Pet Age recently spoke with Holly Dolan to learn more about her decision to open PetPort, a pet store in Northport, New York, after a career on TV and radio.
Q What inspired you to open PetPort?
A When I was music director at WCBS-FM, New York, I had just adopted two Jack Russell litter mates. When the boy, Dave, was almost two years of age, he was misdiagnosed with lymphoma, and I was told he only had weeks to live. I fell in love with this puppy, and decided I was going to do everything I could to help him. At the time, I was programming the radio station on one computer and researching my dog’s disease on another simultaneously.
After two years of chemotherapy, we learned that Dave didn’t have cancer. He probably had some strain of Lyme’s disease that was unknown back then and in time it resolved with multiple courses of antibiotics. At that point, I was very interested in going to DVM school, but that’s a tough road. I had a successful career in New York City radio, on-air, for many years at WCBS-FM, WBLS, WKTU and Lite-FM. Going back to grad school at that point was not a reality for me. So, after much thought, I decided to open an all-natural pet supply boutique in my home town of Northport, New York, on Long Island’s beautiful North Shore, about 50 miles from Manhattan. It was a side project at the time. I had learned so much studying about pet diseases and nutrition as my dog, Dave, got better. I really wanted to provide a haven for pet parents to visit, get sound advice and veterinarian referrals—and PetPort was born.
I created the PetPort brand as if I was programming a radio station. We “played” the top hits. In other words, I started with the top brands in the natural pet food category. First it was top five, then 10 and we started to blossom. I had never worked in retail before. It was solely out of love and passion for my pups that I decided to open this store from scratch. Every year our sales doubled. Now going into our 10th successful year, we target our local community and it’s really paid off! Dave lived until he was 14 years old.
Q What has been the secret to your success?
A I think the “secret” to our success is passion and hard work. I grew up with an adage that my father used to say (it was an old, Earl Nightingale quote): “Successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.” That phrase speaks volumes on many levels, and has always resonated with me.
My husband Tom helped me launch PetPort. We worked really hard seven days a week to make PetPort happen. And if there is one word to describe our brand, it would be trust. Our customers trust that we will always give advice or sell products that will be the best solution for their pets. I don’t want to just sell widgets. I want to give people the right products—products that will be the best choice/solution for their dog or cat. I have studied a lot about pet nutrition, allergies, parasites, etc. We enjoy helping pet parents. If you come to my counter with pig ears for a small puppy, I will suggest that you try something more appropriate, something safer. And if you do the right thing, as I always tell my staff, the money will come.
Q What made you decide to add grooming services?
A It just made sense that we should offer grooming services after a couple of years in business. Customers kept asking for it. However, I am not a groomer. It was difficult at first, because I wanted to be educated about the profession if I was going to manage it.
I started going to all the grooming trade shows. I took bather/fluffer certificate courses, first aid, breed-specific technique courses and then became an AKC-certified groomer. By the way, I do not groom dogs ever in my salon. I’m too busy running the business. But I can jump in and help if necessary.
I decided to run our grooming salon in a certain way, and thought if I couldn’t do it “right,” I wasn’t going to do it. I hired the right groomers, which was challenging—and trust me, we went through many. And they weren’t used to sanitizing blades, tubs and tables in between every dog, or requiring dogs be up-to-date on vaccines.
I was also very lucky to have met and form a friendship with one of the top internal medicine veterinarians in the country who had just bought an animal hospital in the area. Dr. Diane Levitan, VMD, and I became fast friends. I really liked her vision and started referring many clients to her animal hospital, and in turn she was a consultant for PetPort. She told me that I “had” to require that all dogs in our care were up-to-date on the Bordetella vaccine for kennel cough and rabies with proof from their vet. We are the only shop around that even asks—and I’m hoping it will become law nationally and in Suffolk County soon like it is in the five boroughs of New York City.
Q Are you planning on doing anything special to celebrate your 10-year anniversary in December?
A We want to host a series of charity events to give back to the community. I’m hoping to do a “Twelve Days of Christmas” promotion through the holidays to raise money for local shelters and rescue groups, complete with “Yappy Hours” for pet parents and their furry family members, as we celebrate our 10 years in business.
Q How do you give back to the community?
A We do as many in-store fundraisers as possible, which is always great PR. We sponsor local events. My husband is also a 35-year veteran of the Northport Volunteer Fire Department. We are involved with the community that we live and work in—and wouldn’t have it any other way.