By REBECCA SCHIFFMAN
HIGHLAND PARK — Customers sometimes ask Michael Baffico and Jillian Roller, owners of the less-than-a-year-old pet supply store Rosie Bunny Bean, “You guys are doing good, right? You’re making money right?” Baffico says he gets the feeling people don’t want them to go away.
In an era when mom and pop stores are struggling to compete against big business, opening a boutique pet food store may seem like a risky move. While Baffico concedes that “all dollars are competition,” the partners don’t see Amazon or chain stores like Petco as direct competitors.
“Our customers are people in the neighborhood who are happy to have a store … that they can go to and ask questions and buy products,” Baffico said. “They’re not interested in saving a couple of dollars to end up with a street that has empty storefronts.”
Baffico and Roller launched their Rosie Bunny Bean line of dog beds (named after their Chihuahua) in 2013. With Roller’s 13 years’ experience managing a pet shop in Studio City, opening a store was a natural progression. The partners got to know Highland Park on frequent trips to Donut Friend and sought a retail space off York Boulevard because they liked the small-town vibe. “Everybody walks and you get to know your neighbors,” says Roller.
Rosie Bunny Bean the store, which carries supplies for dogs, cats, chickens and rabbits, opened in October, 2014 on Avenue 51 just north of York. At less than 500 square-feet of selling space, it’s smaller than most pet supply shops, but Baffico and Roller have ruled out many products that others stock. Their motto, says Baffico, is: “We don’t sell anything in the store that we wouldn’t feed to our pets.”
What won’t they feed to their pets? Anything containing soy, corn, wheat, “by-product meal,” “animal protein,” and an ingredient Baffico describes as “extremely disgusting,” called “animal digest.”
While being so picky may sound prohibitively expensive, Roller and Baffico make a point of stocking some food that can compete with grocery store prices. One of Rosie Bunny Bean’s top sellers, Fromm Adult Dog Food costs $21 for a 15-pound bag of kibble (plus a buy 12 get 1 free deal from the manufacturer), comparable price-wise to a 15-pound bag of Purina ONE at the VON’s on Figueroa ($25.99 or $19.99 with loyalty card), but without the corn, soy and animal digest.
Roller says, “I would like everybody in the neighborhood to want to shop here and feel like they could afford to shop here.”
While Baffico admits they can’t compete on price with the really cheap stuff, and that quality ingredients will always cost more, he believes there’s a long-term cost benefit to spending a little more on pet food. “There’s no difference between nutrition and how it relates to people’s health and nutrition and how it relates to [pets’] health.”
And, keeping up with the latest in pet nutrition, Rosie Bunny Bean sells a lot of frozen raw food by the Small Batch brand, as well as raw goat’s milk and raw fermented fish stock from Answers Pet Food, a Pennsylvania-based company with only eight employees.
Baffico and Roller enjoy the social aspect of running a store and pride themselves on being welcoming and knowledgeable. “People bring their pets, our pets know their pets…” says Baffico. “We help [customers] with nutrition or recommend a vet or a groomer.”
As to whether Rosie Bunny Bean is doing well, customers can have some reassurance.
“It’s exceeded our expectations. We’re paying the bills which is always a good thing.” says Baffico. “And you’ll know it’s really good when somebody that’s not one of us is working here.”
Rebecca Schiffman is a writer, musician and artist living in Highland Park.
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