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5 Quick Takeaways from the Pet Industry Leadership Summit

The annual event gathers manufacturers, distributors and other pet pros from across the country for networking, collaboration and thought leadership.

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Where to start? What to include? How to share all that I’ve learned? These are the questions facing me after the Pet Industry Leadership Summit Jan. 24–26 in Phoenix.

The answer: Post quick takeaways for retailers and service providers, then cover the rest in coming weeks and months here on petsplusmag.com and in PETS+ magazine. For those not familiar with this annual conference, the summit — organized by American Pet Products Association, Pet Industry Distributors Association, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and World Pet Association — gathers manufacturers, distributors and other pet pros from across the country for networking, collaboration and thought leadership. PETS+ was a sponsor! This was my second time attending, the first being when I was brand new to PETS+ in 2017. I got so much more out of the event after five-plus years of writing about the challenges facing pet retailers and service providers in the U.S.

With that in mind, here are five immediate takeaways:

1. Employers should decouple change from COVID.

Seth Mattison kicked off the conference Tuesday with the keynote “Navigating What’s Next: Insights for Shaping the Future and Driving Performance in the New World of Work.” The founder and CEO of FutureSight Labs, an org design and transformation firm, recommends “decoupling change from COVID.”

He pointed out that because the pandemic has created such a culture of anxiety, that tying it to change gives employees the idea that all changes are temporary, that work policies and practices will eventually return to what they once were, and that can create hesitancy and resistance. A better message, he said, would be, “COVID is one of just five things that has caused us to evolve. We’re moving forward.” 

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2. Millennial and Gen Z pet parents present incredible opportunities for pet businesses.

In his “Pet Market Outlook: Tracking Omnimarket Growth Momentum” session Tuesday, David Sprinkle of market research firm Packaged Facts shared partial results from its survey in progress that looks at generational responses to pet issues.

Check out these stats on how Millennials/Gen Z pet parents compare to older generations as to what they consider important sources of pet care information. At 32%, they value pet specialty considerably higher than boomers and seniors 75+ do at 25% and 12%, respectively, and 5% higher than Gen X does.

They also rank pet trainers higher than the other generations do, with only Gen X ranking pet groomers higher than Millennials/Gen Z. Sprinkle also pointed out the considerable importance gap between Millennials/Gen Z and Boomers at 47% and 75%, respectively, for veterinarians.

These slides show insight into which issues and concerns the generations have for their dogs and cats — consider whether you can better target your product and service marketing to reach these pet parents.

Especially when it comes to “alternative” pet foods (shown above) and supplements (below).

These percentages reflect 1,750 out of 2,000 expected respondents, with Sprinkle promising to share the final results with us when the survey wraps.

3. Millennial employees need regular frequent feedback and development.

A favorite presenter at PILS was generational expert and author Meagan Johnson, with her Wednesday keynote: “Transforming Multi-Generational Teams in a Post-COVID World.” She offered this insight into Millennials and their desire for feedback.

And shared this template for more in-depth monthly conversations that would help meet that need.

4. Pet businesses should consider replacing traditional employee reviews with stay interviews.

Johnson also suggested following the lead of Bethany Retirement Living and doing away with traditional employee reviews in favor of stay interviews. This employer no longer waits for annual reviews or when employees give notice to learn what will make or would have made them stay.

5. Education boosts pet care spending.

On Tuesday, Steven Feldman of Human Animal Bond Research Institute took part in the “Where Will the Pets Come From?” panel with Mike Bober of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and Susanne Kogut of Petco Love (more on that to come online and in print), but on Wednesday, he provided an industry update and shared HABRI research on a variety of issues, including how education boosts pet care spending.

This slide (forgive the quality) notes 77% of pet owners surveyed are more likely to spend more money on their pet overall because of awareness of human-animal bond research, 81% are more likely to provide their pet toys, and 90% are more likely to provide their pet with higher-quality nutrition. Visit habri.org to access a wealth of resources that will help you fold bond awareness into your current customer education efforts.

As mentioned, you can expect more coverage to come from the conference — this is just a quick hit before I get on plane to head home. Sign up for our daily ebulletins to not miss it. If you aren’t already a subscriber to PETS+ in print, subscribe for free.

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