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Readers give a shout out to companies that go the extra mile in helping them sell.




WHO DO YOU LOVE? And why? No, we weren’t nosing around in your personal life with this question from a recent Brain Squad survey. Instead, we wanted to know which pet product companies go above and beyond for independent brick-and-mortar retailers — and how.

You answered! Some in great detail. A few even used heart emojis when discussing the topic in our PETS+ Community on Facebook.

We rounded up your favorites just in time for Global Pet Expo, March 20-22. Pack this issue, and be sure to visit these companies while there. Not attending? Go to the website included with each to learn more online.

One final note: This list does not include every company indies love, nor does it include every pro-indie effort by those included. Retailers, tell us about others via Brain Squad — sign up at if you are not already a member. Companies, help us get to know you better — email

Continuing Hemp Education

Every Tuesday, TREATIBLES founder and CEO Julianna Carella leads a training webinar for 10 retailer participants. To date, more than 500 have taken part, learning not just about the company’s hemp products but also about cannabinoid science and government regulations.

Alicia Towkaniuk, director of training for Kahoots Feed and Pet stores in Southern California, appreciates the opportunity to learn directly from Carella.

“She took the time herself to go over the basics of phytocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, ways that our customers’ dogs and cats can benefit from the cannabinoid spectrum and terpenes found in whole hemp oil, what goes into making quality hemp oil products and why Treatibles is a great option for our customers.

“[Carella] also taught us the proper verbiage to ensure we are sharing the most accurate information with our customers, and made sure we had the latest information on the legislation of hemp and hemp products. Team members have let me know they feel much more confident in answering customer questions about what hemp products are and how they can be beneficial.”

Jodi Ziskin, director of communications for Treatibles, shares additional resources available.

“We also support our retailers through our ambassadors and sales team, who regularly visit stores, provide in-store product demos, samples and more.”

Support By Phone, Online & In Person

In addition to providing online training for retailers and in-store education for pet parents, PET RELEAF employees regularly jump on the phone to answer CBD questions.
Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL, calls her area manager, Reid Baker. She did so recently when a customer came in with a dog undergoing chemotherapy. He had lost his appetite, and his vet suggested CBD to stimulate it.

“The customer had many questions, some of which I couldn’t answer, so I got Reid on the phone. He was answering questions, the store got busy, and I had to give the phone to the customer so they could continue the conversation. It must have lasted at least 15 minutes. She was very impressed with Pet Releaf, and so was I.”

Such interactions are all in a day’s work for Baker, he says.

“This is exactly why I love independent retailers, like Nancy! Servicing them and their customer base allows us to have a stronger personal touch, helping them understand how our products can help pet companions is one of my favorite parts of the job.”

Baker also points out that Pet Releaf does not now or will not ever partner with big-box stores.

A Share of Online Sales

RAISED RIGHT PETS considers Adam Jacobson of Pet Pantry Warehouse in Connecticut and New York a partner in online as well as in-store sales. The Right Way Retail Alliance allows brick-and-mortar retailers that stock the company’s food to offer home delivery through its direct-to-consumer service. Each store receives a unique referral code and gets a percentage of purchases made with it online.

Jacobson sees the program as an extension of the customer service experience.

“For example, we have a customer who went to Florida for vacation, and her dog has a health issue that Raised Right’s food helps. Through the Right Way Retail Alliance, we were able to work with Raised Right to ship a box of food to her temporary address in Florida so that her dog could remain on her existing diet.” He adds, “Our customers have been extremely thankful for us going the extra mile to put their animal’s well-being first.”

Raised Right co-founder and CEO Braeden Ruud points out, “This is risk-free profit for retailers. Plus, the customer remains loyal to that retailer since the store continues to be part of the equation.”

Seasonal Offerings

In addition to releasing 20 new collar, harness and lead designs annually to encourage customers to buy several a year, UP COUNTRY offers free point-of-purchase signs and other branded materials, and polices its MAP policy to protect brick-and-mortar stores.

DIY Microsites & Marketing

Where to buy” sections on product company websites typically include only the basics. FROMM FAMILY FOODS goes beyond that by offering each retail partner its own microsite that shows Fromm products sold, as well as a description of the store, its services, photos, videos and event listings.

“Retailers utilize an easy-to-use web portal to update their microsite, including adding events,” Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm, says.

The company also helps drive customers to such store events.

“The 2018 holiday season marked the second time we supported events with a special Buy 1, Get 2 Free printable coupon along with email marketing to consumers living near the event (utilizing our consumer email list). We supplied retailers with social media assets and a sign-up webpage to promote the offer with their consumers.”

Pet-Specialty Plus

PETCUREAN understands the role independent stores play in educating pet parents about nutrition.

