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These pairs have partnered marital bliss with business success

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TALK ABOUT RELATIONSHIP GOALS. These 13 couples set the bar high for living and working together. They each have found the best way to manage their marriage and their pet business, achieving success without sacrificing one for the other.

And for good measure, we’ve thrown one more power couple into this issue. Turn to the Cool Store feature on page 56 to discover why Mark and Deborah Vitt of Mutts & Co. in Ohio call the secret to their success “splitting the Ps.”

If you share a business with your significant other, we hope these examples and bits of advice resonate with you — or encourage you to consider a different approach in a particularly challenging area.

Or, if you’re contemplating such a merger, we wish you well! And expect us to ask for your own words of wisdom when we revisit this topic in the future.

Jennifer and Allen Larsen of Firehouse Pet Shop

Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA
Jennifer Larsen / CO-OWNER
Allen Larsen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 14

In their previous careers, Jennifer and Allen worked long hours and rarely saw each other. They opened Firehouse Pet Shop in 2014 to remedy that. The amount of time Jennifer and Allen now spend together benefits their marriage and their business, the latter through their husband-and-wife presence in the store and community.

“We admittedly can flirt a bit and get caught, but it’s nothing inappropriate, and our employees usually laugh. They say it’s funny how we argue about trying to help each other,” she says, adding, “We are in a small town, and local business owners laugh that we hold hands on our way to lunch and that we take a lunch date every day. As if working together all day isn’t enough. We are making up for lost time!”

Relationship Advice: Let work seep into your personal life, Jennifer recommends. “We enjoy brainstorming and find that some of our best ideas come when we are out and away from work, or on a long car ride when we can start diving into discussions.”

Nancy Guinn and Chris Guinn of Dog Krazy

Dog Krazy, 5 Stores in Virginia
Nancy Guinn / PRESIDENT
Chris Guinn / VICE PRESIDENT
Years Married: 12

Nancy opened her first Dog Krazy store in 2006, mere months before she met Chris. He helped part-time at first and joined full-time in 2015.

“I handle all the products, employees, bakery and social media,” Nancy says. “Chris handles all the accounting, and he does everything and anything the stores need. He has the book smarts, and I have the common sense. We complement each other perfectly.”

She made their business relationship as official as their personal one earlier this year.

“Dog Krazy had always been 100 percent owned by me. For his 40th birthday, I had a cake made that said ‘Happy 49.’ When he asked why, I told him I was signing over 49 percent of the company to him.

“That was tough for me,” Nancy admits, “but he deserves it. He has worked just as hard as I have to keep Dog Krazy going and growing.”

Relationship Advice: Be grateful. Nancy says, “It’s hard 10 percent of the time and wonderful 90 percent, but when you get to spend every moment with the person you have chosen to spend your life with, and you are doing what you love, you have to remember how lucky you are. Most people answer to a boss. We answer to each other.”

Paula Jaffe and Sue Hepner of Cool Dog Gear

Cool Dog Gear, North Wales & Langhorne, PA
Paula Jaffe / CO-OWNER
Sue Hepner / CO-OWNER
Years Partnered/Married: 16

Paula and Sue each have their own store to run. That said, they lead Cool Dog Gear as a business together, with Paula focusing on community building and the books, and Sue putting her 40 years of retail experience to work.

“We have different perspectives and are always bouncing things off of each other. It’s a good mix,” Paula says.

Relationship Advice: Don’t compete with each other, Paula offers. “We each have our areas of expertise and respect that. That’s what makes everything work.”

Debbie and Terry Brookham of Furry Friends

Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO
Debbie Brookham / CEO
Terry Brookham / COO
Years Married: 46

Debbie and Terry’s skill sets complement each other. She spends time on marketing, merchandising, purchasing and hiring. He focuses on finances, warehousing and delivery.

“Terry is a great balance for me,” Debbie says, adding that his dislike of new technology frees to her do all social media for the store, which has been open for 17 years.

