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

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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.

ADRIAN ARCHIE

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.”

 

KARA HOLLAND

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.”

 

TAMMI BUI

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.”

NICOLE OLESEN

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!”

 

CHRISTA ABEL

BARK ’N’ CAT, NORTH ADAMS, MA

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.”

 

PATRICIA BODEN

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

Dogwalking.ie, 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.”

MELANIE HAYNES

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!’”

 

DEBBIE BROOKHAM

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.”

 

ANGELA PANTALONE

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.”

 

MATTHEW MOOREFIELD & MICHAEL MORRIS

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.

 

KAREN CONELL

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.”

LEEL MICHELLE

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!”

 

JULIA ROHAN

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 FetchFind.com 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.”

 

ANNABELL BIVENS

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.”

 

KELLY CATLETT

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.”

 

MARVIN SCHAFFER

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.

 

KEITH MILLER

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.”

TERRI ELLEN

NATURE’S PET MARKET SUNNY PAWS GROOMING, SALEM, OR

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.”

 

KEEFER DICKERSON

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.

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Support Group Helps Those Who Have Lost a Pet, Builds Goodwill Among Customers

Pet owner wanted to empathize with others when she grieved the loss of her own pet.

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ON THE THIRD THURSDAY night of each month, customers gather at The Natural Pet Enrichment Center to find and offer support for the loss of a beloved dog or cat. Upwards of 20 people attend the Pet Bereavement Meeting, hosted by owner Christine McCoy and facilitator Margaret Coats.

THE IDEA

Help and connect customers. When McCoy lost her heart dog to cancer in 2015, the grief was overwhelming. “When Bing passed, I was devastated.”

She knew not everyone could provide the support needed. “It’s hard for some people to understand. When you lose a human family member, they get that you have to go through the grieving process. But pets are family members, too. To many of us, they are children.”

McCoy turned to longtime customer Coats, a bereavement facilitator who works for a grief center and who previously facilitated a pet loss group at an animal hospital. Their talks led to the idea of hosting a free monthly meeting at the store for those in the same situation.

THE EXECUTION

Appoint a facilitator and promote wide. Coats stresses the importance of a facilitator, whether a professional like her or a layperson. “Without structure and someone to guide discussion, pet parents tend to rehash and not move through the pain to heal.”

Each meeting takes place at 7 p.m., closing time, in the store’s education area. Coats gives new participants a folder of educational materials and invites them to share their stories. Regulars can as well and do, especially around the anniversary of their pet’s passing.

She then introduces a topic for discussion, such as the individuality of grief. “Many people have expectations of what grief should look like and how they should cope, but that’s not how it works. Everyone has their own way of grieving, and it’s important not to compare. I tell them to move at their own pace and let the relationship with their pet define how they grieve.”

The meeting ends at 8:30 p.m., but McCoy says she often finds Coats talking outside with someone having a particularly tough time. Participants include not only customers but also newcomers who saw the event listing on Facebook or picked up a flyer at the nearby animal hospital.

THE RESULTS

Value the positive word of mouth. The Natural Pet Enrichment Center carries a variety of memorial products. McCoy doesn’t promote them during the meetings, nor does she track their sales on those nights. “I see this as another service we offer our customers. We want them to know we support them all the way through, from puppyhood to passing. That spreads a lot of goodwill and contributes to our strong word of mouth.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Pet Bereavement Group

  • CONSIDER HIRING A PRO. Reach out to area grief centers to find a facilitator trained in pet bereavement. Coats charges $75 per meeting.
  • REACH OUT TO OTHER PET BUSINESSES. Ask vet practices and pet sitters to help promote the meetings. Make it worth their while through referrals or other means.
  • CREATE A COMFORTABLE SPACE. If you don’t have the square footage, consider hosting the meetings off-site.
  • MEMORIALIZE YOUR PETS. Include in the meeting area photos of store pets who have passed. Invite participants to bring pics of their own.
  • CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK. In addition to posting the meetings on your store’s page, create a group where participants can support each other throughout the month.

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Done Right, DIY Baths Produce Bonus Revenue

Done right, do-it-yourself bathing produces a bonus revenue stream.

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DOGS MAKE A MESS during bath time. These pet businesses welcome it, provide direction and supplies, and even clean up after. Check out their DIY bathing setups, all of which are profitable and produce the cutest photo opportunities.