“Shoppers are shifting their priorities to premium products, personalized customer experience and expert nutrition knowledge, giving brick-and-mortar retailers a leg up on the online competition,” says Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for the company. “Petcurean offers numerous opportunities for education, business planning, sales promotions and more, all exclusively available to our independent brick-and-mortar partners.”

Bill Greene, general manager and partner of Reber Ranch in Kent, WA, appreciates that Petcurean representatives not only work with employees of his stores, but also of his on-site service providers.

“Within our retail store, we have partnered with Petcurean because their food performs, and their line offers tremendous options when helping meet our customers’ needs.

“Additionally, they have partnered and supported our veterinary hospital and grooming salons with product training and tools, which really no one else is doing in pet specialty.”


Exclusivity for Indies & More

When STELLA & CHEWY’S introduced its Raw Blend and Raw Coated kibbles in 2017, it did so only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, which continue to have that exclusivity.

“Customers who purchase Stella & Chewy’s shop at a higher frequency,” says Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing. “With exclusivity, stores do not split visits with online or big-box. We drove over $20 million incremental dollars in independent stores in 2018.”

Other pro-indie efforts include its Red Door Retailer program for retailers above a certain distribution level. The company uses geofencing to drive customers to member stores and prioritizes them for on-site demonstrations and samplings. Members can provide feedback as part of an advisory committee. Stella & Chewy’s also invites team members to join its Stella Squad, an online training program with games and prizes.

This adorable Fetch RI customer dressed up as Fluff & Tuff toy Marge the Cow for the store’s #iamfluff event.

Creative In-Store Campaigns

For Halloween 2018, pet toy company FLUFF & TUFF created the #iamfluff campaign. It offered stores social media materials and free toys for a costume contest. Johnna Devereaux of Fetch RI in Richmond, RI, was one of 50 retailers who took part. “Fetch RI was having a Halloween photo fundraiser for a local rescue organization, and we were able to promote the event in a unique way because of Fluff & Tuff’s generosity. We had pups come as Fluff & Tuff toys, and when people saw the images we posted online, quite a few came in to check out the line. This company is very supportive of its retailers and has always been willing to help us.”

The toy company regularly sponsors such efforts to increase foot traffic. “Everything we do circles back to providing meaningful offerings to help our independent retail partners,” says Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for Fluff & Tuff. “We understand the importance of keeping things fun and fresh, and work to develop interesting marketing content to engage our retailers and their customer base.” f

Loyalty, Support & Transparency

Because ANSWERS PET FOOD sells only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, a true partnership exists. The company offers a frequent-buyer program, and its employees stand ready to provide sales and marketing support.

Eric Mack of Purrrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, can attest: “They love their retail stores and are protective of those who helped build the brand. They are always willing to help us build our customer base and keep them. They send people to us from social media, email and phone inquiries to their office. They help me with specials, ads, information and advice that only we can provide in our type of store.”

Answers also invited retailers such as Mack to tour its headquarters in 2018 and plans to expand access in 2019, in part with footage of its facilities filmed by Pet Fooled director Kohl Harrington. “We pride ourselves in being transparent,” says Answers creative brand strategist Coco Levitski.

Incentives to Shop Indie

ZIWI has implemented several strategies over the past three years that direct potential customers to indies.

Marketing communications manager Sharon Durham lists them:

“A high-value coupon is included with the thousands of product samples we distribute each year, which can only be redeemed in retail stores. Our customer care team regularly directs consumers to our website’s store locator, and a link to it is provided on our social media sites. We’ve recently started using free product vouchers for giveaways and promotions, instead of shipping actual product.

“We do these things because we know that today’s customers value the personal service they get from independent retailers. When they receive one-on-one attention and talk with someone who is knowledgeable about our products, they are much more likely to become loyal, long-term customers.”

Drop-Ship Option

P.L.A.Y. offers easy online ordering, dedicated sales representatives, MAP policing and a wealth of marketing materials, but indies especially love its consideration of their square footage.

Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator at the company, explains:

“While the size of independent retail stores varies widely, many of them work with limited space, particularly when it comes to the bed category. In order to help these retailers compete with the big guys that can offer tons of bedding options, we offer a drop-ship option for special orders.

“Any of our retailers can offer our entire line of beds to their customers without having to physically stock them all. We recommend bringing some popular ones in to have on hand for sale and to show the quality and design in person, but then a customer can look through our showcase sheet and swatch book (provided to the retailer at no cost) to select the bed they want from the available patterns and sizes for each style.

Stores can display one of P.L.A.Y.’s Houndstooth Lounge Beds, and have on hand swatches of others.

“We’ll ship it direct to the store, or even directly to the customer for a small fee. This is another time when our short lead times can also really help our retailers. The retailer keeps the customer happy and local, and the customer gets what they want while supporting an independent retailer — it’s a win all around.”

