hygienic.
Mellace finds this kind of precaution necessary to ensure the
puppies’ safety. After all, “You are talking about babies,” he
says. Mellace and his siblings work alongside their 100-person
staff to ensure that proper protocol is being followed, rotating
between different stores every week.
This attentive and caring attitude extends outside the walls
of Pet Express. Four years ago, Mellace joined the American
Kennel Club Retail Advisory Council, which meets five times a
year to discuss ethics in the pet industry.
In addition to keeping pets happy and in good health, Pet
Express also looks to please customers. On weekends, balloons
bearing the Pet Express name are handed out to children visiting
the mall locations, making for colorful mobile advertising. It’s
a smart strategy—Mellace estimates that 1,000 people walk
through each of the mall stores on a given Saturday. “You need
to create buzz about what you stand for and what you do,” says
And while the puppies are the main attraction, there are other
standout features to be found in the Pet Express locations.
Customers frequently examine the unusual tanks that house the stores’ live fish,
since they were designed by the team from the popular television show Tanked.
Grooming centers are also available in the stores to provide baths and haircuts
for lucky dogs. “Our groomers never run out of clients,” Mellace says.
Due to the current success of the Pet Express chain, there are plans to develop
a fifth store called Healthy Pet. This location will focus on offering natural, holistic
pet products rather than puppies. Whereas the current standalone store has a
Whole Foods feel, this new store will have a look inspired by Trader Joe’s. If
Healthy Pet flourishes, Mellace and his siblings hope to open even more locations,
with plans to develop two stores a year for the next five years.
While deviating from a formula of proven success may be risky, Mellace feels
confident in the decision. He has advice for other retailers who may be looking
into opening a new location with a different theme or who are considering a store
“Stay fresh and clean. Come up with a theme and stick to it. Keep your eyes
open for what’s out there,” says Mellace.
He mentions that simple changes such as getting new signage and moving
displays around can invigorate a store’s look. Most of all, he says not to worry.
“People will come.”
Coming from someone who’s been in the business over 20 years, this seems
easy to believe. PB