Photos: PetLooks Trade Show

PetLooks Offers Retailers Boutique Items at Local Trade Show

Attending trade shows and other events to find the newest, as well as unique, pet products is a must for retailers, but traveling all across the country can get super expensive very quickly.

It is a driving force behind the new event, PetLooks, a small trade show that hopes to move around the country putting manufacturers in the retailer’s backyard.

“This allows vendors and buyers to talk to everyone,” Shawn Parisi, director of sales at PoochieBells, said. “There is no rush.”

Parisi, who pitched the idea of having these more intimate shows to her friend David Fine, of Bark-n-Bag and Furry & Fabulous after hearing from retailers that it was getting too expensive to travel to shows where then when they get there vendors don’t have much time to spend with them, or they run out of time before seeing everything they wanted to check out.

“For vendors and buyers, after three days it’s hard to stay organized,” Parisi said. “Plus, with the economy the way it’s been for both sides, we wanted to work together to grow the industry.”

The pair targeted retailers within a two hour radius of Philadelphia, where the Tuesday show was being held, and plan to do the same for future shows, which they would like to hold in other parts of the country.

“It’s affordable for vendors and buyers,” Fine, who expected to see about 100 buyers come through the door, said. “No one is staying over, it’s economical and they get more personal one-on-one time. ”

Many of the products being showcased were moderately priced, yet upscale looking and featured both items for the pet and the pet owner. A perfect combination for husband and wife  Kerry and Jean Ustaszewski, who along with their daughter, Hallie, run The Dog Stops Here, a seasonal kiosk at Berkshire Mall in Reading, Pa.

“[The big shows] are overwhleming,” Jean Ustaszewski, said. “Dog food, aquariums, we don’t need that. We need more boutique items. We have repeat customers that come in every year so we need to find different gift items. They say, ‘what can I get for Aunt Lucy? I got her this last year.'”

Their kiosk is open from late October until the end of December, lending themselves to a customer base who is looking for gifts for their own pet, gifts for other people’s pets and pet themed items for other people.


That’s where products like Sara England Designs was offering, come into play. They feature, among other things, breed-specific cheese boards, coasters, matted prints and more.

“We’ve done Backer, Global, SuperZoo, other pet expos for years, but we’ve scaled back,” Sara England said. “We like those shows, but in a tough economy that is a lot of financial commitment.”

Instead of shipping enough product to fill a 20-foot booth like she typically would, she picked a selection of her favorite designs and items, put them in her car and drive to Philadelphia from her home in Maryland.

“There is less of a commitment,” she said. “Plus, we are coming to them [the buyer]. They don’t have to travel.”

Less travel was something that attracted Christine Savage, the manager at Flying Fred’s in Maryland, to the event.

“It’s more cost effective,” Savage, who manages a shop of about three people,  said. “If we go to the big shows, that takes a few days ans since we are a small store, that takes time away from us being there.”

Savage has attended large trade shows in the past, but wasn’t planing on doing so this year.

“Last summer wasn’t that great so we didn’t go to Global and we are not going to SuperZoo,” she said. “[But here], I still get to see new products and check out the quality of them, which is very important for a store like ours.”

PetLooks organizers plan to hold a similar event in the Boston area next, and would eventually like to see it expand to the Northwest.






Reef-A-Palooza Holds First East Coast Show

Ask Ryan Cook how long he has been involved in the aquatics hobby and he will get a smile on his face, laugh and respond, “since I could walk.”

Now, the 33-year-old is a manager at Bermuda Triangle, an aquatics store in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When Cook found out that Reef-A-Palooza was going to be held on the East Coast after 10 years of successful shows on the West Coast, he knew he had to come.

“You have got to come and see what the new toys are,” Cook said. “We have limited advances in our area [of the country]. You have to see the new products, new foods. You can call and talk on the phone to [manufacturer reps] but it is different to see them and talk to them in person.”

Cook wasn’t the only one who was traveled a distance to attend the Orlando, Fla., show at the Double Tree Universal. Organizers said they gave out 1,000 admission wristbands within 10 minutes of the show opening and estimate several thousand people attended the two-day event.

Like the Aquatic Experience, attendees were a hybrid representation of the aquatics industry and ranged from long-time hobbyists and those looking to get into the hobby, to manufacturers, retail store owners, breeders, wholesalers and those who just wanted to learn more. It also brought in people from counties from as far away as Chile, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Ecuador to name a few.

