An Interview Our Barktique Buyer About Unique Market Niche

By Resident Dog Bloggers Lyle, Frannie, and Helen Bernstein

Readers might recognize Abbe’s name as the wife of Downtown Dogs owner Ralph, or as the author of blog interviews with employees, customers, and business partners. Abbe is also the buyer, merchandiser, and creative energy behind our Change Unleashed! Barktique.
As the Barktique celebrates its one-year business anniversary, us three dog bloggers thought we’d interview Abbe (our human mom) about what makes this retail endeavor unique.

   Lyle: What was the inspiration behind opening Change Unleashed! Barktique?

As dog lovers and frequent buyers of dog items for you, your canine siblings, and the many dog-obsessed people in our lives, Ralph and I always go into gift stores specifically looking for dog items. The dog displays are usually quite small and somewhere between adequate and uninspired. (Oftentimes the dog merchandise is mixed in with the cat merchandise too.) We wanted to create a “dogs-only” retail experience for all the people out there like us!

We also wanted to create a place where customers can feel good about where they are shopping and what they are buying. As the longest established dog daycare and boarding facility in town, our clients trust us with their pups and in turn we want to make their busy lives as convenient as possible.

In 2020 we opened Dog’s Day Out. It grew out of an increasing number of client requests to have bathing and grooming options during their pups’ daycare and boarding stays. We built Dog’s Day Out with intentional space to accommodate retail, but it wasn’t until our 2023 remodel at Downtown Dogs that we could finally make the leap to open Change Unleashed! Barktique in both lobbies.


Frannie: What makes Change Unleashed! Barktique unique? (Maybe alternate the dogs photos?)

Abbe: Oh! There are several things that differentiate us!

We are the only place in the Twin Cities to find cool gifts that are EXCLUSIVELY for dogs and dog lovers.

All the items we sell come from companies that give back to pets, people or the planet. Plus several brands we carry are LQBTQ+, women or minority owned.

As part of our overall Change Unleashed! initiative, we donate 3% of all retail sales to local animal nonprofits.


Helen: Please tell us more about Change Unleashed!

In 2021, sister businesses Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out launched Change Unleashed! as way to give back to the animal welfare community. We partner with nonprofits to help them raise awareness and funds, and invite our customers to participate in giving with us through rounding up.

In July 2023, we opened Change Unleashed! Barktique, which offers another way to support nonprofits, since we donate 3% of these sales.

 


Lyle: What type of consumer do you think your merchandise appeals to the most?

Abbe: Well first off, I guess you need to like dogs, have a dog or be in the market for a gift for a dog or a dog person. After that, if you have a sense of humor and enjoy colors, kitsch, and whimsy, you’ll probably like what we have to offer.

I think we appeal to shoppers who want to support local, independent businesses like ours, that value their employees, strive for top-notch customer service, and are committed to caring for animals beyond our own walls.


Frannie: Why open a smaller, independent, brick and mortar pet store today, when there are so many options online and at big box stores?

Abbe: We’ve been dog owners for many years. We like to touch and feel the things we buy for them, especially when it comes to toys. You just can’t always tell the quality of things online, even if there are a lot of reviews. Sometimes the size of an item or its care instructions are not easy to find online either.

While we aren’t open 24/7 like online sites, we have longer hours than most brick and mortar stores. Customers can make purchases any time that Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out are open! It’s easy for customers to buzz in, drop off their pup for daycare, boarding or a groom, and pick up a dog-themed gift in one fell swoop.

As far as larger chain stores, we don’t really see ourselves in the same category. We have a smaller footprint than big box stores and therefore only carry a limited number of items. We aren’t trying to carry every product under the sun, but we want to make every offering count!


Helen: We understand you put a lot of thought into sourcing the display racks and signage used at the Barktique. Can you tell us more?

Abbe: In early 2023, when we were just starting to conceptualize the Barktique, we happened upon a really neat display at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida. We loved the display’s attractive form and durable, flexible function — and when we found out it was sustainable (100% recyclable), we were sold! As we strive across our entire business to be stewards of the planet committed to making the world a better place for pets and people, this falls right in line with our overall environment-friendly philosophy.

For many of our signs, we use magnetic letters, to reduce the amount of paper we consume. Our display tables are stainless steel, which has a low carbon footprint.


Lyle: As a dog who tends to get obsessed with toys, I’m curious about what you look for when purchasing toys to sell at the Barktique?

While no toy is indestructible (especially by dogs like you Lyle who like to remove squeakers with surgical precision), we look for higher quality toys at reasonable prices. We try to offer a variety of choices for different sizes and breeds of dogs with different play preferences. We have toys for fetching, tugging, squeaking, crinkling, and cuddling. Many of the toy lines we carry are not available online or at other stores in the city.

