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21 pet pros reveal their past careers and how the experience helps them thrive today.




PET PROFESSIONALS are a diverse bunch. Some enter the industry after formal training within a particular field, such as veterinary or grooming. Others arrive after a beloved animal inspires a career change. This latter group often brings with them experience that assists in running a successful pet business. With that in mind, we asked readers to share what they did for a living before and how it informs what they do today. The answers were varied! NFL player, teacher, radio producer and pastry chef are among the former jobs. Read on to learn more about — and from — your peers within the profession.


PetNmind, Coconut Creek, FL

What do football and medical devices have in common? They both prepared Archie to open a pet-supply store.

“I played football for a large part of my life, including professionally in the CFL and NFL. I was chosen as captain on many of those teams, and I significantly developed leadership skills during that period of my life. After football, I began a career in medical device sales and later moved into medical device brand management. During that decade, I was able to further develop leadership skills, but most importantly I honed my business acumen.”

He offers this advice to those entering the pet industry after working in others.

“Actively lean on past career and life experiences, even if the experiences don’t necessarily connect with what you have chosen to do now. Our paths in life are unique for a reason, and the skills developed during that time do translate and benefit in the present, even if the career description has changed.”



Pittsboro Pet Supply, Pittsboro, NC

A former high school teacher, Holland understands well the importance of providing information in various ways.

“We don’t all learn from reading a textbook or listening to a teacher, so I find unique ways to teach our customers about products through merchandising. We celebrate pet hydration month in June and July, so we display fountains running and pictures of our own pets drinking from fountains in our home. We let people touch the moving water, see the filters and ask questions. We teach them verbally and let them experience the fountain, which always results in heightened curiosity or a sale.”

And Holland still teaches high school students: They are her favorite hires.

“They are willing to learn, and you could possibly have them for three years! It’s so fun watching them grow into young men and women. If you train them right, they can be your best salespeople, and they love telling everyone about their job since it’s so fun.”



Wishbone Pet Care, Missouri City, TX

A former graphic designer , Bui developed the brand and creates all marketing materials for her pet boutique, salon, and daycare and boarding facility.

“When designing for my brand, I want bright and cheerful color. Something that will stand out and catch attention,” she says, adding this advice, “Keep your brand materials consistent across logo, brand colors, fonts, uniforms, store front wall color, etc.”


Woofs & Waves, Sioux Falls, SD

Olesen doesn’t have a former career that informs owning a pet business — she has a current one! In addition to running their store with husband Mark, she works full-time as a nurse.

“I love the variety of what I do in a week! It keeps me excited for both jobs.”

The ability to delegate serves her at the hospital and the store.

“In nursing, you need to use your resources! There’s just not enough time to do it all, and you work much more efficiently when you delegate to others. I’m not at our store all the time, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. I delegate our social media to one of our team members. Ordering is done by another. Most of our new team-member training is done by another. When we are planning special events or promotions, everyone plays key parts to make it all come together!”




As a  social worker , Abel excelled at communicating with and earning the trust of humans in need. She continues to do so at her pet-supply store.

“I’ve focused solely on forming relationships with customers and finding products and services for their pets.”

Abel also puts her resource linkage experience to use.

“I’m on the board of Humane Society and a resource to the community about programs they provide.”



Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA

Before opening her store, Boden owned a full-service marketing agency that served the likes of NASCAR and Krispy Kreme. The same presentation skills she used to land such clients now help her sell holistic pet products.

Boden prefers to pitch benefits before stating price.

“A price-point discussion is a very closed-ended conversation. There is so much more to ‘What does it cost?’ when there are diet and health benefits involved. Presenting the benefits first almost guarantees a sale. And the customer feels like you not only listened, you helped solve a problem and gave them information that made them feel confident they are making the right purchase.”


GRAINNE BYRNE, Dublin, Ireland

After 30 years in public relations, Byrne decided to combine her love of pets and hiking as a professional dog walker. She brought with her many applicable skills, including the ability to market her business through appreciation.