Local retailers, and their customers, also took advantage of the fact the show was close.

“You get to check out rare corals, frags and new products,” Brad Lewis, owner of The Fish Tank, in Daytona Beach, Fla., said.

Lewis has been in the aquatic industry for about 10 years, and bought the 44-year-old store a little over a year ago.

“[Shows like this] help keep people in the hobby,” he said. “Technology and social media have really helped better [the industry]. There are a lot of nice shops and you get to see what others are doing up close.”


Growth In Aquatics

After attending Reef-A-Palooza  for years, Victor Fornari, co-founder of World Wide Corals in Orlando, Fla., really wanted the very successful West Coast-based trade show to come to Florida.

“After the 2010 MACNA [Marine Aquarium Conference of North America] was in Orlando, the industry seemed to grow like weeds over the past three years,” Fornari, one of the East Coast show managers, said. “Florida has really taken the number two spot when it comes to popular areas for aquatics and continues to see tremendous growth. There was a need for a show.”

Fornari plans on making Reef-A-Palooza Orlando a yearly event, especially given what he described as renewed interest in the aquatics field, which he attributed to, among other things, technological advances like LED lighting and the popularity of TV shows such as, “Tanked” and “Fish Tank Kings,” as well as movies like, “Finding Nemo.”


Many of the manufacturers exhibiting at the show were pleased with the turnout, and agreed with Fornari’s assessment.

“The past 6 to 8 months, the industry has been just booming,” Omar Mojena, north eastern region sales manager at Hikari, said. “They are asking a lot of questions and are excited about our new products.”

Mojena added that he thinks the growth is partly tied to the economy leveling off after an unstable few years.

“People are getting used to the way things are and are getting back into their hobbies,” he said. “They are starting to do more things for themselves.”

Scott Kohler, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Red Sea, agreed.

“The economy has improved a bit and the shops are getting a renewed sense of enthusiasm at the retail level,” he said. “There are still good advancements in equipment and products happening which improves the retention of the hobby.”

Shows like Reef-A-Palooza are a great way for manufacturers and retail stores to work together, he explained.

“We have tons of consumers say, ‘where can we get this,'” Kohler said, explaining that’s when they can direct them to a local retailer, because Red Sea doesn’t sell direct to consumers during a show like Reef-A-Palooza.

Just during the first few hours of the show, Kohler met representatives from retail stores as far away as Wisconsin and Atlanta in addition to at least five Florida-based ones.

While some might consider a show like Reef-A-Palooza a “consumer” show, that perception is changing. The reality is these specialized shows attract both hobbyists and retailers.

“People are starting to target specific audiences better,” Aleck Brooks, who runs commercial sales and special events at  San Francisco Bay Brand , said. “Traditional trade shows are massive.”

Instead, he explained, shows like Reef-A-Palooza are starting to attract a blended audience, because it’s a place for both retailers and consumers to see cutting edge products and what’s happening in the industry.


Interzoo Caters to Global Pet Industry

Visitors to Interzoo, the world’s biggest trade fair for pet supplies, will get a comprehensive overview of the latest products and services from the global pet industry.

This year’s show takes place at the Exhibition Centre Nuremberg from May 29 to June1. Attendees can use the exhibitor search function on the website to plan their visit.

There is expected to be more than 1,500 exhibitors from over 50 countries at Interzoo.

It is the opportunity to meet top experts at the world’s leading trade fair for pet supplies. Attendees can see and test innovations from all over the world in one place and close up.



Protecting the Pet Industry’s Interests

Relationships, relationships, relationships.

Whether they are with the local media, state officials, government policy makers in Washington D.C. or the next generation of consumers, it’s the most important thing the pet industry can do to make a positive impact and ensure the future health, and growth, of the industry.

“You have to build those relationships now,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza from California told a crowd of more than 200 at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s Top2Top conferenceWednesday. “Because it is absolutely impossible to do when you are in the middle of a crisis.”

Cardoza was one of about a half dozen experts who spoke to pet industry leader during the first full day of PIJAC’s annual c

onference that provides attendees with the opportunity to set the course for the future of the industry, gain powerful insights that will make a difference in their business today, and create valuable relationships with other leaders.

With proposed pet legislation popping up not only on the national, but also state and local levels, government relations was a large focus during the day’s programming, with insiders like Cardoza giving leaders tips and ideas on how the pet industry can make sure their interests are being represented.

