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Dear Distributor...

Indies end love notes to their favorites, offer a wishlist for 2021.




A DISTRIBUTOR CAN PLAY an important role in the success of an independent pet store, working in partnership with the business to provide the right products to its customers. When we asked members of the PETS+ Brain Squad to tell us more about these relationships, they had much to say.

Many pointed out the practical benefits of using a distributor, among them the ability to purchase from multiple brands in one order for one delivery fee, try products in smaller quantities and receive shipments quickly.

The highest praise, though, centered around distributors that go above and beyond for indies. With that in mind, we present these love notes via PETS+ and the (sometimes) blushing replies.

TO: Packer Mellem Sales
FROM: Nancy Guinn of Dog Krazy stores in Virginia


Guinn considers Packer Mellem Sales an asset to her business, and calls rep David Frye friend.

“David makes sure we get what we need and is quick to answer all of our questions and concerns. He’s also a genuine person who cares not only about our business, but [my husband and co-owner] Chris and me. Today, he showed up with my favorite Lindt chocolates and cookies he had personally baked for employees at all of our locations. It’s the personal touches that mean so much.”

Frye provides background to his approach and says he feels the same way.

“I was in retail management for many years and had my own business, so I have an understanding as to what it takes to be an effective/successful small-business owner. I try to put myself in their place: What would I want in a salesperson who came into my store? I don’t think there is anything worse than a fast-talking, high-pressure salesperson who is in and out with a quick sale and onto another. I and the company I work for believe that forming relationships is key. After all, we are all human, and getting to know my customer on a more personal basis helps me present products that are good for the store and will help them be successful. Plus, I love my customers, and many of them I call friends. I have known Nancy and now Chris for many years, and I have seen the struggle and the successes. We talk about more than just business. I want my customers to know I am on their side and am there to help.”

TO: Wyld’s Wingdom
FROM: Rhonda Olson of Rhonda’s Aviary in Milton, FL


Olson loves this distributor of pet bird supplies and its owner, Mary Wyld.

“Mary will call you about every order and let you know when you have ordered items they no longer carry or that are out of stock. She communicates if some back-ordered items are now in stock and asks if I would like them added on or if I would like any substitutions. Large companies should still do this. If they think it’s not cost-effective, they are wrong. Once she called to go over my order, informed me that they had some new treat sticks. I ordered a box of each flavor and size. A five-minute phone call, and I added over $400 worth of new product. I don’t feel like just a customer number with Wyld’s Wingdom. In fact, when I call, they don’t even ask me my customer number. They know my name.”

Wyld appreciates the praise and takes great pride in her company’s high-to-complete fill rate as well as its customer service.

“Our philosophy is that the stores would not have ordered it if they did not need or want it. In these COVID-19 days and these tariff days, we have invested in increased inventory quantities to compensate for possible shortages from the vendors we carry. We would rather be overstocked as we plan for possible vendor outages in this uncertain world. When we are out of stock of an item that has a viable substitute, we will talk with our customer to suggest the substitute.

Additionally, the stores choose whether they wish for us to keep track of their back orders or not. These efforts are high touch, which is the hallmark of our service.”

TO: Sunburst Pet Supplies
FROM: Becci Scott of Fetching Dog in Scottsdale, AZ


Scott can’t say enough good things about the local-to-her distributor. In particular, she appreciates how credits are issued and how mistakes are handled.

“When I submit my order on Tuesday, I send a list of coupons, and they show up as credits on my Wednesday delivery. If they deliver damaged products, I am credited the following week with either a new product or a discount, whichever we agree to. In the case that an item is a special order and needs to be replaced, they have even gone so far as to send the replacement home with an employee who lives in my neighborhood so I can swing by and pick it up on my way home from work!”

Sunburst Director-of-Operations Leah Martin sees doing business this way as a given for Scott and all of their customers.

“Our return and credit tracking processes are simple: We issue credits in a timely manner. At Sunburst, it is our intent to serve. Service is a part of our values and a big part of who we are as a company. We believe this is the reason we have such great relationships with our retailers. We put their needs first.”

