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Pet Age
 

October 7, 2016

Each year, Pet Age honors pet industry leaders who have shown a long-term commitment to the success of the pet industry based on experience, integrity and leadership. Chosen from a vast pool of qualified candidates, those selected to receive the ICON awards have at least 20+ years’ experience in the pet manufacturing or servicing industry. They represent members of the industry hailing from every region of the country, with unique and yet equally valuable experiences. We honor the meaningful and lasting contributions of this year’s ICON awardees.

Congratulations to all the winners!

The Judges:

Tierra Bonaldi, Principal, The Impetus Agency

Kristen Levine, Pet Living

Stacy Mantle, Pack Leader, Cat Herder, Author

Sandy Robins, Pet Lifestyle Expert, Author and Pet Industry Spokesperson

dennis_headshotDennis Abelson
Partner-Chief Creative Officer
Matrix Partners
Chicago, Ill.
Years in Pet Industry: 29

Company description: Passionate about PetsSM for over 25 years, Matrix Partners is an award-winning brand strategy and communications firm specializing in design, social/digital marketing and public relations.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? First and foremost, I’ve been fortunate to grow up with wonderful pets—two Miniature Schnauzers, a parakeet, and in my child-rearing years, a rascally rabbit. In 1987, I joined forces with co-founder and managing partner Don Tomala to form a multi-disciplinary, Chicago-based marketing consulting practice that would evolve into Matrix Partners. Pursuing our mutual interests, we gradually began to specialize in building pet product brands.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? One contribution is hard to single out, but I was honored to lead the team responsible for relaunching Swheat Scoop when the alternative litter category was still in its formative years. We built this unique product with limited distribution into a significant national brand. More recently, my agency had the opportunity to rebrand Stella & Chewy’s from scratch. We revamped everything, from logo design and packaging to online marketing and POP. Our collective efforts not only helped accelerate the raw diet trend but made Stella & Chewy’s one of the category’s fastest growing brands. On a personal note, I also coined their “only the good stuff” rallying cry.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Continuing education. Personal growth and continued education are at the root of all success stories. Never stop learning.

axelrodGlen S. Axelrod
President and CEO
TFH Publications, Nylabone, Four Paws, IMS
Neptune City, N.J.
Years in Pet Industry: More than 25

Company description: Since 1952, TFH/Nylabone has been producing the world’s best dog chews, toys, dental solutions, and pet literature to help pets live wonderful lives.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I was born into the pet industry; my father and uncle founded TFH in 1952. I also gained great inspiration living in East and South Africa (Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa) from 1976 to 1979, studying for my graduate degrees in zoology and ichthyology.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My most significant contributions have been in promoting the superior care and ethical treatment of companion pets through the publication of educational pet literature and the manufacturing of innovative, beneficial and affordable pet products.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? My best business decisions have always been people-oriented. My company’s success hinges on my ability to attract and retain the pet industry’s finest personnel.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? The proper stewardship of our planet’s environment is critical to our continued existence. The collective actions of humans essentially dictate the fate of all other living things on earth—animal and plant. This is beyond a political or economic issue, but literally a survival issue for life on our planet as we know it.

bobbybloodBobby Blood
Vice President
ATM Aquarium Products
Las Vegas, Nev.
Years in Pet Industry: 29

Company description: ATM Aquarium Products, as seen on the worldwide TV show “Tanked,” manufactures high end aquarium formulas for the global aquatics trade.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I always had a love for animals while growing up. I first saw an aquarium in 1973, when we were just beginning to get products that worked well to maintain fish. I was hooked, and eventually jumped at the chance to actually work with companies that made these products.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I think personal dedication to the concepts of high quality products and striving for integrity in our company represents the biggest contribution anyone can make.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry and why? As an industry, we need to constantly strive for best practices. We should strongly support and encourage innovation and innovative companies. There are critical organizations that must be seriously supported to guarantee the future of our fantastic industry. Preserving the reefs and corals, setting standards for wild-caught marine fish, reptile and bird captive breeding programs are just a few of these.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? Seeking a career in the pet industry was my best decision. I’ve been fortunate to participate in developing products and companies to improve the quality of pet lives. It has been an ongoing education in business, geography, systems, travel, negotiation, team building and certainly fun!