One of those ways, which was a recurring theme throughout the day, was the importance of something the pet industry does not currently have — a political action committees, or a PAC.

“For a $60 billion industry, you are not investing enough in this,” Cardoza said. “It’s like trying to do your work with your hands tied. When you have a crisis, you will have little, or no, relationships built up.”

Cardoza explained that while a lot of people may have a negative opinion of PACs, what it really comes down to is building relationships and making connections when something is not being asked for in return, so that when a crisis does happen, such as a pet food recall that sparks calls for more regulations, the industry will already have established connections.

“You are investing in that relationship by having them spend time with you and get to know you, and that is so critical to successful advocacy for your industry,” he explained. “In every part of your advertising, talk about the good practices that you do.”

Similar advice was given by Mike Bober, vice president of government affairs at PIJAC, who also stressed the importance of building those types of relationships on all levels of government.

“‘Thank you’ will open so many more doors than ‘please,’” he said, suggesting pet industry professionals get to know their government representatives.

Sam Geduldig, former senior advisor to Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, warned that with an industry as large as the pet industry, the government will start to take notice, and look for ways to get involved, especially when something goes wrong.

“You guys have some issues … any scandal or any kind of recall could impact your industry and spin way out of control in a way you can’t fully see,” he said. “And politicians and congressman generally like to side with the emotional side of the issue. When you are proactive in Washington, you can make the system work for you. Make sure you make a friend before you need the friend.”

Even if someone is not directly involved in lobbying efforts on a national level, there are many ways pet industry professionals can get involved.

“Trouble starts at home,” Lisa Camooso Miller, partner at Blueprint Communications, said.

Before reading the Washington Post, Politico or other national publication, politicians tend to look at what their local media is reporting on, first. Taking the time to create a positive relationship with the local media will not only help should a crisis, or controversial issue come up, but it will also make politicians aware of the positive things that are happening when it comes to the pet industry.

For example, a retail store hosting an adoption event could invite the media to cover it. They could also invite their local congressional representative to hold a press conference at their store, even if it doesn’t specially have to do with the pet industry, such as an announcement about commerce, jobs or the economy, Miller suggested.

The conference continues Thursday with additional sessions, including a keynote address by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta.



The art of networking in the pet industry cannot be under-emphasized. I caught up with Nancy Hassel, of Long Island Pet Professionals – someone who has made a career of connecting people, to share her insight with Pet Age.

Pet Industry Leaders Gather at PIJAC Conference

Top pet industry professionals from across the globe gathered in Florida Tuesday night to kick off the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s annual Top2Top conference.

The conference, in its third year, provides attendees with the opportunity to set the course for the future of the industry, gain powerful insights that will make a difference in their business today, and create valuable relationships with other leaders.

This year more than 200 people traveled to Amelia Island, including 29 new organizations who were first time attendees, like Long Island Pet Professionals.


“I have wanted to attend Top2Top since the first year, and am excited to be here this year,” Nancy Hassel, founder and president of Long Island Pet Professionals, said. “I am looking forward to hearing all the speakers and learn more about growth, trends and policies that are impacting the pet industry.”

During the three day event, which kicks into full gear Wednesday, guests will hear about new research about marketing to millennial generation, how to use their business knowledge to help solve government challenges and improving pet industry public relations outreach, among other talks.


This year’s key note will be delivered by  former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta. He will offer examples from his vast reservoir of experience as to how business executives can ensure their views are properly represented in the government decision-making process.


Listen to Ken Oh, chairman, president and CEO of PIJAC, talk about this year’s conference.

Novartis Animal Health Sold to Eli Lilly

Eli Lilly and Company will acquire Novartis Animal Health for approximately $5.4 billion in an all-cash transaction that will strengthen and diversify Lilly’s own animal health business, Elanco.

This will make Elanco the second-largest animal health company in terms of global revenue, will solidify its number two ranking in the U.S., and improve its position in Europe and the rest of the world.

“Animal health continues to represent an attractive growth opportunity for Lilly. We intend to keep Elanco and to take advantage of the substantial synergies between our animal health and human health businesses,” John C. Lechleiter, Lilly’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said. “Significant investments in our animal health business in recent years have enabled Elanco to double its revenue since 2008, leading the industry in growth. Global trends suggest continued sustained demand for animal health products in the years ahead.”

