A Crash Course in Employing a Millennial

While selling to the Millennial generation is important, equally as important for retailers is employing them.

When learning more about the Millennial generation and how to motivate them to work, several questions may come to mind for retailers. Pet Age asked Heather Resh-Crotsley, director of marketing for That Fish Place That Pet Place in Pennsylvania what some of the issues they run into are. Pet Age posed those questions to Nathan Richter, principal of Wakefield Research.

While Wakefield are not HR consultants, they do have a strong knowledge, and have done a lot of research, about Millennials.

Heather: They tend to have a hard time socializing face-to-face. They’re very good at communicating via email or text, but have trouble conversing with customers one on one. How might we train them to be more comfortable and sociable around unfamiliar people?

Nathan: Millennials expect to have intensive on-the-job training, yet in the opinion of Millennials, a majority of employers offer very little training, or none at all. Sixty percent of employed Millennials say they’ve never had on-the-job training. In reality, it’s not that companies aren’t offering training, but that Millennials have a specific definition of what they consider “real” training. It’s not enough just to pull them aside and give them pointers.

If training isn’t highly formalized and frequent, Millennials don’t consider it “training.” Employers should set aside dedicated time, schedule it in advance, provide training materials, and do this frequently.

Heather: We’ve noticed that our Millennial employees have a different work ethic than other generations that we employ. For example: they don’t understand the importance of coming to work on time, following our rules and policies, or following the proper chain of command. How might we help this generation succeed in the workforce where these skills are required?

Nathan: Remember that while 70 percent of college students have held some type of job by the time they graduate, for 50% of students these were part-time jobs, and likely undemanding positions. Their resumes may indicate that they have experience, but in reality they’ve never been held to the standards of a professional workplace.

It may seem obvious to you, but a new employee may not understand what truly constitutes professional conduct, like not showing up 10 minutes late. The solution is to very specifically, and in great detail, state expectations during employee onboarding, and to consistently apply the policy when it’s violated.

 Heather: Lastly, we have a difficult time motivating the Millennial generation to be excited about and involved in company events (adoption events, educational events, sale events, etc.). Does your expert have any tips on getting the generation involved in the pet industry and hobbies?

Nathan: Millennials are enthusiastic about pets, so an interest in pets likely isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s possible that your Millennial employees don’t feel that these events benefit them.

Millennials are generally very economically rational. Meaning, they consistently evaluate returns on their investments of time and energy.  That’s a fancy way of saying, they’re prone to ask “What’s in it for me?” when asked to participate.

This can be incredibly frustrating for employers. For long-term employees, employers can work to change this culture by investing employees in the purpose and planning behind the event, which conveys a sense of ownership. For short-term employees, you won’t have time to change their culture, and may have to rely on incentives like bonuses, days off, or freebies.

The Millennial Mind

In roughly four years, the Millennial generation will eclipse the Baby Boomers in spending power, making now the time for the independent retailer to start marketing to, and equally as important, understanding the Millennial generation. Understanding why they buy the things they do and what is important to them will be crucial to retailers in the near future.

Wakefield Research, a leading market research consultancy working with many of the world’s most iconic companies, including 40 of the Fortune 100, conducted research in 70 countries to design products, understand consumers, identify new customers and help companies communicate more effectively.

“Boomers are currently the bedrock of the pet retail industry, but the last of the Boomers turn 65 in 2029,” said Nathan Richter, principal of Wakefield Research. “As this generation ages, retailers must learn to reposition their offerings for the Millennial consumer. This requires learning how to tailor products and services to Millennials’ unique needs, which differ from those of Boomers.

“Time and again, we find that many companies are making crucial mistakes when marketing to Millennials; it’s not something that can be learned overnight. The time to begin learning, and building relationships, is now, not five years from now when Millennials have already developed an affinity for your competitor.”

Wakefield recently did a study on the Millennial generation. So the first question a person may have is, who is the Millennial generation?

They range from the ages of 18 to 33 and currently make up 27 percent of the U.S. adult population. It is also projected that by 2018, they will pass the Baby Boomers in spending power at $3.39 trillion.

The psyche of the Millennial pet owner has three characteristics, they are: exhibitionist, conscientious and irrational.

According to Wakefield Research, younger consumers think differently about what is “essential” when purchasing products. Millennials will buy discretionary products under the guise that they are non-discretionary.

“It’s different for every product, but the answer begins with remembering that many of the items and product attributes that Boomers label ‘discretionary’ are actually considered non-discretionary by Millennials,” Richter said. “Many marketers incorrectly assume that Millennials are frivolous consumers, and market to them accordingly. When, in fact, Millennials apply their own specific logic to the purchasing process. Marketers have to learn how Millennials are evaluating their specific offerings in order to learn how to appeal to these consumers.

“Typically, we find in our research that the bar to move Millennials to purchasing is much higher and complex that it is for previous generations of consumers.”

For Zoo Med, the millennial generation happens to be the largest group of consumers interested in and supporting the reptile industry, currently.

“This age group, 15-35 years old, is the generation that is most active in reptile keeping and searching for related material online,” said Keith Morris, national sales manager for Zoo Med.

What Millennials Look For

Some of the discretionary spending by Millennials include that Millennial women buy a third more apparel than non-Millennial women, regardless of income. Millennial men spend twice as much on apparel as non-Millennial males. Also, they are 52 percent more likely than other generations to make impulse or pampering purchases.

Most importantly, 76 percent of Millennials identified an item they are more likely to “splurge” on for their pet than they would for themselves, like expensive treats or a custom bed. Compare that to 50 percent of Boomers, who would “splurge” on certain items.

Millennials expect pet supplies to be BPA-free, 78 percent, and made with natural or organic materials, 76 percent. In addition, 86 percent of Millennials feel “natural” food is essential.

Millennials and Boomers agree equally, at 78 percent, their pet is family. But, 82 percent of Millennials feel that getting a pet is part of preparing to have a family, compared to 59 percent of Boomers who believe that.

Technology is also used more by Millennials, with 69 percent of them saying they are more likely to use technology to keep track of their pet.

Morris from Zoo Med said he believes the millennial generation appreciates and supports companies or products that tend to be socially responsible in production and packaging and that are American made.

“As this generation continues to mature they see the need to retain jobs and employment possibilities here in the U.S. to protect their employment possibilities and those of future generations,” Morris said.

Social Media

Millennials are on social networks, to be specific, 90 percent of them are. On average, Millennials have 250 friends on Facebook, compared to the Boomers’ 74.

“There is only one key to understanding social media in a marketing context, it’s a performance place,” Richter said. “For Millennials, social media is a means of curating their life for their friends. This is an over-simplification, but brands that use social media to enable Millennials to exhibit their tastes and personality will attract an audience.

“Many brands do the opposite, they think of social media as a channel for communicating directly to the consumer, or for the consumer to communicate directly to the brand. Instead, effective branded social media is a three-way relationship. It should provide a branded stage for consumers to participate with other consumers through online communication.”

Among Millennials who have a social media account for their pet, 66 percent are on Facebook, 38 percent are on Twitter and 34 percent are on Instagram.

Also, 55 percent of Millennials with social media follow at least one pet on social media.

“It is true that Millennials are more social media/internet savvy and spend time conducting researching on items of interest whether it’s fashion, pet related concerns, music and entertainment,” said William M. Sherk, Jr., president and CEO of MiracleCorp Products. “Millennials don’t always want what the older generation wanted, in fact, most don’t. They look for a more natural diet, with added benefits, no additives, fillers or preservatives. Packaging is bright and vibrant, cleaner, natural and fresh, with more attention paid to features and benefits.”

According to Morris, social media is where there is an ever increasing division between the Millennials and older generations.

“Millennials have grown up in the digital age, many not knowing a life without smartphones and tablet-type devices,” Morris said. “Because of this dramatic shift in digital connectivity many Millennials are continually plugged into the internet and typically spend more time connected to the internet than they do watching television. Television or traditional advertising does not filter down to the millennial generation very well. The only way to connect with them is through social media.”

Planning for the Future

According to Richter, much of the conventional wisdom about marketing to Millennials is wrong.

“I’ve found that a primary source of these misconceptions about Millennials stem from people’s personal experiences,” Richter said. “Instead of consumers, they see their sons and daughters, which invites a bias that’s difficult to escape. That bias leads them to be dismissive, and prevents them from seeing the Millennial consumer clearly.”

When planning for the Millennial customer, again, younger consumers think differently about what is “essential” when purchasing products.

“This means that whole categories and sub-categories of products that are currently considered luxuries by older consumers will become a must-have for Millennials,” Richter said. “For example, pet clothing, specialized grooming products and specialized pet foods.”

Transparency is also very important to the Millennial generation.

“This generation is accustomed to instant access to large amounts of information,” Richter said. “This is an oversimplification, but if a Boomer evaluates a purchase by two criteria, Millennials evaluate it by four or five. Retailers must cater to this instinct. This means not only including information about materials and place of origin, but also on how the specific design and materials or ingredients of your product benefit the pet and its owner.”

Currently MiracleCorp has a multi-faceted approach to gaining awareness and building its brands. It does this by providing information on its website along with providing content to the retailers it serves.

“Additional communications come from Facebook and Twitter accounts which are actively updated with blogging and blogging support for on our various brand and corporate websites,” Sherk said. “To draw attention to our brands we advertise thru PPC and retargeting marketing programs. Not all of this needs to be electronic as in-store demonstrations offer a great opportunity to showcase our new food and treats. It’s the perfect venue to meet pet parents and address their questions and concerns firsthand.”

Steve Luhrs, the founder of Bionic, realizes the importance of the millennial market and how they are the future of the consumer market going forward.

“Most were raised in a pet loving home, however today many of them are still home or coming back to live, many are waiting longer to get married and have kids, and a great deal of them are tech savvy,” Luhrs said. “I think that we as an industry need to realize what the difficulties are in marketing towards this generation and if we do not start to engage them soon, we could potentially lose our greatest target market for the future.”

Motivating Millennials

Wakefield Research did a Drivers Analysis that goes beyond just understanding what Millennials agree with. It uncovers what motivates and drives their purchase decisions.

The right functional messaging that drives Millennials? Your pet food should be scientifically formulated to help your pet maintain a healthy life.