larryseboLarry Cobb
CEO, U.S. subsidiary
The Company of Animals
Davenport, Fla.
Years in Pet Industry: 40

Company description: The Company of Animals develops products that help owners and their pets find an enriched life and to improve animal welfare.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Like many, my career path led me into the pet industry, and not the other way around. However, I’ve always loved pets and have owned a variety over the years. That said, my career path started to be paved when I began selling for a grocery rack jobber. In this role, I found that I was able to sell more added space in the pet section, than any other categories we carried—even though we handled thousands of SKUs. Following that role, I took on a variety of sales positions, which eventually led me to the pet industry—a space I’ve now worked in for more than 40 years.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? During my role of sales manager for IAMS Pet Foods, I got a first-hand look at how pet food was being merchandised. At the time, a typical store would carry one or two bags of pet food and often positioned them on the floor. Making this observation early on, I felt that a larger presence of product would allow greater sales. So in 1982, I designed the first rack program used for pet food in the industry, and debuted it in the western United States. I was working for IAMS at the time and they were very pleased with the program—so much so, that they rolled it out nation-wide.

tonydevosTony de Vos
CEO
Cardinal Laboratories, Westwood Laboratories
Azusa, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 45

Company description: Manufacturer and marketer of pet products

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Working for myself in a non-corporate environment was an alternative presented to me after my service in the U.S. Army.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Building a company and providing jobs for many employees is something I treasure. Participation in pet trade organizations has been extremely rewarding and educational. Spearheading the original American Family Pet show and promoting responsible pet ownership on an ongoing basis is extremely rewarding. Contributing through our Crazy Pet Children foundation is another contribution of which I am very proud.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? My passion and my companies mission is being devoted to pets, people and our planet. I believe in caring for the environment and promoting sustainability. After many years of abuse, we must insist on promoting responsible care of our environment. We simply owe it to future mankind. Our customers want an innovative sustainability supply channel partner.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? One of the best decisions I, and many others, can make is to surround yourself with employees who are better than you are in their specific field, have high standards of ethics and care about the company as a whole, not just themselves.

Version 2Robert Downey
President
Annamaet Petfoods
Telford, Pa.
Years in Pet Industry: 30

Company description: Annamaet Petfoods provides optimum nutrition to maximize the health and well being of dogs and cats while maintaining a responsibility to the environment and our natural resources.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have been involved with dogs my entire life. When I was young, I had a dog diagnosed with a nutritional deficiency. It was painful watching her suffer until we were able to figure out what was going on. That really got me interested in canine nutrition and has since changed my life.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? The graduate work I have done in canine nutrition has been published in peer reviewed journals for over 30 years. I have been fortunate enough to give nutrition lectures to veterinarians, retailers and pet owners worldwide. Perhaps our biggest contribution is creating research-based dog and cat foods that provide optimum nutrition to pets.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I am passionate about providing quality products to improve the health and wellbeing of our pets while being concerned about sustainability in order to preserve our natural resources for future generations, both two and four legged.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? The best decision I have made is to remain committed to our focus on the science and nutrition we put into every bag of Annamaet despite the different popular fads in the industry.

auburn_leathercrafters_alan_dungey_vp_june_2016bAlan Dungery
Vice President
Auburn Leathercrafters
Auburn, N.Y.
Years in Pet Industry: 40