TO: Animal Supply Co.
FROM: Lisa Boegl of Eldorado Country Pet in Santa Fe, NM


Animal Supply’s ordering app

Technology is the way to Boegl’s heart.

“I love Animal Supply’s ordering app! I find it extremely easy to use, which makes weekly orders enjoyable, and I probably add on more than I really need because the pics (of toys mostly) make me want to sell them!”

Christina Andrews, marketing and promotions manager for the distributor, appreciates the praise and shares more about the app and other options.

“We have been working very hard over the past few years to enhance our online ordering platforms and provide retailers with the most convenient experience possible for shopping with us. This year, we’ve also taken our monthly catalog, the Retail Messenger, and moved it fully online, allowing retailers to shop the catalog 24/7 without having to call or fax in an order. Our mobile app allows retailers to scan barcodes, so when they need to restock an item, they can simply scan the barcode from the item sitting on the shelf in their store and add it to their cart.”

TO: Natural Animal Nutrition Distribution (NAN)
FROM: Pattie Zeller of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA



Zeller sees Natural Animal Nutrition (NAN) as a true partner in her business and has much love for rep Greg Watkins.

“He moved ‘heaven and earth’ recently to provide a lineup of full-size, trial size and sample products for our new store’s grand opening celebration. The Wag Bags we provided were over the top with so many nice things for their dogs and cats to enjoy. Also, he initiated conversations with suppliers to help us get our recycled shopping bags printed. Each supplier graciously donated $200 in credit toward products we regularly use, which allowed the printing and production of the bags to be completely covered. He has also provided close to sell-by-date products to us at no cost, which helps to fill our Community Pet Food Pantry. This gesture, especially during COVID-19, has helped many people feed their pets during a tough economic time. We appreciate Greg for his customer care and generous spirit.”

NAN Distribution Marketing Coordinator Kim Ragan enjoys hearing from satisfied customers and looks forward to helping other indies succeed.

“At Natural Animal Nutrition Distribution, we take tremendous pride in being trusted by our independent pet customers, and acknowledge that honesty and confidence are critical to our mutual success! As a result, we aspire to cultivate our neighborhood pet partners to achieve and maintain similar success to that of Animal Connection.”

TO: Middle West Distributors
FROM: Karen Conell of The Bark Market in Delavan, WI


Conell expresses gratitude for all of the support that this distributor provides.

“Middle West is focused on and caters to small indie retailers and holistic products. They have hosted a summit, for over 10 years, that is both trade show and education, with two to three guest speakers, veterinarians, marketing experts.

I’ve called it my ‘support group’ because that’s how it feels! It is the best buying opportunity and informational event of the year.

“We are partners. We are successful in the wake of COVID-19, big box and online. Without the support from Middle West, I am certain we would be struggling mightily, or worse!”

Owner Phil Brasie replies on behalf of the family owned and operated business.

“It is always good to hear compliments from our customers. We work very hard on our service. My grandfather started this company in 1949. I was taught in the ‘old school’ ways, and it shows when I am teaching my children in this business.”

TO: Pet Food Experts
FROM: Penny Murano of Unleashed in New London, NH


Pet Food Experts Fireside ChatMurano admires the customer service this distributor provides and says it has gone above and beyond for its customers during COVID-19.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Pet Food Experts President Michael Baker had ‘Fireside Chats.’ During these online chats, he kept us informed on where they stood with inventory, their plans to get the top 1,000 SKUs back in stock, and how they transitioned all of the sales staff to their homes to keep them safe. It was such a nice thing to hear that we were not alone and we had the full support of PFX to help us navigate it.”

She also has pre-pandemic praise for the distributor.

“The staff is phenomenal at trade shows! The PFX show at Mohegan Sun always has great lectures to attend; the sales staff walk the floor and let you know of an item they think you should see because they think it would work in your store; and the after party is so much fun — you get to spend time with the amazing PFX staff, vendors and friends from the industry. I can’t say enough how wonderful and knowledgeable every person is who works there, from inside reps to outside reps to the buying team all the way up to Mike Baker.”

Jim Sharp, vice president of sales operations and strategy for the distributor, says the company will continue to be the partner indies want and need.