“Our studies have shown that many companies fundamentally misunderstand how Millennials make purchasing decisions,” Richter said. “This differs by product category, so first things first: Conduct high-quality market research to understand how consumers view your brand and your category. There’s a good chance that you’re relying on assumptions that are incorrect or misdirecting. You can’t sell to someone that you don’t understand.”

Educational Importance

When it comes to running your business, your employees are arguably one of, if not the most, valuable resources you have.

While you want to hire the perfect employee, finding that person and hiring them is only half the battle. Past that, you have to train them and keep them motivated to continue doing well for your business.

Dale Carnegie, a training organization founded in 1912, and MSW Research did a study on over 1,500 employees, to dig further into what creates engaged employees. The study revealed that 29 percent of the workforce is engaged, 45 percent are not engaged and 26 percent are actively disengaged.

In a 2013 report by Gallup, the company estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

Training an employee takes days, weeks and possibly months out of your time that could be spent running your store, but the payoff could be huge. So what does it take to train an employee properly?

While there is no “right” way to train an employee, several stores have their own way of doing things.

Terri Ellen, owner of Nature’s Pet Market in Ashland, Ore., has personally trained the employee who has gone on to become her store’s manager.

“I found the best way to train is by example, to have them follow me from opening to closing and talk out loud about what I was doing and why,” Ellen said. “I give them lots of reading material and ask them to go on each manufacture’s website to learn about products. Many of the reps were influential in product training for me and my employees.”

Keith Miller, co-owner of Bubbly Paws with two locations in Minnesota, has a general manager who fits the Bubbly Paws profile of what they are looking for in an employee.

“She trains each of our staff during one of her shifts, but we also have new staff shadow employees for two to three shifts before they start on their own,” Miller said. “We only turn them loose on their own, once we are confident that they represent our name and brand in the way we want it shown to the public.”

While some retailers may have others who train their employees, others believe in doing it themselves.

Trevor MacKellar, the co-owner of Healthy Pet in Austin, Texas, believes the shadow method is the best. According to MacKeller, you cannot expect someone to do a job the way you do it if you haven’t shown them how you would do it.

“I walk every single employee who starts around the store and give them a tour,” MacKellar said. “From there, I tell them there is a lot to learn but [not to] be scared [because] there is plenty of time. I tell them when it’s slow, to walk through the aisles and read the packaging, read the names of things, look at where things go and why.”

MacKeller also encourages his employees to ask questions, saying that no one ever gets in trouble for asking, only for assuming.

Dan Remus, the co-founder of Wag N’ Wash, has developed a systemized process for training.

“We have defined positions in our organization, so depending on what position they were hired into will determine the kind of training they will get,” Remus said. “Provide them with a good base knowledge of what your business is and what the intent and goals of your business [are]. Give them some base product knowledge, then work side by side with them and have them experience the job and really get that hands-on experience.”

Pet Food Express, winner of San Jose Mercury News’ Top Work Place award for 5 years in a row, has seven different ways they continuously train their employees, including their own Pet Food Express University for new-hire training.

“[New-hire training is] a solid, full week course conducted once a month in our classroom at corporate that covers everything from policies and procedures, to customer service and sales skills, with a main focus on product training,” Michael Levy, president and founder of Pet Food Express, said. “This program is designed to give new employees basic information and introduce them to our core philosophy, to treat people the way they want to be treated.”

The company also does Web modules, product training sheets, quarterly training, education department-store visits, community training and management training.

“All store managers attend a meeting once a month in our corporate classroom to train on new products, procedures and services, as well as to receive ongoing management training and development,” Levy said. “Over 200 Pet Food Express store managers spend about a day at corporate each month attending these classes.

Laurren Schmoyer has owned and operated, an aquarium store for over 25 years. In the past 2 years, he has written three books and created the National Aquarium Training website.

“During my retail store days, we had a very basic training program, but it took mine or my staff’s time to teach, and covered a few topics,” Schmoyer said. “I wanted a training program that was more comprehensive and took very little of the management’s time. This is why I created NationalAquariumTraining.com, which has over 45 freshwater, saltwater and reef courses, with self-grading quizzes at the end of each course. Quiz scores are automatically added to a store report. The training site will never stop growing since there is so much to learn about keeping fish, plants, invertebrates, corals and the equipment.”

Schmoyer said one of the advantages of the online training is that after each course is completed, a test is given. Once the test is completed, the score, along with other relevant information, is added to a store report. This makes it easy to reward their employees by completed courses, which can tie into raises, gift cards for food or music.

“Everyone wants to be appreciated and recognized, therefore great motivators can be an award certificate, a promotion or even a new title,” Schmoyer said.


After a retailer has properly trained their employee, the next biggest task is to hold onto them and continue to motivate them. Continuing to motivate them not only makes them better workers, but makes them want to stay with the company.

According to The Bureau of National Affairs, it estimates that U.S. businesses lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover.

Just like with training employees, there is no one right way to motivate them.

Miller takes great pride in being a family-owned business and tries to treat each employee as a member of his family.

“We have employee nights out and have fun holiday parties,” Miller said. “One year we even had a kickball team in a league; we are not that good, but [we] tried. My wife and I are very active with our business and get to know each member of our staff and what is going on in their lives. I believe that all this goes into creating good and motivated staff members.”

In order to keep a good employee, Miller believes that if they are living the company culture that they have created, the employee will want to stay.

“One of our groomers, Jessica, has been with us for 3 years and describes it as her ‘dream grooming job,’” Miller said. “Last year on her anniversary, we got her a cake and put how much we love her on our Facebook page. Making sure staff [members] know they are valued is very important to us.”

For Remus, he believes the best way to motivate your employees is to give them the opportunity for growth.

“It could be more responsibilities, opportunity to learn more, but definitely motivating team members by allowing them to continue to grow in your organization,” Remus said.

For Ellen, she has learned that personal goals and also being accommodating for her workers has been the best motivation.

“An example is the two single mothers with small children who need to pick up kids at a certain time from daycare,” Ellen said. “Their hours are built around that and when a child has an emergency or is sick, we work around them. They have even come to work with their moms because there was no other choice.”

Also, Ellen doesn’t just tell her employees what to do or ask them to do something. She takes it a step further than that.

“I explain to them the reasons behind my requests so that they understand where I’m coming from,” Ellen said. “I always value their input and listen to them. They often have ideas and tweaks to make things even better. I value the team and we collaborate. Each one of my employees brings something valuable to the store.”

MacKellar has a similar philosophy to Ellen’s, in the sense that he believes in always working side by side with all of his employees and teaching them all to work together and communicate.

“There is not a single job that I would ask my employees to do that I haven’t and don’t do myself,” MacKellar said. “In addition, I have had success with employees through extensive training.  People can have different ways of doing things, but if you insist it must be done a certain way, then you must show and teach them what that is. Being right alongside my employees really helps me do this without it feeling like a training session.”

Training Programs

In the pet industry, many manufacturers offer training programs for retailers.

Coastal Pet has a Selling Specialist Program to educate employees on all things Coastal. For 2014, Coastal is offering the entire Selling Specialist Program in a convenient, interactive online format.

“We have had the program for a few years but it existed in the form of hands-on training,” Ashley Brindle, communications coordinator for Coastal Pet, said. “Coastal Pet has not done away with this part of the training; rather, we have expanded it to the online version to reach more retail employees. Our goal was to upgrade the program to make it easier for the employee to learn by offering it as an interactive, online program. Now, through the online program, more stores can access the information at times that are conducive to their schedules.”

Programs like these are important because product expertise and advice will help set a retailer apart from their competition. According to Brindle, after learning about the products, the store employee will be comfortable with making product recommendations, which provides the store with higher turns and the consumer with the best product for their need.

Zoo Med currently has a dozen regional representatives handling the United States and Canada. The company requires its sales staff to set up training seminars to pass along their knowledge and skills to the retail employee.

“Most retail employees find their way into pet stores because they have a passion for animals,” Keith Morris, national sales manager of Zoo Med, said. “This passion is a great building block, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to solid retail sales.  Zoo Med requires our sales staff to conduct sales seminars with retail employees, managers and store owners.  We offer training seminars that run from 15 minutes to 2 hours on a variety of subjects, including lighting, heating, foods, substrates, etc.  If employees have a passion for animals, then teaching them about husbandry techniques and product application will strengthen their foundation on the sales side of the business.  Zoo Med sales representatives are a great resource and can be utilized for follow up questions and information, too.”

Pet Store Pro is a free online training program that gives pet store owners the time and resources to make sure those essential tasks get done correctly. It teaches critical skills for associates, managers and owners. It prepares new hires for success and addresses performance issues.

“We wanted to focus on providing a basic level of consistent knowledge,” Stephanie A. Kaplan, Pet Store Pro director of online education, said. “When a customer comes into the store and asks four different people in the store, they get one answer, instead of four different answers. At the same time, we really wanted to free up the owner/manager’s time to not have to do the very basics, and instead source that out to a trusted resource, so that they can really focus their training time on what differentiates the store, the details of what brands they carry, all that kind of medium and advanced level.”

Pet Store Pro’s associate curriculum is divided into two categories. One is business basics, which focuses on customer service, sales, merchandising and pet retail basics, which is geared toward brand new employees to the pet industry.

The second one is the animal care track, which is geared toward stores that carry livestock.

“Many of our customers don’t actually have animals in the store,” Kaplan said. “But they still put their employees through those courses because they want them to be able to answer customer questions when they come in.”

Pet Store Pro’s goal is to give independent retailers the resources to differentiate their stores on service and knowledge.

“Having different courses that [boost] sales associates’ confidence, increase their ability to answer customer questions, allow them to do a targeted analysis to figure out what type of customer is this person, what type of service are they looking for,” Kaplan said. “Fundamentally, that’s how we believe independents will stay around and be a success.”

Professional Input

Most retailers will tell you that training doesn’t end right after an employee is hired. Training should be a constant, especially if there is ever a change that you make to the store.

Chris Delaney is the founder of www.employmentking.co.uk and a professional career adviser, trainer and coach.

According to Delaney, there are five key steps to achieving staff motivation when implementing change.

His first step is to involve the staff in the ideas stage.

Step two of his process is to match values. He said that highly successful businesses are open about their values.

The third step deals directly with training and developing the staff.

Step four is to walk the walk and talk the talk. He said you need to motivate your staff and increase production; businesses need to implement what they say they will implement.

The final step is planning.

