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Indie Innovators

These retailers and service providers move the industry forward with their fresh ideas and initiative.




INNOVATION STARTS WITH a spark. A thought about a customer need. An idea for how to meet it.

Independent pet businesses excel at innovating. With their smaller size and freedom to experiment, they are able to quickly implement new ideas and adjust as needed to achieve success.

Here at PETS+, we see innovation on a monthly basis in our Brain Squad survey results. Our reader panel of independent pet retailers and service providers contribute fresh takes on everything from hiring to merchandising to creating new products. We are regularly in awe of these amazing indies.

So much so that we decided to shine a brighter spotlight on 10 here. Each one earned a peer mention — with some getting several — when we asked the Brain Squad whom they look to for innovative ideas in the pet industry. Read on to be inspired!

Krysta Fox & Jeff Dire
Pug & Hound Pet Apothecary, Geneva, Il

Since opening Pug & Hound Apothecary in 2019, Krysta Fox and Jeff DiRe have staffed their pet store with veterinary professionals. “We currently have three veterinary technicians and one former veterinary receptionist,” Fox says. “There is always a vet tech on staff.”

These employees have built upon their veterinary knowledge since joining the team and continue to do so. “Our staff all hold nutrition, herbs and homeopathy certifications. I also do weekly training on diseases and various health conditions, medications, supplements, food and regulations to ensure they are on top of everything,” she says.

This hiring strategy stems from Fox’s 8-year career as a veterinary technician. Before opening Pug & Hound, she attended Purdue University’s veterinary technology program and worked in a variety of practices, first conventional then holistic and integrative. Fox continues to work in the field, currently as a surgical assistant in an integrative clinic.

THE PUG & HOUND TEAM. Kiandra Powell, from left, Kimmy Rossner, Jeff DiRe, Kysta Fox and Bruce Wayne, Jessica Vincent and Robyn Calistro.

THE PUG & HOUND TEAM. Kiandra Powell, from left, Kimmy Rossner, Jeff DiRe, Kysta Fox and Bruce Wayne, Jessica Vincent and Robyn Calistro.

The combination of veterinary medicine and pet product knowledge available at the store makes it a unique resource. “Our experience as vet technicians helps us fully understand not only the medical issues customers’ pets face, but also the varying ways conditions are treated and handled by vets,” she explains. “By putting the pieces of the issue together, what’s been tried, and any sensitivities the animal may have, our team members know how to navigate the choices and give customers the best options. We also understand a product’s ingredients to safely navigate how long it should be used for and how long results typically take to achieve.”

Fox works to educate Pug & Hound customers, as well. “I like to connect the dots with people, meet them where they’re at, and help them make more confident, educated and not fear-based decisions at the vet’s office and beyond. Just selling a product and saying it works isn’t enough. To feel confident and truly satisfied with their purchase, customers need to know why it is a good product and how it will work for their pet. That’s what we are here to provide.”

Local holistic and integrative veterinarians — and even a few conventional ones, Fox says — appreciate her complementary approach. “I am very blessed to have earned the respect of many doctors and veterinary professionals,” she says, “and I return that respect in kind. I do not go over any vet’s head regarding their patients; my cooperation and respect for their authority is important. It’s all about working as a team of experts to achieve a healthy pet.”

Maddie Shutts and Blaze pose in front of the store’s “5th Birthday” display, filled with celebration products.

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES! Maddie Shutts and Blaze pose in front of the store’s “5th Birthday” display, filled with celebration products.

Modern Companion, Chapin, SC

It should come as no surprise to learn that Maddie Shutts has a degree in graphic design and gained extensive experience in the field before opening her store. Just look at these photos of Modern Companion to see her creative talent and expertise. “My background in design with a focus on multimedia, including motion design, 2D/3D animation, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), has provided me with a unique perspective on store design and merchandising,” she says.

That shows in Modern Companion’s physical layout and displays. “The user-centered principles I applied in UI/UX design directly influence how I consider the customer journey within the store. Like on our website, I always display the newest product lines or holidays first. The same goes for my store. These up-front displays are very creative, can be interactive, and a lot of the time have a thematic scene that enhances the shopping experience. You want your customer to get in the mood and feel like they and their pet can be a part of whatever product you’re promoting.” The colorful and fun camping and pool-time displays, complete with mannequins at center, certainly do that.