Firehouse Pet Shop

WENATCHEE, WA

Allen and Jennifer Larsen assign an employee to their firehouse-themed, three-tub DIY bathing area. This staffer walks newbies through the process, gets them started and checks back mid-bath, as well as cleans up after and does laundry. An instructional video also plays on a loop, and a chalkboard sign displays the menu and tips.

Self-baths cost $12 to $20 per pet, depending on weight, with nail trims an additional $7. Income ranges from $4,500 to $6,800 monthly. K9 officers bathe for free.

TOTAL COST: $7,200 | TUB SOURCE: New Breed Dog Baths

TIP: “Offer a frequent bathing card, free baths to first-timers or new adoptions,” Jennifer says. “It gets them in, and then they are hooked. Giving away a bath here and there reaps huge rewards — almost everyone says they will never wash at home again.”

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Just Fur Pets

SPRINGFIELD, VA

Marcia Cram inherited a three-tub bathing area when she opened her store 15 years ago, and has since upgraded decor and equipment. Groomers and customers alike use it, with the latter paying $22. Income totals $1,230 monthly.

REPLACEMENT TUB COST: $1,800 | TUB SOURCE: Groomer’s Best

TIP: “Don’t go cheap on the gauge of the tub. No one wants the tub bottom to flex and make noise under a dog’s feet.”

Animal Connection

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Pattie Boden designed and had her DIY bathing suite custom built. It matches her store’s country vibe and caters to large-breed and senior dogs.

“We included a wide stair step in between the tubs to make it easier for them to enter.”

Self-wash costs $15 to $25, depending on weight, and brings in $2,500 monthly. Her favorite bathing story involves the girls who planned a birthday party around washing their Great Pyrenees.

“That was so cute! Those girls had a great time.”

TOTAL COST: $10,000 | TUB SOURCE: Custom build

TIP: “You’ll need more towels than you ever expected. When you tell people to leave the mess, they take that as gospel truth!”

Bath & Biscuits

GRANVILLE, OH

DIY bathing was part of Danielle Wilson’s original concept for her business. It has proven a success, pulling in $6,000 monthly. She kept costs low with a rustic theme and by building the tubs themselves.

“I designed the tubs, and my husband built them. They are horse troughs with Trex decking for where the dog stands, so they’re never standing in water.”

Dog owners mainly use the tubs, but 4-H Club students have brought in goats, pigs and even a miniature horse during fair season. Wilson lets them self-wash for free and charges regular clients $20. Nail trims are included.

TOTAL COST: $500 | TUB SOURCE: Local feed and hardware store

TIP: “Think outside the box. Who says you have to use those expensive pet tubs?”

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Belly Rubs N Suds

ASHBURN, VA

Teresa Hogge created a spa-like atmosphere for her DIY bathing clients, who get a first-time tutorial that covers proper care of their dog’s coat type. She charges $15 for bath only and $25 with nail trim, adding up to $2,500 in income monthly.

“Plus, I find my self-wash clients are very inclined to make purchases from our bulk cookie bar, chewy bar or decorated cookie case.”

Hogge also recently introduced a monthly Suds Club Unlimited Self-Wash Membership for $29.99. Service and working dogs bathe for free.

TOTAL COST: $6,000 | TUB SOURCE: New Breed Dog Baths

TIP: “Treating self-wash as its own income stream, and planning, advertising and caring for it as such is the key to success. You can’t just add a self-wash and hope it makes you money.”

Bubbly Paws

TWIN CITIES, MN

Self-service baths make up 50 percent of income at these stylish dog wash stores. Keith Miller offers this advice to those adding a DIY station: “It’s more than just putting in plumbing and tubs. Ventilation is a huge issue. You need to make sure the air is always fresh. It can get stinky fast. Plan for water. Anything in the store will get wet. Seriously, nothing is safe. Make sure you have anti-slip flooring. I highly suggest a hair trap to keep all that hair out of the plumbing system. This small box, which is super gross to clean, can save thousands in plumbing expenses down the line.”

Self-wash runs $14 to $27, depending on weight.

“Every time a Newfie comes in, I cringe. They are sooooo hairy, and we are pretty sure not to make any money on them. Ha!”

PER-TUB COST: $4,000 | TUB SOURCE: New Breed Dog Baths

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America's Coolest

Former Day Car Owners’ Foray Into Boutique Nets Steadily Increasing Sales

Former day care owners’ foray into boutique nets steadily increasing sales.