With a presence in approximately 40 countries and 2013 revenue of approximately $1.1 billion, Novartis Animal Health is focused on developing better ways to prevent and treat diseases in pets, farm animals and farmed fish.

Lilly will acquire Novartis Animal Health’s nine manufacturing sites, six dedicated research and development facilities, a global commercial infrastructure with a portfolio of approximately 600 products, a robust pipeline with more than 40 projects in development and an experienced team of more than 3,000 employees.

The acquisition will greatly expand and complement Elanco’s product portfolio, R&D and manufacturing capabilities, and commercial presence in key geographies, the company said. In particular, it provides Elanco with a greater commercial presence in the companion animal and swine markets, expands Elanco’s presence in the equine and vaccines areas, and creates an entry into the aquaculture market.

More Changes for Backer’s Total Pet Expo

After extensive upgrades to its annual fall event in 2013, H.H. Backer Associates is adding more new programs and improvements to enhance the trade show experience for both exhibitors and buyers during this year’s show.

“Backer’s Total Pet Expo continues to be the best place for our buyers to meet face-to-face with current and potential vendor partners while getting the product and business education they need to continue to be successful,” Colette Fairchild, the show’s director, said. “The additional changes we’re making are designed to make the overall show experience better for everyone.”

Attendees to this year’s show, which takes place Sept. 19-21, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, will find the following new features.

An app for smartphones and tablets available from iTunes and Google Play that includes exhibitor and attendee locators, schedules, speaker bios, maps, a QR scanner, photo gallery and social media links.

A “Top Ten” All-Natural Product Lounge within the popular All-Natural Area on Level 1, showcasing the best products of current exhibitors as voted on by retailers online pre-show.

A contest that will provide a new and exciting opportunity for exhibitors. Companies that have an interesting and innovative pet product should be ready to make their best pitch for prizes valued at $10,000 and a chance for significant national media exposure. More information will be announced at a later date.

A Secret Shopper contest designed to reward exhibitors. Mystery shoppers visit select booths to assess exhibitors’ levels of knowledge and service. Prizes will be announced at a later date.

There will also be improvements to existing programs.

A boutique section will be added to the “Pet Store on the Floor,” a 3,500-square-foot store located on Level 2. Retailers can get merchandising tips, find out about POS systems, learn about staff training programs and interact with live animal displays.

A change in the Backer Buyer Rewards program will award cash back rather than gift cards for buyers placing orders at the show. For every $3500 worth of orders placed at Backer’s Total Pet Expo, buyers will receive $75 post-show, up to $225 with proper documentation per qualified firm.

There will be a new business management track in the “Smart Zone” education station area. Several new speakers have been added to the other stations in addition to more seating to accommodate larger groups. Other tracks include technology, aquatics, marketing/merchandising and animal health/wellness.

In addition there will be a new full day pre-show seminar by Chris Beykirch on Thursday, Sept. 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. entitled, “The Nuts and Bolts of Bigger Retail Profits.”

Other popular returning features include the New Exhibitor Area; the All-Industry Networking Party on Saturday, September 20 featuring an ‘80s theme; the 5K Fun Run/Walk; The Idea Wall; the Product Innovations area; the Celebration of Style Grooming Competition and the free Chicago shuttle bus service on Friday evening, Sept. 19.

Accreditation Program Offered for Pet Crematory Facilities

The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories is offering a worldwide accreditation program for pet crematory facilities, the first and only accreditation program ever to be established for the pet aftercare industry, the group said.

Through the IAOPCC accreditation program, pet crematories are evaluated against a pool of more than 240 standards that represent the best practices in pet cremation care and pet crematory management.

An international task force of crematory operators and a veterinary professional created, and continually update, the standards to reflect the latest developments and improvements in pet after care, pet cremation techniques, records, cleanliness, staff and client safety and a host of other areas essential to excellent pet and client care.

Since 2009 the IAOPCC Standards Committee, a group of eight pet crematory owners and operators located throughout the United States and Canada, have met monthly to develop these intense and rigorous standards. The accreditation standards, processes and program of inspections were rolled out in January of 2014 across the United States, Canada and worldwide to its members.

A Beloved Friends Pet Crematory of Northern Nevada, in Reno, was the first pet crematory in the United States to successfully complete the accreditation and inspection process. They were awarded their accreditation status on April 1.

