National chain stores to open in 2012

Photo by Rosemarie Alexander. Click to enlarge.

Two new major chain stores will open in Juneau in the New Year.

Office Max has a target date of February; Petco expects a noon opening on Monday, Jan. 2nd. Both stores are located at the Mallard Street end of Nugget Mall.

Petco is expanding in Alaska, under this philosophy:

“We no longer really have pets, we have family members now that just happen to have four legs,” says General Manager Barry Goodson, who says he started at the company about a decade ago when he was looking for a career change.

“They were building a new Petco. There was a hiring-now banner. I went in and sat down and talked to them. Started as a part-time freight guy and worked my way through every job inside the store until I got this job as general manager,” he says.

Goodson was managing a Petco in the Spokane area when he was tapped to manage the new Juneau store. He’s one of two managers the corporation has imported. Goodson hired the other 23 employees from the capital city.

Petco started as a mail-order veterinary supply business 56 years ago. A privately held corporation, it now has more than one-thousand stores in all 50 states, including two in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. Construction begins next summer on a Petco in Soldotna, according to retail consultant David Irwin. He says the company is also studying Wasilla.

“They look at the pets population and they look at what exists for pet supply stores and they figured it was ripe for Petco,” Irwin says.

Juneau’s dog population is probably about 7,000, according to CBJ Animal Control, though only half of those are licensed, as required by law. No estimate of cats and other pets; they don’t need to be licensed.

Consultant Irwin says the corporation figures this small town of about 31,275 people has plenty of pets and with only one store dedicated to them, Juneau is an underserved market.

But Southeast Alaska is losing population and the capital city’s growth has been miniscule. The government sector keeps Juneau stable, says Dan Robinson, chief of the Research and Analysis section for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“It’s not growing much,” he says, “but it may be that it shows up on the matrix as an underserved retail market.”

Juneau’s history with national chain stores has been sketchy. Sort of here today, gone in just a few years. Robinson says one factor is Juneau’s work force. Large stores here are often hiring due to employee turnover.

“That’s kind of a constant in Juneau. We don’t have a big supply of workers who can afford to live here on lower than average wages, which retail jobs tend to be,” Robinson says.

Petco manager Goodson says the company pays a little better than minimum wage and offers benefits to employees who work at least 20 hours a week. He says he’s tried to hire people who will stay with the company.

The new Petco has what Goodson calls 8,200 shopable square feet. The rest of the more than 11,000 square-foot space is storeroom and grooming.

The only animals the store will carry are reptiles, fresh and salt water fish, some birds and small furry mammals. Though it does not sell dogs and cats, it carries all sorts of canine and feline supplies, will offer dog training and has a grooming salon, staffed by local professionals.

Part-time employee Carty Neill was stocking dog shampoos, conditioners and deodorizers the day I visited the store. When it opens, she’ll be using some of the products in her training to become a professional groomer, something she says she’s done for years as an amateur.

“I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to do something I love and get paid for it too,” Neill says.

Retail expert Irwin has been a consultant for Nugget Mall and Petco. He says PetSmart also was looking at the Juneau market.

“And it’s first guy in wins,” he says.

Irwin says Petco and Office Max will be the last big stores to move to Juneau for a while.

State labor economist Neal Fried says national chains most often move geographically; Alaska is a big stretch.

“It’s a logistical leap,” Fried says. “You know you can’t just drive in a truck and open a new store and supply it.”

Photo by Rosemarie Alexander. Click to enlarge.

The Juneau Petco will have higher shipping costs than its other stores, even those on Alaska’s road system. Irwin predicts Juneau shoppers will see it in price.

“I’m sure that the average price of things will be more expensive in Juneau simply because of shipping,” Irwin says.

Petco is a mega store by comparison to Juneau’s only current pet shop. Wee Fishie is just across the Nugget Mall parking lot.

It’s been in business for two decades and is currently owned by Andrew Nelson and Emiliano Ruiz. While Ruiz declined to talk on tape, he has said he’ll weather whatever storm the competition might bring.

Petco’s Goodson says he expects to be a good neighbor.

“Hope it goes well, because I really believe there’s a niche for both of us here,” he says.

Goodson says the corporation prides itself on being community-oriented and plans to be involved in Juneau. He’s been in town about a month now and will soon be settling into a home with a boxer, a cat and fish.

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