Independent Exclusivity

RAWZ NATURAL PET FOOD sells only to independent pet retailers, and only those authorized independent retailers can sell its products online.

“We always encourage our consumers to shop locally whenever possible, but some of our consumers live in remote areas and depend on online shopping. It’s also the only way the small independent can compete with big e-commerce,” employee Amy Knox says. “Occasionally we find our products listed for sale on the big third-party sites, but we state on our website that we cannot guarantee the quality or safety of these products and always urge our consumers to refrain from purchasing our products through such avenues. We only place our guarantee on products purchased through authorized independent retailers.”
What the company does with its profits also proves attractive to indies.

“RAWZ donates 100 percent of its profits to service dog training and placement programs, as well as to traumatic brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs. It seems as though every day you hear of a high-quality, feel-good pet food brand being purchased by a large corporation, one that may not have the same standards of quality that the brand’s consumers are drawn to, and that’s concerning for both the retailer and the consumer. As a company that donates all of its profits, RAWZ is of no interest to these large corporations. We consider our 100-percent profit donation an insurance policy against third-party acquisitions.”

Exclusive Raw Bar

VITAL ESSENTIALS offers only independent brick-and-mortar stores its VE Raw Bar, a merchandise display that holds 10 freeze-dried treats exclusive to indies.

“The display also includes a lighted sign that can be hung anywhere in the store or in the front window capturing shopper attention and interest,” marketing director Melissa Olson says. “The display is truly an interactive experience, giving retailers a competitive advantage. Best of all, most retailers report inventory turns ranging from 2.5 times to 4 times per month along with great profit margins.”

Super Imap

ANNAMAET PETFOODS may let online retailers sell its products, but a strict internet minimum advertised pricing policy requires them to price at about 10 percent higher than brick-and-mortar stores. Its IMAP policy excludes Annamaet from online promotions and coupons.
The company also provides support exclusive to indies, including a frequent-feeder program, customer coupons, and puppy packs to send home with new family members.

Like Amazon, In A Good Way

RUFFWEAR offers the Latitude program. With it, brick-and-mortar retailers pay $99 for the year and get same-day free shipping with a minimum order of $100. The company also did away with pre-season ordering.

“Responding to challenges from retailers and the ‘right now’ mindset of customers, Ruffwear is encouraging smaller, more frequent orders. This helps retailers more accurately address customer needs and eliminates big spikes in production.

“It takes the risk off the retailer, so that they can order what they need, when they need it,” Susan Strible, director of marketing, says. “For example, if it’s a dry fall/winter, they aren’t stuck with a bunch of snow boots they ordered last January.”

Also a plus, the company’s store locator allows retailers to sync their inventory with the tool so customers can check product availability.

Marketing Materials Galore

PURA NATURALS PET understands that independent pet store owners wear many — in some cases, all of the — hats. With that in mind, it offers for easy download a variety of marketing materials: images for print and online use, logos, product data and educational documents, testimonials and digital catalogs. There are also blog posts, social media images and web banners available.

Stephanie Troxell and Tori Rosay (from left) of Dexter’s Deli in San Diego, CA, won the 2018 contest.

A Trip to Big Sky Country

In addition to providing free educational and marketing materials, policing minimum advertised pricing and offering a 100-percent guarantee on its products, WEST PAW welcomes input from its independent retail partners.

“We are always available to hear their concerns and/or suggestions about what they feel is working and what is not,” public relations lead Amy Schumann says. “We think we’re very approachable and fun, which makes retailers enjoy working with us.”

Each year, one indie in particular more than appreciates working with the company: the winner of its Make It Montana contest. West Paw randomly selects a retail partner to receive a five-day trip for two to Bozeman, MN, where they have five days to explore company headquarters and the state.

CBD Consumer-Loyalty Program

HOLISTIC HOUND helps independent pet stores reward buyers of its CBD products. According to founder Heidi Hill, her company offers the only Buy 5, Get 1 Free national promotion through Astro Loyalty.

Map Policing & More

While INCLOVER does sell its products online, the company provides protection for its brick-and-mortar retail partners.

Allie Sparrow, director of business growth for the company, explains: “InClover closely monitors our approved online sellers to be sure that they are adhering to our MAP policy and has limited sellers on Amazon to one exclusive partner so that we may maintain control on the platform. InClover does not and will not offer our supplements for sale on”

She adds, “The education that we provide to our retail partners allows them to offer a service that the online retailers cannot.” In-store seminars are open to store employees and customers, plus area veterinarians.

Highest Fill Rate & Extensive Selection

JONES NATURAL CHEWS takes pride in its 99 percent complete order fill rate, one of the highest in the industry. Retailers get what they need, when they need it. The company also offers such a wide variety of products that stores can regularly encourage customers to try something new.