“Once your training needs have been identified, companies need to record these in a time-framed development plan,” Delaney said. “Time frames have to be realistic, as falling behind in the achievement of milestones can unmotivate staff. A development plan also shows staff short, medium and long-term goals.”

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania management professor Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, assistant professor of management at George Mason University, performed a 16-month longitudinal study at a long-term health care facility to measure the effect of companionate love on emotional and behavioral outcomes of employees.

Companionate, according to Barsade, is shown when colleagues who are together day in and day out ask and care about each other’s work, and even nonwork issues.

To conduct their research, Barsade and O’Neill constructed a scale designed to measure tenderness, compassion, affection and caring. Instead of asking the participants if they felt or expressed those emotions themselves, the researchers asked to what degree people saw their colleagues expressing them. Lastly, they added ratings of cultural artifacts, how the culture is displayed in the physical environment, which reflects a culture of companionate love.

According to the University of Pennsylvania’s website, one of the most significant findings in the study was that a culture of companionate love reduces employees’ withdrawal from work. Barsade and O’Neill measured employee withdrawal by surveying workers about their levels of emotional exhaustion, and by studying their rates of absenteeism.

They found that units with higher levels of companionate love had lower levels of absenteeism and employee burnout. The researchers also discovered that a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.


Complex Choices

When it comes to keeping reptiles and aquatic species in a retail store, one of the first choices an owner must make is whether to offer captive-bred and raised, or wild-caught animals.

Before making any final decisions, remember that having a good livestock section means the animals must be healthy, there must be a variety of them and they should be realistic for the retailer’s customers to keep. These considerations are intimately related to the types of animals you choose to house in your store.

Wild-Caught Species

In the early days of both the aquatic and reptile hobbies, most of the animals were wild caught. Pioneers would head out to far-flung locales around the world and bring back species that were never before seen, let alone kept.

Although the situation has changed, today many marine fish and certain types of invertebrates, such as giant clams, are still wild caught, as are specialized freshwater species and reptiles.

“There is definitely a need to import fish,” Sandy Moore, vice president of Segrest Farms, said. “We look to countries like Indonesia where fish are mostly raised in tanks in school batches because people want variety. Then we look to countries like Singapore and Malaysia and Thailand for fish that we can’t raise as efficiently in Florida because they are so labor intensive.”

One of the first things to keep in mind with wild-caught species is that most retailers do not import the animals on their own. Moore explained that there are very high fees associated with getting an import license, and you need to develop a relationship with appropriate government agencies. In order for this to be worthwhile, retailers would need to turn over a huge volume of imported fish, which is unlikely in most cases.

Instead, retailers can order wild-caught fish through importers that already have the import license and know the laws. Chris Buerner, owner of Quality Marine, suggests retailers look for transparency and have trust in a wholesaler.

“What I mean by that level of trust is that, is there enough transparency, is there traceability, is there visibility to the origins of an organism,” Buerner said. “…If they are buying animals that are wild harvested, is there an assurance or any mechanism there for organisms traceability to its origin. So, if someone is buying a coral beauty from Fiji for example, do they feel good, is there some way they can ensure or be assured that those organisms are truly coming from those origins? The reason that is important is because there are varying levels of collection, responsibility or management from wherever these animals are coming from. [In] certain source countries, the management and the handling is better, [so] those animals tend to do a lot better than animals originating from regions where there isn’t that oversight or attention to handling detail.”

Once you have found trusted importers, another challenge with importing animals from the wild is providing the right care for them. Aquatic species coming in from the wild may have parasites or diseases, and should be quarantined even if the importer has already done so. They also are less likely to adapt to a captive diet, and retailers may have to offer them nonstandard fare that better replicates their natural diet to keep them in good health.

Captive Bred

The discussion of getting wild-caught animals used to a captive environment brings us to one of the greatest advantages of captive-bred organisms: They were born in an artificial environment and, therefore, are used to the foods, as well as other aspects of captivity.

Dustin Dorton, president of Oceans Reefs and Aquariums, put it succinctly: “Generally, captive bred fish acclimate to aquarium life better; they have already been in an aquarium their entire life.”

“Farm-raised fish are generally hardier,” he said. “They will arrive at a retailer without any diseases. And, also, there is the environmental aspect of not taking the fish from the reef. Another thing is the availability. They are available all the time.”

Breeding in captivity is ubiquitous in the freshwater hobby and retailers can get everything from cichlids to livebearers, tetras to killifish that have been captive bred. Similarly, most common reptiles are captive bred as well.

“Twenty percent of animals are wild-caught versus 80 percent captive bred,” John Mack, president of Reptiles by Mac, said.  “That’s pretty much an industry standard.”

However, the marine aquarium hobby is another story. While many corals are fragged in captivity, broken into pieces that grow into new colonies, comparatively few fish are captive bred, although the number has been growing in recent years.

Instead of just buying from fish farms, both in the U.S. and abroad, another option for retailers looking to stock captive-bred fish is to work with local hobbyist breeders, including customers who frequent their store.

Legal Issues

“From dogs to cats to reptiles, from local to state all the way to a federal level, there are regulations for the sale of pets,” Mack said. “All the endangered species are regulated on international trade. They are just monitoring the numbers to make sure they are staying healthy in the population.”

That being said, the marine aquarium hobby has been under increased scrutiny lately. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently considering whether or not to list 66 corals under the Endangered Species Act protection.

“Basically there are groups that have petitioned NOAA to do this,” Buerner said. “It’s questionable if there is enough data to support this potential listing of these corals, and potentially other fish, that have been petitioned under the ESA.”

If the law goes through, companies will not be able to import or sell, even if they are bred in captivity. Once an organism is listed to the ESA, they are protected and there are tremendous regulations associated with any resale or handling of them.

“Once [the laws] are on, it’s really hard to get them off,” Buerner said. “More problematic is that once they are on, it opens a door for lots of other corals of the same genera or fish of the same genius to be listed.

“Most of these things are being listed under the guise of global warming or habitat destruction. It’s not that they are worried about these corals being endangered or threatened today. It’s that in time these corals can suffer due to ocean acidification or global warming trends. That’s a precedent, [and] if that’s set, then you can almost arguably list any species in the sea under the same guidelines. So it’s a precedent we are compelling NOAA to be very cautious [about].”

In response to the proposed regulations, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, or PIJAC, has launched the Marine Ornamental Defense Fund. On their website they are encouraging marine hobbyists and small-business owners to donate and help to “fight for the long-term viability of having fish as pets.” Recently they also submitted new information to the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the distribution and abundance of the 66 species of coral in question.

What to Do

Until these regulations go into effect, ultimately the decision of what to offer is based on a combination of factors. For example, if a retailer simply wants to offer a freshwater aquarium section, retailers may choose to go mostly, or even entirely, with captive-bred fish. However, most well-rounded stores offer a complete line of both captive-bred and wild-caught animals.

The most important thing to succeed is to educate customers on what they are buying. If someone new to the aquarium hobby purchases a wild-caught fish that is considered nearly impossible to keep, they will fail and likely drop out of the hobby. If you steer them to a captive-bred, hardy fish, they may keep coming back for years to come.

Pet Industry Spending Hits All-Time High

With over 985 exhibiting companies, nearly 6,000 buyers, 2,895 booths, representatives from 100 countries and 3,000 new products launched, the Global Pet Expo celebrated its 10th-year anniversary with a bang.

Prior to the show, Global Pet Expo had sold out its special exhibiting sections that included: Natural Pet, The Boutique, Everything Aquatic and What’s New!

Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, announced during the show that the overall spending in the pet industry for 2013 exceeded early estimates, coming in at an all-time high of more than $55.7 billion, a 4.5 percent growth from 2012.

“Both food and veterinary care are strongly influenced by consumers’ growing interest in improved health care for their pets,” Vetere said. “Health and wellness-related themes represent the most powerful trends across all segments of the industry, and will continue to do so again this year.”

According to this year’s annual comprehensive spending and data report, it estimates that overall spending for 2014 is expected to be $58.51 billion, a 4.9 percent growth over 2013.

The Global Pet Expo is put on by the American Pet Products Association and Pet Industry Distributors Association.

New Products

While some companies came out with one or two products, others introduced many more.

PetSafe came out with 14 new products that include the PetSafe Auto Trainer, winner of Becker’s Best; and the PetSafe Busy Buddy Build a Bone display, that won a new product showcase award.

“I’m extremely proud of everything we can offer pet owners through our new PetSafe products, and even more excited to share these products at this year’s Global Pet Expo,” Randy Boyd, founder and CEO of Radio Systems Corporation, said. “With a special focus on innovation, owner convenience and design, our team has worked incredibly hard, from concept and research, to execution and trial, to make sure we deliver products that meet the needs of the pets and their owners.”

Out of the 3,000 new products that launched during Global, Merrick Pet Care had more than 60 of them.

“This show is definitely a highlight for us because we are launching 66 new items,” Pete Brace, vice president of communications for Merrick Pet Food, said. “We have been saying we have been working overtime in the super-premium category to really meet the pet-parent demand. They are really looking for things that meet their pet’s needs, whether it is grain-free, gluten-free, those key qualities that consumers are still gravitating toward.”

Anniversary Celebrations

While Global Pet Expo celebrated its 10th anniversary, Fromm Family Foods celebrated its 110th-year anniversary.

“The best thing about the celebration is the distributors and retailers here that celebrated with us; it makes it all worthwhile,” Tom Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods, said.

The company had a hospitality suite for two days that included breakfast and happy hours. On March 13, the company celebrated its 110th anniversary with two, 3-minute videos about the company.

“I have heard so many stories from them [the retailers and distributors] it makes them love our product more with getting to know us and getting to know our story,” Kathy Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods, said. “I think it’s been really important to them and I think it helps them to sell our product because they have a story to tell our customers.”

Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, said the company wanted to highlight its commitment to the industry and humanize the brand.

“We are not just some people on some CEO board,” he said. “We are real people they can talk to and see a history that goes back five generations. It’s something that no other company can really say.”

First Time at Global

Many companies attended the event for the first time, including Piddle Place, makers of a convenient and easy-to-use pet relief system.

“What a fantastic experience,” Kathleen Hillman, president of Piddle Place, said. “I loved the energy created by so many people working to better the lives of our furry friends. Pets enrich our lives and bring us comfort and friendship. I appreciated the opportunity from APPA to be part of this event. And, I appreciate the stores and distributors that stopped by our booth to hear our story, especially those  that saw the value and placed an order with us. We brought on 19 new distributors in different countries and won a Best in Show award from Dr. Marty Becker. Great weekend for Piddle Place.”

