PERSPECTIVES & ADVICE FROM AROUND THE INDUSTRY
Pet Product News: What are the top-selling products in
your store right now?
Jenna Wilson: Orijen Original, NutriSource
Grain-Free Chicken, Acana Free-Run Poultry—high-quality, grain-free foods.
PPN: What are your favorite products right now?
JW: Any and all raw foods—all six of my animals are raw fed, and we are huge proponents
of raw feeding.
PPN: What trend have you been keeping your eye on most
JW: The consolidation of the pet industry into
the hands of big players. While this does pro-
vide a challenge to small retailers like me in
terms of being able to compete with larger
conglomerates, I also think this pattern of
consolidation is unsustainable and, ultimate-
ly, not what the end consumer wants. I am
interested in seeing how it plays out.
PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the
process of tackling?
JW: As grain-free foods become more popular
and customers learn that they need a meat-based food, I have been keeping an eye on
large manufacturers cashing in on this trend
with low-quality, high-carbohydrate and low-meat grain-free formulas at low prices. This is
the biggest threat to my business: low-quality
foods masquerading as high-quality foods.
PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve
JW: We are looking to add delivery to our
business model to try to compete with online
Jenna Wilson, owner of Patton Avenue Pet Co., which has three stores in Asheville, N.C.
Years in business:
Type of business: brick-and-mortar with a small online store
Special services: nail trim clinics, adoption events, breed meet-ups and other special events
BY B.C. HENSCHEN
“The pet industry is recession proof.” “You can’t lose
money dealing with pets!” “People will cut their own
spending before spending less on Fido!”
I’m sure you have all heard those lines tossed about,
and if you look at all the acquisitions and mergers in our
industry, you might come to believe it. When I started my
business, I had one primary distributor. That distributor
had about 80 percent of what I carried in my store. A few
years later, there were four primary distributors serving
my store, each with about 20 percent of what I sold. In a
few more years, most of those distributors had been pur-
chased by other distributors. I’m down to two distributors
serving my store, and they are the two distributors that
seem to be buying up everyone.
For the most part, these distributor mergers and consolidations have little effect on my business. I can still get
the product that I sell, but I might not have the luxury of
getting a brand from two different distributors because
of exclusive territories. I also don’t know everybody in
the office anymore. Those distributors have call centers in
other states and lots of departments. The days of walking
into the distributor;s office to say hello to the owner are
What’s important for us micro independents to keep
in mind is that we need to stay up front with our distrib-
utors and manufacturers. Typically, micro independents
are ;in;uencers;” they tend to in;uence the pet market
beyond the area that their store is in. For example, many
micro independents will appear on local media as a pet
expert. They also will be part of local pet events and con-
tribute to the pet community in their geographic areas
more than a large chain or big-box store might. When
manufacturers know a micro independent is in;uencing
the market, they are more likely to support that micro
in ways that extend beyond what their “spreadsheet of
sales” might dictate.
A lot of the products a distributor handles do not have
an area sales rep, or they have a sales rep who visits only
once or twice a year. There is no way this representative
can fully understand your business from just one or two
visits and looking at your sales. In the old days, the distributor really was your spokesperson to the manufacturers. They could help manipulate deals, advertising dollars
and more. The problem with bigger consolidated distributors is more territory, less reps and more automation,
which means less personalization for the micros.
The hunt for more of these golden pet dollars has led
to consolidation in other segments of the overall pet industry as well. How many pet foods have changed hands
in the past 10 years? Procter & Gamble Co. bought Natura
Pet to add a holistic component to its massive pet food
line, and then turned around and sold all of its pet line
to Mars. It appears Mars wants all the dollars, because it
just didn’t stop with foods. It also bought VCA Animal
Hospitals, and with that purchase, it became the largest
owner of veterinary hospitals in North America.
One might think that’s about it for major industry
moves—distributors, pet food manufacturers and veterinary care. What else could be happening? Well, you
forgot about the ingredient suppliers. Archer Daniels
Midland (ADM), an ingredient supplier, is acquiring
Crosswind Industries, a manufacturer of pet food and
treat products. ADM sells to 70 percent of all pet food
companies in North America, so now it can also make
the food it has the ingredients for. Performance Pet, a canning facility, was acquired by Farmers Union Industries, a
feed/grease/byproducts company. Interesting mix there.
Acquisition and consolidation isn’t just for the major
industry players; it affects brick;and;mortar as well. ;ack;s
Pet in the Midwest was purchased by Pet Valu, and there
was talk that the company would open up another 100
locations in the Midwest. Pet Valu is already huge with
something like 500 stores in North America. You don’t
have to have 100 stores to acquire more, just take a look
at Bentley’s Pet Stuff. It has acquired at least half a doz-
en locations and opened many more. Bentley’s is unique
because it did get some help and guidance from the in-
vestment T; show ; The ;rofit” to the tune of more than
a million dollars.
These are just some of the mergers that have crossed
my news feeds in the past couple years. I’m sure there
have been many more because everybody wants some of
that “recession-proof money.”
Mergers/acquisitions/takeovers are probably always
going to be a part of this industry and really present another opportunity to make loyal customers. I talk about
the different changes in brands on my social media and
in my store. I want people to know a company they have
been loyal to might not be the same company anymore.
I want people to know when a food has switched manufacturing locations. I let them know if I think it’s a good or
bad thing. More important, I let customers know that they
don’t have to worry about these changes in our industry
because they are buying at my store. I am staying on top
of these changes, and if I think the change will affect the
safety or quality of a product, I won’t carry it anymore.
B.C. HENSCHEN, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a
partner in PLATINUM PAWS, a full-service
pet salon and premium pet food store
in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet
food industry makes Platinum Paws the
go-to store for pet owners who want
more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.
Mergers and acquisitions at every level of the pet industry are inevitable, so it’s best to just stay abreast of the changes and adapt accordingly.
Keeping an Eye on Consolidation
Patton Avenue Pet Co. focuses on high-quality fare.
Fixating on Food