Dog lovers cater to pets in La Grange
Chad Lopez and Cynthia Gaspar, owners of the Urban Mutt pet store in La Grange. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:02AM
LA GRANGE — Growing up in Wyoming, dogs may have been man’s best friend, but they weren’t really family to Chad Lopez.
Then he started dating Cynthia Gaspar in 2008, and saw how she indulged their mutts, Bear and Guinness, with gourmet treats and toys.
In 2009, Lopez and Gaspar, who since have added Peanut and Foxy to their pet family, capitalized on the elevated stature of pampered pooches by opening The Urban Mutt store in Berwyn. Last year, they expanded, opening a second store at 31 S. La Grange Road in La Grange.
“It’s like a crazy, winding path that brought us to the store,” Lopez, 33, said.
He started out as a carpenter on the HGTV television program “Designed to Sell.” As his run on the show came to an end, Lopez tried to think of ways to harness its popularity and momentum.
Using his “Designed to Sell” connections, Lopez assembled a television filming and editing crew and started a web-based series called, you guessed it, “The Urban Mutt.” The weekly program, featuring local veterinarians, groomers and boarding facilities, attracted a few thousand loyal viewers.
“The idea was like a ‘190 North’ for dog owners,” he said, referring to the popular local trends television program. “The problem is monetizing a web show is difficult.”
Lopez and Gaspar started looking for a bricks and mortar location in July 2009, by November they were moved into the Berwyn location, and by December, they were open. With about 9,000 products on the shelves, it didn’t take The Urban Mutt long to outgrow the Berwyn site, prompting the couple to look for a larger second location, leading them to La Grange.
Gaspar, 39, whose day job is director of finance for a law firm, admitted she was concerned about opening a niche shop in a recession. She also was concerned of the impact of big-box retailers like PetSmart on a mom and pop shop like The Urban Mutt.
But it was the level of personal attention and the specialized inventory, including custom-baked birthday cakes and treats for dogs, that set The Urban Mutt apart. In fact, trainers from the big box stores often come to the shops to order cakes to celebrate the successful efforts of their clients, Gaspar said.
“A lot of the food that we carry, they don’t have. There’s a lot of manufacturers that will not go into those kind of stores,” she said. “A lot of the customers end up having then understand that the food that you’re buying or the treats that you’re buying will be a little more expensive.”
What also sets The Urban Mutt apart is that products can be custom ordered, and each product carried in the store is tested by Lopez and Gaspar’s pet family.
“We can relate to the customers because we have the same issues with our own dogs,” Gaspar said.