Caru Pet Foods features grain-free natural stews and Soft ‘n Tasty treats. It was also the company’s first time.

“The experience itself was great,” Adrian Pettyan, Caru Pet Foods co-owner and founder, said. “Being in the new product showcase really helped bring people to our booth; we had a ton of people tell us that they had seen our display in the new product showcase and as a result were stopping by. I even had one lady who took our pamphlet home and read all about us so that when she came to our booth the next day, she was recounting to me our story and what we were all about. “

Some companies, like iLeesh Products LLC, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of breed-specific pet products and gift accessories, weren’t sure what to expect during the trade show.


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.

Communities Come Together for Dog Park Program

Bark for Your Park is a nationwide contest PetSafe has hosted for the past three years. Now in its fourth year, the company is reaching out proactively to retailers asking them to be a part of the contest.

“The communities that win dog parks get very excited about their pets and their community,” Robin Hawn Rhea, senior brand manager for PetSafe, said. “As a buzz of pet enthusiasm begins within the community, there tends to be a spike in adoptions and pet owners seeking products, training and solutions for the home and the dog park. A retailer that is a partner with the community during the contest is truly supporting their community on their journey to become even more responsible and giving with their pets.”

Nearly 10 years ago, PetSafe had available property adjacent to its headquarters that they developed into a 1.5-acre dog park and made it available to the public.

“We were amazed at the huge amount of traffic and excitement that the park generated,” Rhea said. “So we continued to donate to the East Tennessee-area dog lovers. We saw more people adopting dogs because a dog park was available and that dog parks helped reduce the number two reason dogs are surrender to shelters, behavior. When dogs get the exercise and socialization they need in dog parks, they exhibited far fewer of the behavior issues that result in owner surrenders. We knew we were on to something and wanted to expand the effort to other communities.

“The challenge was, ‘How would we ever choose who to give a dog park to?’ We want parks to go to cities that we knew would love them and use them. So we developed the Bark for Your Park contest and structured the contest to ensure that the most deserving and most pet-loving communities can have their very own dog park.”

The 2012 Grand Prize Winner was the town of Texarkana, Ark. One of the community coordinators is Chrystal Sloan, who found out about the contest from a friend.

“In 2011, I found the contest while searching for grants to help our local animal shelter, but the idea of a community dog park had been pitched to me before then,” Sloan said. “When I started talking about entering the contest, a friend told me that their friend, DeAnna O’Malley, had been wanting a dog park in Texarkana, too. It turned out that DeAnna happened to be my neighbor. Our city manager, Harold Boldt, gave us his blessing and picked out a location for the future dog park.”

The first year they tried was the first year of the contest and their effort didn’t get off the ground. Sloan and O’Malley decided they wanted to try again for the following year, so Sloan sent personal emails to everyone she knew.

“When State Rep. Prissy Hickerson, who is an advocate for the animals, responded with enthusiasm, I knew we had a real chance,” Sloan said.
“She really helped by rallying other elected officials, doing her homework, and speaking to the media. Then it snowballed into something really wonderful. People began to take it upon themselves to rally their friends and family to vote for the dog park,” she said. “Every media outlet available to us kept the story in the news. I started a Facebook page and people found their niche to help. Some people used comedy, some used their influence, some used their math skills, some used their graphic skills, but everyone used their networking skills.

“Local businesses were amazing to us. We had donations for flyers, magazine ads, newspaper ads, T-shirts, banners and prizes for the celebration party. Several businesses put ‘Bark for Your Park’ on their marquee signs, allowed us to put up flyers, and hosted voting events. Because the 7 Vote Sniff Out was such an important day and some people had a hard time figuring out what to do, we would set up voting stations at several places throughout the day. Some of the best memories were made at a local bar. The people there were in a good mood, ready to socialize, happy to talk about the dog park and, most importantly, vote! It didn’t hurt that we kept a pitcher of beer and a stack of cups at our table. We were in it to win it and we had fun doing it.”

Sloan suggests communities who want to win, should build a team.

“It takes all kinds to make the world go ‘round and it takes all kinds to win the PetSafe Bark for Your Park contest,” Sloan said. “Let people do what they do best and ask them to run with it. Think outside of the box. Create your own contests or incentives to get people interested.

“Take advantage of any situation where there are large groups of people. Rent booths at festivals, of course ask if you can have the space for free since you are helping your community, go to adoption events, dog shows, bowling alleys, sporting events or a mall and set up information/voting stations. Since people have to vote on their computer, you must have a solid presence on social media sites. They are sitting at their computer, so they might as well vote and help their community while they are surfing the Internet.”

The 2013 grand prize winner was the town of Texarkana, Texas.

Robby Robertson, the parks and recreation director of Texarkana, said they had wanted to have a dog park as a part of their park system for a number of years.

“The Parks Department donated/ designated a piece of land at one of our local parks: Spring Lake Park. We also went to our City Council in support of this project and to encourage their support as well,” Robertson said.

A group of local citizens approached Roberton’s department regarding the contest.

“Apparently the city of Texarkana, Texas, was already nominated and they asked for our support and assistance with getting our local leaders involved,” Robertson said. “People are very excited and are looking forward to the opening. The construction of the Dog Park has recently begun, and we have had a number of people showing up at the location asking when the park will be open and of course the phone calls about the Dog Park have really increased in the past few weeks.”

For more information on this year’s Bark for Your Park, visit the PetSafe website at www.petsafe.net.


Celebrity Influence

It’s been in advertising and marketing for as long as most of us can remember: celebrities endorsing, or producing their own, products.

In recent years, Tiger Woods has been synonymous with Nike, William Shatner with Priceline and Michael Jordan with Gatorade.

For more than 50 years, celebrities and personalities have endorsed different products. Why has it lasted for so long? Because it works, and it’s something that as celebrities begin entering the pet industry with their own products, pet retailers should take advantage of.

In June 2012, the Journal of Advertising Research produced an article by Anita Elberse, an associate professor of Harvard Business School, and Jeroen Verleun, a Barclays Capital analyst, titled, “The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements.” The study was done to see how celebrity endorsements impact sales. One of the conclusions they found: “In general, enlisting the help of celebrity endorsers pays off.”

Now, celebrities don’t always just endorse products, especially not as much in the pet industry. Instead, many of them have started their own pet companies, or worked with established manufacturers in the business to create signature lines, because of their love for pets.

A perfect example of this would be Kristy Hinze-Clark, the creator/creative director for Legitimutt, who is also an Australian model, actress and television host. She has also appeared in Sports Illustrated as well as the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

“I started Legitimutt because of my love for my dogs,” Hinze-Clark said. “I had always wanted to have a company based around pets and their care. I noticed that there was a gap in the market for high-quality, USA-made pet goods, and when I was brainstorming names one afternoon and came up with Legitimutt, my husband said that I had to go with it. Hence, Legitimutt was born.”

Celebrities and Their Products

Hinze-Clark said one of the biggest questions she gets asked is, “Why do a pet line?”

“Most models that come from my field go into lingerie or swimwear or clothing,” Hinze-Clark said. “Well, it was something different and fun. After being in the fashion industry for over 20 years, I wanted to do something that had a sense of humor while still utilizing my many years of experience.”

Halo, Purely for Pets is co-owned by Ellen DeGeneres, who believes that, “If you’re going to have pets you should treat them like you’d treat yourself. I don’t mean you should treat them to new shoes or a fancy car—I am talking about the basics; a nice bed, fun toys and good food.”

DeGeneres founded the company while finding the perfect food for her dog.

“A few years ago I was looking for some pet food for one of my dogs who was allergic to everything, honestly, even his own fur,” DeGeneres said. “I tried everything, our vet tried everything and finally I found a little company that had the perfect food for him. It’s called Halo, Purely for Pets.

“So, because I think Halo is incredible, I decided to become part owner in hopes that all animals have the chance to be the healthiest they can be. And I’m anxious to spread the word so that everybody knows about Halo.”

Rocky Keever is the president and founder of DOG for DOG, a store with a simple mission statement: “For every item sold we will donate one to a dog in need.”

“It started because my team and I were hosting rescue groups at my stores, The Dog Bakery, and we couldn’t seem to help enough dogs,” Keever said. “So one day, I decided that the only way to truly make an impact was to involve everyone. I truly believe people are giving by nature and just need a convenient way to do so. Thus, DOG for DOG was born.

“My business partner, Scott Ragan, and myself have partnered with some pretty amazing people. Michael Buble and his wife, Luisana Lopilato, Chelsea Handler and Snoop Dogg are all investors for the DOG for DOG movement. It is pretty exciting helping dogs in need with the team that we have.”

In the Beginning

Before the article, “The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements,” was printed, most advertisers and marketers said celebrity endorsements pay off.

Where did these ideas come from?Originally, a mathematical manuscript was written by mathematician Manfred Kochen and political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool called, “Contacts and Influences.” It was published in 1978 and formally articulated the mechanics of social networks. The manuscript didn’t answer all questions, as there were some about the degree of connectedness, and there were still questions about networks, which included the number of degrees of separation in actual social networks.

Stanley Milgram, a Ph.D. graduate from Harvard, who later taught at Harvard and Yale, would go on to produce the famous Milgram experiments. In 1967, Milgram lead experiments called the “The Small World Problem” in the magazine, Psychology Today. It is more popularly known today as the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory or the “Kevin Bacon game.”

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell came out with a book called, “The Tipping Point,” which seeks to explain how ideas, products, messages and behaviors spread in culture. In the book, he covers “The Law of the Few,” which cites Milgram’s experiments in the small world problem, but it discusses that there is a small but compelling group of individuals who are influential. This group consists of several groups of people, including celebrities.

Since celebrities are influential people, Keever said one of the important aspects to their celebrity partners is that none of them are tasked with selling products.

“They are all tasked with helping spread the word on how we can all help dogs in need,” Keever said. “Some people may say in the end that is the same thing. To us, it is a major difference because focusing on our movement helps let passion and heart lead the way.”

Working With Retailers

David Yaskulka, vice president, marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets, said that while brands such as American Express, Lifewater, Cover Girl and others might pay Ellen millions to be associated with their products, Halo is actually co-owned by Ellen.

