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APPA Commemorates Its Diamond Anniversary

Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association (APPA), talks to Pet Product News about what the organization has planned for its 60th anniversary celebration, how the organization has grown in that time and what the next 60 years might look like.


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Pet Product News: How will APPA commemorate its 60th anniversary? 

Bob Vetere: APPA is going to kick off our 60th anniversary celebration at this year’s Global Pet Expo [March 21-23 in Orlando, Fla.]. We will be having a reception with our industry friends and colleagues to thank them for a wonderful 60 years in the business. We also plan on doing a series of fun videos to share online, again, honoring those who we’ve worked with over the years: our members, other organizations and individuals, and, of course, the pets. APPA will also be publishing a series of education information, via social and traditional media, highlighting the industry through the years. We plan to talk about what we’ve learned, where we came from and what has changed. Knowledge of our history is crucial for shaping the future. It’s like Eduardo Galeano once said, “History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.’”

PPN: Take us back a ways and describe APPA’s beginnings to give us a sense of how much it has grown and how far it has come.

Vetere: Going from 17 members in 1958 to more than 1,200 members in 2018, we’ve come a long way from our beginnings. Founded by Allan Levey in 1958, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), as it was originally named, resulted from just 17 manufacturers banding together to take a chance on the pet industry in general. Each original member contributed about $1,000, and they came up with enough money to pay for the association’s first executive director, Julian Ross. While initially the pet industry itself wasn’t much of anything and certainly never predicted to be a multibillion-dollar industry, it was an opportune time for startups and entrepreneurs with some capital to get into an industry that showed some potential. As that growth ensued, no longer was this an industry where everyone knew everyone. Now there was a need for a central venue for meeting new people and companies, sharing ideas and conducting business. 

The very first APPMA show took place at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago from June 26-28, 1959. It was open to members, manufacturers in the U.S. only, or by invitation only and held in a showroom. There were no retailers; only distributors were allowed to attend. Business was fairly simple back then; manufacturers sold product to the distributors, who sold it to independent retailers, who then sold it to the consumers. Eventually, more and more product was made overseas, thus opening membership up to international manufacturers, and big-box retailers entered the picture. APPA eventually dropped “manufacturers” from its name as the name change was designed to allow APPA to contribute to more industrywide initiatives like Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), the Pet Leadership Council (PLC) and the Pets Add Life (PAL) program.

​PPN: What, currently, are APPA’s main goals and objectives?

Vetere: The main goals of APPA are to promote responsible pet care and advance the pet products industry. As a trade association, APPA provides a wealth of services and programs designed to help its members prosper. This includes Global Pet Expo, government and regulatory affairs, market research and additional industry support beyond direct services.

PPN: What role does the organization seek to play in the industry for its various participants, most notably product manufacturers and, by extension, their pet specialty retail partners?

Vetere: APPA is the largest international trade association dedicated to helping pet and equine products manufacturers, their representatives, importers, and live animal suppliers cultivate their business and earn greater profits. With that, we provide a wide variety of direct services and educational tools designed to help members prosper. We hold ourselves to very high standards and incorporate a high level of professionalism in all that we do. And we are the organization that hosts the must-attend premier industry event of the year, Global Pet Expo. A show that is above and beyond others in the industry, providing members eligibility to exhibit at the largest annual trade show in the industry, thus giving their business the best possible chance for success. We take great pride in our reputation, and because we’ve been in the industry so long, our advisory and parental role in a sense allows our members, and by extension their pet specialty retail partners, to know, “You’re in good company.”

PPN: APPA has had very strong and stable leadership over the years. What makes the management team of the organization so effective and strong?

Vetere: We have great employee retention, which is crucial for building up a company. We like to promote within, when we can, and that has really worked out for us in the past. Everyone on staff has a specific area of focus and brings a unique talent set to the table, and all work together to accomplish our goals. We’re very lucky to have the team that we have today, and, at the end of the day, it’s the passion of the people we’ve chosen to have on our team that makes it all work. We’ve also been fortunate to have the continued leadership of a strong board of directors.

PPN: What are some of the most significant markers or moments of APPA’s amazing evolution over the past 60 years and its rise to being a leading organization in the pet industry? 

