Doug Poindexter, who retired as president of World Pet Association (WPA) in 2018, spent nearly 50 years in the pet industry. His is a storied career, starting out as a cage cleaner at Woody’s Pets in Monrovia, California, to opening his own pet store, Doug’s Animal House in Hacienda Heights, California, before joining WPA as show manager of America’s Family Pet Expo. Pet Age recently spoke with Poindexter to gain more insight on his unique perspective of the pet care community.
In your opinion, why was the pet industry able to overcome the pandemic as well as it did?
As it has in past hard times, the pet industry performs better than most because our pets are seen as part of the family. If we cannot go on vacation or do other activities, we focus on home. Pets are a major part of our homes today, and we spend money to take care of them as a part of our family.
Did your experience as a manager at Woody’s Pets (1969-1980) then owner of Doug’s Animal House (1980-1992) help you with your duties at World Pet Association (1990 to 2018)?
When I first joined WPA there were no retailers on the board of directors or part of the staff’s past employment. Since SuperZoo was a show for retailers and other buyers, my experience as a retailer helped us develop SuperZoo to better address the needs of the pet retailer. We developed programs to attract retailers to the show, which included grooming contests and educational programs to help retailers improve their businesses. We also developed sections of the show floor to help buyers find the products they were interested in and a new product showcase to allow exhibitors to show off their new products to the buyers in a consolidated location. With my experience as a retailer, I asked the questions that allowed the board to better understand what the retailer wanted and needed when attending a trade show.
How do you feel SuperZoo has played a role in the World Pet Association’s mission to bring thought leadership, innovative thinking and best practices to the pet industry?
SuperZoo brings the industry leaders together in one place to meet and exchange ideas and generate the funds to help WPA produce new educational programs, invest in animal welfare like the Purdue Program and help educate hobbyists and the pet loving consumers through shows like Aquatic Experience and America’s Family Pet Expo. We took the approach that if we did something that helped the lives of our pets, it would ultimately help the industry.
How did SuperZoo evolve over time during your years at World Pet Association?
My goal, and the goal that I set for my staff, was to do a review of the last SuperZoo soon after it ended and then ask the question: “how can we make it better next year to make that show something the buyer feels they cannot or do not want to miss the next year?” In reality, we began working on the next year’s show before the current show was over and adapted what we learned and added what we thought might work to improve the experience of the show attendee as well as the exhibitor. The focus when I first began working at WPA was selling more booths. As a retailer, I felt our focus should be on what would draw more attendees/buyers. I looked at other successful shows in other industries to measure the ratio of exhibitor booth space to the number of buyers at the show and tried reach those ratios at SuperZoo. In reality, if the buyers are at the show, exhibitors will come. Once we focused on getting the right buyers in the right numbers, the show just took off. Speaking of finding the right buyers – when I first started at WPA, the APPMA show was considered the No. 1 show with WPA and Backer being second and third, depending on who you spoke to. WPA and Backer were very similar in that they were very much regional shows drawing from the Los Angeles market or Chicago market for the most part. The attendees, while plentiful, were not only the owners, managers and buyers, but also the store clerks, etc. who would attend and often bring family members to “see what they do” or keep them company as the wandered the show floor. This group really did not have any buying power or authority but did keep the show floor busy with drive-in traffic. When WPA moved SuperZoo to Las Vegas, only owners, managers and buyers were the attendees as the stores did not bring non-buying staff to the show. This made SuperZoo much more like Global in that the level of buyer was much higher at SuperZoo in Las Vegas than it was in Los Angeles. This made the exhibitor very happy and I believe was the major reason SuperZoo and Global became the two must see shows in the industry going forward.
What are some of your fondest memories from the SuperZoo shows that you attended?
Working with so many people in the industry and getting to see them at the shows and catching up on their lives. Seeing new exhibitors take the leap to have a booth at SuperZoo and seeing them succeed and grow from one booth to two, then four and then even more was such fun. I was very fortunate to meet and introduce Magic Johnson before he spoke at SuperZoo. Interacting with Magic was truly inspirational. My fondest memories probably came more from our consumer events than at SuperZoo. I loved seeing young kids who may never have seen a dog or cat or llama, walk into America’s Family Pet Expo and seeing their eyes light up in amazement. One especially touching moment was when an elderly gentleman wheeled his wife into the bird building to show her all the birds on display. He asked if she could hold one of the birds and the exhibitor gently place the bird on her hand. She then quietly whispered something like “polly want a cracker” or “pretty bird.” We noticed that the man had tears coming down his face and we asked if there was anything the matter or did we do something wrong with the bird and he simply replied “no, she just hasn’t spoken in over 10 years.” It reminds me every day what animals mean in our lives and what joy they can bring us and why we worked so hard to put on these shows.