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Winter 2015
Every Dog Has Its Day

Pet store finds a home at bustling Calgary International Airport.

Most airports have woken up to the fact that they have a captive audience in passengers waiting for flights. In response, they now seek to offer an increasingly eclectic array of shopping opportunities.

Veteran retailer Charlene Cherniwchan, the owner of Mut Hut Pet Emporium, says it was the Calgary Airport Authority’s research into current retail trends that ultimately helped her land a coveted spot as part of the airport’s specialty retail lineup. Prior to that, she had been applying sporadically for about 18 months to gain admission. 

As Cherniwchan points out, “Most people are traveling to and from a pet. Or they’re on their way to see a friend who has one. Pets are so integrated into households these days, they’re often treated like actual family members.” It makes sense, therefore, for an airport to welcome a pet store into its busy environment because once the dash to clear security checkpoints is over, passengers usually have time on their hands—time they’ll often spend shopping for that special creature in their lives.

The recently opened Mut Hut kiosk in YYC’s Concourse A provides that opportunity. It is a satellite location to Cherniwchan’s flagship store in Canmore, Alberta, which has been in operation since 2006. Calgary Airport Authority was looking for a pet retailer that had a tourism background and given Canmore’s proximity to Banff National Park, Mut Hut was a perfect fit.

Barking up the right tree

Winter15MutHut1In addition to being a purveyor of fine pet products, Mut Hut also manufactures its own award-winning, gourmet treat line. The company’s freshly baked real meat dog treats are produced in the Rocky Mountains of Canmore using locally sourced ingredients. Not only are they gluten-free, they’re also made without sugar, wheat, corn, soy and by-products.

Mut Hut’s treats are representative of the province of Alberta’s growing pet food industry. In 2012, Albertans exported almost $17 million of pet food to other jurisdictions, according to John Knapp, the Deputy Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Alberta pet food manufacturers are becoming known for their high quality and nutritious products.

Where better to showcase an award-winning pet product than a busy airport concourse? As Canada’s fastest-growing airport, Calgary International reports seeing increasing numbers of furry, four-legged passengers. With animal lovers from all over the world constantly passing through, it’s an effective way to build up a fan base.

A dog might be present to try Mut Hut’s wares at the airport (free samples are dispensed) or perhaps a passenger will simply bring some home. “Whatever the case, people will later contact the company saying their dog loved it, where can they get it?” says Cherniwchan who is only too happy to tell them they can ask their local pet store to bring it in for them or they can purchase it online directly from muthut.com.

While Mut Hut’s locally made treats are the number one seller at their airport location, wilderness toys place a close second. Dogs love to play with these plush representations of Canadian wildlife—bear, moose, grizzlies, beaver—that conceal a squeaker and make a nice souvenir from a trip to Canada. Leashes and collars, travel water bowls and many other convenience and novelty items are also on hand. “Our client base ranges from teacup dogs to giant draft breeds so we have to have a little bit of everything to help all our customers,” says Cherniwchan.

Leader of the pack

Winter15MutHut2Cherniwchan doesn’t worry about competition at the airport, because although it isn’t written into her lease, she’s been assured by management that redundancy doesn’t do anybody any good. “They want to give passengers something unique that’s not a big box store, more a boutique style. And certainly not the same thing over and over again,” she says.

Shortly into Mut Hut’s tenure on the concourse, another market emerged that Cherniwchan had never even thought of—namely, airport staff members. Considering there are 24,000 Calgary International Airport employees traveling to and from work, often strapped for time and equipped with staff discount cards honored by the majority of airport retailers (Mut Hut included), it is a very viable market that just adds to the positive experience of specialty retail at the airport.

June Allan Corrigan

Freelance writer June Allan Corrigan addresses a wide range of topics including business, medicine, parenting and education. She’s a fitness enthusiast and also makes a mean apple pie. Visit her website at junecorrigan.com.
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