Southern Barker, PPN’s 2022-2023 Retailer of the 12 months, Goes All In on Providers | Business Profiles


Pet homeowners can combine and match treats and chews from the Barker Bar.

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The ripple impact, the place seemingly peculiar occasions serve to information others towards an sudden path in life, generally manifests profound outcomes. Such is the case with Charlie, a diminutive, fastidious poodle, and Lily, a bigger, extra energetic Portuguese water canine. Their impact on the lives of the mother-and-daughter duo of Leslie and Sarah Stewart, homeowners of Southern Barker in Lexington, Ky., has proved extraordinary.

“We had Charlie for about 10 years, and he was an amazing supply of consolation to our household throughout some troubling instances,” Leslie says. “So, we determined to get one other canine and thought we’d go larger, and introduced Lily, a Portuguese water canine, dwelling.”

“As a toy poodle, Charlie was your customary lap canine. He was so good, however he actually simply preferred to put on the sofa,” Sarah says. “My dad wished an even bigger, extra lively canine—one that might exit on his boat.”

Lily was, certainly, in contrast to Charlie, and as she was the household’s first feminine canine, Leslie and Sarah envisioned cute, female outfits but hard-playing toys.

After visiting unbiased pet shops and chains within the space, they had been dismayed by the dearth of decisions and started to check their very own institution, one stocked with distinctive gadgets and wholesome treats.

Additional, Lily suffered from pores and skin allergic reactions, and so the ladies started to discover dietary choices as an answer, resulting in an curiosity within the results of meals on the decision of those points.

“Lily is loads of what impressed Southern Barker,” Leslie says.

On the time, Sarah was learning advertising in faculty, and for her, each enterprise task centered round this shop-owning reverie.

“My tasks consisted of our future canine retailer,” she says. “So when the time got here, we had been able to go together with imaginative and prescient boards, enterprise plans, and many others.”

On the design finish, Leslie contributed her personal experience. She was already the creator of a well-liked inside design weblog in Lexington and had expertise in retail and merchandising, so when the duo mixed forces, it was a match made in heaven.

The doorways to Southern Barker opened in November 2017. The enterprise was sited in 1,000 sq. ft of area that includes that dream stock.

“In the end, when it got here proper all the way down to it, we realized that we had been creating the canine retailer that we’d wish to store at,” Leslie says. “We didn’t desire a retailer filled with aisles; we wished a caring place that felt like dwelling.”

To create a homey environment, fixtures and furnishings weren’t solely bought from dwelling shops, but in addition arrived from the Stewart family.

“It looks like dwelling to us as a result of there are items of our dwelling within the shops, and I believe that actually resonates with our purchasers,” Sarah says.

It’s a Southern vibe, centered on hospitality and luxury.

“When folks assume Southern, they assume hospitality, and that’s our focus,” Leslie says. “Our clients are moving into an extension of our dwelling, and we would like them to really feel welcome and to assume, ‘Wow, that is so cool!’”

In March, the Stewarts took their zeal for the care and feeding of canine to a brand new stage with the opening of a 9,000-square-foot facility in downtown Lexington providing retail, doggie day care and grooming providers.


Homeowners Leslie (left) and Sarah Stewart

Sit a Spell

Relationship-building kinds the core of the Southern Barker ideology.

“We wish to be a spot that reminds our clients of why they wish to store native,” Sarah says. “We take the time to recollect our clients and their canine, and welcome them like finest associates.”

It’s a gracious ambiance, however together with pleasing environment and a heat welcome, the ladies spotlight belief as central to the success of their enterprise. And each imagine that belief is fostered by means of honesty.

“Being upfront and trustworthy in dealing with a scenario creates belief,” Sarah says. “Folks admire that.”

It’s an integrity that permeates all through the enterprise.

“If a buyer is available in with a query about diet and I don’t know the reply, I inform them that I’ll perform a little research and get again to them with my findings,” Leslie says. “I by no means wish to mislead a buyer if I have no idea the reply.”

Product high quality is one other avenue to fostering client confidence.

“If a consumer is sad with a product, we’ll take it again,” Sarah says. “We wish to maintain that good relationship.”

In helping clients in product choice, they usually depend on private expertise.

“My canine strive the whole lot, and I could make suggestions from there. As an example, for a canine with a delicate abdomen, I’d steer a buyer away from a sure deal with that upset my very own canine’s abdomen,” Sarah says. “They like that non-public suggestions.”

These testimonials additionally carry range of opinion to the decision-making course of.

