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December 5, 2018

The pet industry is comprised of a diverse brigade of individuals committed to the wellbeing of pets and consumers alike. The industry is ever-growing and ever-changing thanks to constant dedication in exploring improvements and evolving creative trends, and expanding the knowledge necessary to best suit the needs of the customer. The driving force of a thriving industry is best represented by those who go above and beyond the standard procedures. Pet Age presents the inaugural edition of the Vanguard Series: Leaders in the Pet Industry to recognize the individuals whose fortitude and passion excel expectations and have significantly influenced the pet market.

The Vanguard Series is designed to highlight executives and their subordinates in the various sectors of the pet industry who have been at the forefront of significant developments and/or the primary drivers of breakthroughs and innovation over the last year. We congrate the following honorees who were selected based on highlighted accomplishments since the conclusion of 2017 that Pet Age believes to be the biggest impacts on the pet industry!

KHRIS BERRY, Owner of See Spot Grooming & Daycare

Khris BerryKhris Berry wears many hats at See Spot Grooming & Daycare, from groomer to marketer to resident pet behaviorist. See Spot Grooming & Daycare established a unique groomer-centric business model that provides structure and education that allows groomers to grow in their careers, with a Know Better/Do Better motto that resonates with its clients.

“As a company, we have grown exponentially based upon good business management, investment into our employees and careful attention to our policies and team structure,” Berry said.

Starting in 2017, Berry began teaching pet business basics and, since then, has taught thousands of pet professionals nationwide how to increase professionalism, combat typical issues within the industry, increase profit margins and build their businesses for sustainability. This year, she also published a book with her son and co-author, Josh Aaron, The Rosetta Bone – Decoding Canine Social Dynamics. The book is viewed as an important aid for groomers, and it has already had an impact on the industry, as it allows pet lovers to dialog about the changing social position of the canine in our society and identify correct social languages for interacting with dogs.

Her plans for 2019 focus heavily on representing the grooming industry through continued education.

“Grooming faces impending legislation from all arenas,” Berry explained. “I am looking forward to participating in discussions with groomers, industry leaders and politicians alike to ensure that the industry is well-represented as well as the core issues are addressed to improve the grooming experience for every pet and every groomer.”

With a successful 33 years in the industry, her advice is this: “There is no substitute for hands-on experience, but there is also no substitute for knowledge. Combining those two elements will dictate success for everyone!”

JAN CORDER, Office Manager/Controller at P.L.A.Y. 

Jan Corder - P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle and YouAs the first employee hired at P.L.A.Y., Jan Corder’s duties have grown right along with the company. P.L.A.Y. meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance and accountability, stressing the need to be environmentally friendly with its products, as well as provide back to the pet community.

“Each year our donations to shelters and rescue organizations have increased, and we see this as a growing trend,” Corder said. “In addition to donations, I am always looking for new and fun ways that we can give back within our local community.”

This year, P.L.A.Y. not only donated products to more than 100 organizations throughout the country, it also sponsored its own Warm Bellies Initiative in partnership with the Petfinder Foundation, which sends Chill Pads to shelters and donates a portion of sales from three of its popular plush toy sets to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In addition, Corder helped spearhead annual adoption events at the company headquarters to ensure shelters and rescue organizations not only have great products for the pets, but those pets also find their forever homes.

“I feel that our donations, product and financial, will increase as P.L.A.Y. continues to grow in the pet industry,” Corder explained. “Since I have been handling the donations to rescue organizations, I have been introduced to so many people working to rescue and re-home animals.”

After eight years in the industry, she believes this: “If each company in the pet industry focused on one charitable aspect to help shelters and rescues, we would see great results.”

SCOTT CROWE, Owner of Ocean State Aquatics and Services/OSACorals.com

Scott CroweHaving started Ocean State Aquatics (OSA) back in 2012, Scott Crowe oversees saltwater and freshwater retail and more with a team of dedicated aquatic enthusiasts. OSA is home to the largest selection of aquatic livestock and corals in New England.