Company description: North America’s oldest collar manufacturer, producing uniquely designed and functional collars, leashes, toys and accessories.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? If you were a member of the Dungey family, it is what you did. I owe Auburn Leathercrafters’ involvement in the pet industry to my grandfather and my dad. They started us down that path in 1950, and it has been our main focus ever since.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Creating beautiful, functional, practical products that are a great value and are all made in the U.S. Also, providing the best service and support to our customers. These things are hugely important to me and allow our customers to offer products with the confidence that, “We have your back.” Supporting our local shelter and service dog groups is also important to me.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? In 2004, Auburn Leathercrafters was in a terrible spot with no clear direction. I knew we made great products and, like my grandfather and my father, I knew there was a large market out there. In 2005, with help from my wife, Anita, we made a plan, obtained financing and purchased Auburn Leathercrafters from my family. Since 2005, we have grown from a few hundred customers to thousands. I am also pleased to announce that Auburn Leathercrafters is now a fourth generation business. Our 22-year-old son, Christopher, has recently joined the company and it is our hope that he will carry on the family tradition for many years to come.

fabitsTim Fabits
Vice President of Sales
Redbarn Pet Products
Long Beach, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 27

Company description: Twenty years ago, Jeff Baikie and Howard Bloxam decided to provide the industry with the highest quality treat and food available.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Getting into the pet industry for me was one of fortuitous chance, rather than design. I had the good fortune of meeting Roger Williams and Howard Weaver, from H&H Distributing in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the late 80’s. Roger and Howard were both generous enough to allow me to join their sales organization, and without their leadership and tutelage, I would have not had the unique opportunity to fully understand the scope of the industry. In my role with Redbarn, both Jeff Baikie and Howard Bloxam have given me the resources required to help build a brand that I am ultimately very passionate about . Each of these people mentioned have had a very profound impact on my personal and professional growth, for which I am forever grateful.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? For me, it was seeking the opportunity to work with the entire team at Redbarn. This company has afforded me the luxury of working with ownership that truly has a passion for creating a team environment, and helping their associates growth in lock-step with the company initiatives. It has also allowed me to work with so many talented, creative and hard-working people in the various departments of the company. Clearly, the unique culture of this business is created by ownership and I am fortunate to have been able to share in the experience.

joey_herrick_president_lucy_ricky_jackJoey Herrick
Founder and President
The Lucy Pet Foundation/Lucy Pet Products
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 28

Company description: The Lucy Pet Foundation was started to stop pet overpopulation by mobile spay/neuter trucks. Lucy Pet Products was created to help fund the foundation’s mission.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Over 28 years ago, I started Natural Balance Pet Foods to elevate nutrition for dogs and cats, with my own pets in mind. I wanted a natural product that was made with great ingredients.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I’m proud to have played a part in elevating pet nutrition. I helped pioneer limited ingredient diets as well as different protein and carbohydrate sources which helped dogs with allergies. I donated millions of pounds of food throughout the years to animal rescue groups because it was my belief that they were the ones saving animals lives. They would go into high kill shelters and take dogs and cats out and put them into foster care until they got adopted. I was happy to support them.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Pet overpopulation. That’s why I started The Lucy Pet Foundation. Over 80,000 dogs and cats are euthanized every week in the United States. It is my goal to do everything possible to stop this by raising money and supporting spay and neuter programs all over the country. We want to make people aware of the health benefits of spay and neuter for their animals. In the almost 3 years we’ve been doing this, our mobile spay and neuter clinic has serviced over 10,000 animals.

20160621_southeastpet_greg_judge_founder__ceoGreg Judge
Founder and CEO
Southeast Pet
Austell, Ga.
Years in Pet Industry: 51

Company description: Southeast Pet is the leading full line pet product distributor in the southeast, offering its independent retailers in excess of 13,000 SKUs from quality manufacturers. In addition, we’re the only 100 percent employee owned pet distributor in the country.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? In my case, necessity was the inspiration. In 1965, I was managing a retail tropical fish store for my family. We weren’t able to find or buy the livestock we needed. To address the issue, my uncle and I started Long Beach Fisheries, which quickly became the second-largest tropical fish importer in the US.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? For me, it’s about giving back—to both our team members and retail partners. Over the years, our team members and our customers have been extremely loyal to Southeast Pet. So much so, that as I looked toward retirement, I didn’t want to do anything that would betray that loyalty. Selling the business to the employees was the only way I could think to take care of my team, while ensuring that Southeast Pet remained independent and focused on the independent retailer.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? The best decision I’ve made during my career in the pet industry was to strike out on my own and start Southeast Pet. It’s allowed me to work in an industry I love for 41 years. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of wonderful people at Southeast Pet, and the friendships I’ve made are priceless.

