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The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

The cute Market Square located in Downtown Knoxville is lined with cute shops, great restaurants and a resident farmers market. This is probably why it’s been so seamless for Terri Karlsson and her husband, Paul, to make their country-to-city dual lifestyle work. They once owned The Tree and Vine, a gourmet food and cookware store right off Market Square for seven and-a-half years; and they did so with wild success. “Knoxville has had an amazing urban revitalization and we were successful with The Tree and Vine,” said Terri Karlsson. “We live in the mountains of North Carolina and have an apartment and Knoxville and were embraced by the warm and friendly folks in Knoxville and wanted to expand our presence there.”

This is when they decided they needed another business venture. They began noticing people moving downtown; they also noticed an influx of these new residents walking their dogs. Combine this observation with the upcoming Global Pet Expo and the Square’s need for a pet shop, and the Karlssons hit the trifecta. The idea came in February; the Expo came in March; and Citifid-O came to fruition in April. Talk about a whirlwind love affair with retail.

High-quality — preferably made in America — products for dogs and cats are the shop’s specialty. Think: everything from food to cat towers. “We are a local business and I think we need to support other American businesses,” said Karlsson, who added that she feels the products are typically better made when made in the United States. “When we point out to customers that the product is made in the USA, we get positive comments and a sale. If there is an issue with a Made-in-America product, I can get someone on the phone and there has always been a positive resolution.”

For the pet-lover, Citifid-O offers an array of gift items. It offers whimsical dog art (originals, prints and cards) from a local artist that helps spruce up the shop. Also, dish towels, Zeppa coasters, note pads, mugs and other everyday items like leash holders are on the inventory list. Karlsson also found some great impulse buys in a collection of stuffed dogs. She collected various breeds and placed the stuffed dogs in her front window. “A child walks by with a parent and sees the stuffed dog that is the same breed as their dog and – there you go – sale,” she shared.

Karlsson finds her items attending shows nearby, like the Southeast Pet Show in Atlanta and the Global Pet Expo in Orlando.

Thinking about opening your own shop and need advice? “You can’t be everything to everyone,” said Karlsson. “Decide what you think your customer base will be (and) keep in mind that retail is as much art as (it is) science.” You should locate yourself somewhere where there is now competition or where there is a critical mass for retail — or where you have a lot of foot traffic.

Karlsson also stresses, if you don’t love pets — don’t do it. “I think passion plays a large part in success. We differentiate ourselves with customer service and product knowledge.”

Citifid-O has been open almost five years. Between the pet shop and the Karlsson’s other business ventures, Terri has found working with her husband to be fairly easy. “We have different strengths and weaknesses so we have our own jobs to do,” she said. While she’s generally the face of the business — and the buyer, and the HR person — her husband is the computer and facilities guy. And, of course, they both love working with their four-legged customers.


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