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We are excited to have Global Pet Food in the west end of Guelph, Ontario as our first Spotlight of 2013. Stephanie, Carrie, and Dan opened their store on December 12, 2012 and have worked very hard to build a business in a new neighbourhood.

Dan, Carrie, and Stephanie

They worked particularly hard to endorse Carna4. Initially, the lesser-known foods moved slowly and the owners were prepared to drop all their higher end foods until they had built a stronger relationship with their new clientele. Here is an excerpt from an email between Dan and Carna4, in which he explains how he got Carna4 rolling:

Thanks to our store cats, we noticed a few damaged bags of Carna4 (that we weren’t) able to return or sell. We decided to give one to a customer who had a Rottweiler named Tex who could not put any weight on. Three weeks later, she came in for another bag. She said that he had put on 2 lbs. Now, Tex has gained the proper amount of weight for his size, and the vet says that he is in tiptop shape.

This has turned out to be a great success story. We truly appreciate Stephanie, Carrie, and Dan for educating themselves on the unique features of Carna4 and making the effort to recommend it. We recently caught up with Stephanie to see how things have progressed during their first year.  Here is a summary of our conversation:

Hi Stephanie. Can you please tell us a little about yourself, your sister Carrie, and Dan? How did you get into pet food?

We came to Guelph over 10 years ago. Carrie and I are teachers and we run a learning center out of our home. We wanted to commercialize it, but with junior- and senior-kindergarten moving to all day, it wasn’t practical and we had to find another plan. We have had pets our entire lives but never thought of pets as a career. However, it was suggested to us and the more we researched it, the more it made sense. And we have found many similarities to teaching.

What do you think are some keys to running a successful pet food store?

Customer service is definitely number one. We have experience communicating with people from our time teaching. And not just the typical aspects of customer service but just being there. Customers want to know you are there for them.

Also, being in the same boat helps. We have had lots of experience (good and bad) with our pets. So we’ve been there too.  Be able to relate to customers on a personal level and come from an educated background. You have to know what you are talking about and help people understand it. You have to be a resource. Included in that are connections to other professionals in the field. Have the backing and support for what you do. Other people we can get information from like vets and company reps. Other professionals we can refer pet owners to. If customers are patient with the network of support they will get somewhere.

Do you have any comments on the current trends in pet food? What do pet owners want?

I think pet owners are opening up their minds. They are not so scared about price anymore compared to what’s at grocery stores. They are opening up to new products. They understand you get what you pay for. And more and more people are putting animals (like their children) ahead of themselves. More investment in their care and health. Dogs and cats are really becoming family members.

Owners also have resources like the Internet. People are taking a proactive role in their health and now their pet’s health too. When people visit the doctor they may have a list of possibilities of what the problem might be because they have researched it. Same goes for pet owners. This has created a more honest relationship with their vets. And I think people appreciate specialty stores because they can find what they are looking for. A store like ours can give feedback they want so they know they are on the right track.

You recently had a Customer Appreciation Week to celebrate your first year as well as a holiday promotion. How did these events go? How else are you involved with the community?

We talk a lot with customers and everyone is part of something. So we try to attend as many events we are invited to as we can. We did a greyhound BBQ and an Easter Egg hunt. We have a rapport with dog walkers. We support the ones we know. Customers always ask for recommendations like a good dog walker, vet, etc. so we have to know where to send people. We are part of a whole gamut of support.

For Christmas we gave out stockings. Our customers really appreciated it and we received great feedback. We actually got a new Carna4 customer because of the sample in a stocking we sent home with someone. A little can go a long way.

We would really like to thank Stephanie for taking the time to speak with us and share her experience in pet food retail. We wish her, Carrie and Dan all the best in 2013!