We also look for toys that spark joy and make us laugh and smile. Our goal is to make our dog customers’ tails wag and our human customers grin.

There have been a decent handful of cool and unique toys that we’ve seen and would like to bring in, but the manufacturer doesn’t meet our giving back criteria, so we have to pass.


Frannie: What are some of your current “hot selling” toys?

Abbe: We love Minnesota-based Project Hive Pet Company. Their toys are multifunctional, top-rack dishwasher safe, and 100% recyclable. Plus, they donate a portion of sales to help sustain bee colonies through the establishment of healthy wildflower habitats. How cool is that?

Our selection of Pride dog toys is popular year-round. We recently added several new toys for Pride Month including our super cool, EXCLUSIVE Minnesota Pride plush bone by Mirage Pet!


Helen: As one who is partial to all treats, I wonder what you look for when purchasing treats to sell at the Barktique?

Abbe: Pet parents are always on the lookout for treats to indulge their pups while offering healthy benefits. We stock items that are natural, limited ingredient and/or human-grade. We offer customers products from reputable sources that are not easily found elsewhere in the Twin Cities.

We also look for treats that are fun for owners to give. Our make-your- own Pet Cake kits and treats shaped like hotdogs and doughnuts are popular. A new product that we just started carrying for the warmer months is Ice Cream Bar Dog Treats. Shelf-stable and available in three flavors, they can be enjoyed straight out of the single-serve package, or chilled for 20 minutes in the fridge/freezer for an extra cool & tasty experience.


Lyle: What types of treats have been the most popular?

Abbe: Single serve, on-the-go snacks seem to be of greatest interest to our customers. Whether they are buying them for their own pups or to add as a bonus to a gift, portable treats have been extremely popular. Etta Says brand Yumm Sticks come in ten varieties and they sell very well for us. Flavor Fusion Yumms are 100% natural with a star-shaped design to support teeth and gum health. Single-protein meat Yumms are farm sourced in the USA and human-grade. (If you want a first-hand review of these, ask Dog’s Day Out lead groomer and manager Andy. He just “might” have sampled one or two…)
For bagged treats, we love GivePet brand. Their premium treats are healthy and grain-free. Plus, for every bag sold, they donate enough treats for at least 10 shelter dogs!


Frannie: Are there any other types of merchandise that have been selling particularly well?

Abbe: Our dog-themed greeting cards have been extremely popular! It’s not uncommon to find cards with dogs on them mixed into a large Hallmark display, but you often have to spend quite a bit of time looking. Here ALL the cards (nearly 100 styles) feature dogs. This makes card shopping easy, fun, and affordable, since none of our cards are over $5!

 


Helen: Do you ever put things on sale?

Abbe: Yes! We try to have some type of sale or promotion going on all the time.
Coming in June 2024, we are having three 20% off sales:

20% off all Donut-Themed items from May 29 – June 9. (Friday, June 7 is National D🍩nut Day — so stop in to snag a donut on us!)

20% off all Treats, Bowls & Feeders from May 29 – June 9

20% off all Patriotic, Party & Pride Merch from June 10 – July 4

These sales are part of our larger 5-10-20 Sale, which marks the 20 year anniversary of Downtown Dogs and other milestones. Read more here.

We have some dog magnets and stickers that are $2 each or 3 for $5. We also have a selection of items — including fun handmade dog-themed jewelry and keychains — that are $6 each or $3 for $15.


Lyle: Is there anything new or exciting coming up at the Barktique?

Abbe: Yes! We are excited to launch our new Barktique Bucks program! Customers can now sign up to receive monthly email certificates for $5 off a $10 or more purchase at the Barktique.

 

 


Frannie: What have you heard from customers?

Abbe: We are thrilled that so many customers are enjoying the convenience of being able to shop in our lobbies, while dropping off or picking up from daycare, boarding or grooming.

We’d love to get to the point where people come in just to shop and then discover the other, core service aspects of our business!

 


Helen: What else do you want readers and their dog to know about Change Unleashed! Barktique?

Abbe: Come check us out and let us know what you think! Just like with our daycare, boarding, bathing, and grooming services, we appreciate hearing from you! Send us your impressions, questions or ideas here

 

 


Abbe is our Retail & Community Outreach Liaison and the editor behind all Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out blogs. A life-long dog lover in her own right, Abbe is wife to Ralph (whom she calls “the Big Dog”). Together they parent resident bloggers Frannie, Helen, and Lyle.

Ralph (whom she calls “the Big Dog”). Together they parent resident bloggers Frannie, Helen, and Lyle.