steve-headshotSteve King
President
Pet Industry Distributors Association
Abingdon, Md.
Years in Pet Industry: 34

Company description: PIDA has served the interests of pet product wholesalers/distributors for nearly 50 years.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I began as a lawyer/lobbyist with PIJAC fresh out of law school in 1982. I met a lot of industry leaders who were smart and engaging, and I enjoyed working on the legislative issues facing the industry at the time. I became chief staff executive of PIDA in 1990 and have witnessed many of the changes impacting the pet industry during a time of dramatic growth.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I helped negotiate the agreement between PIDA and APPA that formed Global Pet Expo, which has gone on to become the largest annual pet products trade show in the world. We created Pet Store Pro to provide free training for independent pet store employees and have had more than 25,000 individuals complete the training. I have also overseen the development of the Pets in the Classroom program for the Pet Care Trust, which has provided more than 75,000 teachers with grants to care for a pet in their classrooms.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Introducing kids to pets in school has been a passion since I began working on the Pets in the Classroom program five years ago. We have seen amazing results from the interaction of students and pets, from kids exhibiting greater responsibility and leadership; care and compassion; and understanding of science and nature.

rich_picRichard Koliner
Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Multipet International
Moonachie, N.J.
Years in Pet Industry: 20

Company description: We are manufacturers of pet toys, treats and pet lifestyle products.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I grew up in a family-owned pet store; I guess you can say it is in my blood. As far back as I can remember I always wanted to work in the pet industry.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Every day, I strive to make Multipet a household name. We do this by making unique and fun products your pet will truly enjoy. I am happy to say many of the products and projects I have worked on have become a favorite for many pets and pet owners.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Product innovation. There are many companies that offer “me too” items. We try to always think outside the box. Part of the fun is coming up with new ideas that will wow our buyers and consumers.

How has the pet industry changed since you started and how have the changes shaped your business? Without question, it is the consumers relationship with their pet. Years ago, a pet was something you “owned.” Nowadays, they are part of the family.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? To provide a wide distribution network. I want to make sure no matter what retail channel the consumer shops in our products are there.

robert_krause_2016Robert Krause
Past President
Pets International (Super Pet),
Kaytee Pet Products
Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Years in Pet Industry: 37

Company description: We design and develop pet products, specializing in the small animal category.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always had a passion for keeping, breeding and working with animals of all types. My primary interest was small pets including reptiles and small exotic mammals.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to the pet business/pet owners was by offering extremely functional high-quality products which actually performed perfectly as they were intended. These products (Crittertrail and numerous other small animal products) were many times instrumental in allowing children to experience the joy of their very first pet.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I am totally passionate about turtle and tortoise conservation. A baby green turtle is what sparked my initial passion as a very young boy. It lead me into the pet industry as a pet store owner, a pet product wholesaler and an eventual designer and manufacturer of small animal products.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? I can positively say my best career decision in the pet industry was to join the international CEO organization (TEC) VISTAGE. I learned how to successfully run a company and grow it into the multimillion dollar corporation it became.

joemarkhamJoe Markham
Founder
KONG Company
Golden, Colo.
Years in Pet Industry: 40

Company description: Through the years, KONG has become the gold standard in dog toys, providing high-quality, innovative solutions for pet parents. It’s not just a toy… it’s a KONG.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My dog Fritz had an affinity for rocks, sticks and other harmful items and his teeth were starting to wear down. I tried a variety of techniques to solve his destructive chewing habit, but it wasn’t until I threw out a suspension part from a VW Bus I was fixing, that Fritz found something more appealing than those rocks. Whether it was the erratic bounce or durable rubber, Fritz was fanatical about this snowman shaped rubber part, and the KONG Classic dog toy was born.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? KONG is able to support happy healthy lives for dogs across the world. Encouraging play, satisfying dog’s instinctual needs and strengthening the bond between dog and pet parent has always been our goal.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry and why? As the pet parent audience continues to grow, it is more important than ever to continue to educate. A focus should be placed on using toys for enrichment as well as the importance of toy safety.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? We are passionate about enriching the lives of animals through the art of play. Healthy play leads to healthy development of an animal’s physical, social and emotional well-being.