“She’s a believer, not a paid spokesperson,” Yaskulka said. “And it shows in the power of her messaging. Ellen says, ‘I love my pets so much that I’ll only give them Halo.’ Ellen never says such deeply personal endorsements of other brands, because the nature of this relationship is from the heart.”

Yaskulka continued to say that there is no more passionate, credible and visible animal-rescue advocate than Ellen.

“She would never recommend anything less than exemplary for pets,” Yaskulka said. “That’s why she’s such a powerful part of the Halo, Purely for Pets, brand. She believes in the highest quality natural nutrition and she believes in helping animals. That’s the Halo brand in a nutshell.”

In February, Hinze-Clark hosted a trunk show and pet adoption event in “The Dog Bar,” which is Miami’s leading pet store and also one of their prime locations for Legitimutt.

“We are looking forward to introducing new and exciting additions to the Legitimutt line this year,” Hinze-Clark said. “The pet industry is stronger than ever and we are happy to be a part of such an exciting and growing industry.”

Keever said that one of the reasons we love celebrities is because we relate, are inspired, or see a bit of ourselves in what they do.

“Sharing that story and connection with customers when talking about a brand helps the customer to make the purchase because now they are a part of the brand,” Keever said. “In my opinion, our celebrities are able to help validate our movement to help dogs in need by simply being involved.”

The advice Keever gives to retailers is to talk about the movement first, helping dogs in need and how we couldn’t do it without them.

“They [the retailer] are the difference because with every item they sell, one is donated to help a dog in need,” Keever said. “It is the reason for being and what we stand for. The great part about that is then you can talk about the exciting people involved in the movement. And last, but not least, how all of our products are made in the USA, all-natural and high quality.”

Licensing Brands

Celebrities are not the only option for selling products. Licensing products are always another option and something that customers look for.

“As a brand, Eddie Bauer has a long history with dogs, as his legacy includes breeding the first black Labrador in America,” Jack Savdie, the vice president of sales for Age Group Ltd., said. “In addition, all Eddie Bauer products are made to withstand the rigors of outdoor use, including various temperatures and terrain. Hence, these products are well-suited for the active pet and owner. What we love most about the brand is we can design an active outdoor collection, as well as a heritage, home-friendly collection.”

Age Group Ltd. also sells Hello Kitty merchandise, which is one of the most popular characters in the world.

“She is recognized by both sexes of all age ranges, kids to adults,” Savdie said. “Hello Kitty has a tremendous and loyal following. Females make up about 75 percent of all shoppers, making this one of the best female brands across all retail channels in almost every category and department.”

Savdie suggests to retailers that if they wanted to promote brands like Eddie Bauer and Hello Kitty, they should use signage, social media, flyers, brochures and their website.

“It takes about 30 seconds to get a customer’s email address,” Savdie said. “Establish a mailing address and send out an email once a week promoting a certain item, sale dates, whatever it is. What’s great about purchasing the Hello Kitty brand is Age Group will give back a certain percentage to the retailer in order to cover advertising fees.”

Just like celebrities, these brands have a history of performing well, which will help them fly off the shelves.

“Hello Kitty merchandise can be found in almost every independent or mom and pop retailer across the U.S.,” Savdie said. “After doing many studies, we found that any brand that performs well in a certain retail channel would most likely perform the same way in another.

“Almost everyone that owns something that bares the Eddie Bauer logo can attest that its functionality, long-lasting quality is the best out there. Eddie Bauer also has a loyal following and as sport, outdoor and functional brands are on the rise, so too we believe that the Eddie Bauer brand is going to perform in all retail channels; we know it already is and we are very excited for 2014.”


Wayde King and Brett Raymer have been in the aquarium business for 18 years. Recently, their TV show “Tanked” has had their product, Blue Shark Products, sales go through the roof.

“Wayde and I used to have an office and people used to come in our office all the time and say, ‘You guys are great, you guys should be on television,’ and we made a great product so we decided to film our own version of a pilot,” Raymer, COO of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, said. “Then we shopped it around for a while. [It] took about 3 years to get it off the ground. Finally we got it off the ground and here we are 5 years later.”

Before it was Blue Shark Products, the product was originally called, Naturbac.

“These guys had products that were mom and pop products that we used that we thought were great products,” Raymer said. “It had a hard time getting national exposure. So I spoke to Bobby and Christian and told them about the show and, once the show takes off, we would love to endorse these products and get our name onto something because they are great products, we could get some national exposure and hopefully come up with a great chemical line.”

Blue Shark Products is now a well-known brand, especially internationally, and as the show continues to gain popularity, more people will want to purchase the products.

“There is no better advertising than television,” Raymer said. “This year, we are going to feature the product on the show a great deal. Our business from being on the show has jumped tremendously. So I can imagine all these retail stores that bring in our products, how much business they are going to gain from the popularity of the show as well.”

Kathy Ireland and Worldwise

Worldwise has been making pet products for 20 years. Recently, they have partnered with Kathy Ireland because they share similar values in terms of viewing pets as part of the family, and wanting to provide both the pet and the pet owner with products that meet their needs.

Under the partnership, Kathy Ireland, CEO and chief designer for kiWW, will develop a line of solution-based home-decor friendly pet products with the Worldwise team and market the collection under the brand kathy ireland Loved Ones.

“Kathy brings the understanding of what it means to be a busy parent to both the two-footed and four-footed child,” Kurt Avar, senior director, creative services and marketing for Worldwise, said. “We knew we would have a winning combination if we could join Kathy’s knowledge and savvy design sensibility with Worldwise innovation capabilities and industry expertise to create a solution-based, home-décor friendly product line.”

To help boost sales of Worldwise and Kathy Ireland products, Avar said they needed to understand the specific needs that a pet has in order to be happy and healthy.

“Worldwise is built on a foundation of the ‘needs system,’ with product designed to meet specific pet needs from emotional to physical,” Avar said. “By helping to educate your staff and customers about the importance of meeting these needs everyone will be prosperous.”

110 Years Young

On the outside of every bag of Fromm Family Foods it says, “A Tradition of Quiet Innovation Since 1904.”

From raising foxes and creating vaccines for cats and dogs, to their original meal creation, over 50 years ago, Fromm has a long history of innovation that continues through five generations.

“We recognize opportunities, work hard to understand possible options and utilize resources that we have to complete the project,” Tom Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods, said. “You have a vision of what the opportunity is and then specifically define what you are trying to accomplish, the need you’re trying to fill and a way to communicate it.

“We have been innovators but we tend to work hard and roll up our sleeves to get things done; Fromm is not a mass produced, mass market product. The people we care about, as far as our product, know who we are. Hence we go through the independent retailers and that’s our way of communicating with the market place. We feel our customers will go to those types of outlets and buy those types of products.”

The company started in 1904 when Edward, John, Henry and Herb Fromm started the company on their family farm in Hamburg, Wis. The teenage brothers started growing ginseng on a quarter acre their father, Fredrick, allowed them to use. Then, their sister Erna Fromm married Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. Later on, in the 1920s Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. and Fromm Brothers Inc. formed Fromm Bros. Nieman Company, which is now  known today as Fromm Family Foods.

In 1949, the first bag of Fromm Meal was sold. In the ‘70s Fromm ventured into lifestyle specific recipes with recipes like “Hi Stress” food for working dogs.  In 1984, Tom Nieman returned to Wisconsin and took the reins of the family business from Edwin J. Nieman, Sr. after graduating with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and gaining professional experience at a Minnesota-based company. After years of innovation and coming out with different types of food, such as Fromm Gold Nutritionals, Fromm came out with the Four-Star Nutritionals, which was released in 2003.

“In a lot of companies, people make decisions on an annual, quarterly basis, or sometimes a daily basis, in terms of what they think the opportunity is in terms of the valuation of a company,” Tom Nieman said. “So their planning process is much shorter, because of the market place will define the company’s value in the short term. The investment bankers have now jumped into it and their investment horizon is typically anywhere from three to five years. So they will flip it and get in and out. Our timeframe is more generational. From my grandfather, to father, to myself to my sons, we tend to make much more long term decisions and strategic planning based on a generational timeline.”

Fromm Generation to Generation

Bryan and Dan Nieman are the fifth generation in the family business as they prepare to take the reins of the company.

“It’s a lot to live up to but it’s very valuable and rewarding learning each aspect of the business,” Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods, said. “To my father’s credit, we have been going through a rigorous training process, learning every aspect of the business from the delivery of raw ingredients, understanding the manufacturing process and ultimately delivering the product to the store shelf.”

Dan Nieman said it certainly can be a lot of pressure, for a company that has been so successful for so long, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity.

“In general, one of the reasons we have been around for so long is due to a long-term focus,” the assistant operations manager for Fromm Family Foods said. “We are obviously not out to make a quick buck and get out. We are in it for the long term, so down the line my brother and I are going to be able to shape the business, based on the market and consumer needs all the while maintaining our company and family values; a commitment to producing quality products and selling them through independent retailers. It’s really exciting and we understand it is a unique opportunity.”

Retailer’s View

Bark Avenue Pet Supply is an independent, privately owned company in Mesa, Ariz., that opened in 2005. It is a company that is very particular when it comes to what foods they allow to be sold in their store.

“We started working with Fromm mid-year in 2010,” Nancy Stewart, manager and buyer of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, said. “We brought Fromm in based on a request from a customer that was familiar with the line and wanted to know if we could get it. It wasn’t a line we were familiar with, though I have friends in the dog community in the Mid-west that have sold Fromm for years, so I have heard of it but didn’t know anything about it.

“We brought it in at that point and we just kind of laugh with Fromm that we started out with three bags on the shelf. So it started very, very small and then customers would see it and would ask if we could get such and such formula. So we would bring it in and it started to grow and it currently has 20 feet of space, one wall of our store, and we are going to need to expand again. It has become a very, very dynamic brand for us.”

According to Stewart, there are a lot of things they like about Fromm, some of which include that they are a private company and that they are as particular about their retailers, as Stewart is about what foods she brings into the store.

“So it’s not a brand that is going to be cheapened out there on the market place,” Stewart said. “We also like the fact that their quality is extremely consistent. We don’t get bad bags with Fromm. We don’t get kibble changing colors, we also like the fact that they believe, as we do, that it is important to sample your product and make sure you have the right product for the right pet.

“We do a heavily sampling program with them and we found that with them in the vast majority of cases when we send people with two or three different brands to try with their dogs, Fromm wins with the taste test. Customers select Fromm, their pets select Fromm and we choose to do business with Fromm.”