“As an example, for a buyer on the lookout for our hardest chew, I’ll present them my alternative and clarify why I prefer it, after which I’ll level out Sarah’s favourite and why she likes that one,” Leslie notes.

Ease of contact between clients and the homeowners and staff furthers Southern Barker’s private contact.

“We use iPhones within the retailer, and when somebody sends a textual content to the shop, I may also have a look at it on my iPad,” Sarah says. “I’ve loads of purchasers in my cellphone, with an image of their canine and its identify.”

For these causes, when contemplating a brand new rent, Sarah notes that whereas a love of canine is essential, an outgoing, caring character is of equal significance.

As soon as onboard, new associates spend time shadowing Leslie or Sarah as they be taught the ropes, develop a primary understanding of dietary data, together with label studying, and evaluate regularly requested questions.

“I additionally emphasize that it’s OK to name on us if they’re requested a query and don’t know the reply,” Sarah says.

Staff purchase additional data by means of product coaching offered by producer representatives.


An Increasing Combine

Whereas the unique product combine consisted of treats, chews, toys and boutique equipment, together with dwelling décor gadgets, meals regularly joined the choices, and the stock has grown.

“Initially, we didn’t inventory meals as a result of I don’t really feel comfy promoting one thing that I don’t utterly perceive; nonetheless, clients had been asking for meals, and I wasn’t going to say no,” Sarah says.

She dove in together with her personal analysis, turning into licensed in pet diet by means of a course supplied by Canines Naturally, {a magazine} that additionally supplies skilled coaching on pure canine merchandise.

At this time, meals choices embody a variety of manufacturers masking a full spectrum of codecs together with uncooked, dehydrated, freeze-dried, kibble and canned.

“We stock just a little little bit of the whole lot,” she provides. “Some are these I used to be making an attempt out with Lily. If I discovered one I preferred, I might carry it in.”

For Sarah, seeing the consequences diet has had on her personal animals has fueled an enthusiasm that continues to spark an exploration of dietary choices.

Charlie spurred an introduction to uncooked meals in addition to the advantages of cannabidiol (CBD).

“After we opened our retailer, Charlie was recognized with most cancers,” she says. “At commerce reveals, folks would counsel goat’s milk to kill the most cancers cells. So we tried it, and I seen an enormous distinction in his conduct. CBD was one other recreation changer for him.”

Sarah is devoted to bettering the lives of her purchasers’ canine and gives free dietary counseling.

In the case of treats, the Barker Bar gives goodies for each canine style.

“Our Barker Bar is one in every of our best-sellers,” she says. “It began out with a couple of fill-up treats, like canine biscuits and cookies and a can of bully sticks.”

At this time, a wealth of scoopable treats is accessible in penny jars, the place clients combine and match and pay by the ounce on the register. An abundance of chews, dehydrated treats, bones, antlers, and physique elements is displayed in buckets. Southern Barker’s personal Barker Baked Items are one other well-liked providing.

The Barker Membership, a month-to-month subscription service, was initiated throughout the pandemic shutdown in an effort to replace homebound clients on new or present merchandise. The membership carries on at the moment. The themed packing containers would possibly include a thriller merchandise, a toy, a bag of treats or a bakery cookie and loads of samples.

“A theme throughout final summer season’s Olympics was our personal Barker Olympics,” Sarah says.

Inside, subscribers discovered an inventory of unique Barker Olympic occasions, a Barker Baked Items Peanut Butter Cartwheel cookie, a tug toy for a tug-a-thon, a tennis ball for a 500-meter fetch, a bag of treats and a bully stick chew.

The membership packing containers can be bought individually and are well-liked as presents, significantly throughout the vacation season.

Birthday pets are feted year-round by means of the Barker Birthday Membership. Furry celebrants savor a free, yogurt-dipped Sprinkle Bone, whereas pet homeowners browse the birthday part for a reduced congratulatory toy, shirt, bow tie or bakery cookie.

On-line gross sales add comfort, and a partnership with NextPaw, an organization that builds cloud know-how and gives a instrument to assist pet provide retailers appeal to extra native clients, augments the procuring expertise.

“If I’ve somebody on the lookout for a particular design, say in a canine collar, I can pull up our web site and present them what’s obtainable to order on-line,” Sarah says. “It’s been actually good for bulkier gadgets, like canine beds, which we haven’t had room for in our smaller retailer, and positively with meals as a result of we will provide extra proteins with out having to inventory them.”


Going Massive

The spacious new 9,000-square-foot location options Barker College Enrichment day care providers, salon and spa grooming, and a retail retailer. A grand opening is within the planning phases.

