Pet Industry Women are Pushing Barriers

Megan Jander//August 7, 2019//

Pet Industry Women are Pushing Barriers

Megan Jander //August 7, 2019//

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Throughout the years, women across the board have been breaking the barriers of what has long been established as the status quo, redefining societal standards of equality, power and leadership. Female entrepreneurs are ascertaining themselves, demonstrating that their unparalleled capabilities are not to be underestimated. This is widely recognized and evident within the pet industry, where many highly respected brands are flourishing because of influential female leaders.


Vicki Wagner is the owner and CEO of Kennelmaster Foods, the company behind Chip’s Naturals treats. Wagner started a retail pet store and boutique called Silly Willie’s in 2006, and Kennelmaster Foods’ products were big sellers with her customers. However, the company was on the brink of going out of business. Not wanting to lose a good product from her store, she took it upon herself to purchase the company. This process took about nine months, with constant back and forth between the original owner and Wagner. She had some suspicions that her gender was a factor for hesitation, so she sent a male friend in the pet business to make a deal for purchasing. It took her friend just five minutes to close the deal.

“[The original owner] later admitted to me that he didn’t want to sell it to us because he didn’t think we could handle it,” Wagner explained. “Because it was the good old boys club, he just didn’t think we could handle it.”

Within a year, the company outgrew its space and had to move to a bigger location. From 20 accounts to now over 500, the products have been enormously successful thanks to Wagner’s leadership and resilience, even though she wasn’t taken seriously. And she knows this is a challenge for many women in the industry.

“When people tell me I can’t do something, my first question is, Why not? Why can’t we? So be confident, have facts and run your own race. Keep looking forward.”

Linda Jangula, president and owner of Wiki Wags, has had family ties in the industry and was familiar at a young age with many of the inner workings. The one thing that stood out to her was that many new pet owners preferred female puppies due to male potty habits, which she experienced later with her own male dogs. After thorough research, she developed the Wiki Wags Disposable Male Dog Wraps. What followed was a tier of challenges, including being told, “You are being entirely too passionate about your products. They will never make it to market.” Jangula also experienced health issues, to the point where she didn’t think she would live to see her product come to fruition. So, it was immensely satisfying for her when she finally saw her product on the shelves.

“I actually cried,” she recalled. “I felt like I had succeeded in bringing something to market that would be here forever.”

Because these products were needed in the industry, it’s no surprise that they are achieving the goal of being as commonplace as paper towels. Having experienced a domino effect of challenges, she has a powerful outlook that she wants others to learn from.

“We can be ‘professionally passionate’ in our ambitions at times, but our wisdom and knowledge in handling business matters leaves a lot for our predecessors to ponder over with fresh new innovations,” Jangula explained. “Keep the passion inspirational and ongoing! Dig and do a lot of research. If it’s something new, don’t be afraid to take a chance.”

For Carina Evans, CEO of Podium Pet Products, being a woman is a blessing she doesn’t even think about. She believes that women, even in the U.K., are on a level playing field with others in the industry, and if anyone challenges that, it’s an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. Evans is a reserve soldier and was the first woman to do the Cresta Run last year, changing the course of the sport to include female athletes after being male-only for years. These experiences, among many others, gave her the motivation to want to do more, which led her to go into business with Dog Rocks as Podium Pet Products in the U.K. market. With the success of Dog Rocks in the U.K., Evans was able to expand into the U.S. in 2012 and it has been nothing short of amazing since then.

“It’s given me the energy and realization that things are for the taking; you just have to make them happen,” she said. “We always wanted to have greater international presence and to spread the love our natural products bring pets and their parents.”

The company has grown over the years, with Dog Rocks becoming a staple internationally. Evans is constantly learning from others and drawing inspiration from them in order to better serve her company and her customers. And because she is devoted to her business, she has a can-do attitude that doesn’t stop her from doing what she wants.