jim_mello_ceo_mello_sales_group_incJim Mello
CEO
Mello Sales Group
Napa, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 45

Company description: Pet Industry Manufacturers’ Representatives.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? There was not an “inspiration” really, but after college I was looking for work and was lucky enough to meet Frank Atchley, the owner at the time of LIXIT Animal Care Products. We went on to introduce Oasis Pet Products to the industry. I am happy to say, both companies are still in the Pet Industry and doing well.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? While at LIXIT, I met Ed Price and joined the Board of Directors of the then WWPSA. I remained on the Board for 13-plus years and became president in 1981. I was also fortunate to join the board of PIJAC for four years. Both of these associations are tremendous and have grown successfully to foster responsible pet ownership. I feel blessed to have a small part in that growth.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I believe in partnerships that are honest, fair and open. Some of the manufacturer partnerships have been in place for 25-plus years. Some of my best friends have come from the industry.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? Becoming a manufacturer’s representative was by far the best decision I made in the industry. It has allowed me to work with the likes of Joe Markham of the KONG Company, Tony DeVos of Cardinal Pet Care, Mac McElheney of PSI and many other upstanding individuals and companies. To help emerging and established companies grow in the industry is very satisfying.

mmhead_face0Marshall Meyers
Attorney, consultant
Meyers & Alterman
Washington, D.C.
Years in Pet Industry: 46

Company description: Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) industry trade association responsible for live animal issues.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Helping lead the industry in recognizing the importance of adopting best management practices, environmental stewardship, responsible pet ownership, ethical standards, etc., into everyday practices. Equally important was being an advocate for consumer choice with respect to which species they would like as pets and recognizing that certain non-traditional wildlife species/animals are not companion animals, such a venomous reptiles, large mammals, non-human primates, etc.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Winning. Why? I am a lawyer and that is my job.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? Best decision from very early days was to reach out to meet as many people in all areas of the industry. I visited fish farms, dog breeders, aviaries, reptile breeders, hamster breeders, bird quarantine facilities, retailers, animal and product distributors, manufacturers—here and abroad to understand the industry inside-out. That knowledge and those relationships helped me better understand the industry and able to represent industry in myriad forums. Not only did those contacts be my best resource, many became close friends and allies. My success could not have occurred without that knowledge base and literally thousands of industry contacts/friends who remain to this day valuable resources regarding animal issues.

nelsonwspBo Nelson
Founder and President
WholesalePet.com
Richmond, Va.
Years in Pet Industry: 24

Company description: WholesalePet.com is the premier B2B marketplace for the pet industry.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? As with most successful entrepreneurs, my path in the pet industry was a small part inspiration followed by a lot of determination. The inspiration: one morning I was preparing my bag lunch at the same time as my dog’s breakfast and I drained the water from my tuna can over my dog’s food. I saw a market opportunity for a liquid flavor and nutritional supplement for dry dog food. In 1992, GravyTime was launched. This was the first product of its type to achieve national distribution. While this brand is no longer on the market, the GravyTime venture fueled my entrepreneurial spirit and helped give birth to my next foray in the pet industry.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I am passionate about helping small businesses succeed. A good part of my time is spent counseling and collaborating with pet business owners, both retailers and suppliers.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? The blueprints and business plan for what would become WholesalePet.com were formed during the dot com bubble of the late 1990’s. During this period, I had conversations with a number of potential investor partners. While gaining knowledge and listening to advice, I saw a downside to having equity partners in the early stages of the business. The decision to self-fund and bootstrap the venture was the best decision I had made early on in the business life-cycle.