“The team at Pet Food Experts will continue to provide industry-leading service and a highly curated portfolio of business-building brands to our independent pet retail customers coast-to-coast. In addition, we’ll continue to support our customers with tools and resources aimed at increasing awareness for their stores, becoming more convenient to shop and thriving in a fast-changing industry.”

TO: Pet Palette
FROM: Deborah Vitt of Mutts & Co. stores in Ohio


Vitt appreciates Pet Palette’s indie focus.

“What we love about them: They are very quick to fulfill. They are always willing to help us with special events/promos/etc. We appreciate that they continue to expand their assortment and that they focus on product lines that are specialty versus mass.”

Marketing Director Missy Limbeck provides background on the company.

“Pet Palette was started in 2008 by Bruce Herwald, a Washington D.C.-based veterinarian. Dr. Herwald strongly believes in the concept of independent retailers, analogous to his smaller, neighborhood veterinary clinics. He felt there was a general need for an assortment of high-quality pet products from smaller manufacturers, several of which were not yet distributed in the U.S.; and thus the creation of Pet Palette. We are continuing to add new and innovative lines on a regular basis to support the independents with merchandise that is generally not available in the mass market.”


All relationships take work. While members of the PETS+ Brain Squad were quick to point out that 2020 was a challenge for everyone in the industry, they did share changes they would like to see in 2021 from certain distributors.

  • Lower minimum orders, overall and by product, which would help smaller stores to more easily try new products and/or fulfill customer requests.
  • Improved communication on fulfillment — what will be delivered and when; if items are out of stock, when they will be back in stock; and if new items are not yet available but advertised in magazines, when they will be available to stores.
  • Pricing that allows them to better compete with big-box, chain and online retailers.
  • Upgraded technology options.
  • Higher retention of reps — some indies feel as if they are regularly starting from scratch to build these very important relationships.
  • Better communication between inside and outside reps for improved efficiency.
  • Greater care by third-party shipping providers if used.
  • Speedier and more streamlined return- and credit-tracking processes.
  • Less exclusivity by manufacturers — On this, Leah Martin with Sunburst Pet Supplies said she understood the request, but offered this insight: “As a distributor, we see protected territories and exclusivities as a positive. In our experience, the vendors will give us more of their time and support, and since a brand is an exclusive, we will give it more focus and in the long run the manufacturer, distributor and retailer win.”


TO: Animal Supply Co.
FROM: Natalie Bosch of Albany Pet Hotel in Albany, OR

Bosch loves a good deal, and this distributor earns her affection with exactly that.

“It’s always a nice surprise for me to see these discounts on our invoice as I’m entering retail items into our system, especially on items I would have ordered regardless of the discount. I think it’s great that Animal Supply rotates discounts on commonly purchased retail items, especially for small businesses like us! When I’m able to catch these discounts as I’m shopping, it not only saves us money, but it also encourages me to add more of those discounted items in the cart so we can keep more on hand. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

TO: Central Pet Distribution
FROM: Liz Harris of Creatures Featured in Madison, FL

Harris praises this distributor for bringing on her business during a difficult time and credits the experience and knowledge of her rep, in particular.

“When I was at my most frustrated with our previous distributor, Central Pet picked up the ball and hollered ‘Let’s play!’ I applied with them in March, just when things were getting pandemic crazy, and my account was approved, with terms, and assigned to Craig D’Auria. As a rep who has been with the company since it was Country Pet, Craig has proved invaluable. He knows product and what sells, returns phone calls and answers questions, and handles internal crises like a champ while managing to get us our deliveries. During a COVID-19-related incident of warehouse workers failing to show up, he made sure our order was processed and had credit issued for damaged goods (inexperienced temp. workers) immediately. This tells me that Craig is serious about helping me make sales. His professionalism is greatly appreciated and lets me get on with managing issues at our end!”

TO: Southeast Pet
FROM: Victoria Park of Park Pet Supply in Atlanta, GA

Park says this distributor fills all of her store’s product needs.

“Excellent ordering website, money-making deals through their monthly sales promos and ongoing discounts, a responsive inside sales team, professional drivers and easy deliveries, and they carry the healthy products that I want for my store.

