Pet stores were one of the businesses deemed essential during the COVID-19 shutdown. But, given that people were self-isolating, working from home, and ordering more necessities online rather than stepping into a brick-and-mortar shop, how have local pet stores fared over the past three months, and how are they doing now post-lockdown and heading into the dog days of summer? Recently, I spoke with two Hoboken pet store owners, Mike DiGuido, the owner of Hoboken Pet (524 Washington St.), and Meagan Matthews who owns Cornerstone Pets (105 Ninth St.), to find out how the pandemic has affected business.
Hoboken Residents Left Town
“A lot of people went to their summer homes or left town,” DiGuido said, which led to fewer in-store customers and sales. “In turn, we saw a big flux of people clearing out the shelters, and getting new puppies and kittens that needed food, litter, and maybe accessories.” The new rescues and adoptions helped to balance his business. “So, we were lucky,” he added.
As for Cornerstone Pets, Matthews said, “Our pickup and delivery has increased, but there’s been less foot traffic in the store due to restrictions. So we’re very grateful that our customers have continued to support us.” Matthews also noted the increase in adoptions. “The most exciting change we’ve seen is the number of new pet parents and foster pet parents. Lots of people really stepped up to help shelters and rescue groups by fostering. And all of that fostering led to adoptions.”
Increased Sales in Pet Food and Treats
A few challenges DiGuido cited are similar to those that many retail businesses have faced during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown: logistics and competition. “The problem was with the distributors. They weren’t able to refill the orders. Manufacturers couldn’t keep up with capacity, due to not having or getting resources and people not coming into work,” he said. “But, eventually, customers did receive the products they had ordered from the store.”
He noted that Hoboken Pet saw a spike in staples product sales, due to competitors’ delivery issues. For instance, “Chewy’s wasn’t able to keep up with deliveries. So a lot of people who were using Chewy’s, came to us [instead] because they couldn’t wait three or four weeks for their products. So that’s where we saw a spike in food and litter.”
Matthews cited similar drivers of her business. “In the very beginning of the pandemic, we saw an increase in items like food, treats and litter as people were stocking up,” she said. “We’ve been able to help new customers who weren’t able to get shipments from Amazon and Chewy keep their pets supplied with everything they need.”
Increased Sales in Toys and Accessories
Besides staples, “The accessories part was stable,” according to DiGuido. Sales of toys not only helped these businesses, but helped pet parents keep their sanity. “Once the stay at home order was in place and the parks closed, our customers were looking for interactive toys and ways to keep their dogs and cats occupied while they worked from home,” Matthews said.
(Interestingly, the increase in the the pet food sales at these stores is in line with a current trend seen in pet brand advertising. A recent MediaRadar survey showed ad spending on cat food brands increased 38% percent year-over-year and dog food ad spending gained 17% year-over-year, from March 8 to May 23.)
Help From Loyal Hoboken Customers
As a small business owner, DiGuido filed for federal aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, he did not receive any assistance because the money ran out. As a result, he had to let his only employee go, but he was able to rehire him after a month. DiGuido acknowledges the community’s continued support in a homemade thank you sign that hangs in the front window of his shop. It reads, “The only help we received was from our Loyal Customers. Thank you for keeping us afloat. Please stay safe!”
Matthews was lucky enough to keep all employees on staff. “One of my employees needed to be able to work from home due to the pandemic, and we figured out a way to enable her to do so,” she added.
As of Monday, June 15, more businesses in New Jersey were allowed to open with a maximum number of customers equal to 50% of usual capacity. As customers, it’s important for us to remember to be patient with businesses during this transition. “We’re doing our best to provide a safe shopping environment, and constantly working to adapt to our customers’ changing needs during the pandemic,” stated Matthews.
Monitoring Traffic in the Shop
“We monitor traffic, and I see people self-monitoring all the time. If they see people inside, they’ll usually wait outside or walk around the block or something,” DiGuido said. In addition to a limited number of customers, each customer must wear a mask while in the store and maintain a social distancing measure of six feet.
Foot traffic is a welcome sign, especially now with so many people out of work and customers more conscious of how they spend their money. As a certified pet nutritionist, DiGuido is more than willing to help customers find the best nutritional value food for their pet. He added that pet owners “would probably go without than to take their dog or cat away from what they feed them” and what they need.
Shop Hoboken Local
In addition to taking care of our pets, we can help our Hoboken community by buying from local businesses, such as Hoboken Pet and Cornerstone Pet. Other ways to help include sharing the businesses’ social media posts and writing online reviews for the stores. “We want to know how we’re doing so that we can make sure we’re giving our customers the best service possible,” Matthews said. “Most importantly, send or tag us in photos of your pets, it makes us so happy to see them!”
Both owners ended the conversation on an optimistic note. “We’ve been seeing people welcoming new puppies into their families, which has resulted in overwhelming cuteness at the store,” said Matthews. DiGuido believes that the overall nature of pet people is good. “Customers are cognizant of what’s going on, so they know that supporting local is a good thing to do. And that’s all we can ask for.”
524 Washington St.
Hoboken, NJ 07030
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 9am-8pm, Sun 11am-6pm