By Jennifer Van Grove

The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego-based Petco announced Tuesday that it will no longer sell electronic pet collars, also known as shock collars, as it doubles down on animal health and wellness.

The decision, effective immediately, is more than just a symbolic gesture; it simultaneously puts to bed a $10 million-per-year business for the firm, which has stores in Muncy, Bloomsburg and Harrisburg.

However, the privately held company hopes that overall sales will see a lift as new and existing customers seek out alternative options such as online training classes and subscription veterinary care.

“Just about every pet parent wants to do the best thing for their pet, but if you ask them, 50% don’t know what that right thing to do is,” CEO Ron Coughlin said, couching the company’s no-shock-collar stance as a coaching moment for individuals, as opposed to an indictment on military or police use. “People don’t know how easy it is to get training help.”

Shock collars, sometimes called dog training collars, use an electric current of varying intensity as a means to curb unwanted behaviors.

They are readily available from a number of online retailers and are often marketed as a safe way to stop dogs from excessive barking, biting and jumping.

However, some pet professionals who preach positive reinforcement instead of averse training also believe the devices are harmful, and could lead to increased fear and anxiety.

Petco, then, is picking sides as it seeks to distance itself from a reputation as just another mass-commodity retailer.

The local company’s latest position builds on a decision made nearly two years ago to stop carrying cat and food with artificial ingredients, a philosophy that has since been applied to its reptile, ferret and fish food.

The overall strategy is emblematic of a broader view that what’s good for pets, is ultimately good for Petco’s bottom line.

The firm was likely emboldened by the success of its natural food campaign, which was amplified by a television spot in which cats and dogs storm a store and empty shelves.

“At that time, our business was in decline. It really made us known for something. ... It also fired up our store employees, because it was consistent with their core philosophy,” Coughlin said.

“(The decision to stop selling foods with artificial ingredients) helped start the turn around of the company.”

Valued at $4.6 billion in 2015 when it was purchased by a private equity firm, Petco does not currently publish its financials. The company would only disclose that it has enjoyed several consecutive quarters of growth. It looks to continue the trend with a deeper focus on services _ a recently launched online training platform, in particular _ and an all-new tagline denoting the company as, “Petco, the Health + Wellness Co.”

The continued shift toward services also underscores Coughlin’s stated mission to turn the company upside down, meaning employee values, as opposed to corporate interests, should drive its approach pet care.

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