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WNC Business

Customer relationships are the foundation of shopping local

Nov 21, 2023 01:41PM ● By Randee Brown

Considering her choice of owning a retail business a lifestyle more than a job, Caroline Gunther, Owner of Wag! A Unique Pet Boutique said she cares about the relationships between people and their pets.

Gunther feels that this genuine enjoyment of watching people with their pets is reflected in the customer service and helps to build relationships, which contributes to the success of the Downtown Hendersonville store.

“Sometimes I can lose sight of that when dealing with inventory,” Gunther said. “But I genuinely enjoy supporting the relationship people have with their pets.”

Repeat customers sometimes visit Wag! weekly, three times a week, or even daily, according to Gunther. They may not make a purchase every time, but she has seen people stop in just to enjoy a conversation.

“People have come in right after they’ve put their dog to sleep or their cat just got diagnosed with cancer,” Gunther said. “They feel they can talk through these things with our staff, and people need support and they need these conversations. Sometimes they come in just to hang out and chat. Our staff is really friendly and talkative.”

Located in a former office rather than a designated retail space, Wag! cannot rely on window displays to attract customers like other retail businesses. Instead, Gunther sets up outdoor displays and plays fun music on an outdoor speaker to create an inviting environment before people even come into her store.

To boost excitement for her customers, Gunther began a loyalty program a few years ago. She said while some pet food brands already had a frequent buyer program, she added to those existing programs to help her customers earn points and get money off of future purchases.

“People love getting a free item or seeing that $10 Off coupon,” Gunther said. “It encourages them to come back for more.”

In recent years, both PetSmart and PetCo have opened locations in Hendersonville. Though Wag! is younger than some of her competition, Gunther considers it a validation of her choice of opening a pet store in the area. She also doesn’t necessarily consider them a threat, but rather believes online retailers are the biggest threat to every brick-and-mortar retail location, including ‘big box stores.’

Not only is it more difficult to find the appropriate fit for items like harnesses online, Gunther said some people don’t understand what it means to spend dollars locally. Shopping locally means so much more than shopping online no matter the size of the store. She said it means that someone living in the county has a job, and they are going to spend money here and some of that money is going to come back to the county.

“People who work in those stores live here; they have houses and they are investing their time and life into the community, and there are people that understand that,” Gunther said. “Those that support local are important, and we want to continue offering a good experience to make sure that those people feel well taken care of."

Being located in Downtown Hendersonville with mostly independent, locally-owned businesses, Gunther said she feels people like finding a variety of interesting things to see. There are some locally-owned franchises as well, such as Kilwins and Mast General Store, and she said even nationwide franchises are owned and operated by locals.

Downtown Hendersonville is a nice environment, according to Gunther. Flower displays and clean sidewalks are appealing to visitors, and events can be instrumental in drawing different visitors at different times, depending on the event’s attendees and the business’s target market.

“Main Street is just so wonderful,” Gunther said. “The City works hard to make it a lovely place to be, and it really feels like downtown is for everyone.”