linda-head-shot-2016Linda Parks
President and CEO
Lixit Corporation
Napa, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 48

Company description: Designer and manufacturing of animal watering devices and accessories

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always been a total pet lover. When I started at Lixit Corporation it was a start-up company with lots of great ideas and some very nice creative people to work with. I was sold that this was what I wanted to do for a career the first year.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? All pets big or small get a nice clean drink of water at an affordable price. A healthy pet makes a happy pet owner.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I am passionate about keeping manufacturing in the U.S. Having a family-owned manufacturing company in a small town is a fading way of life in the U.S. I feel fortunate that Lixit Corporation has been able to buck the trend of sending all manufacturing off shore. We have been able to provide our employees with a nice life because of the choices our corporation has made.

What issues need more attention from the pet industry? Promotion and regulation of selling pets in retail locations, with a focus on rescued pets. This promotes giving homes to pets that need someone to love them, and exposes people to a variety of animals.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? Constantly designing and patenting new products to protect our market share and owning our factory to control our costs to manufacture our products.

presidents_reception9054Doug Poindexter
President
World Pet Association
Monrovia, Calif.
Years in Pet Industry: 47

Company description: The WPA brings the pet world together, so quality interaction and education between and among product suppliers and pet owners can create healthier, happier pets and a healthier, more productive pet industry.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I was intrigued by tropical fish while in college and went to work for a local pet retail store in 1969.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Helping grow the WPA—the pet industry’s oldest non-profit organization — into an established, respected force in the industry with four leading events: SuperZoo, Atlanta Pet Fair & Conference, Aquatic Experience and America’s Family Pet Expo. Quite simply, the WPA helps our industry continue to grow in a responsible manner. We are always looking for ways to promote animal health and to support our industry, and recently sponsored the Purdue University Standards for Breeding Dog Welfare, which promote the voluntary implementation of science-based standards to help breeders improve the lives of animals in their care and provide healthy, well-socialized puppies to the public.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? To join the WPA staff in 1990 and help develop America’s Family Pet Expo, the world’s largest pet expo and our largest consumer offering. This event has shown me the many ways pets can bring joy to people’s lives and that drives me to leave no stone unturned in finding ways WPA can continue to grow our industry so even more people can experience the joys of pet ownership.

gretchen_newGretchen Seitz George
President
PetRageous Designs
Burlington, Mass.
Years in Pet Industry: 17

Company description: PetRageous Designs creates fun, whimsical, fashionable and functional pet products for the pet AND its owner. It is all about the pet. We love it.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Love of dogs! and Love of ceramics! We began PetRageous Designs over 12 years ago with hand-painted stoneware dog and cat bowls. I have been a dog owner forever and purchased unique and different bowls at craft or art shows that were expensive and couldn’t get replaced when broken. Because of this history, and my 20 years experience as a “people” dinnerware buyer in department stores, I was inspired to begin designing great looking pet bowls at great prices.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? PetRageous has added a lot of fun and fashion to the feeding category from the beginning. We expanded this category immensely. Then we added really neat coats and jackets, fun sweaters and silly toys. We have a great team all working hard to make sure pets (and their owners) love our fun and fashionable pet products.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? That I started the company. I had always worked for large corporations, so the thought of stepping out to start a business (with two wonderful partners) was very scary to me in the beginning. But we all had such a passion for success in this business we just kept exploring new categories and new accounts.

copy_of_img_2810Holly Sher
Owner and President
Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company
Wheeling, Ill.
Years in Pet Industry: 12

