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Pet store offers something different — organics

POSTED: July 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Smiley's Pets and Supplies opened Monday at 1210 Thompson Bridge Road. The store specializes in pet foods and treats that are made from natural or organic ingredients.

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Once again, there’s a pet store in the Publix shopping center on Thompson Bridge Road.

Smiley’s Pets and Supplies opened Monday in the space formerly occupied by Overflow Outfitters, and prior to that, Chapter 11 Books.

The new business is not related to a pet shop that operated at that location about seven years ago.

Sam Smiley, owner of the new store, said the owners of Overflow Outfitters were friends of his, and when he learned that the outdoor gear store was closing, he saw an opportunity.

"It seemed like a good location," he said. "There’s nothing else (selling pet-related merchandise) on this side of town."

Smiley’s main competitors in Gainesville are PetSmart on Dawsonville Highway and Village Pets, an independently owned store on John Morrow Parkway.

Is there enough room in the Gainesville market for another pet store? Smiley thinks so, and hopes he’ll be able to compete with the others based on customer service.

That involves "greeting people at the door and inviting them in, listening to their concerns, being honest with them, and having a clean facility," he said.

Smiley, 34, is the son of retired Gainesville veterinarian Samuel "Dick" Smiley. He grew up helping out at his dad’s clinic. After graduating from North Georgia College & State University, he lived for a while in Charleston, S.C., where he was employed at PetSmart.

Working at a "big box" pet store, he began to dream about having his own business and doing things his own way. Though his store is much smaller than the national pet retailers, he thinks he can compete on pricing.

"I’ll do my best, when I get a discount from my vendors, to pass it on to my customers," he said.

Smiley also carries a number of items not available anywhere else in Hall County. He specializes in organic and natural brands of pet foods and treats, and offers a full line of products from Natura, a California-based company whose slogan is "The healthiest pet food in the world."

"Natura doesn’t sell to the big-box stores," Smiley said, adding that consumer interest in natural and organic pet food has skyrocketed since the pet food recall scare last year.

He also plans to sell freshly made, all-natural dog treats made locally by the Pet Pleasers Bakery in Oakwood.

Ina Griffin, who with her husband, David, bought the bakery from its previous owners earlier this year, said they are working out an arrangement to have Smiley display their baked goods at his store.

"We had been talking about having a location north of (Oakwood), and Smiley’s would work out great for us," she said. "It would give us better distribution for our cookies, and our products fit in well with the other things he sells. It could benefit both of us."

Griffin said she doesn’t regard Smiley’s business as a threat to hers. "We’re specialized, so we’re not really in competition with him like some of the other stores are," she said.

Smiley also sells a variety of live animals, including birds, fish, reptiles, small mammals such as hamsters and rabbits and puppies.

The puppies are housed in a separate, glassed-in room. Smiley said he restricts public contact in order to reduce stress on the puppies and minimize the spread of germs.

He said he will carry mostly small breeds, "which is what more people seem to want these days." Each pup will come with a health warranty and can be returned within three days if there’s a problem.

Smiley acknowledges that some customers are wary of buying a dog from any pet store. Some stores acquire their dogs from "puppy mills," where the animals are treated poorly and are bred indiscriminately, with no motive other than profit.

But he said none of his suppliers fit that description. "We will inspect each breeder before we decide to use them, and make sure they’re licensed by the Department of Agriculture," he said.

Smiley hopes to offer grooming services within four to six months, once he gets the facilities put in. He has also installed an air exchanger in the building, to avoid the odors and humidity that plague some pet shops.

From past experience in the pet business, Smiley knows that little details like these are important to customers. And by getting the details right, he hopes to foster customer loyalty.

"If you don’t see what you’re looking for here, we can special order just about anything you want," he said.



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