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Teacher’s Pets

Dogs and cats — and their humans — get special attention at Petagogy in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Petagogy, Pittsburgh, PA

OWNERS: Heather Blum, Cole Wolfson, Elsie Lampl, Ben Huber, Allison Stetz; URL:petagogy.com; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2011; LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/petagogypgh; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/petagogy


IN 2011, TWO couples decided to open a much-needed pet supply store in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. None had retail experience, but each brought to the project a background that would be needed to make the business successful.

Heather Blum worked in corporate marketing, and Cole Wolfson specializes in startups. Elsie Lampl practices law, and Ben Huber taught school.

That last profession informs much about Petagogy, which takes its name from the word pedagogy, the art or science of education.

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“We pride ourselves on learning about the best pet products on the market and passing that information to our customers,” Blum says.

The team does that and much more, having grown the Shadyside store from 600 to 2,000 square feet, the partnership to five with the addition of animal rescuer Allison Stetz in 2016, and the number of locations to three. Now pets and their people across Pittsburgh’s east side have access to the Petagogy knowledge and customer experience.

From left: Ben Huber, Heather Blum, Elsie Lampl, Allison Stetz and Cole Wolfson are partners in Petagogy in Pittsburg, PA.

From left: Ben Huber, Heather Blum, Elsie Lampl, Allison Stetz and Cole Wolfson are partners in Petagogy in Pittsburg, PA.

Study Hall

Wolfson and Lampl continue their day jobs, contributing as needed in their areas of expertise. Blum and Huber focus full-time on Petagogy. They thoroughly vet all products before deciding to carry them.

“In the 10 years we’ve been open, the market has just exploded. I’m in the industry and it can be confusing to me, much less the average consumer,” Blum says. “Customers come in and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. People tell me this is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong.’ We let them know that we’ve vetted our brands, look at their manufacturing, the sourcing of ingredients. We tell them, ‘You can trust what we carry. We’ve done the research for you.’”

Such analysis has them recommending Open Farm, Primal and Earth Animal, among many other well-respected companies. They also help pet parents understand their methods with online resources such as “How to Read a Pet Food Label” and “Pet Food Ingredients 101.”

Blum and Huber like to introduce customers to smaller brands, as well. Puppucinno Boutique treats and Americat Company bowls and scratchers are even made in Pennsylvania, and Hightail Hikes biothane collars and leashes come from a California dog walking company.

“We like to find people who are just getting their foot in the door and need a little help showcasing their products,” Blum says.

Petagogy Interior

Co-owner Ben Huber makes many of the fixtures for Petagogy.

One-On-One Tutoring

In addition to being a trusted source for pet products, Petagogy has become a beloved neighborhood destination because of its personalized experience and behavioral advice.

“We have customers who come in every day to get a treat for their dog and chat with our manager,” Blum says, referring to the store’s sole full-time employee, David Gabig. “We could have a bunch of part-timers, but we want people to see the same faces and get to know us.”

Gabig came to the Shadyside location from the Humane Animal Rescue shelter.

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“David was an admissions counselor and has a lot of animal care experience. With so many people adopting new pets, he has become Mr. Advice. He helps customers with how to introduce pets or how to help them adjust or how to get them to use a litter box. David loves to answer questions and has just been fantastic.”

When the pandemic hit and the store closed temporarily to in-person shopping, the team more than made up for the lack of online ordering. Customers could email orders or shop by phone, both for curbside pickup, all services that are here to stay, Blum says.

“We like talking to customers over the phone, getting a feel for what they want. New pet owners call in and have no idea what they even need, so we just put together a package. We also have videos, like of our toy wall, on our Instagram.”

Classroom Meets Cabin

While Blum works out of the Shadyside location and handles all marketing, Huber works out of the Greensburg store and takes lead on construction for all of Petagogy. His studies in elementary education and environmental biology influence the aesthetic. Yellow, blue, green and brown serve as store colors, and an outdoorsy mural that borders interior walls could just as easily fit in at a school or summer camp.

“Ben had this image of an old-school mom and pop store, small with a lot of shelving but not a lot of light. He said, ‘I want to create the exact opposite of that.’ Our store is bright and airy, and has a natural, wood aesthetic,” Blum says.

Contributing to that look and feel are fixtures Huber made himself, including a chew display piece featuring 24 bins and slatwall above. He also laser cut the wooden sign that hangs out front.

For all of the reasons above and many others, Petagogy has taken home “Best of” awards year after year since opening — and if an award such as “Teacher of the Year” existed, the team would take that home as well.

PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Petagogy

1. EMPLOYEE TURNED OWNER: Allison Stetz joined Petagogy in Shadyside as an employee, its very first, in 2012. “She had just started her rescue, Biggies Bullies, and came in the second day the store was open,” Blum says. “She was always part of the family, but we cemented that with her ownership.”

2. TINY BUT MIGHTY: In 2018, satellite store Rescue Re-Tail Powered by Petagogy opened at Humane Animal Rescue. Jen Cavalancia manages it. “We are able to get in front of new adopters and help them with their initial needs, including collar/harness fittings, training assistance and pet food consultations,” Blum says. They also get a coupon for a free small bag of Fromm food, redeemable at the Shadyside location. “It’s not a huge moneymaker, but in terms of marketing dollars, it’s a no-brainer. The customers we gain from there are well worth the effort.”

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3. BARK SHADYSIDE: In 2013, Petagogy worked with Shadyside Chamber of Commerce to secure a Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority grant. Funds helped the team create the annual Bark Shadyside Pup Walk and launch thinkshadyside.com, which lists dog-friendly stores and restaurants in the neighborhood. The grant also paid for the installation of poop bag dispensers and provided branded water bowls to businesses.

4. FOUNDING DOGS: Deeka, Jack and Bumble Bee inspired their people to open Petagogy, and their silhouettes serve as a reminder of the mission by appearing in the store logo.

5. HO! HO! HO!: Each year, Huber builds an elaborate set for Pet Photos with Santa. More than 1,000 pets have had their picture taken by Bark & Gold Photography in Shadyside and Greensburg since the tradition began in 2011. Of course, Huber dons the white beard and red suit himself.

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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