(Left) POOL TIME! The inflatable pool filled with summer-themed toys catches the eye and pulls in customers ready for summer fun. (Right) ADVENTURE PUPS How could a customer not want to embrace the outdoors with their dogs after seeing this camping-centric display.

(Left) POOL TIME! The inflatable pool filled with summer-themed toys catches the eye and pulls in customers ready for summer fun. (Right) ADVENTURE PUPS. How could a customer not want to embrace the outdoors with their dogs after seeing this camping-centric display.

Shutts uses technology to further connect customers to products. She shares, “I have a designated area for trending products. We put tags with QR codes on them, with the QR codes linking to videos on our social media. The videos show us demoing the product or a pet playing or wearing the product, so the customer can understand how it works and also see how popular it’s been. Our employees can quickly scan and show videos in the moment. You can tell a customer, ‘Oh, my dog loves it.’ But having proof of a pet playing or using the product is a huge seller.” To see an example of this innovative idea, scan the QR code in the photo at left to see Modern Companion’s video for the Furry Folks Toilet Paper Nosework Toy. It has more than 77,500 views across TikTok and Instagram, and has brought in 75 direct sales of the toy!

Products perfect for social media get a QR code for customers to scan and see it in use.

SCAN ME. Products perfect for social media get a QR code for customers to scan and see it in use.

The Packin Method, Dallas, TX

Like many innovators in the pet industry, Nicole Packin saw a problem and created a solution. “Over the years, my team and I have worked with thousands of pets, many of whom were overweight, lacking self-control, or getting into trouble due to boredom. Their lack of a regular routine and consistent exercise was the leading issue, and I wanted to do something about it,” she says.

Packin did exactly that. In 2007, she had founded Miami Pet Concierge, a pet-sitting and dog-walking business, in Miami, FL. Her family’s relocation to Texas in 2021 proved the perfect opportunity to start a second business, one that would help dogs who needed more than a regular walk to burn off their pent-up energy. “I opened The Packin Method in 2022 serving the Dallas, TX, metroplex. Our mission is to improve dogs’ mental, physical and emotional health through fitness. The Packin Method is a mobile dog gym that offers Slatmill and Pacer treadmill workouts, providing non-interruptive exercise. As our clients grow more comfortable using the equipment, they begin to relax, their confidence grows, and they start to work harder and become healthier mentally, physically and emotionally.”

Nicole Packin and Bailey

Nicole Packin and Bailey

The business operates mobile gyms that provide Treadmill Workouts, Fitness Training and Canine Massage, among other pet-care services, each able to provide 60 sessions a week. Their schedules regularly get filled, and Packin could not be more happy with her new business. She says, “We are seeing incredible results for those dogs who can’t typically be around other pets, excelling when they can stretch their legs and exercise safely. We are seeing tremendous improvement in those dogs who are obese and are put on a regular fitness program. By far, the most rewarding thing to witness is a paralyzingly shy or fearful dog learn to gain confidence, get out of their head, and trust in themselves and those around them.”

Up next for Packin: Offering consulting services and online, self-paced classes for those interested in starting or growing their own mobile dog gym.

Rico gets moving in thePackin Method van.

LET’S GO! Rico gets moving in the Packin Method van.

Wet Nose, Geneva, IL

MINI TACOS Fresh-caught Atlantic salmon with organic red cabbage and goat milk slaw? Yes, please.

MINI TACOS. Fresh-caught Atlantic salmon with organic red cabbage and goat milk slaw? Yes, please.

Who doesn’t love tacos? The canine customers at Wet Nose certainly do, and giving them the opportunity to enjoy a food typically off-limits drives Sheila and Joe Spitza to offer a full menu of such tasty treats. “It’s about the excitement dogs have when they get to eat a meatball or chomp on a taco. The look on their face when they sample a piece of our freshly baked cake, and then immediately sit as a gesture of approval and desire for more — it’s priceless,” Sheila says. “And then there’s the huge smile on their pet parent’s face that seals the deal. Making that happen every day, that’s the mission.”