Relationship Advice: Define your individual roles and write them down. Debbie explains, “Just like a job description, we were clear in who was handling what. That will save you a lot of arguments.”

Cecelia and Randy Michaels of Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food

Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food, Park Rapids, MN
Cecelia Michaels / OWNER
Randy Michaels / “FACE OF THE STORE”
Years Married: 9

Cecelia launched Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food in 2016. She did it all, with help from a part-timer. When Randy retired from Delta last year, he joined the business and took over “face of the store” duties, allowing her to focus on operations.

“Randy had never worked retail,” Cecelia says, “and this has been one of the most rewarding positions he’s ever had. He’d never realized how much fun it would be to hear stories from other folks about their fur babies.”

Relationship Advice: Make time for others and your spouse away from work. Cecelia shares, “I find time to go to lunch with friends, even took a short vacation with my sister while Randy took care of the business. Spending time at home with our dog, Holly, and cat, Bunny, brings us contentment. His workshop makes him happy, and my kitchen gives me joy. Our kayaks are weekend fun, and the Harley takes us places we’ve never gone before.”

Jenny and Matt Flanagan of Nature’s Pet Market

Nature’s Pet Market, Sherwood & Wilsonville, OR
Jenny Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Matt Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Jenny wears the operations hat, while Matt dons the controller cap. Owners of the Sherwood store since 2013 and Wilsonville since 2015, they don’t even try to keep their work and personal lives separate because they love what they do so much.

He says, “Most of our vacations involve work, in one way or another, and we often join industry reps and include employees in our free time. We travel the country to industry trade shows together, but try to take a few days for ourselves while we’re there. The pet industry is so much fun, that I don’t think we’d have it any other way!”

Relationship Advice: Jenny offers, “I find that keeping focus on your own department is extremely helpful. I have had to step away from even discussing some duties and learn to let go and not micromanage and keep in mind that my husband has my best interests in mind.”

Amy and Patrick Schiek of Lucky Dogs

Lucky Dogs, Skaneateles, NY
Amy Schiek / CO-OWNER
Patrick Schiek / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 23

Amy opened Lucky Dogs in 2008, and Patrick joined her last fall after retiring from his sales executive role with a medical supplies company. She continues at the helm as mistress of all things pet, while he uses his analytical and operational skills to help move the business forward. They work together at the store four days a week, and that presence benefits the Lucky Dogs brand.

Amy says, “People see our love and affection for each other, and our love of all pets, and this feeds off onto them in a very personal and enjoyable way.”

Relationship Advice: Amy recommends, “At a certain point in the day, shut off the business conversation. Spend time with yourselves and your own pets.”

Mark and Nicole Olesen of Woofs & Waves

Woofs & Waves, Sioux Falls, SD
Mark Olesen / CO-OWNER
Nicole Olesen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 18

Mark and Nicole met 20 years ago while working at a pet store — he even proposed there! It was only natural for them to one day open their own. Mark works full-time at Woofs & Waves, specializing at aquatics. She works full-time as a nurse, but also handles the store’s accounting and staffing, and helps with marketing.

Relationship Advice: Schedule smartly, Nicole says. “The No. 1 thing that’s kept our relationship strong is that we both have our own alone time. We each have days off when the other is working, so we both get some time for ourselves. We still have plenty of time together, but we don’t both work at the store together all day, every day.”

Randy of Brenda Herman of Pet$Aver Healthy Pet Superstore

Pet$Aver Healthy Pet Superstore, Rochester, NY
Russ Herman / CEO
Brenda Herman / PRESIDENT
Years Married: 37

Russ and Brenda founded their pet store 25 years ago. He oversees business operations. In addition to acting as president, she assists with marketing and bookkeeping. The chain of command does present a challenge for their personal relationship, but one they more than overcome.

“It’s much harder being business partners because one spouse has to oversee the other. At home, it’s more of an equal footing,” Russ says, adding, “Through it all, we’ve managed to not let it come between us. We always see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that time will heal all things. We know that by sticking together, we’ll get through it.”