  • 1958–APPMA is formed
  • 1970–APPMA creates the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) as a way to address legal issues in Washington and ensure that new laws wouldn’t shut the business down completely
  • 1988–Launch of the APPMA National Pet Owners Survey
  • 1990–Pet Care Trust formed 
  • 2002–APPMA welcomes international members 
  • 2002–APPMA launches its nationwide campaign to grow pet ownership, Pets Add Life
  • 2005–APPMA joins forces with the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) to launch Global Pet Expo
  • 2008–APPMA changes its name to APPA
  • 2009–The APPMA Professional Women’s Network was formed
  • 2010–APPA leads the formation of Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) 
  • 2012–Pet industry and animal welfare organizations join forces to tackle “puppy mills” and create breeder standards
  • 2013–APPA leads formation of the Pet Leadership Council (PLC)
  • 2015–APPA forms the pet industry’s first-ever Young Professionals Group
  • 2015–Pet industry surpasses $60 billion mark for first time ever
  • 2016–APPA, along with PIDA and PIJAC, co-host the inaugural Pet Industry Leadership Conference
  • 2016–Purdue University launches national breeder certification program Canine Care Certified
  • 2016–HABRI and the PLC join forces to host Pet Night on Capitol Hill

PPN: Let’s talk specifically about the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. This has become a premier source of market research on all things pet. This, too, has evolved. What is the significance of this publication to the pet industry, and to APPA’s identity and role within it? 

Vetere: APPA published the first National Pet Owners Survey 30 years ago, and it was only a couple hundred pages—something we physically mailed to our members. Now our latest survey has nearly tripled that in size, and while we still offer the “phone book” version, as I like to call it, we also offer a nice and convenient digital version that can be emailed to our members. It was back then and still is the most comprehensive compilation of pet owner data available. The survey monitors consumer habits on an ongoing basis in order to identify short- and long-term trends in pet ownership, product and service consumption, and lifestyle and media habits.

APPA surveys our membership and conducts “research on research” to ensure that we use the best research practices and provide the topics and areas of study that are most important to our members. Its robust content is quoted daily by nationwide and global media outlets and is highly utilized by all facets of the industry and those entering the industry. The survey, recognized and trusted as the leading data resource of its kind, provides objective and actionable consumer insights and market intelligence.
New this year, APPA now offers infographs and topical mini-reports to present readers with data visualization tools and “deep dives” into specific Pet Owners Survey data topics.

PPN: Of course, Global Pet Expo is also a huge part of what APPA brings to the table in the industry. Tell us a bit about its growth over the years, its place and role within the industry, and where it is likely to head in the future.

Vetere: Global Pet Expo has set the standards in the industry when it comes to doing business. The levels of expectations are high, and the quality you’re going to get from our exhibitors, attendees and staff is unlike any other. This really set the bar for other industry events to follow. If you look at where Global Pet Expo started in terms of attendees and exhibitors to what it is today, it’s safe to say we’ve made it possible for new companies to enter the industry and not only survive, but actually thrive.

The first Global Pet Expo was in 2005 in Orlando, Fla. To better serve the industry, APPA and PIDA joined forces to merge their own trade shows into Global Pet Expo—combining the strengths of each into a show that has far exceeded expectations. It was a big step in making one less show—and one less extra trip—and resulted in a much larger, more encompassing representation of the pet product industry. Global Pet Expo, recently named the Greatest Show on Earth by Trade Show Executive Magazine, is now the world’s largest annual pet products trade show and, in 2017, featured more than 343,700 net square feet of exhibit space with 6,761 buyers in attendance, more than 3,000 new pet product launches, 1,130 exhibiting companies and 3,437 booths sold. Total show attendance came to nearly 15,500 people.

In terms of Global Pet Expo’s future, as the industry’s premier event, we fully expect Global Pet Expo to continue breaking records across the board both in terms of attendance and size. There has never been a more exciting time to be a part of this booming industry, and there’s no better place to witness this than at Global Pet Expo! More exhibitors and attendees continue to choose this show to debut or seek out the latest innovations in pet products because they realize they are amongst the best of the best in the industry.

PPN: The organization has nurtured and supported a host of complementary pet industry organizations. Tell us about these relationships and APPA’s commitment to expanding its reach and advocacy in the industry through these organizations.