“We began with a tender opening, and enterprise is rising,” Sarah says.

Whereas Lily nonetheless stars as brand canine for the retail retailer and Barker College, the grooming salon motif is a particular tribute to Charlie, who handed in 2019.

“Charlie was such an enormous a part of our dog-loving journey, and we wished to create a brand new brand in his honor,” Sarah says. “He was the prissy one who by no means wished to get soiled, so he’s positively our salon canine.”

The teal-colored salon tubs had been vital and though designed as self-wash tubs, they match the specified décor.

“We wished the look to be glam, like a high-end hair salon,” Sarah says.

In an additional nod to Charlie, an artwork decal of the poodle unwinding in a bubble-filled tub graces a wall.

Two groomers are presently on workers; nonetheless, the salon has the capability for 3 full-time groomers as clientele swells. With a deal with creating a novel and soothing expertise for canine, the salon gives particular pricing packages for nervous canine or these requiring additional care and a focus.


Southern Barker added a number of providers, together with grooming, at its second location.

These conditions require an distinctive group.

“It’s actually vital to search out individuals who perceive our values,” Sarah says. “It’s all about doing what’s finest for every canine.”

Appointments are spaced out to present every canine individualized consideration, and the salon is designed to permit canine to wander about in a relaxed environment.

“More often than not it’s one canine or two, they usually can go look out the window, sniff the whole lot out and get acquainted with the room,” she says. “A groomer will do nails, after which give the canine a break to run round whereas the tub is about up.”

These pauses are central to the general grooming expertise.

“We would like canine to sit up for the subsequent go to,” she says.

To reinforce that temper, the spa diffuses important oils, performs soothing music and supplies canine with fluffy blankets. A multipurpose room helps purchasers to unwind throughout the drying course of.

“There are toys and water within the multipurpose space, and the canine like to loosen up there earlier than they get on the desk for the precise groom,” she says.

Sarah stresses the worth of open communication between groomer and canine proprietor.

“I’ve discovered within the service trade that explaining the ‘why’ or ‘why not’ is large,” she provides.

Whereas furry grooming patrons put the power’s multipurpose room to good use, the realm additionally serves as a photograph studio to chronicle day care actions. Extra plans are within the works for the area; nonetheless, the homeowners stay true to their philosophy of permitting ideas to develop and evolve.

There’s a every day most capability of fifty day care canine, and the furry pupils of Barker College day care are separated into three teams, or “barkternities,” primarily based on dimension and temperament.

“I wished the day care expertise to be as a lot for the proprietor as it’s for the canine. I’m at all times pondering ‘What would I need?’ and thought it will be cool to say my canine is in a fraternity,” Sarah says.

The barkternities are primarily based on the human faculty varieties, utilizing Greek letters however with a canine twist.

“We’ve got Kappa Boop for smaller canine, Alpha Paw Alpha for semi-active canine and Phi Beta Woof for the lively ones,” she says.

All canine are evaluated by temperament for correct group placement, and upon acceptance into this system they obtain a Southern Barker tote and a bandana inscribed with their identify and the Greek symbols representing their barkternity.

Additional, a scholar ID photograph is positioned in a body designed as a fridge magnet.

“We put school-themed descriptions on the ID—for example, star athlete, class president, homecoming queen, trainer’s pet, cheerleader, issues like that,” Sarah says. “It performs into the college theme.”

These pictures are additionally framed and displayed within the retail retailer so consumers can get pleasure from perusing the furry college students and their designations.

Every photograph additionally serves as identification on the Southern Barker reserving web site.

“It supplies data at a look, describing exercise stage and temperament,” she says.

In true Barker College model, when designing the power, Sarah furthered her personal training.

“Identical to grooming and diet, I took programs. Paragon [School of Pet Grooming’s] course taught me the best way to be a groom tech, and for day care I took [The] Canine Gurus’ course, which not solely helped me work out supplies, like flooring, however they train canine conduct,” she says. “I discovered quite a bit in that course and adjusted my preliminary concepts for the day care primarily based on that data.”


Every day care room is replete with a variety of playground gear, and on daily basis includes a theme. As an example, throughout music day, canine frolic with toys that crinkle, squeak and honk. On bubble day, a machine sprays effervescence into the air.

Add-on actions can be found, similar to puzzle video games, yappy hours, stability play, crafts, and fetch or swim time in Barker College’s indoor saltwater splash pool, which isn’t solely heated, but in addition has three completely different ranges of depth to accommodate all sizes and exercise ranges.