Celebrating 110 Years

At the 2014 Global Pet Expo, Fromm Family Foods will have a lot of different announcements for current and future clients.

“We are launching a couple of new products, we are having a hospitality suite for two out of the three days of the show, where our customers and associates can come unwind and learn about Fromm,” Bryan Nieman said. “We will unveil a new documentary style film that’s part of our new website, which we will also launch at Global.

“We will also be launching a very useful tool for our inside sales, retailers and distributor partners. It’s actually a web application, but it will allow us to more closely communicate with each individual retail store.”

Tom Nieman said the success of Fromm is based on the success of the independent retailer channel.

“We need to bring new innovative products to them and ways they can communicate what they offer in terms of knowledge and products to their potential customer base. We are very interested in their success and we try to allocate resources to them to have that kind of success.”

One of the new features Fromm Family Foods will have is to help retailers online.

“One of the tools we are excited about is we will be able to have a rep go into a store with a tablet, sit down with a storeowner and help them market Fromm foods,” Bryan Nieman said. “Our rep can spend about 20 minutes and they can figure out a description for their store, identify what they carry, even take down what hours they are open and by the time that rep leaves that store, that store can have a Fromm webpage, it will be a sub webpage of our overall Fromm website, can be marketed to consumers in their local area. So we are helping to build our independent retailer’s customer base through these new types of tools that are available to us.”

One thing both Bryan and Dan stress to people is that they are committed to the independent channel.

“It’s not something new to us, 110 years strong now,” Bryan Nieman said. “My brother and I will both be at Global meeting new customers and existing customers just trying to drive that message home, that we are there as a partnership.”

Growing the Ferret Category

Marshall Pet Products is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a company.

Over the years, Marshall has pioneered and created some of the highest-quality ferret and small pet diets, treats and accessories. Recently, they have expanded into specialized products for dogs and cats.

“We started breeding pet ferrets in 1939, back then it was a real small regional operation,” Peter Reid, the president and COO of Marshall Pet Products, said. “Fast-forward that over the years, we became very proficient with producing them on a year round basis, so they are not seasonal. We developed a line of products in the 1990s and then from then we have expanded and acquired a company called Earth Balance, so we are not just ferrets anymore.”

Until 1993, the Marshall family took a relatively unknown category and grew it into a thriving business. In 1993, Reid started Marshall Pet Products. The company continued to support the unique needs of ferret owners by developing specialized ferret accessories like harnesses and leads, bell collars, toys and homes. It wasn’t long before he identified the need for a ferret diet as ferrets are obligate carnivores.

Since then, Marshall Pet has continued to develop new diets, toys, travel, accessories, fashions and cleaning products marketed specifically to ferret and small pets.

Having ferrets available in a pet store increases the need for present and future purchases for products in that store. Although many retailers only carry ferret products, and not the actual pet, having ferrets present in the store provides an opportunity to educate future pet owners about the proper care and handling of ferrets.

It also opens the door for in-store events.

“It’s been a long run. We want to thank all of the distributors, retailers and partners that are in the industry that have helped us,” Reid said. “It is not just us, it’s everyone that has been involved with us and been there along the way. You don’t just will it to happen, you continue to be committed to quality products and quality service and consistency and reliability.

These are things we don’t take lightly. I would say a big thank you to everyone that has supported us, from the consumer to the retailer to the distributor and our vendors, because without all of them we are not having this conversation.”


New Pet Expo Brings Retailers, Manufacturers Together

The inaugural NYC Re-Tails & Sales Expo, recently brought Northeast pet retailers together with national pet manufacturers who only make their products in the USA, for a day of networking, introduction to new items and special sales.

The “Made in America” themed event was the idea of Dana Humphrey, owner and founder of Whitegate PR, and Nancy Hassel, founder and president of Long Island Pet Professionals with Pet Age and Made in USA Certified as sponsors.

Humphrey explained a local event like this helps both the local independent retailer and manufacturers, especially the smaller ones.

“I do a lot of events in the pet industry, and Nancy and I felt that there was something missing for New Yorkers to have an event where there could be buying going on,” Humphrey said. “There are all these fashion shows where the public is invited and no one is buying anything. So what do these small independent manufacturers do? Maybe they can’t afford to go to Global, maybe they can’t afford to go to SuperZoo or maybe they don’t even know how to do that type of show. So we wanted to give them something local that they could drive to. There are so many boutiques in New York City, why not start here and get some orders going to kind of just get the buzz going and be able to have a sales environment. Then from there, we got the Made in the USA theme.”

While different pet companies came from around the nation to show off their long-standing products, others used the expo as a time to show off their new ones. Jane Bell, the owner of pet portables, recently launched a miniature version of her larger first aid kit.

“I came today because not only are all my products human grade but they are made in the USA,” Bell said. “It is also an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Julie Reiser, co-founder and president of Made in USA Certified, said the pet sector is extremely important for them, because of the amount of consumers who are looking for made in the USA products.

“Consumers don’t really realize that the ‘Made in the USA’ claim, like putting a flag on there or saying it is made in the USA, is a very unregulated claim,” Resier said. “While the Federal Trade Commission does oversee that claim, they’re not actively pursuing and going after those companies that use that claim that maybe should not be using it.”

Retailers from around the area came to the day-long event to  find products they may never have heard of otherwise.

“If we could meet one brand and get one connection that works, if we could find a treat we are not carrying or a supplement we don’t know about or a food topping and put it in our campaign we do, it could be really great,” Vito Mileo, business relations manager of Pet Flow, said.

Hassel said that early on, and throughout the day, orders were being filled out and a lot of selling had happened. The venue was also smaller, allowing retailers to take their time with each individual manufacturer.

“We already have a waiting list of people who want to do this again,” Hassel said. “A couple of the vendors already told us today before we even started, ‘put us on the front of the list,’ so yes, we will definitely do it again.”

Stephen Trachtenberg, the owner of Chasing Our Tail, creates a 100 percent original all natural dog and cat treat, and came to the event to gain more exposure for his product.

“We cover New England really well, which is where we live, and we cover west of the Mississippi well because we have been to Super Zoo a couple of times,” Trachtenberg said. “So it’s really hard to find that show and fill that gap, there are really not a lot of shows to fill this gap in this area [New York City]. We have done really, really well today, absolutely worth the drive today.”

Critter Zone, an air purifier that doesn’t use filters or chemical sprays, originally started in Minnesota then moved to Tennessee and then finally moved to China, but things are different now.

“About six months ago we came to the realization that we need to support America,” Shar Weinrauch said. “By the time we were waiting for all the goods to come across the sea, and then you have to make sure you got the pipeline full of product, because if it’s on the ship you have to spend exuberant amounts of money. So we said, ‘Why not just bring it back?’”

Since moving back, Critter Zone has acquired some of their old employees, and in turn creating jobs for Americans.

After the event, Humphrey said they plan to put together another show like this.

“We had an amazing interest and there were a lot of people who couldn’t make it today,” Humphrey said. “We are definitely going to do another one, absolutely. It may not be ‘Made in the USA’ themed, it may be another theme, but we will absolutely do another, maybe even in the fall because of how much interest has been shown.”

Beating the Competition

There are several challenges of owning a business that independent pet retailers face.

It could be dealing with the expanding of their business and building a customer base, finding, training and retaining good employees, increasing sales volume or maintain profitability.

In recent years with the 2008 economic crises, the economy has always been one of the biggest concerns to retailers according to the previous years of the Pet Age Retailer Report. As the economy continues to improve, the biggest challenge retailers now face is competing with independent, big box, mass market and/or online stores. According to the 2013-14 survey, 61 percent of retailers say competing with independent, big box, mass market and/or online stores is their biggest challenge in the coming years.

Pet Age spoke to several retailers all over the country to ask them to talk about how they compete with the competition.

David Hale of SomethingFishy Inc.

Q: Tell us about you and your store.
My name is David Hale and I Own SomethingFishy inc. in Cleveland, Ohio for more than 22 years now. I have been in the pet industry since I was 15 years old. I have been raising fish for over 36 years. I have been to the Great Barrier Reef and collected in the Amazon. I started doing the maintenance service prior to opening my first full line pet store but focused on aquatics. It was trial and error but learned a lot on the first go around on my own. Fast forward a few years and I went back full time in the business and purchased my own building. This is a specialty store and is all Aquatics and is Fresh water only but have did salt water I the past. We are known for quality cichlids which many are bred within our own hatchery in over 300 tanks. The show room has many display tanks of many types of fish and a planted tank. We also have a fish tank in the wall and in the floor when you walk in.

Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
Everything and everyone is competition these days. The big box stores I do not look at as competition that much and if anything they help my business by referrals because aquatics is not their strong area as it is for us. The obvious is the internet which is our best friend and our worse enemy. The well known, starting with the letter “A”, is a problem not just for us but any business these days. Then we have many vendors, wholesalers, etc., selling online or direct to the consumer which puts more of a squeeze on making a profit. Then there are basement sellers selling everything under the sun while they have full-time job so they do not need to mark up what they sell so they sell cheap to make a buck here and there while they hurt the bricks and motor stores. You can blame the wholesalers selling to these people. You also have local clubs/auctions that can hurt the business. Then you have eBay, Craigslist and now Facebook which is like Craigslist on steroids. There’s a Facebook page for everything for everyone selling everything or giving items away for free! It’s scary.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
To sell or not to sell a product? Buy more for less to make less? Being used for my knowledge and lose sales to customers because of the prices that I cannot match on the internet or the guy selling out of his basement of his home.

Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Always promote knowledge and customer service. We know what we are doing.
It’s a constant battle and I am always paying attention what’s going on. I am constantly thinking ahead and planning my next move what to do and not to do. Keep on the distributors on what they are not paying attention to like the basement sellers that are not legitimate businesses. They do not always know unless someone tells them.
I freshen up display tanks with new decor or livestock to give our customers ideas what they can do with their tanks. Buy more that sells more and get rid of product that does not sell or sold too cheap on the internet. Email blast customers on what’s new or what’s on sale or info about a certain fish or product.
Have healthy stock and clean tanks, Always!

Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel but at the same time leave some things alone because the customers like the way things are. You have to pay attention what’s going on in the industry and watch the internet for what is happening now, tomorrow and so forth. Need to know what’s hot and what’s not for your location and customer base. It’s good to be known for a niche as in knowledge about a specific type of livestock so you become the go to shop for having them in stock and know what you are talking about. Stream line product selection on what sells and what does not. Price point certain products for repeat visits by your customers. I feel the lost leader sales are not worth it because many customers will hold out to buy something you will not make money on and then they do not buy anything else.
Host a meet and greet from your Facebook page with free donuts and coffee before opening or pizza party after hours. Buy from a local non-chain business or maybe have them sponsor the event. Promote local so it stays local as much as possible.  Think outside the box at times to get ahead.

Biff Picone of Natural Pawz

Q: Tell us about you and your store.
Natural Pawz was opened in 2005 by Biff Picone & Nadine Joli-Coeur a husband and wife team.  We opened it because of our passion in providing healthy and safe products for dogs and cats.  We both left successful careers in high tech to make a difference in our local community.  We believe in being involved and contributing to the local rescue, shelter community.  We have grown to 12 locations and plan additional growth because we make a difference in pet’s lives and our customers are our best supporters.

Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
It seems everyone is jumping on the band wagon trying to get more of the pet space.  It is no secret the big box stores are getting into the business as well as grocery.  This has put pressure on the bigger pet chains of the world to look to find ways to differentiate themselves but they are still caught up in the big box store mentality.  We differentiate ourselves by insuring we carry products our customers can relate to.  Our competitors are not loyal to manufacturers and will sell what they can make the most money on regardless if it’s in the best interest of the pet.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
More from other smaller independents who try to undercut the pricing, which I believe undercuts the value of the products.  Some retailers rely solely on price and that is not a long term or winning strategy.  We do not use our size to undercut or overprice.  We follow our manufacturer guidelines, smaller retailers appreciate larger independents who do not practice predatory policies and do nothing to increase sales but steal from one another.  Independents need to work together.  The more healthy independents in a market the better for all and more importantly the pets who benefits from the products we offer pet parents.

Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Making sure we get our message on, who we are and what we stand for.  We are very selective on hiring retail salespeople.  Many times the perception of your store is set by the way a customer is serviced by the store employees.  Making sure you are slow to hire and quick to fire are the rules we live by to ensure we always have the best qualified people in our stores at all times.  We also work with manufacturers to offer our customers the best products and ensure we always have them in stock.  Nothing hurts a small business more as when a customer comes in and you are out of stock.

Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Develop your vision and purpose.  Stay true to those principals and do not be swayed.  If you deviate you just become a smaller version of your competitors and they will “eat you alive”.

Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs

Q: Tell us about you and your store:
Cats n Dogs, Playful Stuff For Humans & The Animals Who Train Them, started in 2006 as a home toy party business selling unique toys for cats and dogs. Within one year, we opened a 300 square foot shop adding quality treats. Three years later the business moved into a 900 square foot location and included premium food. 2011 brought a move into a 1,835 square foot location greatly expanding food brands, treats, natural remedies, pet lover’s gifts, bedding, strollers, carriers and a large selection of collars, leashes and harnesses.
South West Florida is extremely seasonal with a large influx of “snowbirds” from November through April. More than 65 percent of the permanent 160,000 residents in our immediate area are over the age of 62, many on fixed incomes and in recent years hard hit by the recession.

Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces:
As we expanded; other local independent pet supply stores closed their doors due to the economy. The big box stores added premium lines of food and treats. Every time one of the brands Cats n Dogs offered sold out to a big box; we filled that void with a new brand.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
One of the biggest challenges was, and has been, introducing new brands to customers. We decided early on not to carry brands big boxes sold. However, we special order food for customers those brands we discontinue and match pricing. Samples of newer brands are placed on countertops so customers who bring their dog into the store can taste test on the spot. Others go home with sample bags even if we have to make samples ourselves by opening bags. Cans of food are often given for free. We remain cost conscious at all times. Items priced too high will sit on shelves. For example, 90 percent of treats sold are priced at $10, and under.
When a pet has an issue with itchy ears, hot spots or thunderstorms we offer samples of at least two different natural products to test before buying. Our strength is knowledge of the products, how and why those specific ingredients will work.

Q: How have you overcome those challenges:
Our store guarantees every bag of food and treats. If the kitty or pup decides they don’t want to eat that kibble, pet parents are encouraged to bring the bag back and exchange for another. We won’t sell any consumable after the expiration date, checking dates on packaging monthly. This helps to set us apart from the big box stores. The store doesn’t sell pee pads, litter boxes or dog houses. Much to their surprise, we advise customers where they can find those items at the best price and we even write down directions how to get to other stores.
Because we don’t have the advertising budgets big box stores do, Cats n Dogs works hard to keep our name in front of the public. We’re active in fund raising for numerous local rescue organizations, have established relationships with local publications, other pet related businesses and vets. Open seven days a week with two full-time owners and one part-time employee, keeps us personally involved with customers and their pets.

Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
I believe you need to have a love of animals and people to enjoy this business. Become an information source and customers will tell others. That’s how to complete with the big boxes.

Mike Grayson of Art in Motion Pets

Q: Tell us about you and your store.
Our store is 6,000 square feet. We started our business 23 years ago solely as a leasing business.
Our home was zoned commercial and we began carrying pet supplies, actually setting up a *store* in our home.
We had 700 sqaure feet of *store* in our home when we moved into our first store front approximately one year after we began our leasing business. The first store was 1,200 square feet in a building that was a former car wash across the road from Wal-Mart.
After one year, we outgrew that space and moved eight blocks up the road to a 2,800 square foot building. After one year we began looking at options to expand and had our existing 6,000 square foot building built.
We were rolling the dice on the size of the building. In hindsight, we wish we would have built larger.

Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
The farm stores, Big R and Tractor Supply are within one mile (on the same road as us).
The internet is quite frustrating. We are happy that sales tax is now being applied to online purchases as of Jan 1st.
Wal-Mart is a thorn in the side of every small business, isn’t it?
Of course, PetSmart, is always lurking in the shadows.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
Competing with pricing, advertising and size.

Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Educating our customer base on the importance of shopping at locally-owned small businesses. When people understand it, they feel guilty shopping elsewhere for their pet supplies.
I try to buy smart. I scour sale flyers and watch for email deals from our distributors.
We have a loyalty program in place to entice our customers to shop with us.
We have fun at our store. Givers get. Offer something as simple as a raffle for a gift card. Customers remember that kindness.
Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Play hard. Be competitive – watch your prices. Match prices if asked, match store hours. Shout the shop small message from the rooftop.
Make your store fun with activities and events (in store and on social media).
Be kind to customers. Go out of your way to speak to them, talk to their children, and learn their pets’ names.
Most importantly, clean your store. paint. simply changing the light bulbs really brightens up your inventory.
When we travel, we stop in pet stores all over the country and 9 times out of 10 they are smelly, unorganized and a dusty mess.
We are all working our fingers to the bone, dealing with taxes, insurance, shoplifters, and employee issues (should I keep going). There is no excuse to have a dirty store.
Go through this Pet Age magazine and grab the name of every store mentioned. Follow them on Facebook. We can get ideas and inspiration from each other. We are all in this together!

Click on the video below to learn more about Legitimutt

Getting an Early Start

Pond and pond keeping is a category that has continued to expand and gain popularity.

The New Year is the perfect time to start carrying all the products you will need for the upcoming pond season.

“It’s definitely an expanding category and it’s getting much easier for a traditional pet store to be able to offer some of the products in the pond category,” Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for Rolf C. Hagen, said. “You can look at specific types of nutrition and food, also the water treatments and consumables. There is definitely synergy there that is making it easier for a traditional pet store to get into the category. We have always tried to get people into it because it’s really easy to carry some of the accessories.”

January is one of the best times to start talking about pond and pond accessories in your store and with your customers. From a retailer perspective, it is the beginning of all the different trade shows that support pond and pond accessories.

What to Stock

In January, it’s important to stock the basic items that customers will need each year.

“One of the first things you should stock is water treatments,” Hall said. “Those are the items that people are going to want at the beginning of the year. In the beginning of the year, when you open your pond, you will want to wait till the temperature gets to be around 50 degrees, 45 to 50 degrees, depending on your area. Your pond is kind of just starting to wake up. At that point, you need to clean your pond and start feeding your fish. In the spring and in the fall you need to give your fish a high protein diet and be fattening them up. Much like an aquarium, as you are taking some water out and you are cleaning the leaves that fell in during the winter, you will want to do a little bit of water treatment.”

Hagen offers several different kits and water treatments, including their Laguna Pond Maintenance kit that makes tap water safe for fish and plants.

The Microbe-Lift KH Active Booster is meant for tap water, and water changes to help when a pond carbonate levels fall below the necessary level.

If a customer’s pond Koi and goldfish have become ill, Tetra produces a Pond Koi and Goldfish Treatment that treats infected fish by protozoan parasites including Ick or White Spot. It will treat and prevent pond fish diseases.

Getting Ready for Spring

After your accessories are stocked, a lot of customers will be coming to your store during spring.

“In spring, pond keepers are going to be visiting your store,” Hall said. “In the beginning of the year it is important to have those basic accessories. You may need a new net, new media for your filter. All those things you buy every year, that’s what I recommend for that store to carry.”

Aquascape features several different size nets that include heavy duty extendable handle nets and mini pond nets.

Nycon has large to small nets and skimmers to clean every area of a pond.

With Filter Media, Pond Logic features the BioBalls, that are an easy to clean and reusable filter media to keep water healthy and clear.

TetraPond also has several different replacement foam filtration medias. All of their medias help remove suspended matter and debris while improving water quality.

Profits Are Up

For another year, the pet industry has continued to grow, meaning profits have grown as well.

But, the reasons why the pet industry had another successful year is always changing.

The 2013-2014 Pet Age Retailer Report is sent out to independent pet retailers all over the country to find out what trends they are seeing in the industry, and specifically, their store.

Some of the top trends noted were an increase in grain-free dog food, as well as all-natural treats. In addition, stores’ overall net profits and gross profits went up. Retailers are also marketing more online and there is a surprise in the fish segment – it’s a growing category.

American Pet Products Association President Bob Vetere, he said it’s safe to say the pet industry, overall, had another strong year.