Wet Nose staff make all menu items in a beautiful on-site kitchen tucked into the back of the store and visible to customers. All ingredients used are human-grade, with great care taken when sourcing. Sheila goes into detail: “We focus on ingredients that are organic, hormone free, free range, antibiotic free and grass fed. We use plant-based coloring for our pawstries, along with powders like dragon fruit and turmeric. We focus on high-quality ingredients that are safe for pets, but don’t obsess about trying to make everything healthy. Life’s too short for that.” The items aren’t recommended as regular meals, but as special treats instead.

Sheila and Joe Spitza

Sheila and Joe Spitza

When it comes to creating new recipes, Sheila and Joe work with the entire kitchen staff. “We use a collaboration app called Trello, to springboard ideas and roll out new innovations. One person comes up with an idea, each person puts in their two cents, and if it’s a winner, our kitchen manager starts researching and developing the recipe,” she says. “Each idea usually goes through a few test runs before we finalize the recipe, visual presentation and packaging. Every item is tweaked several times before it’s a go, and it’s a better product as a result.”

Customers love the tacos. “The first weekend we launched them, we sold the entire weekend supply in five hours,” Sheila says. And the Sampler Box, “We launched these during the holiday season, and people love them. They mimic a Lunchables box and include an assortment of our top-selling deli items.”

The popular SamplerBox, above left, features Fresh Turkey Topper, Original Beef & Pork Meatballs, Turkey Bone Broth, and Turkey, Apple & Bacon Meatballs. Holiday meals, right, are also a hit!

‘PEOPLE’ FOOD. The popular Sampler Box, above left, features Fresh Turkey Topper, Original Beef & Pork Meatballs, Turkey Bone Broth, and Turkey, Apple & Bacon Meatballs. Holiday meals, right, are also a hit!

In addition to pleasing pups and their people, Wet Nose sees increased overall revenue thanks to what comes out of its kitchen. “Offering new items and changing up our menu, gives people a reason to visit more often and to bring their pets in for a visit,” Sheila says. “If they’re making a trip for that, then it’s easy for them to add food, chews and toys to their basket, and that equals more sales.”

Pet Boss Nation

Candace D’agnolo

Candace D’Agnolo

When Candace D’Agnolo launched Pet Boss Nation in 2017, the concept of a pet business coach was not common. Neither was the “community over competition” approach she had used in her own multi-service pet business since 2006 and would later integrate into her coaching. “I had opened very close to one of the first pet boutiques in Chicago. Those were very hard years. It was a highly competitive market, not just with that boutique, but with everyone in Chicago. However, I believed it didn’t need to be. My mom instilled a philosophy of focusing on our own goals and dreams because we can’t control what others will do,” D’Agnolo says.

“She also reminded me often that any day an empty storefront is filled with a small business, it’s a great thing, even if we sell the same widgets. It’s better to find a way to co-exist, if not work together, because there is plenty of business for everyone. Egos and fear get in the way, and make us lose sight of what is important. I heard the phrase ‘community over compeition’ in a business seminar and thought, ‘I have to integrate that into our Pet Boss client culture!’ The goal is collaboration, about still participating even when it’s hard or uncomfortable, and showing up to do your best work for yourself and for others.”

D’Agnolo continues to innovate to this day for her greater community of 6,000-plus pet business owners, delivering programs such as monthly membership Pet Boss Club and annual pet business conference Camp Pet Boss. There’s also her successful podcast, “Boss Your Business.” And she shares a new direction for Pet Boss Club: “Accountability by deconstructing big theories and strategies so our members are not overwhelmed and begin taking action. We all want success to come as quickly as possible, but owning a thriving business is a long game. You’ll have short wins, but they don’t sustain you. We’re helping more members build strong foundations no matter their stage in business through our new four to six week sprints, weekly action plans and a little tough love in 2024. This will truly help them reach their financial and personal goals.”


