Petstuff Inc. frets about coral reefs, overpopulation


September 18, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Petstuff Inc., a pet "superstore" with aspirations of becoming a national chain, will let its cat-less, dog-less concept out of the kennel today as it opens its first store in Glen Burnie.

The store is the first of three opening in suburban Baltimore in the next two weeks. A Towson store will open Wednesday, and a Catonsville store will open Oct. 1, said Jim Flanegan, president and chief executive of the fledgling firm.

While Petstuff is based in Atlanta, Mr. Flanegan said, it will roll out its first stores here because "there are an awful lot of good pet demographics in Baltimore." More than 44 percent of the households within five miles of the three stores own pets, he said.

The concept is a St. Bernard among pet stores, with each Petstuff having a typical size of 18,000 square feet.

"Think of an Office Depot or Staples for pet supplies instead of office supplies and you can imagine the size," said Mr. Flanegan, who was chief executive of the Imaginarium toy chain before moving to launch Petstuff.

Petstuff will carry a vast array of pet supplies and small pets, he said, but nowhere in the store will you find a cage with a forlorn-looking puppy or kitten for sale.

"The terrifying fact is we're putting 8 million animals to sleep this year," Mr. Flanegan said. "We figure there are enough animals in existence already." He added that Petstuff would prefer that customers "buy good-quality dogs from reputable breeders, or to adopt."

The executive, himself the owner of two golden retrievers, said there would be dogs on display at the store but that those would be animals put up for adoption by agencies. He said Petstuff would provide about $30 worth of merchandise free -- offsetting the cost of neutering -- to anybody adopting a dog shown in one of his stores.

Petstuff will sell hamsters, lizards, domestically raised birds and about 340 species of freshwater fish, Mr. Flanegan said. He added that Petstuff will not sell saltwater fish because the company's research shows that ocean fish are gathered in a way that damages coral reefs.

Mr. Flanegan said Petstuff's unusual policies are inspired by his love for animals -- but he also expects them to be good business. The puppies and kittens displayed at many pet stores are a depressing sight for many customers, he says, and helping people adopt a dog or cat, in effect, creates a new customer.

While Petstuff is a new venture, it is a well-financed one. Mr. Flanegan said the company is being launched with $11 million by a group that includes several venture capital firms with experience in retailing.

Mr. Flanegan said he expects to have six or seven stores open in the Baltimore area by next year, taking advantage of an abundance of inexpensive retail space. Two more stores will open in Atlanta around Thanksgiving, he said.

If the concept proves successful in its Baltimore test, Petstuff expects to roll out about 100 stores east of the Mississippi over the next five years, Mr. Flanegan said. Eventually, he expects the chain to go national.

As it expands, Petstuff will be vying with other firms that are trying to stake out an identity as the "category killer" in the pet field, including Phoenix, Ariz.-based Pet Smart and San Diego-based Petco, which is expected to enter the Baltimore market soon.

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