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How Are Distributors Driving Growth for Independent Pet Retailers?

Celeste Powers, the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA)’s new president, reveals the answer, plus she talks about PIDA’s latest initiatives and distribution’s evolving role in the industry.


As Celeste Powers stepped in to her new role as the president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) in late 2018, she knew she had “big shoes to fill.” Steven King, now the president of the American Pet Products Association (APPA), had been with the organization for nearly 30 years. Powers, however, was not an unknown entity. King called her an energetic leader whom he had known professionally for years. PIDA, he said as he took leave of the presidency, would be in good hands under her leadership.

Powers came to the position with many years’ worth of experience in nonprofit association management roles. Most recently, she served as the executive director of Beacon, Networking for Life, a professional networking association of business leaders in the mid-Atlantic region, after serving more than a decade as executive director of the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association in Alexandria, Va. 

Powers recently talked with Pet Product News, sharing with us news on her first months with the organization and the initiatives she is most closely involved with, as well as a look at the pet industry distribution channel and how these companies continue to drive growth for independent specialty retailers. 

Pet Product News: Your tenure as PIDA president kicked off last fall as your predecessor, Steve King, took a new position at APPA. How has your first year gone so far? Has anything surprised you about the pet industry?

Celeste Powers: I can’t believe how fast my first 10 months have gone. I’m really thrilled that I have gotten off to a great start. It’s always difficult to step in to the shoes of a 30-year veteran like Steve King, but I feel like I’ve been able to quickly get involved and learn about this dynamic industry and the very important role that the distributors play in the supply chain for the pet industry. I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from the PIDA Board and fabulous staff and, of course, Steve King. 

Working closely with the other groups like APPA, PIJAC, WPA and HABRI has been very beneficial. One thing that really has surprised and amazed me is what a unified industry it is and how we’re all working together for our common goal of fostering the human-companion animal bond. By attending these other organizations’ meetings, it has enabled me to learn and understand the many facets of our industry in a very short amount of time. 

PPN: Give us a little bit of background about PIDA in general and how it supports distributor members specifically. 

Powers: PIDA was created in 1968, and our mission and focus, which really has always been the same, is to enhance the well-being of the wholesaler-distributor, to promote partnerships with their suppliers and customers, and to work cooperatively in fostering the human-companion animal bond. Obviously, what has changed is the consolidation of the industry. Nevertheless, this has not reduced the value of the distributors in the supply chain. Although distributors are fewer in number than in years past, the volume of products and dollars flowing through the channel is greater than ever.

PIDA remains committed to supporting our distributor members through the resources we offer on their behalf, specifically Pet Store Pro, our free online training for independent retailers. PIDA has invested more than a million dollars into this program over the last 11 years, continually updating courses, as well as developing new and pertinent courses. Pet Store Pro is a powerful resource for independent pet retailers to keep their stores running smoothly and profitably with easy-to-use online training for employees and store managers.

PIDA also continues to organize the Global Pet Expo Academy. At our recent show, we had more than 1,900 attendees. Taking it to the next level by offering year-around education, PIDA created a free webinar series for Pet Store Pro users as well as Global Pet Expo retailer attendees. This year, PIDA is offering five free one-hour webinars covering different topics to help the retailers grow their business. Retailers can go to globalpetexpo.com for details, which are located under the seminar tab. 

Plus, this year PIDA launched three retailer videos on our Power of D website. The Power of D website illustrates “growth through distribution” and the important role that distributors play in the supply channel. These new videos specifically speak to the important role that our distributors play in providing in-store support, logistical support as well as promotional and education support for their retail customers. The site also has videos on the power of effective distribution and the value to manufacturers and more. As an organization, we’re always thinking about what we can do to continue to enhance these valuable relationships. 

PPN: Can you give us the lay of the land in pet product distribution in general? Given the growth of e-commerce and direct-to-consumer retailing, distributor consolidation and other market conditions, what does the pet product distribution landscape look like right now?