“A couple of times a year, I drop in cakes or ice cream or chocolate to vets and groomers who refer business and who allow me to display my business cards on their premises. Referrals from vets are my best source of business.”


Space Coast Pet Services, Rockledge, FL

Haynes has a professional background that immediately inspires trust. After all, if defense contractors relied on her to keep sensitive information secure, traveling pet parents can count on her to care for their animals and homes.

She offers this advice to fellow pet sitters:

“Be aware of your surroundings and treat your clients’ homes as you would your own. Take the extra time to double-check that all windows and doors are locked. Trust your gut and communicate any concerns with your client immediately. As we say in the OPSEC (operations security) community, ‘If you see something, say something!’”



Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

Brookham’s previous roles in the human medical field — radiologic technologist, urgent care facilities director, supplies and equipment sales manager — now help her recognize disease symptoms in dogs who come into her pet boutique and salon.

When she does, “I suggest they go to their vet, and then we can work on nutrition. It is super rewarding to see these dogs come back in with a better prognosis.”

Brookham adds, “It’s amazing the journey you go on and find yourself in a position you never imagined. However, all the things you learned along the way seem to mesh into exactly what you need.”



Wag Central, Stratford, CT

As a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, Pantalone made every student feel special so they could reach their full potential. She does the same at her multipurpose pet facility and encourages others in the industry to follow her lead.

“Find ways to make your staff feel special so they know they are valued and an important part of your team. Show owners that their dogs are special through the services you provide. Making suggestions and recommendations is often welcome since owners treat their pets just like their own children.”



Yarn & Bone Pet Supply Co., Camden and Rehoboth Beach, DE

Moorefield worked in customer service at Macy’s for 16 years, and co-owner Morris currently juggles a position in food service management with time at the stores. What have these work experiences taught them?

“The importance of customer interaction, from a simple hello to telling them to have a great day (even if they don’t purchase anything). Stopping all tasks when a customer is present, staying focused on them in case they have a question or need anything,” Morris says.



The Bark Market, Delavan, WI

Conell has been working with animals since high school, getting her first job at a pet-supply store. She went on to earn a degree in animal sciences, work at a racehorse breeding and training facility, and later as a veterinary technician. It all prepared her to succeed as a pet business owner.

“Having a love for animals helps, but without the merchandising, management or people skills, struggles — and, perhaps, failure — will result. Even with great skills there are hurdles! A full tool box to draw from makes those hurdles easier to clear.”


Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

Among the many hats Michelle has worn are manager of the flagship Ann Taylor in New York City and district manager of face painters, hair wrappers, and caricature and portrait artists for the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Seaworld. She filled and managed 200 park positions alone each summer!

“Speaking in front of a large audience, recruiting staff, interviewing and hiring have all been helpful for business ownership.”

Michelle and her husband also renovate and flip houses in their spare time. This allows for DIY repairs at her pet boutique and bakery.

“I’m very handy with multiple saws and drills!”



Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting, Chicago, IL

In her previous role with Teach for America, Rohan learned the value of professional development.

“I was lead by some of the most brilliant minds. They were inspirational managers who willingly passed on their best practices for designing strategy to overcome most work-related challenges.”

She has carried this desire to improve through to her pet care business and advises:

“Invest in your professional development and seek out a program like to build your understanding of how to work humanely with all animals. Seek out your mentors’ and peers’ must-read books and devour them, join industry associations, and become followers of animal behaviorists and ethnologists.”



The Dog Store by Your Dog’s Best Friend, Alexandria, VA

Pastry chef. Accountant. Dog groomer. All of these roles help Bivens excel as a pet store manager. The baking skills make her popular with both two-legged and four-legged customers.

“Homemade treats for events are the best! But you can’t sell them without a license usually so we just give them away. People love seeing you cared enough to put effort in, instead of just opening a box of ordered treats.”



Waggs 2 Whiskers, Bagdad, KY

During her 19 years with a metals distribution company, Catlett multitasked like a pro, creating and managing procedures, leading a team, and providing excellent customer service. She sees the latter as the most important skill carried over into her current career as a pet care and services provider.

