Columbus, Ohio USA
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Canines and Felines
Posh Pets celebrates 10 years in the Short North
By Karen Edwards
November/December 2012 Issue
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Photos © Gus Brunsman III
Artist Bob Corkwell with Posh Pets owner Jo Johnson during an October Gallery Hop fundraiser. Bob drew caricatures of pets and their owners to benefit Peace for Paws.
The customer was a first-time pet owner – and the dog – well, simply adorable except for the raspy breath and discharge coming from its eyes. Posh Pets owner Jo Johnson loves helping first-time pet owners with all the paraphernalia they’ll need to keep their new family member safe and happy – the leashes and collars, food bowls and carriers, toys and treats. But this time, sales weren’t at the top of her mind.
“I really think you need to get your dog to an emergency room,” she told the owner. “Now.”
Later, the owner returned and thanked Johnson for saving his dog’s life.
For Johnson, it was just another day at her Posh Pets shop, a Short North fixture which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. That’s not a bad record at all for someone who began the business on a whim.
Of course, Johnson was already working in the animal business before the impulse struck. “I had a pet sitting service for five years, and many of my clients lived in the Short North,” says Johnson. “I was down here all the time and loved the area.”
She was also a familiar sight to many of the shop owners in the area as she walked various clients’ dogs up and down High Street and through the neighborhood. “We’d stop by one store or other and chat,” she says. Many of the store owners became her friend.
During all those social encounters, however, Johnson was also noticing that many of these shop owners were women. They had started a business just like she had – only with a brick-and-mortar component.
“I started to think if they could do it, so could I,” says Johnson.
A grand adventure
One day, she happened to be walking a client’s dog along High Street when she saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a small storefront. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, if this could be a neighborhood pet store? “There was a shop at Third and High that had some pet supplies,” Johnson recalls, but there was nothing in the area, or in the city for that matter, that was close to what she calls her “grand vision.”
“I had absolutely no retail experience,” Johnson says. But she knew she wanted to open a pet shop that would be the polar opposite of the city’s big-box pet retail stores. “I wanted a more intimate feel, a boutique with real quality merchandise,” she says.
Johnson is a woman who didn’t see starting a business as a risk. She saw it as an adventure – and one which would put her in good company. All those female shop owners she had stopped and chatted with over the years were her incentive, she says.
Johnson called the number on the “For Rent” sign and asked for the space. “The landlord wanted to see my business plan,” says Johnson with a laugh. “I didn’t have one, but I scrambled and came up with one.”
The next thing she knew, she was a shop owner – without inventory. She dashed to a trade show and opened Posh Pets just weeks later. Business was good from the start, she says. Her pet-sitting clientele were natural customers, but 10 years ago, it was difficult for the gay community to adopt children, so many of them lavished their attention on pets, she says. And they weren’t alone. “We were seeing an influx of young professionals to the area,” Johnson recalls – and many of them hadn’t started families yet. Instead, they had pets.
“I think people who love pets, really love them,” says Joan Schnee, owner of On Paper, next door to Posh Pets. “When Jo opened her store, I was happy to see it. It was nice to have a local resource for pet supplies.” When she was still alive, Savannah, Schnee’s “shop dog,” was a regular customer of Posh Pets. Now her two dogs Franklin and Bear stop by regularly.
Trending small…and large
Michelle Feige says she has been a regular customer of Posh Pets since the store opened. She and her eight-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Frankie, have even been featured in a commercial filmed in the store. “When Jo opened, I was thrilled to see she catered to small dogs,” says Feige. She has purchased coats and sweaters for her eight-year old Yorkshire terrier, Frankie, at Posh Pets, “because she really does get cold in the winter.”
But to stay in business, Johnson has to keep a careful eye on trends as well as keeping basic pet supplies on hand. “Yes, there are trends in the pet business,” says Johnson.
When Posh Pets opened in 2002, for example, young Hollywood starlets and social types were prancing around with tiny, well-dressed dogs in their purse. “The average dog size then was between three and five pounds,” says Johnson. Consequently, her initial inventory featured purse-carriers and clothing for very small dogs.
Several years later, however, pocket pooches were no longer the fad, and the size of the average dog had increased to between 12 and 15 pounds. “For some reason, trends skipped the eight to ten pound dog,” says Johnson. But larger size dogs meant Johnson had to adapt. She switched out much of her small dog inventory to reflect the larger size dog – more dog beds instead of carriers for example – but small dog owners like Feige needn’t worry. Johnson maintains items for dogs from one pound to 160 pounds and more.