Relationship Advice: Russ recommends going on vacation together. “It’s important for Brenda and myself to see this beautiful country of ours. Taking time off helps to recharge your energy. It’s great to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

Sal and Jamie Salafia of Exotic Pet Birds Inc

Exotic Pet Birds Inc., Webster, NY
Sal Salafia / CO-OWNER
Jamie Salafia / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 16

Sal and Jamie have been together for 25 years, 18 of those as business partners. They worked in real estate and property management — and continue to — long before the couple opened their bird store. He handles purchasing, facility management and their breeding program. She manages the staff and finances.

“We really try to run certain aspects of the business separately and trust each other,” Jamie says about their key to success as a couple and in business.

Relationship Advice: Sal agrees and recommends never contradicting each other. “The staff knows that when one of us is there, they have the highest-level manager on scene and don’t have to worry about second-guessing of a decision made, as we always honor what each other decides.”

Marilyn Texter and Robin Keim of Pawsitive Karma

Pawsitive Karma, Castro Valley, CA
Marilyn Texter / CO-OWNER
Robin Keim / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 25

How have Marilyn and Robin found 13 years of success with their store and grooming salon? They don’t work together. They split up the six business days evenly. Marilyn does lead retail efforts, and Robin helms the salon.

Marilyn says, “Robin is very methodical, and I am more social, so it makes sense. I totally do not want to do all the yucky things like grinding nails or squeezing anal glands, and Robin does not like having to cover the front, doing several things at once in front of people.”

Relationship Advice: Determine before starting the business, which is more important, your relationship or your job? Write it down and figure out how to maintain that goal,” Marilyn says.

Kimberly and Mario Gatto of The Wagging Tail

The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV
Kimberly Gatto / CO-OWNER
Mario Gatto / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Kimberly manages their store full-time, while Mario pitches in part-time when not serving as a high school principal. They have each carved out their areas of expertise.
She says, “Mario’s strengths are definitely working with numbers and getting the best deals from our sales reps and at shows. My strengths are merchandising and customer service. I treat people as I would want to be treated, therefore I think of our customers as an extension of our family.”

Relationship Advice: Kimberly recommends taking a parental approach when disagreements arise in the business by “listening to each other, equally compromising and always keeping in the back of your mind that you both want the business to succeed. It’s treating the business just like it’s one of your kids.”

Shane Somerville and Adam Felker of Paddywack

Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA
Shane Somerville  / CO-OWNER
Adam Felker  / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 10

Shane Somerville and Adam Felker share the secrets to their success as married co-owners of Paddywack.

Shane says, “I think the biggest reason we have a successful partnership in-store is that we each have our own strengths and skill sets that help keep us from stepping on each other’s toes too much!”

She explains, “While I do some of the more ‘fun’ orders, like for collars, gifts and decorative bowls, he does much of the weekly ordering for food, treats and basic supplies. I like to think my strengths are with customer care and more ‘front of house’ type duties, so I tend to work the floor more, work on new staff training and do all of the social media work.”

Adam agrees and adds, “Shane is much more of a people-person and is a rockstar on the sales floor dealing with customers, whereas I see myself as stronger in administrative, quantitative and technical matters. Additionally, she ends up being the one that our staff goes to with emotional concerns, whereas I’m the one they come to for advice on the best way to achieve a particular operational task.”

Relationship Advice: Get away. The couple recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a 10-day kid-free, work-free vacation. Shane says, “It was really helpful in recharging our batteries and allowing us to spend time as a couple, rather than just as parents or business partners. If you can go someplace and shut off the work emails, I highly recommend it!” Adam says vacations also help them avoid overlap between the personal and professional parts of their lives. “That allows us to disable work email, withdraw from the store and absorb ourselves in something unrelated to work. Of course, it helps that we have a strong management team to run things back at the store in our absence!”

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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