What is Healthy Pet Products best known for?
Toni Shelaske: Our comprehensive approach to natural remedies through food and
What is the biggest challenge for pet retailers today?
Shelaske: Competing with the online vendors.
Biggest challenge for the pet industry overall?
Shelaske: We need to stay focused on the betterment of pets and not the thickness of our
Are you watching any interesting trends?
Shelaske: The growth of freeze-dried continues to boggle my mind. It’s a hot category, it’s
convenient and looks like kibble, but if you calculate the cost per feeding freeze-dried, it’s also
the most expensive.
For the future of Healthy Pet Products?
Shelaske: We have a north and a south location. I would really like to have east and west
locations. My customers would love that as well.
IT’S A RETAIL LIFE arranged, with can labels and bag edges lined up perfectly, and stickers are carefully placed.
“I like my stores to be clean and odor free; it
makes for a calmer mindset, shoppers are likely to stay longer, and items are easier to find,”
This welcoming environment is heightened
as customers are greeted warmly by name and
enjoy a leisurely browse.
“I believe in a soft sell. Our clients normal-
ly reach out to us when they need assistance,”
she adds. “We are not here just to sell things.
We are here because we truly care.”
In this way, it is not uncommon for associ-
ates to spend an hour or more with a customer
seeking nutritional advice.
“I have one staff member dedicated to con-
sultations. She really knows her stuff,” Shelas-
ke says. “Between the two of us, we really get
down and dirty when it comes to figuring
The free-of-charge sessions normally take
place on the spot but can also be scheduled
ahead of time.
“I know my customers by name,” Shelaske
says. “If I forget a customer’s name, I remem-
ber their pet’s name and, almost 90 percent
of the time, I can recall what food they are
Staffers are encouraged to forge relation-
ships with customers. Many of these associates
were once customers themselves, resulting in a
firm grasp of store principles and product.
“Hiring customers has been unbelievably
successful,” she says. “Generally, I am the one
to approach them to ask if they are interested
in a part-time job.”
Training is accomplished through hands-on
experience, shadowing of more-experienced
sales associates, online and in-store manufac-
turer trainings, and staff meetings.
“Our people learn as they go. It takes time
to acquire the verbiage—for instance, what to
say and do if a customer walks in saying, ‘My
cat is in renal failure,’” Shelaske says.
The nutritional philosophy at Healthy Pet
Products champions a diet of “real” food.
“I tell my customers that the more real
food their pets eat, the better off they will be,”
she says. “I consider this to be home-cooked,
freeze-dried, dehydrated, raw or even canned
because it is moist.”
Goat’s milk is often recommended as an
addition to a kibble-based diet. As a result, the
reduction in the amount of kibble fed will boost
pet health, according to Shelaske.
“I try not to push my views completely, or
to judge. Not everyone wants to let go of kibble
because it’s a comfort factor or there might be
cost prohibitions,” she says. “Over time though,
as pet owners learn the reasoning, they usually
end up switching to better options.”
A wide range of supplements is presented
in the “medicine cabinet” section, an ever-ex-
panding category. When it comes to snack time,
a wholesome array of treats, from freeze-dried
tidbits to biscuits, delight the palates of four-
legged foodies. In addition, a full complement
of leashes, collars, crates, pads, toys and other
pet supplies is available. A limited selection of
small animal products, as well as chicken feed
and supplies, join the mix.
“I try to be a one-stop shop,” Shelaske says.
Locally and USA-sourced products are in
demand and stocked as much as possible.
“This designation is very important to me
and to my customers,” she says. “People in
Pittsburgh are supportive of their neighbors
and want to shop local.”
Environmental awareness is also encouraged and transcends the stores’ yearly Earth
Day celebrations. Mindfulness includes providing reusable totes, with discounts to customers taking advantage of this offering or utilizing their own bags. For raw food shoppers,
logoed freezer bags are supplied.
“Customers often like to take product
home in boxes, so we keep those on hand, too,”
Shelaske says. “It’s sometimes easier to carry
a supply of raw food in a box, and it actually
serves as a little bit of insulation. We also reuse
the trays that canned foods come in.”
SPREADING THE WORD
Pet care and nutritional education is often seasoned with a little fun.
Local pups and their people converge for
a cooling appetizer and a bit of summertime
mingling during Ice Cream Social Saturdays.
“We make our own little individual frozen
freezer pops using Puppy Cake Ice Cream,
which is local to western Pennsylvania,”
Gratitude takes a walk on the festive side
when Healthy Pet Day rolls around. The annual soirée celebrates customers, who stroll the
parking lots of each location to visit with rescue agencies, check out vendor booth offerings
and enjoy a good time.
The fete is tag-lined as a “fun-filled, informative and freebie kind of day,” and it
offers plenty of complimentary samples, canine demonstrations and entertainment for
Beyond the parking lot get-together, customers also gather in-store to enjoy deep shopping discounts.
“It is a huge event, and every year it grows,”
Shelaske says. “It is my biggest volume day.”
When the Healthy Pet Products tent pops
up at community happenings, attendees are
sure to come away with plenty of informative
literature and free samples.
“We don’t sell anything, but our tent is lo-
goed,” Shelaske says. “We try to be present at
all local events.”
As title sponsor of the Pittsburgh Pet Expo
for the past five years, Shelaske has seen the
showcase flourish. Open to the public and
held at the Pittsburgh Convention Center, last
year’s event welcomed 15,000 spectators and
250 vendors, and it included grooming com-
petitions, diving dogs, and gussied-up pets
strutting and sashaying in the costume contest.
“It’s an awesome show,” she says.
When it comes time for a little four-legged
merrymaking, Healthy Pet Products’ own
Pawrty in the Park does not disappoint. Be-
Top: Healthy Pet Products has two retail locations and one grooming operation in the
Bottom: The stores offer a variety of wholesome snacks, from freeze-dried offerings
to biscuits and chews, to satisfy pets’ palates.