Johnson has also set aside about 20 percent of her store for cat lovers. Why so small a portion? Ask a cat lover – they’ll know why. Johnson herself owns a cat, Miss Fiona, in addition to her dog, named, well, Dog. “I figured when I was old and couldn’t remember my dog’s name, at least I could remember what he was, so I call him Dog,” says Johnson.
Like the majority of cats, however, Miss Fiona is discerning. All cats are discerning. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard, ‘I brought this toy home for my cat, but they won’t pick it up,’ I’d be rich,” she says. The same is likely to be true with food, treats, collars, you name it. Cats aren’t out to please you – and they really don’t care if you’re out to please them. “I have a theory about people who say they don’t like cats,” says Johnson. “I think they’re probably control freaks.” But because felines are so independent, it also means they are apportioned a smaller share of the store. Yet what is stocked there is “Miss Fiona approved.” “I test toys on my cat,” says Johnson. “If she’ll play with it, it goes on the shelf.”
Angela Fowler, owner of Super Shine window-cleaning company, and a long-time Posh Pet customer, attests to the “Miss Fiona Seal of Approval.” She owns four cats, and she says everything she has purchased from Posh Pets has been a winner with all of them. “The stick with the feather? My cats will play with that all day long,” she says. “And Jo carries organic cat nip which smells stronger than regular cat nip. My cats like it better,” says Fowler. She even had a veterinarian comment on one of her cat’s collars. “He asked me where I got it,” she says. “I told him Posh Pets.”
Education and support
Owner Jo Johnson helps local pet charities, including Columbus Dog Connection.
What Johnson’s customers also like is that much of what she carries is aimed at enriching the pet’s experience or solving typical pet owner’s problems. Feige talks about a water bottle she bought at Posh Pets that comes with a bowl attached. “We walk in Goodale Park every afternoon,” she says. Now, when Frankie gets thirsty, she has her own private drinking bowl ready for her – and Feige doesn’t have to tote both a water bottle and a bowl along on the walk. It’s a simple thing, but one that makes pet owners’ lives so much easier.
For Johnson, solving problems is part of the pleasure of doing business. She also works hard to educate owners on their pet’s nutritional needs and emotional well-being. “Education is a big part of what I do each day,” says Johnson.
Yet there’s another side to Posh Pets that not everyone is aware of – and that’s Johnson’s work with various pet charities in the city. Both of Johnson’s pets are rescued, and she donates food regularly to both dog and cat rescue shelters. But because some of the large corporations donate food as well – and more than Johnson can afford to give – she has also searched out small, local groups to help. She donates food to the local Meals on Wheels program, for example, so that house-bound seniors can feed their pets as they are fed. And she just connected with a new city program that provides food to pets of the city’s homeless population. “Those pets really need to keep up their calorie count, especially during the winter,” she says.
Of course, those groups are grateful for Johnson’s ongoing support. Yet her customers already know that Johnson’s heart is as big as her outreach.
“She’s the mainstay of the neighborhood,” says Feige. “She’s involved in so much. It doesn’t even have to be pet related. She helps promote other businesses; she even helps with community improvement jobs, like painting.”
Schnee says Johnson’s support and guidance was invaluable to her when her dog Savannah was dying. “She was so helpful,” Schnee says. “She was there and she told me what to expect.”
For Johnson, her customers have become like family, she says. Johnson is divorced and has a grown daughter in Denver, Colorado, but has no other family around her. She was an only child, so the friendships she’s made throughout the neighborhood and across the years have become as close to her as family might be.
“I enjoy life and I enjoy people,” says Johnson. “The store has been a platform to building friendships for me. I’m grateful that I’ve been here for so long and I’m able to contribute to a community that has been so gracious to me.”
Johnson says she takes each day as it comes, so she has no grand plans in mind for the next 10 years. She once looked into expanding her store to other locations, but dismissed the idea after finding no location that was as walkable, friendly and affordable as the Short North.
Her customers are just glad to have Posh Pets in the neighborhood – as well as Johnson’s vast pet experience and her sunny disposition. And whether the store stays for another 10 years – or another 50 – doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t go away too soon.
“I wish her continued success,” says Schnee. Adds Feige “I hope she gets back everything she’s given.”
As for Johnson, she says there’s little doubt that Posh Pets will remain a Short North fixture for some time to come. She has no plans to leave the area, and she can’t imagine retiring or leaving the pet shop business anytime soon. After all, says Johnson, she is happy doing what she’s doing – in a community she loves, and with friends all around her.
Besides, she asks: “Who doesn’t like to receive puppy kisses every day?”
Posh Pets, located at 743 N. High St., is open Monday through Saturday 11 to 7, and Sunday from Noon to 5. For more information, visit poshpetsboutique.com or call 614-299-PETS.
© 2012 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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