Founded in 1971, the IAOPCC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing the standards, ethics and professionalism of pet cemeteries and crematories worldwide. Recognized as the leaders of the pet aftercare industry, they have members in more than 15 countries.

Fromm Partners With Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.

Fromm Family Foods and Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., the organization that produces Summerfest, is bringing Fromm Petfest to Henry Maier Festival Park.

The event, being held at 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sept. 20, invites both pet owners and their pets to experience the free festival that will be host to a variety of pet-focused attractions and activities including dock diving, agility demonstrations, nutritional seminars, grooming competitions, a pet-themed marketplace, family-focused games and activities, contests, live music, food and more.

“Summer is such an exciting time for Wisconsin residents and the lakefront has become synonymous with festivals,” Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, said. “We truly believe that pets are part of the family and decided it was time to invite them into the fun of festival season.”

Inspired to create a Petfest with a purpose, Fromm has identified both the Wisconsin Humane Society and Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission as charitable partners and will work to raise funds at Petfest to support both organizations and benefit local animals in the community in need. The groups will also host an “Adoption Avenue” where people can meet dogs and cats looking for their forever homes.

“Milwuakee World Festival, Inc., is proud to partner with Fromm Family Foods to bring yet another free event and programming to Henry Maier Festival Park,” Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., said. “Petfest will be a great addition to this year’s fall festival schedule and give the community the opportunity to enjoy time at the festival grounds with the whole family and their pets.”

Fromm Petfest admission and parking will be free for all attendees. Dogs and cats are welcome as long as they are on leash and up-to-date on vaccinations. To ensure a fun and safe experience for both fest-goers and pets, participation rules may be found on For more information call 920-350-3378 or email at


GloFish Partners With UPG

GloFish is celebrating their 10 year anniversary, and has announced an exclusive partnership with United Pet Group.

“We are proud to celebrate our 10 year anniversary and mark the positive impact we continue to make on the ornamental fish industry,” Alan Blake, CEO of GloFish, said. “As we recognize this occasion, we are very grateful for the opportunity we’ve had to work with so many leaders in our industry to build a new category of fish keeping. We are especially appreciative for the tremendous effort made by our exclusive producers, 5-D Tropical Segrest Farms, who have contributed greatly to GloFish’s success.”

Originally starting with a line of red fluorescent fish, GloFish has grown to 10 lines, six colors and three species. It is also available to more than 7,000 stores across the U.S.

The company has also exclusively partnered with United Pet Group to market more than 70 complimentary products for its brand of fish.

“We are honored to have a chance to work with United Pet Group to offer dozens of GloFish-optimized companion products,” Blake said. “They are a wonderful partner and have allowed us to dramatically improve our product offering. With the help of these products, GloFish offers a stunningly unique experience that captivates our customers’ imagination unlike anything else in the aquatics industry.”

Chew On This

Whether it’s called a toy or a treat, having something to chew on is top priority for small animals.

These guys have teeth that continually grow, and gnawing is a natural way for the animals to keep their teeth at the proper level to provide healthy eating habits and good dentition.

But chew toys aren’t just a necessity, they’re also fun.

Bright colors and enticing flavors are not only attractive to the small animals they’re made for, but they also attract the attention of the people shopping in a store. After all, it’s become pretty common, no matter what the species, for people to treat their pets like part of the family. It’s a trend that holds true for small animals as much as it does for dogs and cats, making it easy for customers to pick up a toy for their pet while shopping for the basics of food and bedding.

“Customers are always looking for something new and fun to give their small pet, so it is important to keep the category stocked with new and different options,” Jason Casto, director of Kaytee Hard Goods, Pets International, said.

Luckily, with the wide variety of popular treats on the market and the exciting new products being launched this spring, there is plenty to keep a store’s small-animal toy category well-stocked and fresh.

Puzzling It Out

Most owners of small pets understand the importance of providing chew toys to satisfy an animal’s natural gnawing instinct. But toys provide so much more than just something to chew on. They are also important for intellectual stimulation, which is not only fun for the pets and helps encourage their natural urge to forage, but it’s also fun for owners to watch their pets playing and interacting with toys.

With that in mind, Vitakraft has introduced an exciting new interactive toy, the SunStation, which makes nutrition and enrichment fun. The product is a wooden puzzle-type toy, with pieces of rope that the animal will pull to remove the squares, where treats can be hidden to entice the animal to play with the toy and also serve as a reward.