Powers: The pet industry is still in a state of transition with consolidation still going on at the manufacturer, distributor and pet store levels. Change is not new to PIDA, an organization that has been around since before bar codes were on products, before big-box stores existed and before e-commerce arrived. PIDA has always adapted to this changing landscape and championed the value of the distributor as an efficient and effective way to help move products through to the pet owner. 

Without exception, retailer relationships are the biggest asset a distributor brings to the supply chain, and they will continue to build upon these strong relationships.

PPN: What can that landscape tell us about the health of the industry overall?

Powers: As the numbers show, the health of the pet products industry is very strong and continues to grow. This is also evident by the huge success of the 2019 Global Pet Expo, which was presented by APPA and PIDA, where we shattered projected numbers across the board with more than 17,000 attendees. The show experienced remarkable growth across the board with 2019 total buyer attendance up an impressive 8 percent from the 2018 show at 7,029 and up an astonishing 61 percent from the inaugural 2005 show. International buyers, representing 81 countries, made up 29 percent of the buyer attendance, a 4 percent increase over last year.

That is a strong statement to the health of this industry overall.

PPN: What are some of the key challenges that these distributors are facing and how does PIDA help them face those challenges? 

Powers: This goes to what I spoke about earlier with consolidation and how my members are always adapting to the changing landscape and continuing to build up their partnerships with their suppliers and customers.

To assist our members in these changing times, in 2017, PIDA surveyed independent retailers to see how well the distributor-retailer relationship is working and found that, while there is room for improvement, most retailers felt that they were treated as a valuable customer by their distributors. They noted that engagement through their distributor sales reps was highly regarded, providing advice, education, sales tools and an understanding of their unique business needs and interests. It provided great insights for our members to continue to build upon these relationships. PIDA is planning to conduct this survey again in 2020.

PPN: In what ways specifically are pet industry distributors responding to these changing market dynamics in the pet industry?

Powers: Specialty distributors will continue to seek out products and manufacturers that provide value, show innovation or meet a retail price point needed by the customer, and then add them to a listing of already industry-proven products. As manufacturers continue to bolster support for non-e-commerce retailers, they will ensure that their future new products will succeed. The specialty distributors are going to continue to be a valuable asset for the industry’s success in this future. 

PPN: Now that you’ve been in the position for several months, have you developed any new goals? What are some of your top initiatives?

Powers: Yes, I have. A top initiative was to put a “new eye” to our leadership conference. After attending the PILC in January—obviously, it’s a great conference, with top-notch speakers and tons of networking opportunities—I felt that there were areas we could improve upon to achieve a broader industry draw of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. It really struck me during our retailer panel at the conference when Lars Wulff, from Mud Bay, made the comment that “this event is the best-kept secret in the pet industry.” Well, that quickly became my goal to change that—a secret no more! 

Another observation I had was that there was this confusion in the conference name. “PILC” and “PLC”—people didn’t know what the difference was, and, honestly, nor did I when I first started. I’m thrilled to announce its new name—“The Summit,” The Pet Industry Leadership Summit. Our goal is to draw leaders from all parts of the industry. We want to focus more on getting retailers there in 2020. It’s a really important networking event, and, in order to accomplish that, you need to have all segments represented. 

The other big change is a consolidated schedule. Demand on everyone’s time is always an issue, and by eliminating a day, this allows attendees to focus on their business relationships at the conference, and then get back to their offices or stores.

Be on the lookout for all of the exciting details. 

PPN: What does the future hold for PIDA? 

Powers: The future remains strong for PIDA and our members. While there may be fewer companies, distributors will continue to provide a valuable service in the pet industry supply chain. Our distributor members are always striving to be aware of the changing dynamics and move to stay ahead of the evolving landscape. And PIDA’s goal is to be there to provide them with the tools and resources to achieve this. 

Celeste M. Powers, CAE, is the new president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). PIDA’s mission is to enhance the well-being of the wholesaler-distributor, to promote partnerships with their suppliers and customers, and to work cooperatively with other organizations in fostering the human/companion animal bond.

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