Pet Age: 50 Years of Fish, Fur & Financial Success

Glenn Polyn//July 1, 2021//

Pet Age: 50 Years of Fish, Fur & Financial Success

Glenn Polyn //July 1, 2021//

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Pet Age, the trusted source for news, products and market trends impacting the pet care community, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the July 2021 issue. The company was established by Sue and Horst H. Backer in 1971 as a monthly B2B publication to provide pet store owners and managers with practical ideas and strategies for selling pets, pet products and pet-related services.

Published in July 1971, the inaugural issue of Pet Age ran 32 pages plus covers. The magazine started with a publisher letter from Horst H. Backer, who detailed the mission of the publications, stating that: “…its content will be varied but emphasis will be on practical features to expand your profits in particular and to extend the influence of the pet industry in general… Our aim is to serve you and we trust you will make Pet Age an integral part of your business.”

That mission was evident by the cover of the July 1971 issue, which showed an exterior of Clearview Pets, a brick-and-mortar retailer located in Clearview Shopping Center in Metairie, Louisiana, along with a simple catch phrase: “the pet industry today.”

“Space Age Planning at Clearview Pets” was the title of the cover story by Sue Backer, as she profiled the store, which was owned by Arlie “Pops” Strain, and the sales strategies he incorporated into his Metarie pet shop.

“Once inside Clearview Pets, you won’t find fancy décor,” wrote Sue Backer. “Space age marketing means planned utilization and planned effects. Merchandise is displayed on a black background under soft, indirect lighting.”

“The entire store is black, except for the soft green ceiling,” explained Strain. “We’re in business to sell pets and supplies, not paneling or chrome. So our décor doesn’t distract the customer. Just the merchandise stands out.”

What was the first ad that readers would see in Pet Age? The answer to that trivia question was the full-page ad on page 1 for Kitty Litter by Lowe’s. Invented by Edward Lowe in 1947, it was the original cat litter, which back then was described as “sanitary cat box filler.”

Lowe originally packaged his innovative pet product in five-pound bags and suggested that pet stores sell it for 65 cents. The 1980s saw a reinvention of his original product under the name Tidy Cat 3. In 1990, he sold his business with the company being renamed the Golden Cat Corporation, which was sold to Ralston Purina following his death.

The fishkeeping hobby was enormously popular in the early 1970s. This was evident by the large number of aquatic ads in the first issue of Pet Age. Page 3 featured a full-page ad from Tetra, which promoted the fact that the brand was celebrating 20 years since its creation in Germany by Dr. Ulrich Baensch, a breeder of exotic aquarium fishes. He pioneered the development of flake fish food, an innovation that revolutionized the pet care industry.

Retailers in need of a variety of fishkeeping products “From Comets to Koi” and “From Tetras to Terrapins” were informed that “Wardley’s got it made!” Established as a distributor of aquatic products in 1950, the company ultimately grew into a prominent aquatic brand within the Hartz Mountain Corp. Wardley was instrumental in the formation of the Pet Industry Advisory Council (PIJAC) and was one of 17 pet food manufacturers that established the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

Other aquatics ads in the July 1971 issue included South Miami Tropical Fish Hatchery, Long Beach Fisheries, Aquatics Inc., Kushmer Brothers Tropicals, Dolomite Glass Fibers, Midwest Aquarium, Everglades Aquatic Nurseries and Jungle Laboratories Corp., which boasted its creation the world’s first automatic water conditioner.

Several new products appeared in Pet Age’s inaugural issue, including Zodiac’s Flea Foam for cats, the Doggie Dooley Fire Plug that could be used as an outdoor “piddling post or as a pet toy chest and utility container” and a miniature pet casket from Hoegh Pet Casket Company.

The appearance of a pet casket is certainly interesting to see, with today’s pets being considered members of the family. Hoegh, located in Michigan, also ran two ads in the July 1971 publication.

“Now at last you can offer your customers a permanent, granite memorial for their pets,” noted a pet memorials ad from Hoegh. “Granite is the ideal material because it can be personalized with name, likeness and suitable inscription etched in stone for lasting contrast and readability.”

A second Hoegh ad, which showcases the company’s pet caskets, states the following: “Your customers, who purchase the many varied items you have for sale during a pet’s lifetime, do not lose their feelings when the pet passes away; and they demand a quality container for the interment of their pet.”

The issue covered the first industry show of 1971, the Independent Pet Industry Trade Show, which took place in April 1971 in Atlanta. The show, sponsored by the Backers, featured 105 exhibits. The article displayed photos of booths by Wardley, T.F.H. Publications and Oscar Enterprises, which are far more straightforward that today’s elaborate trade show exhibits.

The “Trade Dates” calendar page included a variety of upcoming trade shows, conventions and dog shows. The 21st Annual Exhibition of the Western Wholesale Pet Supply Association (WWPSA), which took place August 6-8 in San Francisco, was touted as the “First International Pet Supply Trade Show” by Maurice Rakowicz, WWPSA general trade show chairman, “to emphasize the growing impact of overseas products on the millions of U.S. pet fanciers.”

This was quite a forward-thinking event, as the global pet care market is expected to reach nearly $360 billion by 2027, according to a 2020 report by Fior Markets. The WWPSA show announcement went on to say that Rackowicz “feels that it is inevitable that the American pet industry will accelerate and encourage a rapidly widening global market for all the world’s pets and pet goods.”

Pet Age has gone through changes in ownership over the years. H.H. Backer Associates sold Pet Age to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Journal Multimedia, with the Backers publishing their final issue in December 2012. Most recently, in 2020, Transom Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, took over Pet Age when it acquired BridgeTower Media from GateHouse Media.

In 2021, as in 1971, Pet Age’s mission has remained dedicated to helping pet retailers improve their profits and increase their financial success. With a readership that includes retailers, wholesale distributors, veterinarians, groomers and other pet care professionals, Pet Age continues to be the leading resource in the pet care community. Here’s to another 50 years of Pet Age being your ultimate guide to new products, market trends, industry announcements, legislative news and merchandising strategies.


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