In-Store Tools & Free Exchanges

Sure, pet parents can order clothing for their dogs and cats online, but even the best sizing guides can fail. WOODROW WEAR helps brick-and-mortar stores compete by offering tools that ensure a perfect fit. Its Try-On Socks kit includes one of each size, with the size knitted onto the top.

“Customers can try the socks on their dog without opening the store’s inventory or making a mess on the floor or tearing the packaging,” company owner Lorraine Walston explains. “If the dog isn’t with the customer, they can stretch the sock and see how comfortable it is, how much it stretches, and how even though it doesn’t look like the right size, it actually does become the right size.”
Woodrow Wear also offers an inventory exchange program.

“[Retailers] don’t need to store what isn’t selling or keep seasonal items for a year. We exchange sizes and colors that aren’t moving for others that will. Our theory is that we’re both doing better if the indie is moving socks. These trades are done for free with a new order or for a small shipping fee if done alone.”


1PUPPY CAKE, maker of dessert mixes for dogs, gets high praise from Sue Hepner of Cool Dog Gear in Roslyn, PA. “Kelly [Costello] and her mom [Sandy] provide us with awesome customer service. I love that Kelly is a working owner — she always answers the phone when I call to place orders.”

2ECO DOG CARE PRODUCTS helps Treats on a Leash in Ames, IA, compete. Barb Morris says, “We wanted a truly natural grooming line, and this filled that void in our store. It’s a high-quality, unique product line that isn’t found in big boxes. That’s what sets us apart. Jane [Bond] offered an ISO and terms to get us started with their products. If we are running low, it’s just a quick email and we have more product headed our way! She also sent a tester so customers could see what the scent was like. When manufacturers go above and beyond to serve us, we can offer an even better shopping experience to our customers.”

3When hurricane Florence hit North Carolina last year, HEALTH EXTENSION PET CARE helped Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle get food to customers and neighbors alike. “Many of our residents lost their homes or were temporarily displaced due to storm damage. Most lost some or all of their possessions. The financial strain placed on these families has been very burdensome. I reached out to Health Extension and asked if the company would be able and willing to provide assistance to pet owners. They promptly sent us cases of 1-pound bags of dog food that we were able to give out to victims who may not have been able to afford quality dog food during that time.”

4KING’S CAGES and Paul Lewis of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, go way back, thanks to the company’s excellent customer service. “King’s was my go-to cage company when I opened almost 29 years ago. Every once in a while, a part may be missing for a cage, may be damaged from a shipper, or I’m looking for an odd part for an older cage. They always come through for me with the right answers to my questions, quick shipping and no questions asked.”

5A variety of reasons puts KLN FAMILY BRANDS/TUFFY’S PET FOODS first with Duane Poland of Bones-N-Scones in Palm Springs, CA: “Sells only to independents, is happy to provide samples and free small bags to increase sales. Works hard to protect margins and makes a great, mid-level product that most pets find appealing!”

6Social media support helps Keefer Dickerson, marketing and outreach manager for Nashville Pet Products in Nashville, TN, do his job. “PRIMAL sends out social media posts to use each month. These come already sized for Facebook and Instagram, and they look great.”

7Brandon Click of Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets in Austin, TX, recommends PETOLOGY for several reasons. “When we evaluate a product line, the two most important aspects it can bring to our product mix are quality and strategy. Petology checks both of those boxes. Their product is superior to any other currently on the market. It’s sulfate-free, ethically produced, and cleans thoroughly while also providing the best shine of any shampoo and conditioner. Petology as a company is also good to do business with. They’ve kept their product exclusive to the independent pet specialty channel, and are strong partners to their retailers. Rather than put all of the sales onus on stores, they are always willing to help grow the line with promotions and other sales initiatives.”

8Debbie Brookham of Furry Friends Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO, picks NUTRISOURCE as one of her favorite companies. “Proactive in providing sales and on-site training for staff and clients. Provide free samples, which really has converted into sales.”

9Regular in-store demos and discounts by FARMINA score points with Jan Hopper of Living Pawsitively in Lafayette, NJ. “Just yesterday I had their rep at my store handing out coupons and free cans of their new line of pet foods. Once most of the customers get a coupon, they purchase the food.”

10Todd Ruppenthal of Happy Husky Bakery in Evanston, IL, appreciates how ZIGNATURE and FUSSIE CAT involve individual stores in promotions. “They listen to us and work with us to promote their foods in the way we know most often works best. They tailor their promotions for our business specifically, and it works for them — moved their lines from fifth best selling food to second — and us.”,

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



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Power Couples




Talk about relationship goals. These 12 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.

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.”

Dog Krazy, 5 Stores in Virginia
Nancy Guinn / 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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: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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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