When Darrell and Sally Reber purchased their 46-acre ranch in Kent, Wash., in 1979, the term “omni” had not entered mainstream lexicon. Derived from the Latin word “omnis,” which translates as “every/all,” the designation did not become prevalent in the realm of business until the 21st century.
In today’s world of retail, omnimarketing denotes customer centricity, or the ability to understand the situations, perceptions or expectations of a customer. At the time of their acquisition, the Rebers perhaps considered the concept; however, three-plus decades later, the venture characterizes the philosophy.
“Horse boarding was the real birth of Reber Ranch,” says Bill Greene, general manager and partner for both Reber Ranch and Pet Central, along with a host of ancillary businesses operated by the Reber family. “The local race track, Longacres in Renton, Wash., had run out of capacity, and Darrell saw a need. The entire property ended up as a boarding and training center for race horses.”
By 1984, a portion of an original dairy barn sited on the property had been converted into a retail store, supplying feed and supplies to the livestock and horse community as well as a smattering of pet food and supplies. In 1991, the establishment was lost to fire. Undaunted, the entrepreneurs rebuilt the endeavor. As the surrounding area developed and became more urban, Reber Ranch shifted its focus to dog and cat foods, treats and supplies. The concept proved effective.
Fast forward to 2022, and Reber Ranch still maintains an equine boarding facility, but the store now occupies 18,000 square feet of space, offering retail, grooming, do-it-yourself dog washing facilities, a range of veterinary services, and equine, wild bird and poultry feed and supplies, in addition to products for dogs, cats and small mammals. Reber Ranch Dog Park, adjacent to the parking lot, features separate play areas for small and larger dogs, at the ready for a little shop and romp playtime.
“Our mission is to serve all of domesticated pet ownership: canine, feline and equine,” Greene says.
In an effort to expand its reach and visibility, Reber Ranch opened Pet Central in 2016. Sited a mere mile from the original store, the location offers pet foods and supplies, grooming, a do-it-yourself dog wash station and walk-in veterinary clinic. The placement was strategic.
“Reber Ranch is on a busy road with 10,000 cars a day traveling on it, but those cars are either heading to the highway, are residents or are coming to Reber Ranch,” he says. “There’s really no reason to be on the road other than that.”
With Pet Central sited on a thoroughfare traversed by up to 35,000 cars per day, and adjacent to a popular Trader Joe’s, it’s a busy place.
“[President] Todd Reber always said we need to get ourselves out where we are more visible, and the placement has been amazing,” he says.
While Pet Central originally opened with retail and grooming services, a do-it-yourself dog wash station soon joined the mix. Pet Central Veterinary Clinic followed, staffed by Reber Ranch veterinarians.
While Greene manages the day-to-day operations of the multifaceted business operations, the Reber family is deeply involved, with second-generation members Randy and Todd Reber and their families participating as board members. Third-generation family member Michael Reber is poised to step in and take over all aspects of the business as the years go on.
The Complete Package
“We are meeting the needs of the pet owner as a provider of pet foods and supplies and all the way around that circle,” Greene says.
Online ordering is another amenity, and the Reber Ranch delivery vehicle is on the road daily.
“For those living in Western Washington, our delivery van delivers to the majority of ZIP codes,” Greene says.
However, the range of in-store offerings transcends online convenience.
“When I think of [the term] ‘omni,’ [as it relates to retail], I think of it as more well-rounded than being just a retailer with product and an online presence,” Greene says. “We complement these offerings with our services, and we are growing.”
While the roots of Reber Ranch have leaned toward farm feed and supplies, Greene notes that few feed stores offer more than 60 brands of pet food.
“So while the equine business is still big, it’s primarily hay and feed for us these days,” he says.
The company’s Round Lake Farms, encompassing 4,800 acres in Soap Lake, Wash., provides feed to local enthusiasts within the equine industry.
“The best timothy hay in the world comes from Eastern Washington, and we have our own farm there,” he says.
