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Yes, They Can

A Washington, DC, store bucks the conventional and leads the way in sustainability.

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The Big Bad Woof,Washington, DC

URL: thebigbadwoof.com; OWNERS: Julie Paez and Pennye Jones-Napier; YEAR FOUNDED: 2005; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; AREA: 3,900 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time, 5 part-time; FACEBOOK: facebook.com//bbwoof; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com//woofdelivers


IT ISN’T EASY being green. Julie Paez and Pennye Jones-Napier heard this countless times while preparing to open their pet-supply store in Washington, DC. It was 2005, and the eco-friendly business model — to source responsibly and to operate sustainably — was not yet common in the industry.

“‘You can’t run a store like that. You’ll never make any money,’” Paez recalls hearing at trade shows. “Being very stubborn people, we said, ‘Yes, we can.’”

They did and continue to do so, with The Big Bad Woof helping to set the standard for green pet businesses in this country.

Reduce, Reuse & Recycle

Named in honor of their four wolf hybrids, the store opened in the city’s Old Takoma neighborhood. It thrived during 2007’s pet food recalls for melamine contamination.

“People came in, hysterical, asking what could they feed their dogs that wouldn’t kill them,” Paez says. “I’m very proud of the fact that we carefully select our foods and none were recalled.”

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The Big Bad Woof expanded to a second location, in Hyattsville, MD, four years later. Complete with green design by award-winning Travis Price Architects, it became the first U.S. benefit corporation. Businesses with this legal structure pledge to balance profit with positive impact on the environment and society. The store also obtained B Corp certification from auditing body B Lab.

In late 2016, Paez and Jones-Napier decided to trade serious parking problems at their second location and limited square footage at their first for a more easily accessible and larger space in Old Takoma. They worked with the landlord to gut the 1920s building and to install eco-friendly features such as the 100 solar panels that provide its power and two energy-efficient Big Ass Fans.

The current store opened in early 2017. It spans 3,900 square feet, with 3,000 dedicated to retail and the rest for owner, e-commerce and shipping offices. Many elements from the Hyattsville design — industrial chic meets Mother Nature — carried over.

Red paint covers back walls as well as exposed ductwork and other metal, providing pops of color against white walls and unfinished concrete floors. Fixtures feature reclaimed wood and recycled materials, and the checkout desk has as its top an 11-foot piece of wood felled, split and finished locally. The 25-foot-apothecary made the trip as well.

“We’re known for having a lot of supplements, herbals and homeopathic products, and can advise on how to use them safely,” Jones-Napier says. She leads their sales along with team member Darthanyia Leonard, who gained her experience with natural products working at Whole Foods Market. They regularly work with and get referrals from local integrative veterinarians.

Practice Modern Sustainability

Not only do Paez and Jones-Napier keep the environment in mind when sourcing, looking for local, regional and/or eco-friendly products to order, they also embrace the expanded definition of sustainability that includes having a positive social impact. The Big Bad Woof in Old Takoma has benefit corporation status, with Green America certification and auditing.

Honest Pet Products is among the many lines that help the store meet such standards. The Green Bay, WI, company employs disabled people to make its dog and cat toys. It also outsources through Snow Leopard Trust, which provides Mongolian communities with sustainable income opportunities in an effort to reduce poaching.

“We’re always looking for these kinds of businesses to support, ones that will resonate with our customers as well,” Jones-Napier says, referring to the neighborhood’s progressive leanings.

Paez adds, “There’s always been this very strong emphasis on making our community a better place,” pointing to the store being a Hungry Harvest pickup location as an example of a local environmental and social sustainability effort. The program takes produce about to go into the waste stream — for being off-size, off-color, not pretty, overproduced or overpurchased — and offers it as donations to those in need or at a reduced cost.

The owners appreciate that their customers got from day one what many in the pet industry did not.

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Five Cool Things About  The Big Bad Woof

1. SOME (MANY) LIKE IT RAW: The store has 13 front-door freezers and a walk-in for its raw offerings. Pet food makes up 55 percent of sales, with raw accounting for 30 percent of that. “I’m just astounded at how much raw food we go through,” Paez says. “We turn it over so quickly. Customers only buy their raw from us because it’s always fresh.”

2. NO MORE CLAMSHELLS: The owners regularly give feedback to manufacturers about packaging and shipping that serves no purpose and harms the environment. “It’s a waste. It’s not biodegradable. It adds cost to shipping,” Jones-Napier says. “We tell them, ‘Don’t ship in a clamshell.’”

3. WOOF PANTRIES: Through Think Local First D.C., customers can pick up their online orders at one of eight other area businesses. Options include a pet grooming salon, veterinarian’s office, and even a brewery or hardware store. The free service helps to support local businesses while increasing customer convenience. Jones-Napier loves the program so much, she serves on its board.

4. VET VISITS: In addition to manufacturer reps, the owners invite integrative veterinarians to speak at their staff meetings. These DVMs share what issues commonly affect their patients — from digestive problems to fleas and ticks — and advise when natural treatments are an option.

5. WOOF PACK: While the original four-pack of wolf hybrids have all passed, Paez and Jones-Napier have a full house of pets. Mixed-breed Zora, pit bull YaYa-Zen and Siberian Husky Atticus share space with kitties Samson and Figaro. Atticus has been a store pet since he was 12 weeks old.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Pennye Jones-Napier

One book
Bearing Witness by Bernie Glassman

One website
www.kiva.com

One gadget
iPhone

One plane ticket
Dharamsala

Favorite business book
Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Favorite book
Six of One by Rita Mae Brown

Best advice ever given
If you believe food is medicine, then we can help heal this issue.

Advice for a new store owner
Hire good people and make it worthwhile for them to stay.

If I’d known more about finances…
Then, life would have been a whole lot easier.

I drive a Prius. If I could choose any car…
It would be 1950-1960 manual pick-up truck.

What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced?
Disney Resorts – the mission shines through every cast member from the accommodations to the parks.

Tell me about your perfect day.
Start with a workout or swim first thing, then head to the barns to saddle up and head off for a long ride.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?
Close a store that was underperforming.

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If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?
Our customers and staff if they were in danger.

Favorite film
Being There

Best vacation ever
Africa

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers
Selecting new foods and inventory

If I weren’t a pet business owner…
I’d be a anti-poaching officer.

Current life goal:
To have time to travel and see friends and family more often.

I am happiest when…
I am working in the emergency shelters.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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