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Retailer of the Year: Pets Naturally

This Traverse City, Mich., store centers on giving pets happy homes and healthful food, treats and supplements.


The Pets Naturally crew, starting from the left: Larissa Hunter, Tanya McLeod, Andrea Margelis, Julie Winkler, Mary Flees, Kathy Hyland

It’s the quintessential tale of commitment to the rescue of furry four-legged creatures. Sebastian wandered the streets, frightened and alone, before a good Samaritan scooped the Yorkie up and delivered him to the safe haven of Pets Naturally, Pet Product News International’s 2015-2016 Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Rescue Partner.

The crew of the Traverse City, Mich., retailer mobilized immediately.

“We took him to the humane society to see if he was microchipped,” said Kathy Hyland, owner of Pets Naturally. “He had a chip, but it was not registered.”

After numerous telephone calls, the veterinary office issuing the microchip was located, but beyond a name, no current owner information existed. Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally, went on a deeper investigation.

“I found the owner on Facebook and messaged her,” Margelis said. “I even called an employer listed on her page in an effort to get in contact.”

Not stopping there, after the police were apprised of Sebastian’s plight, Margelis jumped in her own car to cruise the neighborhood in search of “lost pet” signs. In the meantime, the owner notified the humane society and was advised that the diminutive terrier had found shelter at Pets Naturally.

It was a happy ending, and a delighted Sebastian went home.

“The entire process took about four hours,” Margelis said.

Lucy to the Rescue
However, another terrier ushered Pets Naturally into existence, none other than Hyland’s own beloved Boston, Lucy.

“Lucy had a yeast infection throughout her body; she was really sick,” Hyland said. “At the time, I wasn’t educated about pet nutrition, but after much research, I was able to nurse her back to health by feeding [her] a nutritious diet.”

Hyland’s studies sparked a passion for the proper care and feeding of pets, and she envisioned a role of helping others to achieve the same level of understanding. This enthusiasm led to volunteer work at area shelters and rescues, and her grasp of sound pet nutrition expanded. 

It was a natural transition for Hyland to open her own endeavor in 2013, with a focus on pet health. No stranger to independent business, Hyland has been operating a floor-covering business for many years with her husband, Tim.

“We had no pet supply store in our area,” Hyland said. “I had to order everything online. I found Andrea to manage the store, and she put together all the product lines.”

Margelis brought her veterinary hospital experience to the venture, as well as a childhood spent under the watchful eye of a mother who was the proprietor of a vitamin store.

“We were really healthy growing up, and so were our pets,” Margelis said.

Healthful Food Leads to Healthy Pets
The light and airy 2,500-square-foot, pet-friendly store is decorated in warm, rustic woods and distinctive artwork. 

“Our store isn’t full of product banners advertising food—we have cute canvasses of dogs and cats,” Margelis said. “It’s very unique.”

The store presents a boutiquelike ambiance upon entering, but there’s more to the shop than meets the eye.

“We carry a wide variety of foods, along with treats, toys, collars and leashes. We stock items that you won’t find in other pet stores.”

“We are a holistic pet supply store with an entire wall devoted to health supplements,” Margelis said. “We carry a wide variety of foods, along with treats, toys, collars and leashes. We stock items that you won’t find in other pet stores.”

Supplements run the gamut from Chinese herbs and flower essences to glucosamine or chondroitn. In addition, Pets Naturally works closely with a local holistic veterinarian to provide referrals and present educational seminars to Pets Naturally customers.

“We have covered subjects like cat and dog nutrition, an acupuncture overview and how to treat with Chinese herbs,” Margelis said. “We also have provided refreshments at veterinary presentations taking place at our local Cherryland Humane Society.”

The store’s dehydrated, kibble, canned, freeze-dried and frozen-raw dog and cat foods contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and are U.S. or Canada sourced, with a few foods from New Zealand.

“We are very picky about what we carry,” she added. “We go through all the ingredient panels. We also make sure the vitamin packs haven’t come from China.”

Locally baked dog treats are displayed on a rack, and members of the Pets Naturally Birthday Club savor a frosted happy birthday cookie on their special day. In addition to the celebratory goodie, a bag of samples, treats and coupons await the birthday dog or cat. Members also receive a happy birthday email.

Championing Happy Homes
A special pack from Pets Naturally provides new pet owners with a checklist of necessities, food samples, treats and discount coupons for items such as leashes or collars, treats and food.

Along these same lines, newly adopted pets and their owners are presented with a congratulatory adoption packet.

“Adoptive pet parents receive their Pets Naturally packet at the rescue or shelter,” Hyland said.

Adoption days take place every weekend at Pets Naturally to benefit the humane society and other local rescue organizations. Events are promoted on Facebook and through television and radio via public service announcements.

“I have a bigger budget with the flooring store, so we are able to get announcements on the air to promote pet adoption,” Hyland said. “Last winter we held a Photos With Santa event to benefit AC Paws, a local rescue. I called in all the television stations to help with promotions, and the response was unbelievable. The event was a huge success.”

Pets Naturally defrays the cost of fees for any dogs adopted during in-store adoption events, and extraordinary measures occasionally are called in to ensure a loving family for a homeless pet.

“There was a dog that we hosted many times at our adoption events,” Hyland said. “I offered to pay for his food for six months, and he found a home. I think we still are paying for his food.”

Additionally, Pets Naturally arranges regular food drives to benefit the humane society. For these events, customers donate bags of food to be delivered to the shelter. The latest drive contributed $2,500 in food to the facility.

Moreover, Pets Naturally also supplies food to the humane society on a regular basis.

“We feed all the grain-free dogs,” Hyland said.

Beyond adoption days and other in-store events, Hyland noted that Pets Naturally participates in local events pertaining to pets. For example, staffers operate a booth at Bark at the Park, put on by HANDDS (Helping Abused Neglected Disabled Displaced Souls), where they hand out food samples and provide educational support to encourage proper nutrition.

“We try to assist in any way we can if there’s an animal in need,” Hyland said. “We are very conscientious about pets and nutrition. We care and give as much as possible.”

Recently, a Pets Naturally fundraiser took place to raise monies to provide veterinary services to a humane society cat in need of a leg amputation.

“We raised funds using social media and then matched the difference, so the cat was able to receive the necessary medical care,” Hyland said.

Community Collaboration
When it comes to competing with big-box stores, Margelis noted that the locals tend to patronize independent businesses within the community.

“Plus, the big boxes don’t carry the same products at all,” Hyland said.

Familiarity with all members of the pet community is a crucial component to the Pets Naturally credo.

“We are all about networking,” Hyland said. “We know all of the rescues, veterinarians, groomers, trainers and dog sitters.”

Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival held every July. Upward of 500,000 people come to town to take part in the festivities, and inventory during the summer months changes to accommodate this influx.

“We see an increase in food sales at this time,” Margelis said. “A lot of tourists tend to forget to bring pet food on their vacation.”

Additionally, when the “snow birds” flock home to northern climes during the summer months, sales of raw food tends to increase.

“However, we have seen a big jump in some of our freeze-dried foods, so now the local people are buying more raw,” she added.

Getting the word out about Pets Naturally includes Facebook and social media, as well as a monthly newsletter featuring informative articles, coupons and the latest news on in-store events.

“People love this store and I’m proud to say that,” Hyland said. “They come in and literally say, ‘Thank you for being here, we really appreciate it.’”  



This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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