Eric Abbey is extraordinarily busy these days.
“Things are crazy lately,” said Abbey, the owner of Loving Pets Products in Cranbury. “We're in the process of extending our reach to the U.K., so we've got our guy from over there around for a little while showing him how we do things.”
In other words, personalized customer service — even at a small business — can reach across the Atlantic.
Abbey wouldn't have it any other way. He knows his customers play an integral part in their business. But his customers are different.
As a B2B company, Loving Pets has to take care of retailers who will in turn take care of the customers. It's the reason his company chooses to deal mostly with smaller groups.
“Supporting the smaller, independent retailers is critical because they have the opportunity to go the extra mile to serve by listening to each pet owner's individual needs,” Abbey said.
Loving Pets has a dedicated team that educates the owners and employees of these retail outlets. With this added background in the product, the retailers are better prepared to inform their own customers on the benefits of the Loving Pets Products.
“We go in and detail those small shops and educate them on our products,” he said. “This way they have a bigger base knowledge of our product. You have more of an ability to educate in smaller retail outlets because usually the owners are there.”
Laurie Ehlbeck, the New Jersey director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said Abbey has the right idea.
“It's how a small business stands apart from big-box stores and big business,” she said. “They might not be able to offer the variety or amount of product, so specialization of each customer is key.”
This is why customer education, both at a B2B and B2C level, is so crucial in maintaining the company's sales, especially for consumers who base purchasing decisions solely on price points.
“There's always something cheaper on the shelves,” Abbey said. “But there's usually a reason for that, and we manage to maintain a pretty competitive price point for what our product offers.”
Abbey and his distributors have a special appreciation of the level of customer service that can be provided by smaller, independent retailers as opposed to big-box stores.
Tony Caporale, co-owner of Caporale Pet Supplies in Forked River, a distributor of Loving Pets, said this is bigger than most people realize.
“The independent store is a baseline to anything new,” he said. “When you walk into a big-box store, you have to find an associate who probably doesn't have much knowledge or any training with these products. Someone in a small, independent store will have the ability to listen to the customer's needs to give them a product that is the right fit.”
“Having this type of one-on-one relationship with these small retailers is the best way to know that your mission and concerns as a brand” are being reached by the consumer, he said.
They also can lead to new ways of doing business.
In fact, Loving Pets' biggest decision — to manufacture its pet treats in the U.S. — came straight from feedback.
“We were one of the first companies to transition to U.S. manufacturing of pet treats around the 2007 pet food scare,” he said. “A lot of people were calling our offices, saying they loved our product but didn't understand why we had to ship from overseas. As a result, we decided we should start to diversify ourselves and make our products here.”
Abbey feels the move has paid off in more than just new revenue.
“It's great beyond the quality and safety standpoint,” he said. “I have kids and sometimes you worry about the future and the economy. I'm happy we're making something here.”
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THE BIZ IN BRIEF
NAME: Loving Pets Products
OWNER: Eric Abbey
ONE MORE THING: Abbey, who took over the company in 2007, represents the fourth generation of ownership.