“If you don’t expect a glass ceiling or expect to be put down because of your sex, you won’t be. Just don’t dwell on such issues; they are minor and we must set an example in showing they don’t exist,” she explained. “Be bold, be brave, be kind, give it a go, get off, up and out, try something new and dare to be different.”

Auntie Dolores is known for its THC products for humans. Having established the company in 2008, CEO and founder Julianna Carella has seen it grow into a great success. When the benefits of CBD became known in 2011, many of her customers questioned if the products were suitable for their pets to alleviate their aches and pains.

Carella decided to branch out, experiment and establish Treatibles, a brand for pets, in 2013. Because of her experience in the cannabis industry, Treatibles as a hemp product became a national brand in a couple of years. This led her and the company to go from being a California cannabis operator to a national pet industry supplier.

However, coming to the pet space from the cannabis space, Carella recognized the struggles women in the industry were facing. She noted that women are still being paid a fraction less than men and many opportunities go to men first. Although she hasn’t personally experienced any setbacks as a woman, she has a team that’s 95 percent women and has heard and witnessed many unfair situations. So, her advice resonates through her team and her products.

“What’s often overlooked yet proven with research is that women make 90 percent of the buying decisions, whether it’s for the spouse, the children or the pets, so the brand has to appeal to the woman. The market speaks to us,” Carella said. “[So] just being involved in the industry, making moves and being successful, it adds to the success for all women. The more successes women have individually, I think, results in a collective advantage.”

Allison Albert is the founder and CEO of Pet Krewe, which has been around for four years. Albert learned to sew at an early age and found joy in making pet costumes. However, she pursued a different career path. On her way to work one day, she was hit by a drunk driver and severely injured. While in rehabilitation, she realized that life is short and that she should be pursuing what makes her truly happy, so she reverted back to her roots. Her very first official pet costume was the Lion Mane for dogs. Six months after its launch, Amazon picked it up for an international commercial and this brought Pet Krewe into popularity.

“I realized then that I was onto something big. And since then we’ve grown every year, acquired licenses and developed new product lines,” Albert said. “We’re looking to expand into more product segments that haven’t really been touched upon in the pet industry.”

Even though she’s overcome many personal challenges, Albert recognizes the bigger, general challenges women face. She notes that when starting a new company, women only receive two percent of investment funds nationwide, while the other 98 percent goes to men. That means there are a lot of hurdles for funding a startup in the pet industry. But Albert remains optimistic and hopeful, and does not want other women to let something like this keep them down.

“We have had to work twice as hard to get this far, so keep it up, keep your head down and keep grinding,” she said.

Beth Sommers, president and CMO of Pure and Natural Pet, has been part of the pet industry since 1989. Having witnessed changes in the industry throughout the years, Sommers had an idea for a brand that offered healthier, more natural alternatives, especially when finding products for her dogs’ allergies became a challenge. When dogs and cats were being perceived more as parts of the family and not just as pets in the backyard, she felt it was the right time to introduce what is now Pure and Natural Pet. Since its launch in 2015, the company has achieved USDA-certified organic labeling and has become a big name in the industry with its organic food and grooming products aimed at maintaining pets’ well-being.

“I’m motivated to be a champion of the organic industry and create products that are eco-friendly and [result in] happier and healthier pets,” Sommers explained. “It’s important for me to create a cohesive brand of products that work together to solve an issue and are safe for pets and the planet.”

Throughout her career in the industry, Sommers has observed that women tend to be posed questions that would never be asked to men. That’s why as president, she encourages her team and others to realize the importance of hard work and equality.

“Hard work is hard work, no matter the gender. Have your voice heard and mentor others; both men and women,” she said. “Listen to what those in the industry say, be informed and be your own best resource to create a niche for what’s missing. Stay true to your core values and beliefs because ultimately, those will take you from a challenger brand to a category leader.”

Husband-Wife Team

With a history in the pet industry that spans 40 years, Susan J. Goldstein and her husband, Dr. Bob Goldstein, are the visionaries behind the award-winning brand Earth Animal. The idea for the company started after witnessing the side effects of chemicals and insecticides in flea and tick prevention treatments at their vet practice, paving the way for options that were nutritional and side effect-free. The couple opened the first true health food store for animals in 1979.

