I first entered the pet industry workforce back in 1972 after serving in the Army. My first job in the industry was working in a pet supply warehouse for $1.35 an hour. Pet Supply distribution was fairly new back then having morphed from large animal businesses and just about all pet supply distributors were family owned. To the best of my knowledge, there were only two pet product manufacturers listed on the stock market: Hartz Mountain and Metaframe, a division of Mattel.
Of course, today, the majority of distribution is owned by investment groups who target Wall Street for their profit and growth strategies. The same can be said for the big-box retail chains that popped up in the late 1980s.
Back then there were no computers, not even a fax machine and certainly no Internet. In 1972, office equipment consisted of typewriters, calculators and the telephone. Change came much slower in those days with maybe one significant event in a year’s time, where today major industry significant events happen almost monthly.
Today, most distributor sales people use hand-held devices to transmit their orders to the office instantaneously. Back in the 1970s, an out-of-town sales person had to put their orders on a greyhound bus at the end of the day for overnight delivery. Invoices were written by hand on multi-part “carbonless” forms that were picked up at the bus station at 6 o’clock in the morning, price-checked by office personnel and handed to the warehouse to be pulled and packed.
Even inventory control was done by hand on index cards. Can you imagine that? Someone had to sit at a desk all day transcribing inventory sales from hand written invoices to hand written cards so the buyer would have some idea what inventory vs. sales were when ordering more merchandise. It amazes me that we did that, and that it worked so well.
Back at the beginning of my career in the industry, the distributors were just switching from stainless steel frame aquariums to all glass. Fluorescent full hoods were a comparatively new concept. I remember when Hill’s Pet Food came to our distributorship and told us they wanted to recall all of their dog food and replace it with “Science Diet,” a scientifically formulated diet. Before that, premium dog food didn’t exist. Both of these events were major game-changers for our industry.
Nowadays since communication is instantaneous, manufacturers no longer have to wait for tradeshows to introduce their new products to the trade. Back in the 1970s, vendors worked all year long to develop new products in time to present them at the APPMA Show (aka Global Pet Expo). Now that we have a “world economy,” there are unlimited sources for just about anything consumers could want. With the efficiencies built into business thanks to the internet, retailers can expect almost next day delivery and consumers can special-order products with ease.
Of course with all of these technological innovations come challenges to the status quo. The Internet will change the face of retail, forcing successful manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to reassess how they do business and what will be required of them to succeed in this new century.
I am so grateful to have been a part of all the innovative and exciting changes that have taken place during my 46-year pet industry career. I feel that my success has been based in my willingness to change with the times and I believe I have done that to good effect. I see some stupendous opportunities opening up in the future for those who are willing to take advantage of the Internet and instantaneous communication as part of their wholesale and retail strategy.
By the time you read this, I will be retired and looking forward to my new career; enjoying a leisure lifestyle. I have always thought of our industry as one big family that even in economically challenged times has been good to those willing to stick with it. I look forward to keeping an eye out for all the future events that will shape the industry in the coming years and wish everyone well.