Company description: Since 1935, family-owned Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company has been making U.S-sourced and U.S.-made dog and cat foods, packed with farm fresh ingredients and offering premium nutrition.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Committed to serving only the independent pet retailer, I work seven days a week to source the freshest meats, fruits and vegetables from U.S. farms that go into making Evanger’s dog, cat and ferret foods. Over 90 percent of our ingredients are from farms within 50 miles of the Chicagoland manufacturing plant, to ensure the freshest and highest quality. Retailers need to make sure we are delivering the best ingredients to pet-parents, not sacrificing quality for price.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Creating a future for this industry and fighting to support independent businesses. We are the last privately held canned food manufacturer, and I work tirelessly to make sure our retail partners get the best quality in pet nutrition to offer their customers and keep them coming back.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? My family, my team and I are extremely committed to supporting the security and growth of this pet specialty/independent retail industry, through a focus on sustainability on all levels of their business, products and distribution and supporting their community, ranging from charitable donations, projects in their hometown of Chicago, and also supporting causes all around the world.

melissaverplank__cacheMelissa Verplank
Founder and President
The Paragon School of Pet Grooming, White Dog Enterprises, Learn2Groom
Dogs.com, Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa
Kent City, Mich.
Years in Pet Industry: 37

Company description: Educational companies focusing on teaching professional pet grooming, grooming books, educational pet grooming streaming videos plus a luxury pet resort.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? The creation of my book, Notes From the Grooming Table. It has become the industry bible for professional pet grooming.

How has the pet industry changed since you started and how have the changes shaped your business? The pet industry has grown tremendously since I first entered it in the late ‘70s. The opportunities to turn a simple love of animals into a career are countless. The need for education continues to grow along with technology advancements that makes learning easier for everyone.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Continuing education. That and personal growth are at the root of all success stories. Never stop learning.

What is the best decision you’ve made during your career in the pet industry and why? The day I set down my shears from day-to-day grooming. It was not because I wanted to. Health issues forced me to. It’s been the best setback I’ve ever had in my career. It has allowed me to help thousands of people turn a simple love of animals into a rewarding career and/or expand their careers to new levels.

bobvetere2015Bob Vetere
President and CEO
American Pet Products Association
Greenwich, Conn.
Years in Pet Industry: 23

Company description: APPA is the leading not-for-profit trade association made up of more than 1,200 pet product manufacturers, their representatives, importers and livestock suppliers.

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? As a long time pet lover and owner, I always found the rewards I derived from my pets were far greater than anything I gave in return. As a part of my job, I was on the team that acquired our company’s first pet product line. I used that connection to become involved and eventually reached out on a much broader scale into the industry.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I have been fortunate in having an organization willing to support my efforts to bring diverse groups together for the welfare of the animals through encouraging responsible pet ownership and promoting the human health benefits of pets. In helping to create the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation and the Pet Leadership Council, I believe we now have the tools in place for the industry to continue its strong growth.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I find the effort of bringing diverse thinking people/groups to discuss openly difference and eventually find some level of common ground to be the challenge that keeps me up at night. To me, it is exceedingly frustrating that otherwise intelligent people can allow ego and bias to impede their ability to compromise for the greater good. In an increasingly “what’s in it for me” world, the need for compromise and coalition building has never been more important.

joe_zuccarello_head_shotJoe Zuccarello
Director of Innovation
Tropiclean
Wentzville, Mo.
Years in Pet Industry: 30

Company description: Leading manufacturer of natural pet grooming, supplement, flea and tick, and dental products

What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I was hooked at 13 years old. As a bather in a small grooming shop, I learned what hard work was and learned to love this industry and the people involved in the industry. As a business, the industry is a model that most other industries envy. It is recession resistant, fast growing, and focused on personal relationships with people and pets.

What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution is my ability to identify needs and wants that pet parents may have (and some they may not know they need) and bring them services and products that enrich their relationship with their pets. Whether it is a new product focused on the pet’s physical well being or a new service offering peace of mind to the pet parent while their pets are in a professional’s care, both help add quality of life to the pet and their pet parent.

What is something you are totally passionate about and why? I am totally passionate about family. My success is directly attributed to the support and encouragement I receive every day from my family (including my 12-pound Shih-Tzu Vinnie). After long days working at the Pet Resorts and evenings consumed with studies pursuing my masters degree in business, it was always my wife and my two boys who encouraged me to push on and complete my objective.

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