Petco Looks to the Future with PetCoach Learning Lab

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Petco Looks to the Future with PetCoach Learning Lab

By Samantha Nelson - 07/17/2018

Petco opened its first PetCoach location on July 13, planning to use the concept store to test a variety of tactics that may roll out chainwide.

Located in San Marcos, CA, near the retailer's San Diego headquarters, PetCoach is about 11,000 square feet and stocks only 60% of the SKUs found at a standard Petco. Instead, about two thirds of the space is devoted to services and education.

“PetCoach is really more of a learning lab," Petco executive vice president, strategic innovation & digital experience Brock Weatherup told P2PI. "When you walk into it, it really is a very different engagement platform. It’s designed to be highly experiential."

Along with the grooming, veterinary and training services offered at most Petco stores, PetCoach offers day care and self-service dog washes. Shoppers are greeted by highly trained "Pet Coaches," who are armed with tablets used to look up product information and to facilitate checkout. Those employees can use a digital healthy weight calculator that factors in a pet's activity level and breed to guide shoppers through the in-store nutrition center and provide advice on a diet that will fit a pet's needs and the shopper's budget.

“We want them to be advocates and experts," Weatherup said.

Much of the department is devoted to products from Petco's WholeHearted natural private label and JustFoodForDogs, which began rolling out store-within-a-store concepts at hundreds of Petco locations in May. PetCoach also stocks a limited selection of top natural pet brands.

Other concepts being tested at PetCoach are click-and-collect, which will roll out by the end of the year, and a membership program that is currently offered for $9 a month with an annual subscription option coming soon. PetCoach members receive special pricing on all products and services, such as paying $2 rather than $14 for a dog wash, and also are given several free veterinary consultations each year.

The PetCoach opening coincided with the introduction of a PetCoach dog walking service accessible through or a new mobile application from the developers of the Barkly Pets app. The service is currently only available to consumers in parts of San Diego and is expected to expand to the entire city this month.

Weatherup said he doesn't expect all of the experimental concepts will ever make their way to the retailer's flagship banner but "what we learn will help us think of the overall future of Petco.” Two more PetCoach locations are expected to open in the San Diego market during the next six months and the offerings are likely to change over time as the retailer's innovation cycle continues.

Petco's goal is to build a "channel agnostic" experience that will appeal to Millennials, who are currently the largest pet owning segment in the U.S. and highly engaged in the category, treating their pets like a part of the household.

"I don’t think that group looks at a channel, physical or digital, as separate," Weatherup said. "You have a relationship with a brand whether I get it delivered to my home or walk into a physical location. That customer is going to choose channel based on activity of the moment. I might never actually purchase product [in store] because I have it delivered to my home, but I keep walking into the place because that’s where I get my dog washed and go to the training classes.”

Petco purchased pet care information startup PetCoach in April 2017 and has been gradually finding ways to integrate the resource. The retailer has been regularly promoting PetCoach articles and videos via digital activity and social media, and includes expedited answers from PetCoach veterinarians in its Petco One subscription service.

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