Vetere: As the pet industry’s leading association, APPA has worked to grow and support the industry in many ways beyond the direct services APPA provides its members and retailers through Global Pet Expo. Over the past six years, we have supported the pet industry with an unprecedented $10 million. These contributions have driven and sustained significant programs designed to strengthen our industry, increase pet ownership, and build awareness of the joys and health benefits of pet ownership. Here’s a look at what we’ve done:

Human Animal Bond Research Institute 

In 2010, APPA took the lead in uniting the industry to form a new organization dedicated to gathering, funding and sharing the scientific research that demonstrates the positive health impacts of animals on people. Since its inception, HABRI has served as a rallying point for a growing assembly of companies ranging from manufacturers, distributors and retailers to veterinarians and animal health organizations, all with the common goal of scientifically validating that pets are good for human health.  

HABRI is the one-stop resource for scientific research and information on the human-animal bond and has developed the most comprehensive online repository with more than 28,000 entries and growing. The foundation has also awarded $2 million in grants for new research showing the health benefits of pets. 

Pets Add Life 

APPA’s PAL program was started in 2002 as a public service announcement effort and has since grown into an award-winning, highly impactful social media campaign garnering hundreds of thousands of followers, millions of impressions, and has become one of the leading voices for promoting pet adoption and responsible pet ownership. Through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, active and engaged PAL fans and followers are able to help spread our message to millions of their peers. 
Most recently, PAL has focused its energy on reaching the newest generation of pet owners, millennials, by rebranding the campaign and creating new content to appeal to the unique demographic.  

Pet Care Trust

APPA has long been a sponsor of the Pet Care Trust, whose mission is to promote public understanding of the joys and benefits of pets through education, support and interaction, primarily through the Pets in the Classroom grant program.

To date, Pets in the Classroom has issued more than 56,600 grants to teachers, and nearly 2 million children have experienced the joys and benefits of pet care since the program’s inception.

With a goal of introducing 5 million children in 100,000 classrooms to pets and the benefits they provide, the Pet Care Trust is hoping to help teachers impact future generations of pet owners through its grant program. 

Pet Leadership Council 

The Pet Leadership Council was formed in 2013 with the mission to promote and celebrate responsible pet ownership; protect the rights of pet owners; ensure a sustainable supply of pets; foster industry commitment to animal care and breeding standards; and support well-founded and meaningful regulatory and legislative initiatives regarding household pets. 

As a unifying, proactive voice for the industry, the PLC members represent manufacturers, distributors, retailers, veterinarians and breeders—all of whom passionately and enthusiastically serve the cause of pet ownership and seek to improve the quality of life for pets and owners alike.

By engaging collective resources, the PLC tackles current issues including responsible breeding and ownership of all pet types, creating higher breeding standards, assisting in disaster relief efforts, conducting pet population assessments, economic impact studies and consumer research, and increasing the availability of pet-friendly housing, while also identifying and addressing future industry needs. 

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council 

APPA has long been a supporter of PIJAC to help the organization in its important function of monitoring live-animal issues. Understanding the critical nature of legislation affecting pets, APPA also lends support through its Washington, D.C.-based law firm Dentons US LLP, in addition to its government affairs department, which monitors product legislation.

Protect Pet Choice

The Protect Pet Choice Alliance is a group of pet industry organizations and companies whose mission is to promote and celebrate responsible pet ownership, protect the rights of pet owners, ensure a sustainable supply of pets, foster industry commitment to animal care and breeding standards, and support well-founded and meaningful regulatory and legislative initiatives regarding household pets.

PPN: What lies ahead for APPA’s next 60 years?

Vetere: Pets are only going to become more and more important in people’s lives and thus, more dollars and attention will be spent on them than ever before. We’ve managed to adapt to major changes in the industry and have even been proactive in anticipating potential challenges affecting the success of the industry in the past six decades. The next 60 years, in some part, will be more of that: anticipating challenges and problem-solving, while at the same time keeping up the excitement, enthusiasm and increased productivity that has been overwhelmingly present in the last few decades. We look forward to evolving relationships with many of the companies who’ve been there with us from the beginning as well as the formation of new relationships, ideas and ways of making this the best industry out there.

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