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April 4, 2014

Most people I’ve met in the pet industry would agree with Bob Krause’s mantra and most have enjoyed that passion as well.

As I look at the different segments or categories of the pet industry and look at the people who have had a profound influence, Bob Krause really stands out. He built

Habittrails was a great innovation to small animal-keeping and brought fuzzy little creatures in from the garage to the kid’s room, but Critter Trail brought them into the living room where hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs and chinchillas could be enjoyed by the entire family.

Other innovations were the Small Animal Runabout Exercise Ball, hamtrac, ferretrail, numerous feeder and water accessories, hay mangers, veggie carrot holder, Rollin’ the Hay, gravity bin feeders, hanging veggie baskets, ferret and hamster litter pans, hamster potty, natures nests, comfort perches, comfort exercise wheels and many ferret toys, beds and hammocks.

The bright colors, stackable cages and all the feeding and treat options were tremendous. My personal favorite was the Flatbac water bottles.

Prior to this, all animal water bottles were blow molded in standard sizes. The Flatbac water bottles were specifically molded with flat profiles and custom brackets, which kept the cages closer to the walls.

They even had small, plastic “floating little yellow duckies” in each bottle to help owners easily see if the water level was too low. Not a major innovation, but it demonstrated the level of detail that Bob always brought with every new item.

Looking at all the contributions he made, Bob always stuck to his core principles. Every product developed had to enhance the relationship between the pet and the pet owner. Every SKU either offered an improved environment for the pet, or it facilitated the cleaning maintenance chores of the pet owner. Being a pet person at heart does make a real difference at every level of the business.

Bob was born and raised in Chicago, and his family supported his love of all animals. He kept his first turtle, bought from Woolworth’s, in an old coal bin. His hobby room was soon full of turtles, several birds, fish, snakes and amphibians. Long before the Internet, he read books, magazines and learned the old-fashioned hands-on way.

In 1971, he founded Noah’s Ark Pet Center in Elk Grove Village, Ill. This was one of the largest full-line, state-of-the-art retail pet stores in the U.S. Back then it was billed as the world’s largest pet center.
I remember visiting that store and  how clean it was. This store eventually became the flagship of what became 23 stores in three states. From this he next founded Napco Distributing Co., a pet supply wholesaler which then evolved into a pet-accessory designer and manufacturer. In 1983, this became Napco International Ltd. and then folded itself into Bob’s acquisition of Pets International Ltd. It was his vision that turned Pets International and its brand Super Pet into a powerhouse that was carried by pet stores across the country.

Bob founded his empire with $11,000 in savings and a $25,000 bank loan.

As he traveled the globe searching out sources for raw materials, manufacturing partners and global distributors, he met lifelong friends who loved Bob’s enormous smile and personality;  they are still friends today.

In 2005, Bob sold to Central Garden & Pet Company and continued running both Super Pet and Kaytee until 2008, per his agreement. Most folks would then take their good fortune and ride off into the sunset, but not Bob Krause.

Today, Bob owns and operates a consulting firm, ARK Innovative Solutions, and focuses on new product development, global sourcing and new business startups. He serves on the board of a machine-tooling corporation in Illinois, is a member of the Pet Industry Advisory Board, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the Chicago Herpetological Society, the Turtle Survival Alliance, the Chelonian Research Foundation and the Turtle & Tortoise Propagation Group.

Early in his career there was a poster in Bob’s office that read, “Behold the turtle, for he only makes success when he sticks his head out,” and that helps sum up his career so far. Turtle and tortoise conservation has always been a passion of his, and now he spends serious time supporting various associations while traveling to many countries and states on wildlife field trips including Madagascar, The Galapagos and an Amazon River trip.

He also acquired 47 acres of natural woodland near Chicago. The property has numerous native oaks and other hardwoods, wildflowers and wildlife plus a 7-acre lake full of turtles and two vernal ponds. The real bonus is that the entire 47 acres is surrounded by more than 1,000 acres of protected forest preserve. Bob, and his wife, Denise, are very happy to say that they have encountered several different species of reptiles and amphibians on the property at various times of the year.

In his spare time he fly fishes and rides his Harley, travels, enjoys four children and their families, and does some consulting.

Asking Bob to reflect back, he says, “Many things I did well, some things I could have done better and none I did poorly.”

I realized that you have to recognize your personal strengths, capitalize on what you do best and hire the rest, even if it means a president/COO or even a CEO. The most successful people I’ve ever met surround themselves with great people and let them do their jobs. If you talk to Bob’s ex-employees, old customers, friends or current staff, you’ll get nothing but unanimous agreement that he is a born leader, has a big heart, is a passionate entrepreneur and truly cares about other people.

I think of him as a gentle, family-loving man still full of energy.

– Phil Cooper

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