“I turned to my husband for his veterinary advice in formulating [natural, holistic pet products], and as a result, Dr. Bob became my ‘product machine’ and to date has created many hundreds of natural and organic products for dogs and cats,” she explained.

Throughout the years, the Goldsteins have made many impactful contributions to the industry, including education on the humane treatment of animals. To Susan Goldstein, treating an animal humanely is an important lesson not only for the benefit of the animal, but also for treating others with respect, especially women.

“I believe it was Gandhi who said [something to the effect of], ‘You can tell a lot about a country by the way they treat their animals.’ Not only does this directly impact farm animals, it also has a direct effect on society as a whole and the way we treat and respect each other,” she explained. “I advise women in the industry to listen closely to their intuition. Women entrepreneurs of purpose-driven companies will find their business paths easier, as passion and compassion are the energetic fuel behind success.”

Pamela Pettyan is executive VP and co-founder of Caru Pet Food, which she and her husband, Adrian, started five years ago. The two Canadian medical professionals got a Golden retriever, Karu, who had constant ear infections from puppyhood. They switched Karu to a homemade diet of nutritious food, and Karu became more playful and healthier. This led the couple to conduct a lot of research and eventually collaborate with an accomplished animal PhD nutritionist to create a line of nourishing meals and treats that look, smell and taste as good as homemade food.

“As health care professionals, we were taught to be very thorough in our work and to always follow best practices – and this background really helped us to understand the pet industry,” Pettyan explained. “It is extremely rewarding to hear from other pet parents that their pets are doing so well on Caru.”

Even as co-founder, Pettyan recognizes the struggles women have in the industry. She notes that they often have a difficult time starting their own businesses, getting financing and being recognized as leaders in the industry due to a gender bias. But her crucial role at her company has given her the inspiration and motivation she hopes others will experience.

“Have passion for your ideas and beliefs,” she said. “You need to believe in yourself and be passionate about your convictions because if you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to get behind you?”

Alina Smith has been the CEO of Pet Releaf for the past five years. She founded the company with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Chelsea. They came up with Pet Releaf because of their experience with their family dog, Mattie, who struggled with arthritis towards the end of her life. Having always believed in the medicinal use of cannabis, they realized they were onto something when it helped Mattie’s pain significantly.

“Not only did we want to create the highest-quality product for pets, we also wanted to make it available to as many pets as possible, and now that we are in about 4,000 stores, I’d say we’re getting there,” Smith said. “There’s always room for growth, but we are happy that our retail partners and customers have helped us reach so many pets already.”

Smith personally has had nothing but positive experiences as a female entrepreneur in the pet industry, but that doesn’t mean it has been an easy journey. She recognizes that no matter what, challenges are bound to happen and she encourages others to be prepared for any hurdle.

“My advice to women is to always challenge yourself to continue growing, and as you make those achievements in your life, mentor other women and promote their successes at the same time.”

In 2011, Jennifer Neufeld, COO, and her husband, Jamyang, created Distinctly Himalayan. After meeting abroad and working as business partners before tying the knot, they started in the States with a retail gift business featuring artisan items. But as animal lovers with a lot of pets, they saw a gap in the market for high-quality, handcrafted, all-natural accessories, and decided to bring their considerable experience in marketing and manufacturing scalable artisan goods to the pet industry. In 2011, they founded Distinctly Himalayan, launching Dharma Dog Karma Cat to fill this niche.

Based on her experiences, Neufeld views the pet industry as entrepreneurial in nature, so she feels that women need to take it to another level in order to establish themselves more definitively.

“People always say we need to level the playing field,” she said. “I’ve always thought that’s a terrible concept. Create your own game and write your own rules.”