“A few months ago, Southeast Pet sent me free products and samples to give out to customers. We put the extra goodies in the shopping bags of our best customers, and it was a huge hit. This simple act of generosity created even more love for our store, new customers for those free products, and the pets benefited from either a new supplement or the joy of a new toy or treat. This is the support that a small store like mine really needs to compete with Chewy or Amazon during these difficult times.”

TO: Southeast Pet
FROM: Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL

Okun has high praise for her Southeast Pet rep Ingrid Berger.

“Her knowledge and guidance has helped grow so many products in the store. Over the years, Ingrid has helped with product location, how to display and even resetting the store for better flow. Freeze-dried food was one the products she suggested we try. At the time, I was very unsure because the area we’re located in is very resistant to anything different and newer. Lots of free samples, and about five months later, the brand began to sell and still sells along with other brands. Ingrid helps her stores to be successful. ”

TO: American Distribution and Manufacturing Company (ADMC)
FROM: Lisa Keppers of Sauk Centre Country Store in Sauk Centre, MN

Keppers helps a general store with its pet department.

“Rhonda Littlefield from ADMC has really helped me expand the companion animal line here at the country store. When I started in 2016 the store only carried a few lines of dog food — a lot was expired — and very few treats. Rhonda came to the store and gave her suggestions on hot lines that she felt would do well at our small locations, we went through their treat catalog and answered all my questions on what this or that was. I have text her and called with tradeshow questions or specific customer requests that I was unable to answer. She is always willing to help and offer her advice. She is a great example on what a distributor does right! Taking care of her customers, personable, listens, doesn’t push, keeps me in the loop on sales, and my dog loves when she brings treats to try out.”

TO: Rio Grande Service Center
FROM: Lisa Boegl of Eldorado Country Pet, Santa Fe, NM

Boegl loves this small distributor exactly because it’s small.

Rio Grande Service Center is absolutely one of my favorite distributors because they’re still small enough to care about the “little guys.” I know when I call their customer service team, I’ll get an answer right away, and if they don’t have an immediate answer, they’re sure to get back to me within a day. My sales rep always comes through when I need product for events, and he’ll often deliver it to my store. I can’t say enough good things about this distributor! I get my credits so I can easily track them, they allow me to add on to orders after the deadline, and they’re just a lot of fun.”

TO: Phillips Pet Supply
FROM: Lexi Nielsen of Devine Feed and Pet in Norwell, MA

Nielsen appreciates this distributor for its technology.

“Phillips Pet supply is the easiest distributor I have for credits. The online portal is so easy to use, processes credit requests almost immediately, and I usually get an email from my inside rep in a few days with approval and pickup info if needed. It’s also so easy to teach my employees.”

And for her helpful rep.

“My account manager for Phillips is Brian Smith. He has been for a few years and makes it so easy to communicate. He is transparent about the goings on in the company – good or bad (mostly good!) and helps solve problems whenever needed. Brian usually responds to my texts within 24 hours, always with an answer (even if it’s I’ll look into that”) . He sets up meetings with appropriate brand reps and oversees them. He even helped set me up with a double-door freezer and fill it with products.”

TO: Middle West
FROM: Paula Gorman of Pet Supplies ‘N’ More in Muskego, WI

Gorman feels the love from this distributor.

“Middle West has contributed to many of our events. Before the pandemic, we would have big events like Cowboy Cookout, White Wednesday, Hawaiian Luau, Vest the Police Dogs, and birthday parties for our store dog. Middle West has been more than generous with either financial support or prizes for customers. From their drivers to owner Phil Brasie, they are supportive, kind and authentic people. And I’m blessed to have met them.”



NASC Media Spotlight

At first it was just an idea: Animal supplements needed the same quality control that human-grade supplements receive. But that was enough to start a movement and an organization —the National Animal Supplement Council — that would be dedicated to establishing a comprehensive path forward for the animal supplements industry. In this Media Spotlight interview, NASC’s president, Bill Bookout, talks to PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita about the industry today: Where it’s headed, what’s the latest focus and why it’s vital to gain the involvement of independent pet product retailers.

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