“With our design studio and aquarium service, we pride ourselves on being passionate designers of Living Art,” Crowe said.

This year, Crowe focused on increasing OSA’s presence on social media to help educate others to further build its customer and client base while instilling passion and interest to those outside the market. Scott also participated in the 50 Fish Stores in 5 Days tour that spanned three countries, allowing OSA to highlight the brick and mortar fish stores which Scott believes are the backbone of the industry.

“It gave me the opportunity to meet people and see places that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do any other way,” Crowe explained. “To see differences in stores, passion and knowledge of the industry from Canada to Cuba really gave me a renewed sense of passion and direction on what I want to accomplish.”

Crowe believes aquaculture needs to take center stage and has made this his prime strategy over the next couple of years through OSA to help the industry grow and thrive. His advice to others?

“Don’t ever stop listening or learning,” he said. “By increasing your knowledge and by keeping yourself open to learning, you will set yourself up on a better path to success.”

CAITLYN DUDAS, Executive Director/Co-Founder of Pet Sustainability Coalition

Caitlyn BoltonA recipient of Pet Age’s Forty Under 40 Award in 2015, Caitlyn Dudas proactively addresses and educates pet professionals about the environmental and social impacts of the pet industry through the success of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC). The organization delivers strategies that aid companies in addressing the “where-is-it-made,” “what-is-it-made-of” and “is-it-made-responsibly” questions, ensuring that the company will endure in the face of consumer doubt and limited affordable resources.

“PSC is creating an opportunity for successful values-led leaders to join together in a movement of businesses acting as a force for good in the world,” Dudas said. “We continually provide zero cost education, tools and replicable processes that make sustainable business practices more effective while minimizing time and cost.”

This year, the PSC experienced 50 percent growth in the United States. and expanded internationally to the European Pet market, attracting 19 new European companies. PSC also partnered with the World Pet Association to bring together retailers with brands and manufacturers committed to measuring and improving their sustainability performance. This expansion opens doors to a busy 2019.

“We look to be the leading voice for sustainable protein sourcing in the pet industry and we have embarked on a project to model a potential recycling system for flexible pet food packaging,” Dudas explained.

With a successful five years in the industry, her advice is this: “Welcome even those who doubt you and truly listen to the audience you serve.”

STEVE FRUDA, Vice President of Operations at Pura Naturals Pet

Steve Fruda Correct DogFor three years, Steve Fruda has been responsible for overseeing warehousing and shipping processes for Pura Naturals Pet, ensuring that its priority for delivering a quality product on time while meeting or exceeding customer expectations. This operation has grown significantly within the company.

“We grew out of our former warehouse rather quickly and towards the end of 2017 started our journey to find the right facility for our needs,” Fruda said. “I’m finding that many organizations within our industry are starting to adopt operational practices that help with the overall business health of their organizations. We take pride in speaking to our customers daily regarding their unique product and shipping needs.”

Pura Naturals Pet’s mission is to use only the best ingredients for pure and healthy products. This year, Fruda maintained these standards for the company’s inspections and manufacturing processes during the warehouse transition without disruption to daily business practices. The company continued to create awareness of healthy product alternatives while also moving to a new platform to provide a new visibility into its inventory positions from components to finished goods.

“I think, as an industry, we are starting to discover the product landscape is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model,” Fruda said. “Our goals are to continue to innovate and deliver products that are focused on a healthy lifestyle.”

His advice to others in the pet industry: “Believe in your mission and you will always be successful.”

JENNY GILCREST, Director of Marketing at Skout’s Honor

Jenny GilcrestJenny Gilcrest has been with Skout’s Honor even before its official launch in 2016, directing and managing the growth of the brand through B2B partnerships, pet specialty retailers and direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns.

“[I] seek out and create new opportunities to introduce our products and build loyalty among pet parents,” Gilcrest said.

