GS Pets Winter 2020
The Nautical Dog By Debbie Eisele

Quality, customer service and an eye for trends are important to this Virginia retailer

“Virginia is for Lovers” notes the state motto, yet it is not just about people — that love extends to animals, especially for one retail store, The Nautical Dog. Located in Williamsburg, The Nautical Dog is “a store of love for animals.” Owner Amanda Morrissette opened the store about 13 years ago and has been growing and learning ever since.

The Nautical Dog owner and her dog
Amanda Morrissette, owner of The Nautical Dog.

“Everything I do here has a common goal of offering the best. I started the store when I was 20 years old and I’m now 33. It has all been a learning process and I still have lots to learn, but if you love what you do and put 110% it will all be worth it,” she shared.

Morrissette became obsessed with everything dog related after she brought her first dog, Roxy — a Pembroke Corgi — home. “I was always searching for cute little dog boutiques and going to pet stores to shop for her. I was already in retail (clothing) and decided that I would one day like to open a boutique for dogs and eventually (I) took the leap,” she explained.

The Nautical Dog exterior shop image
The Nautical Dog is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is known for its history and friendliness.

The store has many missions, but its first goal is to provide its customers with the best nutrition possible for their pets. “If I wouldn’t feed it or give it to my pets, I won’t sell it,” emphasized Morrissette.

The store has two full-time managers and several part-time staff members and sells pet-related merchandise ranging from food and treats to gifts geared for pet lovers. Merchandise includes a multitude of dog and cat toys, collars and other types of gifts. “Our famous cookie bar, which is a self-serve bar with various cookies, allows customers to mix and match to fill containers, and offers seasonally decorated cookies,” she explained. The store also offers over 100 different varieties of chews and bones in its bone bar and pre-packaged treats.

The Nautical Dog treat display
One of the popular places in The Nautical Dog is the Bone Bar.

The Nautical Dog offers a range of new products and is dedicated to keeping trendy items in stock. Top-sellers for the store include Gold Paw Series fleece jackets for dogs, Fluff and Tuff toys, and Up Country collars. Gift-related items, such as Teddy the Dog apparel for humans, are popular as are some handmade wooden dog breed ornaments from Hound Works.

Events are popular with both the staff and customers. “We have Paint Your Pet nights, ice cream socials for dogs, and fundraisers for local rescue groups,” Morrissette said. “We also have well-renowned pet food nutritionists and speakers who come in and host nutrition seminars.”

The Nautical Dog interior store image

Other popular events include Barktober Fest, held annually in October and features free pup-kin spice goat milk lattes for dogs; a Customer Appreciation Day, held every January; and an anniversary celebration held each July. “These events draw a huge crowd — customers start lining up outside of the store around 6 a.m. When customers spend a specified amount of money in the store the day of the event, they get a The Nautical Dog swag bag filled to the top with various size samples, full-size items, and trial items.”

To promote the store and its events, Morrissette utilizes social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram. “Facebook is great to post events and specific product content. We use Instagram to post new product images and pictures of dogs who come into the store,” she noted.

Displays are never stale, as Morrissette and her staff will change them at least weekly, if not more frequently. Her shipments arrive almost daily, so she incorporates new product into merchandising displays to keep them fresh and enticing.

The Nautical Dog merchandise display

Morrissette also keeps customer service an important focus and even offers a customer rewards program. She utilizes a point-of-sale system that allows the store to track rewards points and loyalty status on a variety of products. “Because of this, customers do not have to keep track of anything and we can always look up past purchases,” she said.

For Morrissette, “everything is visual” for all the pet products she carries and displays in her store. “Even though all of our products are for pets, it is still humans who purchase those items. I think all displays should tell a story and show how you can pair several items together in order to make it better,” she emphasized. “For example, if we have a multi-functional toy that you can stuff with peanut butter or treats, I will have those items on the same display together.”

The Nautical Dog owner and cat
Customers also shop for cat-related merchandise at the shop.

When asked what her favorite part about owning the store was, she simply stated: “Getting to love as many animals as I possibly can. The store has led me to rescue and foster many animals. I also have the flexibility to bring my pets to work with me. I have saved many dogs and cats over the years, shed tears with my staff and customers, and created a huge family in the town of Williamsburg, Virginia. I love my job and will always continue to offer the best for pets.”

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications: The Guide, Holiday Shop. Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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