When it comes to reaching out to the community, Greene notes that while advertising methods are viable, word-of-mouth is fundamental to the success of the enterprise.
“You can put out a flier or do radio, and we have done it all, but the most important thing is absolutely word-of-mouth,” he says. “It’s all about community.”
To meet this objective, exceptional service forms the cornerstone to customer satisfaction, and the broad range of products and services at Reber Ranch and Pet Central are bolstered by outstanding employees. This stellar customer service experience begins with associates who are well suited, trained and compensated.
“We try to pay our people better than market,” Greene says. “Wages are one of the biggest concerns for any retailer, and the numbers in our market in Western Washington and the Seattle area are high.”
Besides competitive wages, the benefits for full-time employees include health, dental and vision coverage.
“I’m very proud of what we offer,” Greene says. “We also have a 401(k) plan and do a yearly match based on company profitability. This program has helped us retain our really solid individuals.”
An outgoing, helpful personality combined with a love of pets are first and foremost considered in potential new hires, followed by an equal ardor for pet owners.
“Lots of people love pets, but they may not love people,” he says.
Once associates are onboard, training is ongoing, resulting in a staff ready to assist customers in finding solutions to their needs. A full-time retail trainer oversees the educational process.
“For a company of our size, with two stores, that’s a huge commitment. Our trainer is dynamic and spends her entire week training people on product knowledge, customer service and operational skills,” Greene says.
Each customer is unique, and an understanding of how to connect individually tops the syllabus.
“Whether a customer is coming in for a bag of food or a treat, it’s important to engage with them about their pet,” Greene says. “That conversation will identify needs.”
Tutelage also guides staffers in recognizing and addressing a customer wishing to shop on their own.
“Not everybody wants to talk about their pet, but for us it always starts with a hello,” he says. “We are fortunate—a lot of pets come to shop with their owners, and it may not always be a dog, it might be a cat or even a chinchilla—but we meet our customers where they are, and we do a good job of that.”
For this reason, a warm welcome at the door is standard procedure.
“If we don’t greet everyone at the door, it’s an uphill battle,” he says.
The extensive variety of foods at Reber Ranch and Pet Central includes kibble, canned, dehydrated, freeze-dried and raw.
“Raw is up some 60 percent. It’s really interesting, we used to have one freezer, then we went to four or five, and now we have walk-in, grocery-style freezers in both of our stores,” Greene says. “We are in the frozen, raw, dehydrated business in a big way.”
The inventory mix includes brands that, while not necessarily endorsed, may be requested by the customer.
“We have found over the years that many people come in and ask for those brands,” Greene says. “Our philosophy, as a pet specialty store, was once that we were only going to carry recommended products, but the back of a customer’s head as they walk out the door is not what we want to see. The retail environment is about offering solutions, so we have really adopted the philosophy of, ‘OK, we carry brands that are widely available everywhere.’”
This nonjudgmental attitude, combined with a broad range of product, allows employee expertise to take over.
“It goes back to engagement. A customer may say their dog is having itchy-scratchy problems, and we can ask, ‘What are you feeding?,’” he says. “Now we have the opportunity to offer a better solution, and that is really what pet specialty is about, offering solutions.”
The training program at Reber Ranch and Pet Central echoes this concept.
“The core of our training helps in identifying where the customer’s head is really at,” Greene says. “The last thing we want to do is make them feel they are being upsold. We are here to help. We’ve been through this and can say, ‘I used to feed this; now I feed that and this is the result I’m having.’”
Competitive pricing is fundamental at both Reber Ranch and Pet Central.
“We may not be the lowest, but we are going to be competitive,” Greene says. “The manufacturers are doing a great job at creating a minimum advertised price [MAP] so we can stock that item with an online presence.”
Beyond this guarantee, loyalty points translate to discounts.
“We want our customers to know that loyalty points mean discounts that the big boys or even some of our regional competitors do not offer,” Greene says.
These savings, along with a wide-ranging product mix, keep pet owners coming back.