In 2018, Jenny played a major role Skout’s Honor successfully launching the first probiotic grooming line for pets, which introduced an entirely new technology to the pet industry and especially the grooming category. She also helped the company increase its ability to educate and support its pet specialty retail partners with new resources through POP displays, video/photography, on-sight trainings, sample kits and more. Skout’s Honor also passed its milestone for donating millions of meals via its Skout’s Paw Pledge program. A big accomplishment Gilcrest helped oversee was the launch of the Probiotic Skin Care line for pets.

“The intro of our Probiotic Skin Care for Pets at Global Pet Expo catapulted us to the next level as a brand, because we were able to quickly expand our presence beyond the cleaning/stain and odor aisle,” Gilcrest explained. “I devised the tagline ‘Bow to the WOW’ for our grooming launch, which communicates the ‘WOW’ factor that these innovative new products offer for both pets and pet parents.”

Gilcrest hopes to reach out to a broader range of pets parents with the company’s products in 2019.

“I think it’s easy to get stuck and stale when you are too tightly focused on the way things have always been done in your specific industry,” she said. “It’s important to try new things and take risks, as long as they are in line with who you are as a company and brand.”

JOSIAH MEYER, Production Manager at Cosmos Corporation

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At Cosmos Corporation, Josiah Meyer grew as much as the demands did in order to continue selling and distributing quality pet products around the world under the TropiClean brand name, including TropiClean Grooming Products, Life by TropiClean Supplements for Dogs, TropiClean Natural Flea & Tick, SPA by TropiClean, Oxymed by TropiClean and Fresh Breath by TropiClean Oral Care Products.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of Cosmos’ growth and to continue to evaluate production line capacities and gain efficiencies through lean manufacturing practices,” Meyer said.

TropiClean experienced an expediential growth among orders this year. Meyer exceeded expectations to maintain punctual deadlines and shipments. This year, his efforts were recognized and he was promoted to manage the Mixing & Formulation, Bottling, Assembly and Shipping departments. While he oversees orders from start to finish, he also has been continually researching, testing and finding efficient ways to improve the manufacturing process in order to speed up the delivery to pet parents without sacrificing quality.

“I find my position rewarding to evaluate our current manufacturing processes and improve them to better our company and product quality,” Meyer explained.

He also believes that optimizing employee training modules is important for both company and employee success, and has made this one of his goals for the coming year.

Through his new position, he advises that professionals “never settle for how things previously have been handled; instead, seek new ways to make them better and more efficient.”

RYAN RUTHERFORD, Chief Creative Officer at Hyper Pet

Ryan RutherfordFor 15 years and counting, Ryan Rutherford has been no stranger to creativity, drawing inspiration from icons like George Lucas, Jim Henson and Tim Burton, and believes it is imperative in the pet industry. Having joined the Hyper Pet team in 2017, he has been able to take his designing and creative thinking to the next level.

“When I get to work on projects that allow me to draw from [my] mental encyclopedia of reference material, I feel like I’m working alongside my idols,” Rutherford said. “There are huge numbers of people that grew up consuming the same pop culture so they are primed and ready for the work I do that draws from those inspirations.”

In 2018, Hyper Pet launched the Crazy Crew line of squeaky, rubbers balls that are character-driven thanks to Rutherford’s love for 1980s pop culture. He’s also at the helm of driving growth for Hyper Pet, which expanded into a new warehouse, corporate office, showroom and Design and Innovation Lab.

“I get to identify opportunity and suggest a strategy, but I am also in a position to implement the plan and make big things happen,” Rutherford explained. “Today, we are much more than a great dog toy brand and we’re just getting started. This is an amazing company that truly values innovation, and it’s been great to be part of its recent growth.”

Ryan strives to make Hyper Pet the largest, most well-known and trusted brand in the industry. His advice is this: “Do or do not—there is no try.”