Catlett advises, “Always be nice and create a relationship that will benefit you and the customer in the future, from the very beginning. Be you! Allow your personality to shine through and get to know them and their situation. Creating that bond with pet parents is huge.”



J & M Aquatics & Pet Center, Grand Junction, CO

Schaffer worked at a grocery store while attending college. Not only did he learn how to merchandise, but his responsibility for ordering all canned goods without a point-of-sale system gave him “the skills to keep enough stock, prevent running out of items and make sure there was not a huge back stock.” This helped keep his aquatics store properly stocked in the early days, before it got a POS system.



Bubbly Paws and Pampered Pooch Playground, Twin Cities, MN

As a radio producer, Miller got to hang with the likes of Usher and Sarah McLachlan as part of his job. He also learned valuable skills that help him best promote his pet businesses.

“You need to make sure you over-deliver anytime a member of the media reaches out, and make sure to not overly promote your brand. We do monthly segments on the NBC station here, and we never wear our business logo or talk about our business. There is a quick graphic that says ‘Bubbly Paws’ on the bottom of the screen, but the minute you start self-promotion, they will cut it out. Quick, short responses work best, and you need to make the media person be the star of the segment.”



Spending 10 years in Apple sales and marketing has greatly influenced how Ellen runs her pet business.

“‘Changing the world, one computer at a time’ years later has become ‘changing the health of our pets, one dog and cat at a time.’”

She advises, “You have to have a vision. It’s your road map to where you want to go. Then wave your flag everywhere so ‘they’ can follow you — your customers, your employees and your vendors.”

Ellen also manages her staff in Apple style: “Empowered on the front line, included in decision-making, keeping relationships healthy, respected and trusted.”



Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

Twenty-plus years in entertainment marketing and promotions taught Dickerson the value of an experience. He applies it at local events as marketing and outreach manager for five stores.

“For a big event last year, we built a doggie ball pit in our 10-by-10 booth. It was a huge hit, and we had people lining up to let their dogs play! People were excited to come to our booth for the experience we offered, and it gave us an opportunity to talk to them about their pets, where they shop, and to tell them about our stores and products. Unlike most of the other vendors at the event, we weren’t trying to sell them something. Instead, we offered a fun experience, and then told them the story of why our stores are awesome!”

Dickerson also kept social media in mind when setting up the booth and ball pit.

“Everyone wanted a photo of their beautiful pup surrounded by shiny, brightly colored balls. I made sure our events banner was positioned at the bottom of the booth’s back wall, so that our name and logo were visible in every photo of the ball pit.”


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.




Very Few Pet Businesses Do This With Their Ads … But You Definitely Should

Testing and tracking your ads can make a huge difference in the ROI that you get, says marketing specialist Jim Ackerman. But very few pet businesses take the proper steps to run successful ad campaigns. Here, Ackerman shows an example of what effective testing looks like.

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8 Standout Sign Designs for the Ultimate First Impression

Because first impressions are everything.




GREAT SIGNS DRAW in passersby. They do so by piquing interest and making clear the nature of a business. But as any owner will tell you, doing that according to property and other guidelines can prove challenging. These pet businesses share how they worked — some quite creatively — within the system.

Riverfront Pets
Wilmington, DE

Laura and Clinton Gangloff got permission from their landlord to try a different approach with signage. Instead of white lettering with red accents on the facade, like other businesses in the building, they hung a perpendicular sign with the Riverfront Pets logo, complete with red fire hydrant. “We still have the printed name on our awning so you can see who we are from across the road, but I think we reach more consumers with the placement we have now,” Laura says.

COST: $4,000 | TIP: Add stickers to your storefront outlining services and supplies. “We have found that is pretty helpful also.”


Dog Krazy

Fun fact about the original Dog Krazy logo, shown here on the Leesburg location: It’s the font from ’90s animated series Ren & Stimpy. Nancy and Chris Guinn hung signs on the facade as well as perpendicular to the store to catch potential customers from all directions.

