Winter 2000 Pet Profits
John Vino isn’t surprised to hear a Gallup poll reveal that 27 million Americans give their dogs Christmas presents, and that six million throw birthday parties for their cats. And he doesn’t need to read the American Animal Hospitals Association’s study that says, “Most pet owners—55 percent—consider themselves to be ‘mom or dad’ to their pets.” He already knows that most people love to lavish attention on their animal friends—to the tune of $1,200 a year, on average—because “Mom and Dad” buy from him every day at the family-run Animal World in Las Vegas.
An animal lover himself, Vino says he can’t remember a time growing up in upstate New York when the family didn’t have a pet or two. And while he denies buying them Christmas presents or throwing them parties, he does confess to signing his pets’ names on the occasional greeting card—as most pet owners routinely do, according to Gallup. Now that he’s vice president of the thriving animal-oriented business his parents started back in the early ’90s, Vino considers it a “pretty natural” thing to do.
In March 1993, Jack and Marie Vino, John’s parents, “semi-retired” in their 50s and moved from New York to Las Vegas. There they opened the first Animal World cart in the Boulevard Mall, selling pet-oriented apparel, collectibles and novelties. When the couple rang up $90,000 in sales during an eight-week Christmas season, “they knew they had something,” John recalls. “They really hadn’t expected the tourist trade to be as strong as it turned out to be in the Boulevard Mall. And they also learned how strong the market was for animal collectibles.”
By January 2, 1998, the Vino family—Jack, Marie, John and brother Joseph—had opened the ninth Animal World location in Nevada—a cart in The Freemont Street Experience, Las Vegas’s wildly popular retail zone. In January 1999, they counted up their sales for 1998: just above $410,000. And theirs was the top-selling RMU at Freemont Street. They definitely “had something.”
The challenge of expansion
But they had something else: insufficient supply to meet the market demand they uncovered. “The problem we ran into is that we wanted a wide selection of merchandise… for example, T-shirts with a big variety of dog breeds,” John explains. “We just couldn’t get new stock fast enough, and we didn’t have the wide selection we wanted from our current manufacturers and suppliers.”
Around the same time, he adds, “We were meeting tourists and people from all over the country who wanted to buy merchandise from us wholesale, or who wanted to open up their own cart.” To make matters worse (or better, depending on the viewpoint), mall managers coast to coast were calling to pitch temporary in-line space they wanted Animal World to fill. According to Vino, the company’s presence at the 1999 ICSC Short-Term Specialty Retail Conference had prompted many of those calls. “Our goal at the conference was to introduce ourselves to the malls,” Vino says. “We wanted to meet with mall managers and lock up locations.”
It worked. Soon, mall managers were calling to offer Vino leads: potential owner-operators who were looking for new retail concepts. “Entrepreneurs go to the leasing managers of malls to find out what kinds of opportunities are out there,” Vino explains. It seems they were finding out about Animal World.
Sensing the opportunity, the Vinos kicked Animal World into high gear with new manufacturing capabilities, and a complete owner-operator program for independent entrepreneurs who want to get in on the action. These two moves gave the company access to the product selection they wanted, and the retail outlets they needed to get those products into the hands of pet lovers everywhere.
Getting the ducks in a row
MTS Limited, the manufacturing business of which Animal World is now a division, focuses mainly on apparel, and works with dozens of other manufacturers to complete Animal World’s selection. “We contacted leading collectibles manufacturers and told them our idea of putting together a program for owner-operators that would allow us to rep the manufacturers’ merchandise,” he says. The suppliers were more than interested, Vino says, “because of the amount of buying we had been doing from these suppliers, and because they knew what we were doing when it came to retailing from carts and kiosks. Animal World was already a significant client, and no one else had approached them with this idea. They liked it.”
The Vinos liked it, too. But they knew they needed to pare down the number of company-owned retail locations in order to focus on their new enterprises—wholesaling and turnkey operations—lest the company’s attention be split in too many directions at once. “We had to make a choice,” Vino says. “Some of our company-owned locations were out of town, and we needed to be in the office more and more to handle our wholesale accounts, including gift stores, other independent retailers and the new owner-operators.”
The latest moves
Today, the Vino family has two Animal World RMUs in Las Vegas (at Freemont Street and the Meadow Mall), one in the Brea (CA) Mall and—as part of Wal-Mart’s vestibule-leasing program—a “vestibule store” in the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Fountain, CO. The Vinos are currently working with Wal-Mart to add several more vestibule stores (retail space that’s more like an in-line than a kiosk), to be run by Animal World owner-operators.
Right now, more than 20 owner-operators currently sell Animal World products from carts, kiosks and in-lines across the country, from Rhode Island to Washington State. Their cost of goods averages 35 percent; now that the company is manufacturing some products, owner-operators can effectively “oversell their location,” Vino says, referring to selling merchandise that’s not in stock due to a retailer’s space limitations. “Cart and kiosk retailers in particular know the value of being able to sell more merchandise than they can fit on their RMUs,” he says. “Animal World owner-operators have easy access to any product we manufacture, or any product made by the manufacturers we rep. We drop-ship to the retailer right away.”
Vino adds: “We’re still a start-up company as far as the owner-operator program goes, but we’re happy with our growth so far,” having gone from “about 10 owner-operators during Christmas 1998 to about 20 for Christmas 1999.”
The million-dollar mark
For 1999, the family hopes to top $1 million in sales. “Since we’re not a franchise, we don’t require our owner-operators to tell us their sales revenues, and we don’t break down our company sales between manufacturing and retail sales. But for 1998 we had just under $1 million in sales, and we’re expecting growth in 1999,” he says. (Final sales figures for 1999 were not available at printing.)
John Vino has good reason to be hopeful about his market continuing to grow. The demographics bode well for Animal World. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, families with older children “spend heavily on their pets, and consumer units [households] headed by 45-54-year-olds spend the most on pet food—62 percent above average. Since that age group is growing the fastest, averaging about four percent a year, we can expect pet products and pet-food sales to keep growing.”
“Some people are hippo lovers, and some people are elephant lovers,” Vino says. “We have a customer who’s a wolf lover, who buys every single wolf [item] we can get hold of. People who collect really collect.” And people who love animals really love animals, as John Vino knows. He’s not at all surprised that one-third of pet owners on vacation actually call home to talk with their pets on the phone. He’s all for pet owners phoning, throwing birthday parties, and otherwise indulging their devotion to Fido or Fluffy or Fang—by buying from Animal World.
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