SunStation all-natural treats are paired with this toy, which can make a great end-cap display and also increase incremental sales as customers return to buy more treats to keep their pets playing with the toy. This toy is designed for rabbits, but could be used for other species as well.

A similar item, the Nut Knot Nibbler, has been around for years and is still very popular. The all-natural wood toy combines a variety of shapes and textures into a type of ball. Pets nibble on the wooden toy until they reach the almond nut hidden inside.

“Small animals want to hunt for their food, and these types of toys help with that foraging instinct, as well as providing a nutritional treat,” Lisa Kniceley, trade sales specialist, Vitakraft Sunseed, Inc., said.

Straight-Out Chews

While puzzles and games are exciting, traditional toys made just for chewing are very popular too, and have plenty of fun flavors and varieties to keep interest high.

Vitakraft’s Crunch Sticks and Treat Sticks continue to be popular items, with a wide range of flavors including wild berry and popcorn.

“We tend to humanize our pets, therefore we want to humanize the treats we give them,” Kniceley said. “That’s some of what drives our flavor choices, as well as our fun items like the Vita Prima line of Garden Veggie Pizzas.”

The treat looks like a pizza but is formulated for small animals with toppings such as carrots, leeks and pumpkin.

Pizzas aren’t the only humanized treat available for small animals. Marshall Pet Products offers Salad Bowls in two varieties, Fruit and Veggie. Made of Timothy hay bowls filled with bits of dried fruits and vegetables, these are a nutritious treat for small animals.

Wood toys are following the same trends. Look for Kaytee’s Layer Cakes this summer, a wooden chew toy made to look like a small cake, where the chocolate and vanilla layers are really different shades of wood.

Kaytee is also giving a traditional shape a new twist with its line of Carrot Patch toys. The line comes in three varieties—wood, sisal and loofah—all in the shape of a carrot, but each with a specific dental benefit. The wood helps trim teeth, the sisal conditions them, and the loofah helps floss and clean the animal’s teeth.

And as with most things, bigger can be better for small animal chews. After all, the more there is of the treat, the longer it will last.

Vitakraft’s Garden Pops, in strawberry and apple flavors, provide layers of chewing fun for small animals. Each has a soft, wood center covered with a crunchy baked biscuit and layered with flavored toppings.

Kaytee’s Jumbo Crispy Garden, launching this spring is also one of the largest chew toys made specifically for small animals. With carrot or corn shapes, the dried fruit gourd will keep animals busy for a while.

Making it Fun

One of the best ways to show customers just how much fun these treats and toys can be is to give them to the small animals living in your store.

“Having toys in the cages helps customers see that these products are more than just a treat, they’re a necessity,” Casto said. “Without a safe source for chewing, small animals could chew on food bowls, water bottles or cage parts, causing a potentially poor consumer experience.”

In addition to having them out, create a fun end-cap highlighting the new toys with some of the more popular foods, making the treats a natural addition to any shopping experience.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

They say that finding your perfect match is hard, but as retailers know, finding the perfect pet for a customer may be even harder.

When a customer comes in, they may have no idea what type of animal they want. It is important to not just ask the customer questions, but to ask the right questions. While customers may know, or think they know, what they want, it is still important to make sure that pet matches that person.

The same theory goes for an adoption event being held at a store. Pairing a dog or cat with the correct owner is a very important step of the adoption process.

“My advice to adoption event hosts and to retailers helping out in finding the right adoptable dogs is this: Listen to the family’s desires and consider what general type of dog they are looking for,” Sarah Brasky, The Dog Matchmaker, a dog adoption and foster specialist, said. “When it comes to getting a new dog, it’s all about personality and finding the right match.”

Brasky goes on to say that if a person suggests they want a Labrador or Retriever-type dog, it could be a signal that they may want an eager-to-please family-friendly dog.

“Another bit of advice I would share [is to] leave breed stereotypes at the door, and focus on the specific animal in front of you,” Brasky said. “When attending an adoption event, meeting animals ‘in person’ makes a world of difference, rather than basing an opinion on a photograph.”

It’s a big step when someone decides to get a pet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog, cat, lizard or fish.

“Getting a new dog is a big commitment,” Brasky said. “There are many options when getting a dog: Young, old, small, large, long hair, short hair, etc.”