Kelly Ison has been director of happiness (CEO) of Einstein Pets since 2012, having started with her husband, Robert. Both had a background in the corporate life, but after adopting their dog, Abbey, they wanted to do something better for her. Ison started making her own treats with chia seeds for Abbey. After the couple established their own company and launched their first recipe, PB’N JELLY TIME, in late 2013, Einstein Pets grew significantly.

“We’ve already seen a 50 percent leap in our sales since January of this year,” Ison said. “This year, we launched CBD oil. As we grow, we have to add to our line.”

Ison feels that even though the company is growing, there is a lack of sharing and communication for women, at least on the manufacturing side of the industry. She has two basic rules for women to consider when starting a business: “Start it with the knowledge that you’re going to create templates, and do a little research before you ask questions.”

Industry Experience Owner

Ginny Bischel, DVM, is CFO of Team Treatz, which has been around for two years. Bischel runs a vet practice; she and one of her clients, Kim Kolodzi, who runs a rescue group and has been in licensing for over 15 years, came up with the brand over martinis one night. The two discussed ideas to bring to the pet industry that would combine Bischel’s veterinary skills with Kolodzi’s licensing background. The idea to make tasty dental treats with famous characters embossed on them evolved into what is now an identifiable and popular brand.

“We wanted something that would benefit the pet and, at the same time, help us spread the word about something we are both passionate about, which is adopting shelter animals, spaying and neutering,” Bischel explained. “We wanted our product to also carry a message about that, and so we added on our packaging a message that reads ‘Adopt Love Spay Neuter.’”

Because she owns a company with another woman, Bischel states that there are many issues in the industry for females, especially for those who want to start their own businesses while juggling their responsibilities as mothers. But she believes that women can accomplish anything if they stay true to themselves and their values.

“Be confident and don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said. “Fear keeps you from moving forward. I encourage women to not wait for things to happen; make them happen.”

No Industry Experience Owner

Kathleen McCarron, founder and top dog for Portland Pet Food, which has been around for a little over four years, started the company out of necessity to feed a 14.5-year-old poodle named Rosie, who wasn’t eating and couldn’t get any help from veterinarians. So, McCarron began researching and cooking, and found that by giving Rosie wholesome, human-grade ingredients, she gained weight, her coat was shinier and she had more energy. Rosie lived until the age of 16 on what became Portland Pet Food. Although she did not have previous pet industry experience, McCarron did have a background in health communications surrounding nutrition and used it to develop formulas geared toward dogs’ nutritional needs.

“I started learning about the industry, and felt there was a real niche to fill,” she said. “I had seen the results in my dogs and other dogs I was feeding locally, and I just felt there was an opportunity within the pet industry.”

As Portland Pet Food was growing into a success, McCarron joined a couple of women organizations within the pet industry in 2015. However, she felt that more needed to be done to encourage and support females in the industry. So, she and another woman started a small group locally in Portland for other females making pet food and treats to have a chance to network and get support. Even though it’s just a local group for now, her advice still rings true for anyone trying to get started.

“Don’t give up. As a new person in the industry, you just have to keep at it. People will start to take notice. Networking is very important,” she emphasized. “And don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Heidi Hill is president of both Holistic Hound, a CBD supplements manufacturer founded in 2015, and Holistic Hound, the pet store she opened 12 years earlier in Berkeley, California. In 2014, Hill became fully immersed in the science and history of cannabis. The following year, with the help of a holistic veterinarian with deep knowledge of cannabis, the company formulated its very own line of supplements that included medicinal mushrooms for a unique and powerful blend.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but my life took another path and I embarked on a corporate career in finance, human resources and sales,” she explained. “During this time, I studied homeopathy. This 200-year-old healing modality forever changed my understanding of health and wellness as it is a holistic approach, focusing on body, mind and spirit.”

Hill’s husky puppy, Pearl, also motivated her to get into the pet industry and provide holistic products for consumers and their pets. Luckily, she never felt held back in her endeavors as a woman, but acknowledges the low pay and lack of leadership roles for females.

“We need to be confident and own our power, and others will be more likely to embrace that as well,” she said. “Pursue your passion, get a mentor and own your power.”


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