The most frequent comment that Betty VanGorder hears from customers at her Pet Garage boutique is “Why didn’t I think of this?”
Just like Play It Again Sports, Once Upon a Child or Half Price Books, Pet Garage pays people to bring in their slightly used, unwanted pet products. Then, it turns around and sells them for a profit but at a fraction of the original price.
Pet supplies is a largely untapped segment of the $17.5 billion U.S. resale industry.
“We’re stumped as to why no one else is doing it,” VanGorder said. “Especially when the people who started Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor are here in the Twin Cities.”
She and her husband Tom Olney got the idea after being foster parents for many critters from the Humane Society. “We fostered just about every type of small animal except reptiles,” Olney said.
VanGorder, who also works as a controller and director of operations at a local law firm, and Olney, a business analyst, started the business last year in Maple Grove. They sell new or used supplies for dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits and reptiles, including pet carriers, kennels, leashes, collars, grooming supplies, clothing, food and water bowls.
Elizabeth Deeds of Maple Grove has been a frequent buyer and seller since she and her husband adopted Nala, a goldendoodle, last year. “We’ve bought collars, three leashes in different sizes and strengths, harnesses, brushes and a toy feeder that dispenses food to slow down eating,” she said. “Hardly anything costs more than $10.”
Nearly all the merchandise in the shop is used. VanGorder and Olney launder the pet beds and toys they buy. Aquariums and fish supplies are cleaned with a vinegar and water mixture.
VanGorder generally prices items at 50 percent of the retail price and sellers get one-third of the selling price. Like many resale shops, sellers receive 25 percent more if they accept store credit rather than cash.
“Most of the items we get are the ones that the pet never used or outgrew,” she said. “There’s a lot of trading up as a reptile like a gecko outgrows its cage.”
With nearly $70 billion spent on pets in the U.S. in 2017, a number that has grown every year for more than 20 years, VanGorder thinks they are well-situated as consumers’ acceptance of buying used goods grows in a reduce, reuse, recycle world. They have seen sales growth every month except a snowy February and expect to break even at the one year mark in July.
Olney thinks it’s an advantage to be situated so close to major pet retailers such as PetSmart, Petco and Chuck & Don’s.
“We wanted to be in the same strip malls as Petco and PetSmart, but mall leasing agents don’t usually allow direct competition to be in proximity,” he said.
Still, the couple want to make Pet Garage into a neighborhood destination for pet lovers, encouraging them to send pictures of their pets to be displayed on the store walls.
Pet Garage has little competition in the used-pet supplies category other than thrift shops and a few resale shops such as New Uses in Maple Grove, which only sells pet carriers and kennels.
Adele Meyer, executive director of National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, wasn’t aware of very many resale shops for pet supplies nationally, although a few exist in New Hampshire and West Virginia.
“There’s an equestrian shop that sells used goods for horses in Arizona, but I haven’t heard of very many selling general pet supplies,” she said.
Chad Olson, chief operating officer at NTY Franchise Co. in Minnetonka, which sells franchises for Clothes Mentor, Device Pitstop and New Uses around the country, said his company never seriously considered pet supplies as a retail franchise concept.
“There’s probably a good business model in it, but I don’t know if there’s enough supply to be scalable and franchisable,” he said.
VanGorder and Olney think there is. After their first store hits the one-year mark, the two plan to get serious about franchising the concept. “We believe there are enough pet lovers to get a footing and go forward,” VanGorder said.
So far the amount of used merchandise brought in has been just enough to keep the shelves stocked. Some new supplies, such as pet food, treats and aquarium gravel, are sold for convenience. Dog-grooming services were added recently by customer request and to create more repeat traffic.
Pet Garage (Petgarage.com) is located at 13692 Grove Dr. in Maple Grove. Winter hours are 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Grooming is by appointment with occasional walk-ins.