Retailers can help facilitate this process by educating themselves on the characteristics of some of the most popular breeds, and working with local groups to learn the proper questions to ask.


The reptile category is a large one because there are so many options. Such as lizards and snakes to tortoises and frogs.

Loren Leigh, president of LLLReptile & Supply Co. Inc., said a great question to start off with when speaking to customers is, “What is their expectation of what they are buying?”

“I would say a good half have no idea what animal they want,” Leigh said. “They are fascinated by reptiles, they know somebody who has one or they heard something about it,” she says, adding that a customer might even be influenced by a movie, such as “Rango.” And then it comes back to helping the customer decide what type of animal they really want.

Reptiles are unique in the sense that they can appeal to several different types of people. If the customer would like to hold it and handle it, there are options for that. If the customer has smaller children that want to be able to handle the animal, there are options for that, as well as choices for customers who just want the pet to sit on their desk.

“I would say the biggest question, or the most common one, is how big of a space are they willing to dedicate to what they are buying because most of the reptiles people are buying are at their baby state,” Leigh said. “Let’s say, narrowing down, that I just want a tortoise for my backyard. … Then diving into that same question a little further, ‘How big of an area do you have? Do you live near the beach? Do you live in the desert?’ Once you get a picture of what their overall situation is, you can narrow down the animals.”

Tina Scheben, the owner of Repxotica, said the first thing she asks customers is if they are willing to feed them live insects.

“That will steer you in the right direction of which animal is right for them,” Scheben said. “You would be surprised how many people want a reptile but don’t want to feed them crickets or anything that moves. They want it to be vegetarian to some degree. Having those people in mind, if they are not willing to feed insects, it will limit their choices drastically.”

Past that, Scheben said the next big question to ask is if they have younger children and, more importantly, if their children are the ones that will want to handle the animal.

“Depending on the age of the children, I would stick with the bearded dragon or a gecko,” Scheben said. “[Get] something that isn’t going to bite them, and can handle being handled; The kids can pick them up, they aren’t going to take off, they are friendly and 99 percent of the time they will not bite.

“Then you have other reptiles like Monitor Lizards that if you walk into my store with a 3-year-old, I would be like, ‘No way.’ You have got to fit the animal to the person.”

Bearded Dragons are somewhat considered the dog of the reptile world, according to Scheben.

“They are very friendly, they want to associate with people, you walk into the room and they will run to the end of the tank waiting for you to feed them,” Scheben said.

The last two constraints that Scheben brought up were with space and the kind of budget a person has. While there are some reptiles that need a 6 foot cage or bigger, others can fit in a 1 foot cage that sits on a desk. Typically, a customer will bring up the space constraints when they first speak to a retailer.

When it comes to budget, there is a wide array of choices with reptiles. There are cheaper reptiles and more expensive reptiles that can affect how big of an enclosure they have, which can also cost more.

“People that are experienced with reptiles know exactly what they want,” Scheben said. “People that come in with kids, they have no idea what they want. We steer them into the direction of what they may want because this will be easier for you. Sometimes we show them two or three things that we think will be the best fit for them, but they really like the other thing.”

Questions to Ask

Michael Griffith, the account executive at Segrest Farms, said that when it comes to pairing customers with animals, the retailer should make it their responsibility to thoroughly understand the needs and wants of the customer, and to ensure there are staff members who are familiar with the care of every animal offered for sale.

While the specific line of questioning will be different depending on what animals they are looking at, there are some good starting points.

“Do you want something that is handleable?,” Griffith said. “For many people, not looking for fish, at least, the answer to this is likely to be yes. This is a great starting point for steering the customer towards certain animals and away from others.”

When it comes to fish, space is a large issue consumers must consider.

“You need enough tank space to support the fish you buy once they reach adult size,” Griffith said. “[This] can be extraordinarily challenging for a number of species commonly available, such as Redtail Catfish, Pacu and Iridescent Sharks.”

If a customer is buying a fish, ask them for details about their aquarium, such as their tank size, filtration, how long it has been running, water chemistry details and what other fish the customer already has. This is vital in order to be able to make suggestions on what tank mates might work well, what should be avoided, or advise if the tank is overstocked and shouldn’t hold any more fish.

Finally, ask the customer if they can accommodate the specific needs for the animal.