“Typically the swim is one-on-one, but when we now have a bunch of canine signed up for swim class, they get pleasure from all of the canine all leaping in,” Sarah says.

In Southern Barker’s Fetch Lane, pups joyfully scramble after a ball in a high-spirited recreation of one-on-one chase and retrieve.

All of the canine adore an up-on-the-roof romp. It’s essentially the most spacious play space, and a rotation schedule permits every group the chance to gambol beneath the Kentucky sky.

“It’s very huge and open, they usually adore it up there,” she says.

Devoted day care staffers bear canine conduct coaching and have accomplished The Canine Gurus course.

“My thought is that if we consider every canine, and monitor them appropriately, there ought to be no points. I imagine in early intervention, and that’s how our workers is skilled, and it’s been understanding rather well,” she says.

Remembering These in Want

Southern Barker is a powerful supporter of adoption efforts and as such sponsors a Pet of the Day phase on a Lexington tv station.

“The station companions with our native humane society to carry a canine on the present and speak about it,” Sarah says. “The data is shared on social media. The animals are adopted rapidly.”

When the vacations roll round, Southern Barker’s annual Vacation Toy Drive ensures that St. Nick remembers the denizens of native shelters. The drive is likely one of the retailer’s most profitable occasions.

“It was type of stunning after we first did it as a result of companies got here in that had been amassing toys for our drive, like a automobile dealership, or a hospital ground,” Sarah says. “It added as much as loads of toys.”

The occasion was initially meant to profit the Lexington Humane Society. Greater than 1,000 toys are collected for donation every vacation season.

“So we agreed to interrupt them up, and I drive round to the native counties with smaller shelters,” she says. “I like giving these canine a brand new toy to play with.”

Whereas in-store occasions have been a mainstay, the extra spacious downtown facility will present the chance to go huge in that division.

“I’m so excited; my advertising mind has been on hearth,” Sarah says. “We’ve got our personal parking zone, and for our grand opening, I wish to do a Barkerfest to essentially market it.”


Jomo and Molly Thompson

Ziggy Goes Collegiate

When Molly and Jomo Thompson introduced eight-week-old Ziggy, a petite-mini goldendoodle, dwelling to affix the household, the couple knew that socialization and playtime can be a plus as he matured. The pair was thrilled to find Barker College inside strolling distance of their downtown apartment.

“We wished him to be socialized, to work properly with different canine and people,” Molly says.

At this time, the gregarious year-old pup adores frolicking together with his furry buddies a number of instances per week, in addition to unwinding with just a little pampering on the spa.

“When he wants a trim or a shower, I schedule it whereas he’s at day care and he comes dwelling recent and clear,” Molly says. “Ziggy likes to go to day care; he’s thriving there and will get excited if I say the phrase ‘college.’”

Ziggy has been designated class president and a Kappa Boop member, and the proud Thompsons show Ziggy’s scholar ID on their fridge.

“The entire Barker College factor is so cute,” she says. “It’s these little touches.”

The college’s add-on providers are one other bonus, and Ziggy loves all of them.

“I don’t need him to get FOMO [fear of missing out], so he swims or does puzzle science,” she says. “It’s actually candy that the workers shares pictures and movies of the every day actions.”

Nevertheless, it’s that good quaint Southern hospitality that retains the Thompson household coming again.

“I’m greeted within the morning as I drop Ziggy off, and I do know he’s in nice palms,” Molly says. “The workers members care in regards to the canine, are so hospitable and talk so properly.”


The primary Southern Barker location opened 5 years in the past in Lexington, Ky.

It’s A Retail Life

What’s Southern Barker finest identified for?

Sarah Stewart: Our customer support, high-quality merchandise and distinctive experiences by means of our providers.

What’s the biggest problem for the unbiased retailer?

Stewart: It’s laborious to compete with the net [retailers] the place consumers can get merchandise the subsequent day at a greater value. Nevertheless, individuals who store native store native for a purpose.

What’s the biggest problem for the pet trade general?

Stewart: Persevering with to develop and evolve as extra analysis comes out about canine diet. A variety of pet meals corporations will maintain doing what they’re doing, however maintaining with analysis to be able to provide our pets the next high quality of life is difficult and must be carried out.

Fascinating tendencies?

Stewart: The holistic pet pattern has homeowners studying extra and wanting extra for his or her canine.

What do you see for the way forward for Southern Barker?

Stewart: I’m excited to develop our providers, to get inventive and do enjoyable issues with the canine. We wish to be a useful resource for canine homeowners in our group for pet diet and pet merchandise.

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