Pet Age recently visited Molly Havig, co-owner of Wholesome Hound, and discovered what it’s like running a pet store in Naples, Florida.
Q What year did you and Stephanie Zaiser open Wholesome Hound?
A Stephanie and I opened the Wholesome Hound in January 2015, so we have been in business almost three years, which is hard to believe. We were inspired by our love for animals, our experiences with sick pets, and our keen interest in personal and pet health and nutrition. Opening a store to share with other pet parents everything we’ve learned seems almost like a calling.
Q What valuable lessons did you learn in your first year of operation?
A The first year was one of learning lessons almost daily. Most significantly, we learned to truly listen to our customers instead of assuming we knew what they wanted based on our own experiences as pet parents. For example, as pet parents to larger dogs, we assumed that most people would prefer the more cost effective and longer-lasting large bags of food. The day we opened, we were stocked to the ceiling with big bags of food which, we quickly learned, customers in Naples just don’t want. Even customers with big dogs prefer the smaller bags because of concerns about the high humidity here and freshness.
Q What philosophy do you follow in terms of the products that you carry?
A Our philosophy is guided by the quite simple question: Is this product something we would feed to, or put on, or use with our own dogs and cats? If the answer is even a “maybe not,” it doesn’t make it to our store shelves, period. In three short years, the dog and cat community of Naples has become our extended family. If there’s something we wouldn’t allow the pets in our immediate family to have, we’re certainly not going to give it to our extended family either. Food and treats must be from whole foods and must be health-affirming. Products must be well made and durable. The companies from which we buy must manufacture their food and products with integrity.
Q Do you find there to be a difference between the needs of a repeat customer and a one-time customer who is visiting Naples on vacation?
A We’ll start with how they’re all similar: All of our customers—whether a one-time visitor or a repeat customer—need to feel like they’re giving their pets the best life possible, and therefore, the best products available. Even out-of-town visitors pepper us with questions about ingredients in the treats and where they’re made. No one’s taking junk food back home to the kids. Not surprisingly, our visitors almost never buy food. They like to buy toys that aren’t available in their home state or country, and they really like to find treats that are made locally or regionally. We love to help vacationers find a unique toy or high-quality treat for the fur baby left at home.