COST: $6,000 | TIP: Nancy says, “Make sure it stands out. A good sign is worth every penny. Think about what makes you want to go inside a business. If the sign is cheaply made and doesn’t catch your eye, your store may go unnoticed. Bold, bright and fun is what I always look for.”

The Pet Barber

With its logo and sign, owners Paul Willis and Kristen Cover let potential customers know they specialize in hand-scissoring. Cover says they proposed black lettering with uplighting, but that the landlord ultimately required an illuminated sign.

COST: $6,000 | TIP: Cover says to “negotiate the signage before you sign the lease, especially if you have something very specific in mind.”


Wags To Whiskers

When Janelle Pitula moved her business late last year, its sign came with her. Initially, there was pushback. “There were some challenges with the village as they said it was a bit too big, but they conceded and gave us a variance since we’ve been in town for 14 years.”

COST: $5,000 | TIP: Make sure your sign is clear, readable, stands out from other tenants and represents your business. “If you can do your logo, great. If not, just be clear.”

The Modern Paws

This store’s logo features a paw print within a dotted circle, with that alone serving as its icon. On their storefront, Ben and Lisa Prakobkit used it both as a decal on the door and above with “The Modern Paws” on an awning. Of guidelines, Ben says, “The property association did require any awnings to be made out of certain materials and fabrics, so we made sure to adhere to those requirements.”

COST: $5,000 for decals, awning and lighting | TIP: “Your signage is what any customer, or even potential customer, sees first. Make it clear and bold. You want to make the best first impression before a customer even steps in your doors. The signage draws customers in, customer service keeps them coming back.”

Southern Barker

Lily, the Stewart family dog, stars in this store’s logo and sign. Leslie Stewart says that property guidelines dictated “that the sign itself be lighted, but because of our font, it was difficult to manufacture. We opted for a flat acrylic sign with gooseneck lighting above.”

COST: $4,600 | TIP: “Make sure the design, colors and font can be seen well from a distance and that the view is unobstructed.”


Fetch Ri

Before deciding where to place signs for her store and applying for permits, Johnna Devereaux walked the entire property to determine sightlines. “We wanted to ensure that no matter which angle you were looking at the building, you would always see the Fetch RI signage. We have four exterior signs and two interior.”

COST: $1,500 | TIP: “It can be argued that on-site signage is the No. 1 marketing tool you have. After all, you can have the greatest business cards or ads, but if someone doesn’t find your store visually appealing and inviting from the outside, they may never step foot inside to see what you have to offer. When it comes to signage, take your time and do it right. First impressions are everything.”

Lewis & Bark’s Outpost

In historic Red Lodge, MT, regulations do not allow for neon or blinking signs without city approval. Danielle Chandler decided to forgo the red tape and instead use vinyl lettering on a storefront display window. “We chose the window, color and large size for visibility,” she says.

COST: $300 | TIP: If your store sits in the shade all day like hers, Chandler recommends placing colorful, seasonal windsocks outside with shiny windmills in flower pots. “The movement catches a lot of eyes. The days we forget to put them out, our sales are noticeably lower.”

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Help Pet Owners Celebrate Their Friends’ Birthdays

These stores help customers make their dog’s birthday or gotcha day wishes come true.




PARTY HATS. CAKE — real or plush squeaky. Birthday bandanas. The variety of pet celebration products continues to increase, as do the size and creativity of displays that feature them. These stores help customers make their dog’s birthday or gotcha day wishes come true.


This store promotes inclusiveness with its celebration table. Those who bake can buy mixes and bone-shaped trays, and those who don’t can pick up ready-made cakes and pies. “Happy Birthday,” “Welcome Home” and “Happy Adoption Day” cookies cover all dogs, as do pink and blue hats and toys.

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, The Lazy Dog Cookie Co., Multipet, ZippyPaws.

TIP: Consider not offering a birthday discount. Mark Robokoff explains, “Birthday items would essentially be perpetually discounted. What we usually do instead is get a good photo if the dog is in the store (or from the customer’s phone if not), and wish them a happy birthday or gotcha day on our social media. Customers love to like and share the photos, helping to spread the word and making us guests at their party!”