SNIFF ‘N’ SEEK, New York City, Ny

Jenny Carragher

Jenny Carragher

Before Barn Hunt, Felix the Italian Greyhound was easily bored and nervous around new people. That all changed when Jenny Carragher began training him for the dog sport, which involves working as a team to locate rats safely held in aerated tubes and hidden in a maze of hay bales. “I could walk Felix for an hour, and soon thereafter, he was bored,” she recalls. “After Barn Hunt, our walks changed from smelling where to mark to investigative reporting — where Felix follows trails, raising his head to smell the air. And this engagement takes up the real estate in his brain that previously was reacting to loud noises, shadows and small children. He has become a lot more confident, self-reliant and friendlier to people. Previously if someone went to pet him, he would dart behind my legs. He now approaches people and enjoys being petted. This was a big change for a little guy.”

The only problem: Felix and Carragher live in New York City. The closest Barn Hunt classes when they started required a two-hour drive, each way. So she decided to open SNIFF ‘N’ SEEK, the city’s first and currently only facility for the sport. “I’m entrepreneurial and reckoned that NYC’s more than 500,000 dogs (including those reactive and less confident) could really benefit from Barn Hunt.”

SNIFF ‘N’ SEEK occupies the second floor of a former carriage house, spanning 2,200 square feet. The Barn Hunt ring measures 600 square feet, but can be made smaller or larger as needed. Carragher offers group and private classes on multiple levels, plus drop-in slots for practice or playtime.

Thanks to a pet parent who lives near the facility taking a class and sharing a video, which then went viral, the new business — it opened in January — has momentum. “I’m not sure of the exact definition of viral, but within three hours I think 100,000 people had seen the video. It generated real excitement and interest in the sport. Not once did I imagine that anyone would post about it, and that non-sporting folks would want to try the sport. This is every entrepreneur’s dream.”

Black Pet Business Network and The Paw Shop, Ocoee, FL

Lashonda Geffrard

Lashonda Geffrard

For Lashonda Geffrard, innovation and diversity go hand in hand. She founded the Black Pet Business Network (BPBN) in 2021, with the goal of supporting the growth and development of Black-owned businesses and leaders in the pet industry. “As an organization, we bring forward new innovations and technology from businesses and organizations with minority founders,” she says.

Geffrard and her organization have a busy year ahead. She will moderate BPBN panel “From Difference to Dollars: How Diversity Fuels Success in Pet Retail,” at Global Pet Expo on March 20 at 2 p.m. At SuperZoo in August, BPBN will once again partner with Leap Venture Studio for the Leap pitch competition for pet-care startup founders who identify as a person of color. “Leading up to the competition, we’ll be working with the finalists to prepare them for their pitch,” she says. And BPBN also will be working with historically black colleges and universities this year to develop in-person career fairs complete with education. “We want to bring awareness of different career opportunities in the pet industry.”

While doing all of this, Geffrard also has her own pet business to run and to renovate. “The Paw Shop will be celebrating nine years in business, so we will honor our team and community with a more modern and sleek look.” Among the changes currently underway are upgrades to make the bathing system more efficient in terms of energy and product use, plus expansion of the retail area where she features minority-owned brands such as Dream Pet Food, Trill Paws, and the salon’s own Bark Outloud grooming products, leashes and collars.

Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery and Lucky Biscuit Pet Bakery, Lawrence, KS

Jennifer Thomas

Jennifer Thomas

The cookies Jennifer Thomas and her team create stand out in a bakery case. The bestselling Spaw Day collection features the dramatic “I Survived A Nail Trim” and bright-yellow Rubber Ducky, perfect as add-ons for grooming and self-wash services. Seasonal and holiday items bring customers who celebrate with their pets back to her Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery on a regular basis. And cookies such as those in the Wonka Collection, complete with Golden Ticket and Oompa Loompa, capitalize on trending pop culture.

In late 2023, Thomas expanded to wholesale, putting her innovative cookie designs on Faire under the Lucky Biscuit Pet Bakery banner. “I decided to share my cookies with other independent businesses because I know the importance of having something unique in your store. Treats are a fun and easy way to connect with customers, and a way to celebrate their pets.” She adds, “The treats have been such a focal point of who we are, and I want to share that experience with other stores. I view my bakery as a partnership with my colleagues. I have an understanding of their needs because I have been on the receiving end of bakery treat orders. I know the challenges, what I always wished I had access to, and am now able to fill that gap for other businesses.”