“This is one area where you hope the customer has done research on the animal, but you should always ensure that they know the specific requirements before they purchase the animal,” Griffith said. “Issues such as keeping an elevated salinity for a brackish fish, whether or not UV light should be supplied for a specific lizard, what temperature the enclosure should be kept at, and how to handle humidity and ventilation are all vital to successfully keeping certain animals.”

The final thing Griffith said is to not be afraid to say no to the customer.

“It can be easy to get into the mindset that if a customer says that they want to buy something, you should just sell it to them,” Griffith said. “However, if that animal doesn’t fulfill the customer’s desires, or if the customer is unable to provide the necessary care for it, don’t be afraid to tell the customer that they probably shouldn’t get that animal and explain the reasoning why.

“It is not uncommon for new fish customers to get discouraged and quit keeping fish because they bought a tank and a lot of fish to go in it, only to have the fish all die from aggression problems or ammonia poisoning. By helping your customers avoid this, they will respect your honesty and you will develop trust with your customer, leading to a more loyal, long-term relationship.”

There are similar questions that should be asked when it comes to small animals. Many times parents think little, furry creatures like a hamster would make great start pets for their children, but they need to be prepared that just because they are small, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily easier to care for.

Denice Fishette, customer service manager for Marshall Pet Products, suggested retailers ask customers questions such as if they have the income to support the care of the pet and what other pets they already may own.

She also suggested asking them what they already know, and don’t know.

For example, if someone came into a store asking about ferrets, she suggested asking them what they already know about the animal, its care and the commitment it takes to raise one.

No matter what the animal, retailers should be prepared to help their customers pick the one that best fits their lifestyle and will create a positive experience for both the animal and owner.

How the Digital Landscape Is Changing Marketing

One of the largest growth areas in marketing right now is in digital.

According to a study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, spending on Internet advertising in the U.S. totaled a record $10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2013, which is a 15 percent increase from the same quarter in 2012. In the pet industry, this is something we are seeing more companies embrace and find successful.

Before the digital age, companies that wanted to market to consumers focused on advertising in print, television or radio. The number of television channels and shows was miniscule compared to what there is today. But as television offerings expanded, video games became popular and the Internet widely available, audience fragmentation made it exceedingly difficult to capture the attention of the consumer. Digital advertising is becoming increasingly popular, as consumers are focusing on content creation, management and distribution.

Social networks, and social network advertising, allow pet businesses to market to a specific audience of pet owners that are likely to be interested in their products. This group of consumers can be narrowed based on past shopping history and other personal information users have chosen to share with the network.

However, that doesn’t mean you can just throw together a Facebook page and expect customers to flock to you. To stand out, it’s important to really know who your potential customers are, and target your advertising to that demographic.

Social networks are not traditionally a place to make direct sales. It is all about building a relationship with your followers and engaging with them. It is a source of information, as pet owners share what they love about your products, questions they face, as well as what they don’t like. A savvy marketer can compile this information and notice trends that can help to direct future efforts.

Smartphone use has continued to increase, along with tablets.  We’ve seen tremendous growth in using handheld devices with personal shopping. Physical retail is becoming a location to learn about and touch products, while many younger consumers delay making the actual purchase until price-comparing online.

It will become increasingly important for physical retail stores to focus on creating quality in-store experiences,  as well as having a strong online presence in order to keep younger customers. Millennials and Generation Z are the most likely to utilize mobile online shopping, and this category is expected to continue to grow in the years ahead.

In addition to online shopping, video viewership is shifting to online sources. Teens and young adults are currently watching as much television online as they do on an actual television set. No longer is video advertising limited to the old standby of television, which has significant cost hurdles for many small pet businesses.

Online video sites such as Hulu, YouTube and others allow consumers to select programs and watch them at their convenience anywhere that has an Internet or cellular connection. Consumers are not restricted to network schedules and cable pricing.

Viewers are reachable with targeted, relevant ads that either play before, during, or in-between online videos. Instead of showing a commercial to a million random people at a very high cost, as traditional television would provide, businesses can now reach thousands of people who would actually be interested in a product. Coming up with a compelling online video advertisement can now provide a better return on the marketing investment, and at a lower price point than television.

Consumer communication and purchasing have been migrating to digital channels at a pace much faster than marketing. Despite this growth, we have only begun to see the shift in marketing budgets to digital activities. This provides a terrific advantage to the few pet companies pursuing this advertising category.


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