Pretty Darn Perfect

Successfully figuring out answers to those questions and many more has perched Preuss on the pinnacle of the pet store pyramid.

Along the way, Preuss found himself drawn, like his mother, to fish. “My personal journey – my wife spends most of her time with birds – my journey has been with fish. The industry commonly sends (out) unhealthy fish,” he said, and Preuss takes it upon himself to solve the problem. This led to Preuss Pets breeding its own fish. And that’s just for starters. They also quarantine every fish that comes in until its meets their quality standards, and spend over $100 in medical expenses per large bird they sell to make sure it’s healthy before they put it up for sale.

Preuss said that about a quarter of his customers come from outside a 30-mile radius, and another quarter comes from 10-30 miles, and the rest from the greater Lansing area. They regularly get customers who gladly travel from Grand Rapids, Jackson, Mount Pleasant in order to have the Preuss experience. “As the years have gone by, we’ve kept putting (profits) back into the business, and ended up with a facility that reflects a regional pet store.”

Preuss said they do a good job of stocking all the basics (food for virtually every domesticated pet available, for instance). “We can’t have everything in stock, but we usually have all grounds covered.” He said that they don’t carry as complete a line in dog and cats supplies as other local pet stores, but it goes back to the business model. “But when it comes to reptiles, we carry all the most usual and exotic stuff. Definitely in salt water that’s exactly the case. Protein skimmers and lighting systems that they can’t find in their local area.” And given the choice of ordering off the Internet or coming to Preuss’, most choose the latter.

On higher ticket items, Preuss said he has seen some drop in demand due to the economy. “The good news is that there tends to be… when the economy shrinks, and people aren’t spending money to go overseas or around the country, they still oftentimes… still have the same income, they’re just shifting their priorities… to those within themselves. What makes the house more enjoyable? What makes the family a stronger family unit? And pet-keeping is one of those things that kind of fills the souls, fills the heart and completes the mission of having that more interesting home life.”

Another key to the store’s success are the people who work there. “We have over 60 employees, and… if somebody comes in with an idea that they want to have a fish aquarium, or a bird, or a reptile, you literally need to pay to people to tell them to stop, wait, think twice, what are you doing? And then you have to pay people to tell them what to do, how to do it, and how to be successful. (We) hire people that are compassionate and enthusiastic so that they’re willing to be face to face with the customer… about something they really, really like. In each of our departments, that’s the business model we go with.”

Preuss always has a senior manager on duty in every department, and makes sure that their newer employees act more like an M.C., i.e. making the customer feel comfortable until someone with more knowledge can help them. The store is set up as an exploration area, with separate areas for fish, reptiles, birds and “critters;” a setup that encourages people to spend time observing potential pets and talk to the pet experts in order to get a sense of what it will really be like having a (fill in the blank) join the family.

Preuss said that his wife “has one of the hardest jobs in the store.” Why? Because “birds are that much more advanced, or intelligent, amazing creatures – it’s upon our shoulders to make even more sure that they go to a home environment that it’s going to work out.” One of the ways they do that is to start customers with smaller birds like parakeets or cockatiel before graduating to bigger birds. As he said, “There have been far more than a few times that we have politely convinced individuals that maybe buying that (big) bird isn’t a good idea.” In the end, it comes down to hiring people that can be equal parts gatekeeper and guidance counselor. “Like I said in the beginning, people are coming in to have a fun, successful experience with (a) pet.”

With such a magnificent store in Old Town, Preuss said that he has no regrets about making the move from Haslett. However, with what seems like constant construction projects making the outside of the store as loud as the inside, he said they’re had their share of challenges. “But everybody that’s managed to meander in after not being here from the old store… once they come in the door, they get it. That’s what’s going to bring in the traffic… and it’s gonna be what makes sure that we’re here ten years from now.”

What of the future? Although Preuss said he can see the need for a second store, they have a lot to do to get their current store “running like a top.  It would only be once we have this facility running like a top that we would want to venture into the idea of being somewhere else. If that’s ever going to happen, it’s going to call out to us. But what’s self-evident now is that we shouldn’t be.”

Author: Jack Schaberg
Photography: Terri Shaver

Information Box:
Rick Preuss, owner
Preuss Pets 1127 N. Cedar Street

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