“While there were some shifts within any category the total dollars spent grew,” Vetere said. “For example, there continues to be stronger growth in the organic and natural area within the food sector but some of it has come at the expense of other subcategories. There seems to be a slowing down of the polarization the industry has seen over the past few years, people tending to migrate either toward more value priced food and products or toward higher-end products. I am seeing continued growth in the services area as people continue to want flexibility in their lives but still want to ensure good care for their pets.”

George Puro, president of Puro Research Group, said that one of the biggest trends they have seen in the last year, based on Packaged Facts survey data, is that consumers are becoming less price sensitive compared to years past.

“Consumers have migrated increasingly towards pet specialty channels, which focus more on high-end products,” Puro said. “Even sales at natural food and specialty gourmet stores have seen healthy increases.

“Companies have been emphasizing specialized formulations, with the overarching theme being pet wellness. These include products based on age, size of your pet, natural/organic, whether it’s grain-free, etc.”

Puro also said that despite pet owners’ desire for high-end products, their survey data shows that consumers are still looking for deals, and are willing to shop around to find them.

“Of course, what’s really driving the market is the belief by around three quarters of pet owners that their pets have a positive impact on their physical and their mental health, according to the latest Packaged Facts survey data,” Puro said. “This connection is what’s driving consumers to increase spending on pets and buy premium products and bodes well for the future of the industry.”

Bryan Jaffe is the managing director of Cascadia Capital, a boutique investment bank located in Seattle. The company provides capital markets and M&A advisory to emerging growth and middle market companies nationally. One of their areas of expertise is the pet space.

“While premiumzation remains a key industry driver, we are seeing consumers reorient their spending around affordable value – exhibiting less brand and channel loyalty,” Jaffe said. “Discretionary dollars are being allocated to solutions that deliver observable benefit, as consumers prioritize outcomes over marketing claims. This has resulted in revenue expansion among products and services that have a health and wellness orientation. Solutions that cannot link inputs to health outcomes are seeing growth in-line with the broader industry.”
Jaffe said he has seen strong growth among solutions that are natural and/or offer a limited ingredient panel.

“Ingredient transparency is a high priority for consumers given continued recalls involving some of the industry’s leading brands,” Jaffe said. “Foods in an alternative form factors, dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw, are also experiencing strong growth. These solutions provide higher nutrional value as a result of their production processes, which is resonating with retailers, who are expanding carriage and square footage allocated to the category, and experiencing increased consumer adoption as a result of perceived benefits and greater access.”

What Retailers Are Saying

Craig Maggio, owner of Friend-Lee Pets, is in his first year of business and it has been going well for him.

“The holistic is probably about 90 percent of the dog and cat food I sell,” Maggio said. “Everyone is price sensitive. So the value proposition is something important. Having a holistic food that you can put at a good price point is a really important part of the selling process. We sell a fair amount of small animal and bird stuff but I would say the driver for my business is pet food, dog and cat food and then aquatics.”

His observations seem to be in line with what the Pet Age 2013-14 Retailer Survey found.

The top areas of growth for retailers who took the survey were grain-free food, all-natural treats and aquatics.

In 2011, all-natural treats for dogs wasn’t in the top of retailer’s fastest-growing product category. Only 3.48 percent of retailers said it was their fastest. Now in 2012, 12.4 percent of retailers said all-natural treats for dogs is their fastest-growing product category, making it only second to grain-free food. Grain-free food itself also saw an increase from 9.13 percent to 13.5 percent.

Comparing overall gross dollar volume for dry goods and animals in 2012 to 2011, 74.6 percent of retailers saw an increase in sales. In 2011 only 61 percent saw an increase in sales. The same can be said for net profits in 2012 compared to those in 2011. In 2012, 70.7 percent of retailers saw an increase in net profits compared to the 56.4 the previous year.

The Hungry Puppy has been around for 27 years selling pet food and supplies, and has seen the category expand.

“Grain-free has continued to grow,” Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy, said. “It’s incremental now; it’s not expediential as it was several years ago. Still it is double digit growth though. There has been double digit growth in our raw diets, the frozen diets.

“What has really driven the business over the last 27 years is that different mindset of folks of how they treat their pets, as opposed to as it what it was to what it is today. So we are just fortunate to ride that wave.”

Retailers are also now focusing more on advertising on the internet and through social media. In 2011, 28 percent of retailers said it produced the best results for their business while now 39.6 percent say it does.

In previous surveys, a major concern for retailers was the economy, in 2011 54.3 percent said it was their biggest concern. In 2012 though only 46.3 percent said the economy was their biggest challenge. So what is the biggest challenge according to pre retailers? According to 61 percent of you, competing with independent, big box, mass market and online stores is the biggest challenge for the next two years.

The biggest surprise coming from the entire survey though was the increased popularity of fish.

Fish Is back

In the past, when looking at what pet stores carried freshwater and saltwater fish, they were slowly in decline. From 2008 to 2009, saltwater fish fell 4 percent while freshwater fish just stayed even. From 2010 to 2011, freshwater fish fell 3 percent and saltwater fish fell 9 percent.

But, now it seems fish is making a giant comeback. In 2012, retailers carrying freshwater fish shot up to 79.5 percent, a 13.5 percent increase from 2011. Those carrying saltwater fish made a larger, 14.8 percent increase, from 2012 to 2011, as 57.8 percent of stores now carry them.

“We do get a lot of aquatics business,” Maggio said. “People are really kind of getting back into the hobby and I think that’s due to a couple of things. Could be the economy is getting better or shows like “Tanked” on the Animal Planet may be inspiring people to try to create their own little underwater world.”

Maggio said it could be a combination factors such as the shows but it’s also something that’s scalable.

“Your common person who can’t afford a $10,000 huge salt water reef tank can still get a 10 gallon tank and learn about the hobby,” Maggio said. “It’s approachable on an everyday man’s level. As you have seen the evolution of the psyche of the average American the past 25 years and how pets have taken over a different role in the household. Dogs have gone from sleeping in barns to sleeping inside. And people get really attached to their fish. I had a woman that came into the store and had a 200 gallon freshwater tank and her tank was cracking so she was frantic. She came in and bought the largest tanks I had to be able to keep her fish on life support while I ordered her another 200 gallon tank and she was telling me stories about each one of her fish and how attached she was to each one of them. It’s interesting because you don’t cuddle with fish, they are not one of the most interactive in the pet world but people still get really attached to them.

“With the fish segment and the aquatic segment, it’s something you can keep in your home. People love it, people see it, it’s a focal point, and it’s a talking piece. But you can also still go on vacation. If you leave for three days your fish aren’t going to die most likely.”

In late November, the World Pet Association put on the first ever Aquatic Experience, in Chicago, Ill.

“Many in the aquatic industry have been asking for an aquatic only show for many years,” Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Association, said. “I think they feel somewhat lost in the larger pet trade shows with all the dog and cat exhibitors. One of our past chairman, Andy Schmidt, reminded our board of this desire about three years ago and the board began discussing the possibilities. At the end of 2012 or early in 2013, the board gave its approval to produce the show. We also wanted the show to be all things aquatic so to the best of our knowledge, this is the first show to have marine, fresh and pond segments under one roof.”

Since it was the first show, the WPA wasn’t sure what to expect. They anticipated that they may have 2,000 people attend and were pleasantly surprised when their totals were over 3,500.

“While I believe in recent months the first industry is showing signs of improving, there is still lots of room for growth,” Poindexter said. “Back in the 60s or 70s, fish keeping was the number two or three hobby behind photography. One of the main purposes of our show was to expose families and children especially to the joys of fish keeping and the benefits that can come from that. It teaches life lessons, responsibility, empathy and much more.”

Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for Hagen, said they have seen some growth in it recently.

“Over the past five years technology and innovation within aquatics has grown leaps and bounds,” Hall said. “So for instance, five years ago, if you wanted to purchase a LED light for your aquarium you could be looking at anywhere between $900 and $5,000 depending how crazy you wanted to get with it. Well, today, you see LED lights anywhere from $129.99 to $399.99 and that shows you the growth in that just one specific category in aquatics. Now you take that and you also look at the other things that have gotten better, filtration has gotten better, more energy efficient. It’s getting easier to succeed.”

Continued Success for the Future

According to Vetere, over the next year he thinks the industry will continue to see the challenge of online availability of products particularly as Amazon and others increase the availability and timeliness of delivery of products coupled with lower costs.

“Service on a personal level will become even more important as a way to encourage store purchases version online,” Vetere said. “It will be interesting to watch closely the behavior patterns of baby boomers as they begin to approach retirement and are only a few years away from hitting 70 years old.”

According to Jaffe, specialty retail has been a hot bed of innovation post-recession.

“Successful concepts have changed the nature of the consumer experience to get out in front of consumer’s needs – active as opposed to reactive and connect with them on a social and community level,” Jaffe said. “The pet retailers that we see growing at above market rates are able to guide their clients to solutions sets that solve real problems for their companion animals. They are also able to build recurring relationships through social media and community outreach. Ultimately, the large pet specialty retailers are vulnerable on customer experience. Retailers who invest in understanding their customers should continue to experience success.”

Frattini said The Hungry Puppy has a lot of competition close to them, but it doesn’t bother him.

“We have now 14 Petcos and PetSmarts within a 20 mile radius of us,” Frattini said. “We have three Super Walmarts within eight miles, then we have PSPs, six Pet Values, so with all of that advent of competition, it does make for a challenging environment but by the same token it keeps us sharp and we are doing something right because we are still able to grow.

“We don’t mind the Petcos and the PetSmarts of the world. If nothing else, they create the awareness of the different products out there so we don’t have to spend all of our money trying to create that awareness. So a lot of times it’s just a matter of them creating the awareness and us taking their customers. And that’s probably what we do best, we take their customers.”

Raising Money for Pet Cancer

The inaugural Woof Woof 5K Run/Walk over Pet Cancer raised $44,000 to benefit the Blue Buffalo Pet Cancer Research Foundation, Savannah’s Hope Chest Foundation, Savannah Area Pet Rescue Agencies and Jacob G. Smith Elementary School.

The event was held on Nov. 2, at Habersham Village and Ardsley Park in Georgia.

“This was such a great event, bringing awareness to the issue of pet cancer and memorializing our pets,” Jeff Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin, said.

The Woof Woof 5K Run/Walk also set out to break the Guinness World Record of Most Dogs in a Costumed Parade.

“We had about 500 people registered,” Manley said. “However, the count of dogs in costumes of at least two pieces ended up at 194. We are confident that we can break this record at next year’s Woof Woof 5K.”


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