JUNGLE BOB SMITH, CEO of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World

Jungle Bob SmithWith 20 years’ experience in retail locations and educational programs, Jungle Bob knows reptiles and aquatics inside and out, and has translated that into his own retail store and brand.

“Whatever it takes to make the business profitable and to get the message of who we are to the market, I do,” Jungle Bob said.

His brand continued to be a driving force in the reptile area of the industry via a robust calendar of Outreach programs, school travels, TV appearances, camps, libraries, scout events and visits to senior centers to bring awareness to these “unloved, unusual and unknown” animals.

Jungle Bob also participated in Aquatic Experience this year, marking 2018 as the official start of his brand’s first appearance in a totally aquatic show, which Jungle Bob states was a great success that made a huge impact on his business and on the industry.

“We showed aquarium enthusiasts our aquarium backgrounds which have been available in our stores and online, but this was the first show where consumers came in contact with the item,” he explained. “Wholesalers found us, too, and we hope to add many more outlets in 2019.”

The success for Jungle Bob’s brand at Aquatic Experience this year was the spark for opening more retail locations and continuing involvement in educating the community and growing the brand in both the reptile and aquarium markets.

“Many in the pet industry are there for the love of animals,” he said. “But to stay in the pet industry, one must have a love for business as well.”

ALEX TONNER, Founder of Paws for Life K9 Rescue

Alex Tonner PLEASE CROPRescuing dogs is not just a community service for Alex Tonner—it’s her life. She spent 10 years with Karma Rescue before branching off this year to start her own rescue, Paws for Life (PFL), particularly for dogs from high-kill shelters who are often most likely to be euthanized.

“We do this because our trainers can dedicate all of their time to their rehabilitation,” Tonner said. “By lowering euthanasia rates, PFL is proving that everyone deserves a second chance.”

Among her achievements with PFL this year, Tonner saved 21 dogs from a shelter in the Woolsey fire in Los Angeles. Pura Naturals Pet also supports her dog training program that is run at a high security prison in Lancaster, California. There, the shelter dogs are trained to become service dogs for veterans of war.

This year’s success is giving promise to a better 2019.

“PFL is partnering with the City of Los Angeles with a new sheltering program. We will be taking overlooked, long-term animals from South Los Angeles shelters and training them in our prison program,” Tonner explained. “All the animals will be tested at the shelter and available to the public to adopt from the shelter before going into a six- to eight-week program with PFL.”

Tonner said she hopes her efforts through PFL will bridge the gap between rescues and retailers.

“Always give back and buy with awareness,” she said. “Search out companies that are aware of animal cruelty.”

RYAN WILSON, Director of Marketing—Treats at Merrick Pet Care

Ryan WilsonAs the head of marketing for Merrick Pet Care’s treats portfolio, Ryan Wilson has been instrumental in developing new and differentiated pet food and treats products that meet the needs of pet parents. Over the last three years, he has led the creation of more than 100 new pet food and treat items, even proudly serving them to his cat.

“My goal is to continue developing innovative products that help raise the bar for the entire pet food industry,” Wilson said. “At Merrick, we innovate with the goal of providing pet parents with the best food ever for their best pet ever.”

Ryan oversaw the development and launch of the Merrick Fresh Kisses innovation this year, which is an accomplishment that disrupted the dental category within the pet specialty retail channel. Fresh Kisses became the #3 share brand in less than a year in-market.

“The inspiration for Fresh Kisses came from both the human oral care category and an understanding of pet parents’ needs,” Wilson explained. “From a pet category standpoint, we knew that 57 percent of pet parents complained about their pets’ breath odor. We wanted to bring an advanced benefit to the pet dental category and recognized that solving the malodor problem was the best way to do this.”

This year, Ryan also led the relaunch of the Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet dog food, which now has fewer total ingredients than any limited ingredient dog food, and the launch of Complete Care, a new line of Merrick Purrfect Bistro cat food that helps address the top ailments for cats.

“When making business decisions, think of your own pet and what is best for them,” he noted. “You will make the right decision every time.”

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