Southern BarkerLEXINGTON, KY

This charming “Party” hutch offers everything needed for a pet celebration. Members of its Birthday Club get a free treat and a discount on purchases. “We also try to take a picture of every birthday boy or girl that stops in, and we post it to all of our social media,” Leslie Stewart says.


BRANDS: ZippyPaws, Hugglehounds, Planet Dog, Haute Diggity Dog, Bosco and Roxy’s.

TIP: Carry Pearhead chalkboard celebration signs and block sets. Customers can use them to do their own photo session at home.


Celebration items are big sellers at these stores. Mark Vitt says, “Every day we have multiple customers coming in looking for a special treat for their dog’s birthday or gotcha day, and we point them right to our celebration section. They always grab a few cookies or cake for the party. But in addition, we suggest a bulk chew, a toy, or a bag of treats to share with other family pets, or even something fun to wear like a birthday hat or sports jersey.”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, K9 Granola Factory, Bosco and Roxy’s, Planet Dog, Multipet, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, PetCakes.

TIP: Cross-promote between departments: “We offer a free grooming service, like a Smooch a Pooch Dental Care Treatment, for dogs getting groomed during their birthday month.”

The Green SpotOMAHA, NE

At the top of this pet celebration display sits a sign encouraging customers to also pick up a ready-made treat from the bakery case or order a custom cake. Whitney Kamish reports that their birthday category sales are up 20 percent from last year.

BRANDS: Huxley & Kent, Lulubelles, HuggleHounds, ZippyPaws, Mirage Pet Products, K9 Granola Factory, Bocce’s Bakery, Taj Ma-Hound, Bosco and Roxy’s, Brixtix Bakery, PuppyCake.

TIP: Keep a set of Pearhead photo blocks open. “We use them when taking pictures for social media of customers’ pups.”

Miss Doolittles Pet Spa & BoutiquePOTTSVILLE, PA

The celebration case at this store couldn’t be sweeter. Missie Mattei uses cake stands and tiered dessert trays to make birthday treats and dog toys look even more special.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, Pawsitively Gourmet, Taj Ma-Hound, Mirage Pet Products, Bardel Bows, Huxley & Kent, Petlou, ZippyPaws, Multipet.

TIP: Ride the birthday category wave. “We are constantly adding as the demand grows and we find new birthday related items.”



Treat bar meets pet celebration display here. The Part-y bar experience includes free samples and posing with a special photo frame for social media.

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Bocce’s Bakery, Kong, Charming Pet, Mirage Pet Products.

TIP: Don’t forget the rescue dogs who don’t have a known birthday. “We made up different photo frames so pups celebrating birthdays or gotcha days can be recognized.”

Flying M Feed Co.HOUSTON, TX

This celebration display looks like that of an actual party, complete with plush cake slices and handwritten place cards at each setting. Toys are presented as party favors.

BRANDS: Doggie Express, ZippyPaws, K9 Granola Factory

TIP: Point out popular products. Trace Menchaca says, “We offer a ‘registry list,’ which lists our best-selling birthday gifts should someone be attending a party and looking for something fabulous!”

Bark on MulfordROCKFORD, IL

What would a pet celebration be without a party hat? Or sombrero? This store has both, plus other accessories and supplies, in a charming display. “Lots of our customers are into celebrating their dog’s birthdays,” Kaye Busse-Kleber says. “Some even put choices of items down on the floor to see which their dog prefers!”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Buster’s Party Shop, FunDog Bandanas, Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bocce’s Bakery.

TIP: Encourage pet parents to tag your store on social media. “We re-post their pic of their dog celebrating, with our products.”

Firehouse Pet ShopWENATCHEE, WA

This colorful celebration display sits right next to the bakery case. Dogs get a free bag of treats and don a birthday hat and other props before having their photo taken for social media.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Taj Ma-Hound, Bosco and Roxy’s, Charming Pet, Kong, Planet Dog, Haute Diggity Dog, Merrick, Swell, Nuggets Healthy Eats, Bocce’s Bakery, K9 Granola Factory.