Next up for the wholesale bakery, which now occupies its own space separate from the store and has a staff of six: “My plans for the future are to continue to learn and grow, listen and learn from my customers, and expand our cat treat line. Cats need party treats, too!”

GROOMING TREATS. Jennifer Thomas and her team make these treats for grooming salons and stores with self-wash.

(Left)POP CULTURE. On-trend wholesale options include these Oompa Loompa cookies. (Right) PRIDE. Lucky Biscuit Pet Bakery also bakes treats for holidays and special observances such as Pride month.

Fetch Ri, Richmond, Ri

Well known both locally and in the industry for her deep knowledge of herbs, natural remedies and pet nutrition, Johnna Devereaux has decided to build on that base by obtaining a Master of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. “Throughout the past decade, I’ve noticed that many of the pets I have helped get well, their pet parents often have similar ailments. To effectively evoke long-lasting change, I want to be able to answer the numerous questions that have come my way from pet parents, not only about their pets but about their personal health, too.”

Johnna Devereaux

Johnna Devereaux

Devereaux does this on an informal basis at her store, but once she becomes a Certified Nutrition Specialist, the most advanced board certification for human nutrition practitioners, she will offer telehealth consulting and create online resources that encompass both pet and human health. “I have already seen a fantastic change in pet parents’ ability to understand the changes I’m recommending for their dog or cat when I can provide a parallel path in the human body. My goal is to help create the model of a holistic home in which both pets and pet parents can thrive.”


The Nautical Dog, Williamsburg, VA

Indie pet stores excel at educational events. They host representatives from brands they carry as well as local subject matter experts, including members of their own teams. Amanda Wilbourne has taken the concept a step further with her “The More You Know Pet Wellness Summit.” After a successful first event in 2023, she returns with a lineup on July 13 that features Dr. Karen Becker and Rodney Habib, authors of global bestseller “The Forever Dog.” Despite such star power, Wilbourne has purposely managed her event in ways that ensure local pet parents make up the majority of the audience and that the event itself drives awareness of and business to her store.

She smartly priced tickets and capped the number she sold. “I kept ticket prices low,” Wilbourne says. “I didn’t want price to be the reason why someone didn’t attend. I wanted my everyday customers to come and learn.” The $99 tickets sold out in 36 hours, with only 175 available. Zero dollars were spent on marketing the event. “I could sell 500 tickets easily, as tempting as it has been to move the venue to a larger one. But the current venue is a block from my store. All of this has to go back to the store. If people don’t shop there, I can’t host events like these. If I sold more tickets, it would likely be to people from out of town dying to see Karen and Rodney,” not current or potential customers.

Billy Hoekman, from left, will join Wilbourne again this year to speak.

FOR 2024. Billy Hoekman, from left, will join Wilbourne again this year to speak.

Wilbourne also added a small exhibitor area this year but only for brands she carries, and they can only sell their products from her store’s inventory. Those opportunities sold out, too, without Wilbourne having to make a single sales call. And all promotion of the event has run through the store’s website and social media, to ensure The Nautical Dog brand co-stars with the speakers.

Also in the lineup are holistic veterinarian Dr. Katie Woodley, plant and mushroom expert Angela Ardolino of CBD Dog Health, and pet nutrition scientist Billy Hoekman of Green Juju. Wilbourne chose each member for their ability to make pet nutrition accessible. She says, “I want everyone who comes and attends to be able to take something from it. I’m a big believer of ‘We meet you where you are,’ and all of the speakers that I have, they are good at meeting people where they are.”

Wilbourne has already begun securing speakers for 2025 and collecting email addresses for when the ticket purchase link goes live next year. She has names from this year’s waiting list and many many more on it. “It’s good to sell out an event. It creates FOMO for next year. Now people know that for next year, they better sign up for the email list and buy tickets immediately when they go on sale.”


We also asked the PETS+ Brain Squad which brands they look to for innovation within their respective categories. Read who they nominated!



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