Pet Age recently spoke with Spencer Williams, CEO of West Paw, to find out more about his view of the pet care industry, sustainability and his brand’s relationship with consumers.
What’s your view on how brands can be a force for good in the pet industry and consumers?
Pet brands have a unique opportunity because we work in a $125 billion industry that touches the lives of both consumers and their pets. This industry has a heart and soul like none other. Because of this, I think a great way for a brand to be a force for good is to treat pets with the greatest care — to provide them with nutritious and safe products.
Additionally, pet brands can be a force for good through more collaborative work to find common solutions to our planet’s biggest problems. The Pet Sustainability Coalition brings business-focused solutions to our industry by helping members implement social and environmental best practices. I strongly recommend every brand consider what type of impact they can achieve through less waste and improved sustainability, along with better brand recognition and higher profitability by joining Pet Sustainability Coalition.
Being family-owned for over 25 years, and a Certified B Corp since 2013, West Paw has long championed the B Corp community. Through our business, we have improved our manufacturing facilities in Montana and partnered with our domestic supply chain to reduce our impact through recycled and recyclable materials. Our treats are sourced from humanly raised animals in the Unites States. And in 2021, we launched Seaflex, a collection of dog toys and feeding accessories made partly from ocean-bound plastic. Zogoflex and Seaflex products can be recycled in our Join the Loop program. We are driven by our passion for the pets, their connection to their parents and our belief that West Paw can be a sustainable force for good.
How do you see domestic manufacturing being good for sustainability?
Staying true to the West Paw mission, 99 percent of our products are domestically manufactured. Remaining a domestic manufacturer over the last 26 years has not always been the easiest choice, but it aligns with our commitment to serve our retailers and make a positive impact through jobs created.
When we purchase U.S. raw materials, there are fewer shipping impacts on the environment and reduces our carbon footprint. Our choice to produce and source domestically allowed us to best serve our retailers when the coronavirus peaked.
Why is it important that manufacturers offer products that build a connection between pets and their parents?
Our first core value is joyful connection; we know humans are looking to build connections and bond with their pets through interactive playtime. The rapid growth we have seen in the sales of our puzzle dog toys include Rumbl, Toppl and Qwizl and our treats. Our Bison Lung and Heart is a testament to the retailers’ and trainers’ educational efforts on the benefits of mental stimulation.
What kind of impact can pet brands have on their community?
I believe all businesses have an essential responsibility to their communities. When we address issues together — climate change, social injustice or economic inequality — we can create more impact. When people purchase West Paw products, they are doing more than buying durable, American-made products, they are working with us to solve more pressing sustainability issues. One-way West Paw supports our community by giving employees paid time to volunteer. Our employees mentor local school children, serve at food kitchens, repair homes, work in community gardens and build community dog parks.
While one company alone can make a difference, an industry movement is much more impactful. There are so many businesses in the pet industry championing community work that is inspiring to me and West Paw. By sharing what we are doing, we can help others move forward with new and deeper impacts on their community.
How did someone born and raised on a ranch in Montana come to start a pet company in 1996?
Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to be raised on a working ranch. While I appreciated the cattle, horses and chickens, I loved spending time with the furrier animals, in particular the sheep, dogs and cats. On the ranch, we repaired fences and tools, and as a youth, I was allowed to make things using creativity and raw materials.
The ranch work also taught me about caring for the earth because it was obvious that well cared for and thoughtfully managed resources gave back abundantly. It was this unique combination of an early life with animals, hands-on work and care for the environment, which all culminated when I returned to Montana and learned about a small pet toy business that hand sewed plush cat and dog toys. This was a lucky opportunity in 1996 that allowed me to begin West Paw. Being able to combine my passions in business, while making others happy, through the creation of eco-friendly, high-quality dog treats, toys, beds, leashes and collars, continue to be a source of purpose and joy.