Sunday, July 13, 2003

Pass It On Pet Supplies offers low-cost options

Enterprise insight

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

SHARONVILLE - Tina McCarty knows plenty about living on a budget. As the mother of five boys, she's an expert in finding top-drawer merchandise at bargain prices. She scours resale and consignment outlets for everything from toys to togs.

"When my sons want Abercrombie and Fitch stuff, we go to Plato's Closet," she said, referring to the consignment chain that features teen clothes from coveted brands. "Play It Again Sports - I love the concept."

So when McCarty bought a puppy New Year's Eve of 2001, she immediately began looking for bargains on pet supplies.

"I was trying to be real thrifty, especially since my husband wasn't crazy about my buying a dog," she related. "But it was winter and there were no yard sales, nothing in the paper. And when you add the shipping costs for eBay purchases, you lose the savings."

That's when the idea for Pass It On Pet Supplies was born. McCarty did some quick research and found no pet equipment consignment store existed. Her instincts told her that she could fill the void.

First, she consulted her parents, John and Pat Razeti, whose business acumen she respected. With encouragement and help from them, she went scouting locations and learned of CMC Properties' purchase of the Crystal View shopping plaza in Sharonville. Some quick negotiations with the owner netted McCarty an affordable but less-than-visible location.

Her next move was to attend a half-day small-business conference presented by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). When she then signed on as a client of the free business counseling service, she was assigned to Robert Kramer. He began by reviewing her property choice.

"I got involved before Tina signed the lease on her space, and went out and looked at it. I wasn't impressed," he said. "It wasn't at the front of the plaza, but she said the rent was low and that she could solve the visibility problem with good signage."

Kramer also recommended that McCarty gut the interior, which had been a salon and was divided up into cubicles. The entrepreneur told him she couldn't afford the cost of having that done, and had decided to use the small rooms as a way of sorting and displaying her merchandise. That has worked well, she said recently.

"I came up with my 'little house' idea," she explained. "One room is the kitchen, with all the food-related merchandise. Then there's the 'bathroom' and the 'bedroom.' "

The store's rear entrance opens out onto a loading dock with access to water, which has been a boon for receiving and cleaning larger items. McCarty devised a signage system that is consistent, eye-catching and directs people from the entrance of the shopping center around to her second-row location.

"She is a bright lady," Kramer said. "She picked a good geographic location that had a rental rate she could afford. And she made it work."

Kramer urged McCarty to install security features in her store. He also guided her through the process of getting necessary permits and licenses and coached her on strategies for low-cost marketing.

"In marketing, you try to do things that are not real expensive," Kramer said. "For instance, I always encourage clients to use the back of their business card to offer a discount or special, to get people into your store. I also tell them to do networking and to cross-promote.

"What was nice with Tina: You gave her an idea, she would do it and just kind of go for it. She followed up on my suggestions and made contacts with animal shelters and vets."

McCarty watched her pennies on large items and small. She got a good deal on fixtures from the Tri-County Service Merchandise store, which was closing. To display her business cards at pet-related locations, she uses cassette tape cases, which fold back to make a stand and cost much less than regular cardholders.

Pass It On Pet Supplies isn't McCarty's first business venture. She built a day care center from the ground up and operated it for 10 years. And her resale/consignment shop has viable business models to follow. But success lies in the details, and McCarty has paid plenty of attention to those.

She has been thorough in her networking and cross-marketing efforts, even contacting vocational schools that train students for animal-related careers. She advertises in the Dog Owner's Guide and calls all other advertisers in each issue to make sure they know about Pass It On Pet Supplies. Her business participates in pet events like West Chester's Dog Fest. She markets the shop through the county animal shelters and groups such as PAWS.

"I have no problem referring people to her," said Donna Pruett, events coordinator for the Warren County Animal Shelter. "I've purchased things myself from her. Pass It On Pet Supplies helps people to afford their animals."

"This is a tried-and-true concept," McCarty said, noting the popularity of resale shops for everything from baby clothes to home furnishings. "If this business doesn't take off, it's because I didn't get the word out."

McCarty's short-term goal is to establish satellite locations in the new animal shelters planned by Warren, Butler and Clermont counties. Designs for these new facilities originally incorporated gift shops but the organizations have shown an interest in having a budget-wise alternative, she said.

And her long-term goal? She thinks about Once Upon a Child, Play It Again Sports and Plato's Closet.

"I'd like my business to be available to franchise," she said.

Picking it up or passing it on

Pass It On Pet Supplies carries equipment for reptiles, small mammals and dogs and cats, but not fish. It has a good supply of pet containers, including bird cages and perches. There is also grooming equipment, cat furniture, travel accessories, training equipment and even invisible fencing. The store will rent items such as pet carriers; it also stocks some new merchandise.

Folks with pet equipment to sell can choose between an immediate cash payment of 20 percent of the retail price or leave the item on consignment for an ultimate 50 percent of the sale price.

While Pass It On Pet Supplies uses a steam cleaner to make sure that all equipment is sanitary, the company asks that items arrive free of urine and fecal matter.

The store is at 11974 Lebanon Road (U.S. 42) just north of 275. Information: 563-PETS.

For information about SCORE's programs and services, or to volunteer as a SCORE counselor, contact 684-2812 or



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