The Learning Curve
One of the reasons micro independents are so important to pet owners is because we can change and will continue to change to make life better for pets and their owners. Think about the products on your shelves right now, and think what your store started with. I would guess many of you no longer have all the same brands.
There are many reasons why I stopped carrying particular products throughout the years, but the most prevailing reason is because I learned. I learned more about the foods I was selling, how and where those foods were made, and nutrition.
I’m not the only one learning; manufacturers are as well. Some manufacturers change and reformulate based on the latest nutrition information, and some are simply trying to chase down the all-mighty pet dollar. A great example of marketing versus product betterment is grain-free pet food. It has been interesting to watch the evolution through the years. The first commercially available grain-free kibble was a great product and had a lot of research behind it. When that product was released, traditional pet food manufacturers attacked it in every way they could. They had blogs and seminars about how it was just a fad diet and not the best nutrition for pets. Every one of those companies now has a grain-free diet in the marketplace.
What’s important is that learning doesn’t stop. Even that first grain-free manufacturer reformulated a few years after the launch because it had a lot more data it could look at and a lot more feedback from both consumers and experts.
It’s not just grain free; it’s anything that is contrary to the traditional way of doing things. In the beginning of my store, raw and “real foods” were heavily condemned, and while that has changed a little, that segment is still under attack. I remember sitting in a seminar where the lecturer was advising new stores not to get “manipulated” into selling raw with the promise of a free freezer. He talked about the safety concerns with raw and how it would be hard to move because it’s too expensive. I did one of those deals to get a free freezer, and, 15 years later, raw is one of the things that continues to bring people through my door.
I, like most of you, got into this business to help pets live longer, healthier lives. My 15-year-old German shepherd Luke passed away recently after a long, healthy life. Losing my partner was certainly difficult, and I have lost pets before, but this was actually the first time that I didn’t have the “what ifs.” What if I had done things differently? What if I had fed him better? What if I had gone to the veterinarian earlier? I know, without a doubt, that I did the best for Luke throughout his life.
Health issues with pets have skyrocketed. When a pet dies, cancer is a word that is often heard. Obesity and diabetes are often mentioned as well. I firmly believe that many of the foods marketed today are at the root of these issues.
We need to help our customers navigate through the marketing spin and half-truths. We need to stay on top of the information coming out and make sure that we don’t stay stuck in the past. You know, at one point everyone thought the world was flat! It takes a lot of time and reading to get through all of the muck, but not only are we helping our customers and their pets, but we are also helping the industry as a whole. If people continue to lose pets to disease at early ages, they will stop opening their hearts to pets.
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.