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Notorious D.O.G., Clarence, NY

OWNERS: Laura LaCongo and Jessica Mbgua; URL:notorious.dog; FOUNDED: 2015;OPENED FEATURE STORE: 2016; EMPLOYEES: 2 part-time ; AREA: 3,200 square feet; FACEBOOK: NOTORIOUSpetproducts; INSTAGRAM: notorious.dog


LAURA LACONGO AND JESSICA Mbgua are all about freshness now. The business partners had owned a doggie overnight and day care, complete with grooming salon, for 17 years when they decided it was time for a new venture.
“We had another niche and vision in mind,” LaCongo says, “so we sold the business and opened Notorious D.O.G. in 2016.”

The Clarence, NY, store offers high-quality products for pets and their people. Thanks to an emphasis on fresh, from marketing and merchandising to food and toys, sales have increased 30-plus percent year over year.

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New Branding & Marketing

LaCongo and Mbgua wanted their new store’s name to represent their commitment to pets and grab people’s attention. The play on one of rapper Christopher Wallace’s stage names, The Notorious B.I.G., does both.

“Biggie was strong and powerful,” LaCongo explains, adding that the memorable name and its logo featuring a spiked collar makes a fresh appeal to the pet parent customer base.

“We don’t limit ourselves to the usual range of 20- to 65-year-old females. They still make up the majority of our buyers, but men also come in and enjoy shopping. They really love our logo. Its branding power expands our sales into another area.”

The owners also update the store’s exterior monthly — four 4-by-5-foot posters introduce new products — to draw in passersby. Monthly mailers convey the information and coupons to members of The Notorious V.I.P. rewards program.

Fresh Displays & Products

The store’s design veers toward modern, with gray hardwood floors and metal fixtures with clean lines. Walls are white with products and displays providing the pops of color.

“I’m constantly changing the appearance, making it a fun and exciting shopping experience,” LaCongo says.

Many of the fixtures have wheels to move easily based on strength of sales or lack thereof. A recent setup used venison as its uniting theme and featured a metal deer’s head with food and treats from Ziwi, Primal, Stella & Chewy’s, Orijen and others. Camo collars and harnesses, plus stuffed woodland creatures from the likes of Fluff & Tuff completed the look. The store’s back office stays crammed with props year-round.

“I add the wow factor, what will make a customer pick up a bag of food or a toy.”

LaCongo says Fluff & Tuff and West Paw are the only toy companies always carried in the store. For other toy inventory, she looks to new products.

“Regulars are never going to see the same old toy in the same old section.”

All products must meet certain criteria: “When we buy, we research who, where and why, what problem a product solves. Every product has to have a reason for it. We like companies like Wondercide. Their products have a purpose and make a difference.”

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Frozen & Fresh as the Future

Notorious D.O.G. currently has four freezers, with plans to add several more in the near future. Primal, Northwest Naturals, Answers and Stella & Chewy’s are the frozen brands carried, in addition to freeze-dried offerings.

“Frozen is the one protection brick-and-mortar stores have against online, the one product we have that customers can’t get anywhere else,” LaCongo says.

Fresh products from local companies Fetch Gourmet Dog Treats and Nuggets Healthy Eats also are found in this area. Food makes up 50 percent of overall sales, with fresh and frozen bringing in 15 percent of that.

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Notorious D.O.G.

1. EXPERT ADVICE: Laura LaCongo and Jessica Mbgua retain their certification as veterinary technicians. It helps them advise on issues ranging from diet to skincare.

2. INSTA-FUNNY: Notorious D.O.G.’s Instagram account shows off happy canine customers and new and featured products with a sense of humor. Staffers climb into crates to show their roominess. Visiting pups crunch down on identifiable body parts. Special effects on videos add to the fun.

3. BEFORE AND AFTER: The store looks nothing like the insurance agency it once was, thankfully. A renovation’s result: a striking exterior with cool lighted Notorious D.O.G. sign and a sleek modern interior.

4. BETTER BIZ CARDS: The business cards LaCongo, Mbgua and their employees carry are not only friendly but offer savings. The front says “Nice to meet you,” and the back has a coupon redeemable for $5 off anything in the store.

5. ROCK-STAR STATUS: Members of the rewards program earn $10 for every $250 spent, and get a $5 store coupon for their pet’s birthday and access to special sales. The top 25 customers also become Notorious D.O.G. Rock Stars, which rewards them with a $25 gift card, plus a $5 gift card for a friend.

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