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Strong, Steady Growth

A California store rules at raw food.

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Ben’s Barketplace, Roseville, CA

OWNERS: Brad & Sally Romero; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2010;EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time ; AREA: 2,850 square feet; FACEBOOK: /bensbarketplace; INSTAGRAM: /bensbarketplace


A S FORMER LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSIONALS, Brad and Sally Romero understand the importance of partnerships. They founded Ben’s Barketplace together in 2005. To determine the best possible diets for pets, the couple work with integrative veterinarians and ask customers to answer detailed questionnaires. Such synergy has helped thousands of dogs and cats, and has grown the Roseville store into the largest independent retailer of raw pet food in California. “We sell an average of 500 pounds a day,” Brad says with pride.

Partners in Pet Nutrition

Brad worked as a K-9 officer and trainer for the California Highway Patrol. Sally also worked for the CHP before serving in the state’s Department of Justice. They point to his first K-9 partner as inspiration for their store. The yellow Labrador Retriever came to them in 1998 on a diet with much room for improvement.

“I knew there had to be higher-quality food available,” Brad recalls.

Thus sparked a passion for pet nutrition that has evolved into a focus on raw. Ben’s Barketplace has one walk-in and 20 stand-up freezers. Brands include Northwest Naturals, Stella and Chewy’s, Small Batch, Bones & Co., Vital Essentials, Instinct, Primal, Raw Bistro, Tucker’s, Bravo and My Perfect Pet.

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“Diet is the foundation for good health. We are now huge advocates of species-correct raw diets,” Brad says.

Area integrative vets regularly refer patients for nutrition consultations, which are available for free on-site and for $50 over the phone.

“It’s something we do every day. We go through the questionnaire, which covers everything from medical and diet history to activity level and grooming. We then formulate a plan,” Sally explains.

Brad adds, “Our recommendations are simple dietary solutions that cleanse the animal naturally, utilizing a proper and laser-focused nutritional protocol and supplements to achieve their optimal health.”

Their success in helping pets with cancer — including his second K-9 Nikita, a Belgian Malinois who developed hemangiosarcoma — as well as diabetes and many other conditions has led to the positive word of mouth that serves as the store’s main advertising.

“Our consultations are really our brand,” Brad says. “It’s not what we have. It’s knowing what to do with what we have. We are a nutritional consultation service surrounded by the highest quality food in North America.”

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Partners in Store Design

Ben’s Barketplace opened in Lincoln, but moved to its current location in Roseville five years later. It wasn’t until then that the couple were able to create the store of their dreams.

“In my previous career, I was a certified welder, so I designed the store and made nearly everything in it,” Brad says. “Sally was the decorator.”

His welding work can be seen in food racks throughout the 2,850-foot space as well as in the “Ben’s Bone Yard,” a standalone chew bar made from wood and steel. An exposed ceiling and concrete floors, plus painted brickwork and interior signage by artist Kristina Letson, complete the industrial aesthetic.

The owners love their design and recreated it, with help from Letson, in their recently opened second store, back in Lincoln. It also serves as the template for franchises.

Partners in Expansion

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Brad and Sally have decided that managing their two corporate stores, along with a third due in 2020, will keep them plenty busy and that all other Ben’s Barketplace locations will been owned and operated by franchisees.

“I want people who will have a vested interest in making the store the best it can be,” Sally says, explaining their decision.

Brad adds, “We’re not looking to grow too fast, though. We don’t want to be the McDonald’s of the pet food world. We want stores that will last and have strong, steady growth.”

The first franchise location, in Citrus Heights, opened in late 2018. To interest and inform potential franchises, they launched ownabens.com.

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Ben’s Barketplace

1. FROM FAILED HUNTING DOG TO K-9 CHAMP: Born in England, Ben of Barketplace fame came to the U.S. as a hunting dog. He didn’t do so well, mouthing the ducks a bit too much. Ben went on to train as a drug detection dog. He graduated at the top of his class and partnered with Brad. The pair located more than $27 million in illegal narcotics during their time together. They also competed in K-9 trials, with Ben taking home the narcotics detection championship in 1999.

2. TEXT INSTEAD OF TALK: When customers have a question or need to place an order, they can simply send a text. The message converts via Zipwhip and appears on the store’s point-of-sale system screen, alerting employees and allowing them to instantly respond.

3. KNOW THY CUSTOMER: Brad and Sally believe that “Customers are a business’s life blood, but not everyone is your customer.” They understand that not everyone will want to spend more than they are used to for a raw or other high-quality diet. Knowing that allows them to focus their time on those who will.

4. CUSTOMER TESTIMONIALS: To promote their nutrition consultations, Brad and Sally ask pet parents to share their experiences on video for the store’s social media platforms. Viewers can learn how they helped diabetic Tyson, yeasty Rocco and overweight Odin drastically improve their health.

5. NUTRITION SCHOOL: Employees at Ben’s Barketplace take online courses to become certified pet nutritionists — the better to help itchy, fatty and otherwise unhealthy dogs and cats!

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A for Brad Romero

One gadget

MIG welder

Favorite book

The Bible

Best advice ever given

Not everyone is your customer

Advice for a new storeowner

It’s your child. Keep it healthy through dedication, education and love.

I drive a pickup. If I could choose any car…

It would be a pickup.

What superpower would you like to have?

To save every dog in a shelter or poor living conditions.

What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced?

A local heating and air company. The owner gave a bid. They arrived and completed a large job in one day for half the price of competitors. And sent a qualitycontrol employee two weeks later to ensure everything was completed correctly. He found a larger error and had it fixed the next day.

Tell me about your perfect day.

A day on the beach with my dogs!

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?

Notify a family of the death of a loved one.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?

My dogs

If money were no object…

I’d put another walk in freezer in my store.

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers

Training customers how to handle their dog properly without poor training equipment like gentle leaders.

If I weren’t a pet business owner…

I’d be retired.

Current career goal

None

Current life goal

Longevity

Favorite store that’s not my own

The Raw Connection in Carmel Valley, CA

I am most frustrated when …

Customers believe their veterinarian is a nutritional expert.

I am happiest when…

I am with my dogs.

The thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t

Losing my dogs

Q&A for Sally Romero

One plane ticket

Anywhere, but definitely roundtrip.

Advice for a new store owner

Know that every customer has a choice in where they shop and treat them accordingly.

Tell me about your perfect day.

Wake up without an alarm, enjoy a cup of tea at my local coffee shop, stop by my stores but not have to stay until closing, enjoy a homecooked dinner.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?

Learn to say no to telemarketers. It’s quite easy now.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?

My dogs. They are at work with me most days.

Advertising campaign I wish I’d thought of.

I’m not creative at all, so I’m quite happy to have creative people around me that can think of these things.

If money were no object, I’d do ———— to my store.

Expand it and add products and employees.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is _____.

Their eyes.

If I weren’t a pet business owner, I’d be …

A volunteer at a rescue.

My hero is …

My dad. He’s my hero and my role model.

Favorite store that’s not my own

The Raw Connection in Carmel Valley, CA

I am most frustrated when …

I cannot get everything done due to time constraints.

Pamela Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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