“We carry so many items—I can guarantee that nobody is going to carry the breadth of selections that we do,” Greene says. “No one carries as many brands of pet food, and we try to hold true to that in every category. We want our customers to have a good selection of everything possible.”
Veterinary & Grooming Services
In September 2013, Reber Ranch entered the veterinary sphere by opening a small facility with two veterinarians on staff.
Today, some 40 personnel staff the veterinary hospital. Care also includes two dental suites, digital X-ray, ultrasound and a surgical suite.
“We are just now doing our third expansion and have commandeered all of the office space inside our store,” Greene says.
The development brings the total square footage of the Reber Ranch veterinary facility to 6,500; however, this growth does not infringe on the retail space.
“We have built a new headquarters in one of our barns so we can move our admin team of 10-12 employees into a new, separate office nearby,” he says.
Reber Ranch veterinarians, ready to assist the needs of pet owners and their furry charges, staff the Pet Central walk-in clinic, which opened in 2020, on a rotating basis.
However, more development is in the offing.
“We hope to open our new Pet Central Veterinary Medical Center by July 2023, located in 13,000 square feet right next to our Pet Central store,” Greene says. “This will bring us to just a little over 20,000 square feet at this location.”
Initially, the facility will feature a general practice before transitioning to a full emergency overnight care hospital, eventually offering specialty services such as oncology, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, digital X-rays, surgeries and a range of therapies.
The general practice at Reber Ranch will remain, with the veterinary team managing all operations. A central call center is in place to handle inquiries and appointment scheduling.
“I’m really delighted with our story and our family, and the fact that we have been able to hire tremendous veterinarians,” he says. “We are by far the largest in veterinary care in our market area.”
Reber Ranch’s grooming and do-it-yourself dog washing facilities opened on the same day in 2013.
“In 2016, we opened an equal-sized grooming salon at Pet Central,” Greene says. “So we now have two grooming salons, the largest in our area.”
Because of proximity, groomers are able to float between the two stores. A call center schedules the large volume of grooming appointments at both locations.
“We currently have 13 groomers and four bathers,” Greene says.
For the do-it-yourselfer, Reber Ranch offers a busy seven-bay facility, while Pet Central currently features one tub.
“It is probably one of the most profitable things we run,” Greene says. “The facility is staffed 100 percent of the time; we clean the tubs, prep the area, and if a customer has never washed their dog before, or needs help in blowing them out afterwards, we are there to help every step of the way.”
A five-tub do-it-yourself dog wash expansion for Pet Central is in the planning stages.
“We want our Reber Ranch and Pet Central models to be an offering of retail products, grooming, veterinary care and do-it-yourself dog wash,” Greene says. “Plans to open a doggie day care and pet hotel are in the works.”
All About Community
Expansion aside, Reber Ranch and Pet Central value the patrons who make it all happen.
“Our customer appreciation event takes place in the summer in a fun, carnival atmosphere,” Greene says.
“Last year, we started tying into some of the rescues we work with, and have held a Bark and Brews [event] with six or seven breweries onsite for craft beer tasting,” Greene says.
The free event also includes games, live music, pet vendors and raffles.
An annual Easter egg hunt at Reber Ranch brings local youngsters and their canine counterparts together for a grand celebration.
“We will have about 400-500 people here with a couple hundred dogs and about 300 kids,” Greene says. “Fortunately, our 46 acres includes a race track with an infield, and we designate spaces for children by age and size. Then we have the dog area, which is called ‘Mayhem.’”
While human participants search for eggs, it’s wiffle balls for furry treasure hunters.
When fall rolls around, both pets and their people turn out for the Halloween Howl and Prowl festivities.
“People dress up as a team with their pet or in a big group,” Greene says.
Engaging in outreach is a crucial component to the business, and those in need are not forgotten. A helping paw is extended in numerous ways.
“We work with between five and six rescue and shelter organizations, are always collecting at the till for them, and do a monthly match up of those monies,” Greene says.