TIP: Display pics of pups in store. Jennifer Larsen says, “We play them on our TV, slideshow on a loop.”

Healthy Pet ProductsPITTSBURGH, PA

When shopping this store’s small birthday section, dogs get showered with attention. Toni Shelaske says, “We hand out free birthday bandanas, lots of love and feature them on our Facebook and Instagram pages.”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, K9 Granola Factory, Bocce’s Bakery, ZippyPaws.

TIP: Feature pet-centric photo frames in your display to hold pet birthday pics.



Party hats and cookies sells best at this store, Amy Schiek says, with customers getting multiple celebration options with the latter: “Happy Birthday,” “Welcome Home” and “Adopted” options.

BRANDS: Bubba Rose Biscuit Co. Bosco and Roxy’s, Haute Diggity Dog, Bocce’s Bakery, Charming Pet.


The display may be small, but it’s sweet and supports this store and coffee bar’s “Barkday Party Package.” It includes a reserved table with decorations, personalized cake, party hats, goodie bag and 20-percent discount on treats and toys, plus a dedicated staff member to help manage the fun, starting at $60.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bubba Rose Biscuit Co.


Pattie Boden says location is key for pet celebration products. “They are a good seller now that we have a dedicated birthday section! Before that, we had them on the front counter as an impulse buy, and we still have that bakery case with a few “pupcake” and “everyday treats,” but this section brings far more attention! It’s right in the area where the toys and apparel are and right next to a big wall of treats, so it’s hard to miss!”

BRANDS: Huxley & Kent, Haute Diggity Dog, LuluBelles, ZippyPaws, Harry Barker, Pawsitively Gourmet, 2 Paws 4 You Bakery, Signature Bonz, Bark Local.

TIP: Offer party favor treat bags to local pet business that do not carry celebration products, such as a doggie daycare.


This store builds its birthday display around Merrick’s Grain-Free Birthday Paw-ty canned food.

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America's Coolest

Meet the Judges of the PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores Contest

Full contest results will be announced July 29.




Jane Harrell is president of ‘cause Digital Marketing and co-owner of Working With Dog, and has spent the last 16 years working with pet businesses to find simple, scalable marketing solutions that work so they can focus on what matters most — helping pets and the people who care about them.


Kristen Levine is regarded as one of the foremost pet marketing experts in the U.S. with more than 25 years of experience. She’s developed a Pet Credible Influencer Program for brands and is president at FWV Fetching, an integrated marketing firm that services pet-focused companies, veterinary businesses and consumer brands. She lives on a small farm with miniature donkeys Izzy and Willow and her rescue dog and cat, Chilly and Olivia. Contact her at:

Beke LUBEACH serves as general manager for DOGTV, the first channel designed to relax and entertain dogs. Prior to that, Lubeach worked on sales and marketing strategy with small- to mid-size businesses in the pet space as the principal for Dog Bone Marketing Solutions. She has worked to develop consumer sales promotions with Malone Advertising, agency of record for Kimberly Clark products, and spent 20 years in professional sports and media. Lubeach held positions with Super Bowl Host Committees XXXII and XXXIV, Anaheim Angels Baseball and Ducks Hockey, along with eight years at Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres Baseball broadcast. Her focus is in developing strategic partnerships with businesses, both in and out of the pet industry. She has a rescue dog, Payton and always in her heart, Jake, the dog that brought her into the pet space.

Leel Michelle is the founder of Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe in San Diego, CA, which took top honors in the 2018 America’s Coolest Stores Contest. Following a career in corporate retail management and corporate amusement park management, Michelle was inspired by her own pets to create brands that utilized her skills, creativity and passion to build memorable businesses. Follow her at “The Art of Pet Retailing for Groomers” and Facebook group “Pet Boutiques.”

Beth Miller is founder of Wagtown, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities become more authentically and responsibly dog-friendly. Her background of 30-plus years of brand management, advertising, merchandising, point-of-sale, and growth and retention strategies gives her a keen eye for success in the pet space.

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