Dogs are King in the Big Easy
The sound of street musicians playing jazz at lunchtime filled the air and the bright blue door to Southern Paws New Orleans was wide open and welcoming the neighborhood dogs who were anxiously awaiting their lagniappe (lan’ yap), a little something extra, from behind the counter on the sunny November day we visited Southern Paws.
“We are a regular stop on the daily walks of all the neighborhood dogs,” said Michele Spansel, owner of Southern Paws Pet Boutique and Barkery. The store offers one free treat to every dog that enters.
The yellow façade and wrought iron balcony set the stage for a charming boutique filled with gourmet treats, collars, leashes, toys and gifts for pets and pet owners. “Our customers are pet lovers…period. The people whose pets are their family,” she said.
The family owned business is located in the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans. Southern Paws has become a mainstay on Toulouse Street since 2016 and is in the heart of the action when Mardi Gras rolls around. “It’s a lot of fun to work on the sales floor during the Mardi Gras season,” she said. “And, of course, we have a nice selection of Mardi Gras items such as treats, bandanas, and costumes for your pet to be part of the fun!”
Spansel recently opened a second location in the heart of downtown at The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk. “Our Riverwalk location opened late November 2019,” said Spansel. “The mall most often attracts cruise ship travelers and convention attendees, with its proximity to the convention center and cruise terminal.”
Featuring a colorful mix of pet outfits and accessories, both locations feature gourmet treats in a bakery counter display, and even sell fresh ice cream from a cooler just for dogs. The local theme toys, barkery treats, and locally made bandanas are most popular. “They make great souvenirs for visitors to bring back home,” Spansel said. There is also an expansive collection of human gifts such as socks and lounge pants, water bottles and glassware, stickers, wall art, rugs and door mats. Spansel says they have adjusted the pet to human product ratio based on response from their customer base. It’s approximately 70% pets versus 30% human, she explained.
Space comes at a premium in the French Quarter and Spansel must be selective when displaying and merchandising her store with limited square footage. “We have learned to curate our product assortment with our customer and space constraints in mind,” she said. “Over the past four years, we have refined our product offerings while also introducing new and seasonal items. With limited or no warehousing space in the French Quarter, our team must plan orders to arrive on the sales floor ‘just in time.’”
“In a non-pandemic year, I will attend as many shows as possible from the Atlanta Market Gift and Home show, Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Dallas Total Home and Gift Market, and Las Vegas for SuperZoo and general gift,” said Spansel, who is also a buyer for Roux Royale, a kitchen and housewares boutique located a few doors down from Southern Paws. “Because I buy for multiple stores and concepts, I get to see a larger variety of products. I love finding what’s new and different, and in order to find it, you have to go to market.”
An online e-commerce site was just a long-range plan before the pandemic hit. Like many small businesses, Spansel was forced to fast-track the process in order to keep her customers supplied with pet essentials. A small silver lining, she is glad to have her website and online store up and running now as it has brought in new customers.
When asked what the future holds for Southern Paws, Spansel shares that they are always looking to expand, however, in the year of Covid-19, they are holding out for the perfect location. “We hope to expand as opportunity presents itself. We have also had several franchise inquiries that are under consideration,” she added. That’s good news for pet lovers everywhere.
Located in the heart of the French Quarter, fashionable dogs can find their best Mardi Gras costumes and New Orleans Saints gear at Southern Paws.