The business donates food on a regular basis, as well.
“There’s always going to be a damaged load or some great buy, so we donate along with our manufacturers and distributors,” he says.
Currently, Reber Ranch partners with the Regional Authority South King County, or RASKC Rescue, by providing a permanent feline adoption facility. As a result, approximately 175 cats settle into forever homes each year from the approved adoption center.
“We also work with myriad local dog and cat rescue groups, hosting adoption events at the Ranch,” he adds.
Greene notes that cooperation and collaboration among independents is vital to business success.
“We should all be looking to borrow ideas from each other, to make them our own and figure out how to grow our businesses,” he says. “We want to keep the indie pet channels as healthy as possible.”
Modern and Cutting Edge
When Dr. Kyshee Rizzo joined the Reber Ranch veterinary team in 2015 as an associate, the practice already featured modern, cutting-edge services, such as digital records, digital X-ray, dental X-ray, and an experienced crew of vets and technicians.
Today, as head veterinarian, Rizzo has witnessed further innovations.
“Over the past seven years, we have added more advanced imaging, like ultrasound, and are running more in-house labs instead of sending things out,” she says. “But Reber Ranch started off with a good base to grow from, and the growth has been rapid; it’s been wild.”
Currently four full-time vets and three vet techs are employed at the Reber Ranch facility, with two more veterinarians slated to come onboard in June.
The Pet Central clinic is staffed on a rotation basis by Reber Ranch practitioners. Initially established to fill a walk-in need—particularly during the pandemic when many veterinary offices were not accepting new clients—business soon burgeoned to the point that appointments were required.
“It was meant to fill that need, so people could still see a vet for simple problems or for wellness checkups,” she says. “But we got so busy and backed up with our own clients that in the past six months, we have shifted from walk-in to schedule based.”
Both sites offer wellness packages that cover exams, vaccines and bloodwork; however, clients also receive preventive care reminders.
“Generally, we encourage our clients to maintain their annual exams with us so we can help identify problems before they become issues and to keep up with preventive care,” she says.
With Pet Central’s future veterinary hospital, plans are being made to offer emergency and specialty care.
“Emergency care has been tough over the past few years, with people being turned away,” she says. “We are going to try to fill that need with emergency services and specialists, to make it like a full-capacity hospital.”
In the meantime, Reber Ranch veterinary hospital will continue to serve as a general practice facility.
“We are open seven days a week from 9-5, and that’s really helpful,” she adds. “Even if a client can’t come in, they can call any day of the week, and we can help to guide them in determining if it is an emergency or not.”
A central call center further assists pet owners in this regard.
“I think a lot of people in our community depend on having a reliable vet that they can call and get to if needed,” Rizzo adds. “We have so many clients that feel comfortable and have developed a trust, and with so much upheaval all over the place, that’s really important.”
It’s a Retail Life
What are Reber Ranch and Pet Central best known for?
Bill Greene: As a stalwart in the community, where customers always receive great service and the products they are seeking.
What is the greatest challenge for the independent retailer?
Greene: Labor and remaining profitable while continuing to meet the needs of our customers in the face of available options like online and big-box stores.
The greatest challenge for the industry overall?
Greene: Currently, it’s supply. The independent pet industry, and even the big boxes, are in a battle with the behemoths. There’s only so much product being made, and we have got to get our fair share.
Are you watching any interesting trends?
Greene: The raw category, whether raw frozen or dehydrated products, is exciting. We are always open to innovative ideas and tell our distributors we are the place to demonstrate or try out a new product.
What do you see for the future of Reber Ranch and Pet Central?
Greene: Our goal is to meet the needs of our clients and to remain profitable. Without profit, we will not be around tomorrow, so we want to stay on our strategy of being everything to the pet owner, from services to products, and to maintain our family feel. We don’t want to be “corporate.” Yes, structure, policies and procedures must be in place, but we want to ensure that a customer coming into our business is aware that we are family owned.