Serving the furriest C-Store customers

When it comes to traffic-driving destination services, convenience stores have not forgotten about consumers’ furry friends, with dog parks and pet washes becoming an important part of some retailers’ operations.

According to published reports, 78 percent of Americans who own pets travel with them, and many of their decisions are made around the availability of pet amenities. Hence, a convenience store with a pet walking or exercise area becomes a planned stop, with those pet owners also fueling up and purchasing food and beverages while they’re there.

Among professional truck drivers, 35 percent travel with pets — and they are always on the road, said Kevin Kelly, senior vice president of hospitality at TravelCenters of America Inc.

The travel center chain has had pet walking areas for 10 years. Today, they are at 238 locations, with the retailer constantly upgrading them. “Usually, it’s a nice green space with shade,” said Kelly. “You can grab a bag for the animal’s waste. We’ve been adding fences, benches and water.”

The retailer is considering adding dog washes to some locations as well.

Edmonton, Okla.-based OnCue Express goes all out with its 8,000-square-foot dog parks. Oversized dog statues make them highly visible from nearby interstates.

Fenced-in parks have separate areas for large and small breeds, along with watering troughs, shady areas, fake fire hydrants, and an agility course with ramps and other toys for dogs to climb on and jump through.

Along with walking areas and full-scale dog parks, pet washes can serve as a destination — and provide incremental income with minimal labor requirements. These washes benefit pet owners by eliminating the need to clean a messy bathtub at home.

Convenience store operator Family Express Corp., based in Valparaiso, Ind., is adding freestanding pet wash kiosks to “every location that can handle it,” President and CEO Gus Olympidis told Convenience Store News.

The turnkey, temperature-controlled kiosks come pre-assembled. Plumbing and electricity are connected in about 90 minutes.

The kiosks are decorated with faux fire hydrants and a custom “FE Pet Wash” sign. They provide 12 minutes of washing for $10. Soap, conditioner, flea/tick treatment, pet deodorizer and disinfectant are dispensed through a water sprayer. The washes are monitored via video camera.

Family Express is using digital promotions to tout the service.

Olympidis believes these pet washes send “a subliminal signal” about Family Express being what its name implies, since “pets are part of the family.”