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Pet Industry Leadership Summit Hits New Peaks


Economist Brian Beaulieu is a favorite among conference goers. 

Boasting a new name, a condensed format and a strong focus on the pet market’s most pressing topics, the Pet Industry Leadership Summit 2020 hosted many of the trade’s top executives in mid-January at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego. While the event offered up two full days of speaker presentations that delved into issues ranging from pet food to what industry leaders can learn from adventure racing, for many attendees, the opportunity to network and meet up with long-distance peers helped make the trip an imperative. 

“The networking just can’t be beat,” said Laura “Peach” Reid, president and CEO of Fish Mart in West Haven, Conn., and a member of the board of directors of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). “Attendees were all leaders in their various positions in the pet community, and the conference lends itself to supporting the camaraderie we all experienced.”

Attendees include executives from pet product manufacturers and pet specialty retailers. However, Mark Smith, founder, owner and president of Frontier Distributing, based in Oxford, Mich., said the Summit, which was held Jan. 13-15, is a special opportunity for distributors in particular. 

“Networking and being visible along with other independent distributors, letting the industry know that we are alive and well, is the most beneficial aspect for us,” Smith said.

Steve King, CEO of the American Pet Products Association (APPA), a co-organizer of the event along with the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) and World Pet Association (WPA), said the organizers’ yearly goal is to increase attendance, particularly among retailers, with one especially potent lure being the networking experience the show provides. 

“The Summit provides so many opportunities to network and share ideas and concerns that simply don’t exist in any other forum,” King said. 

The message does seem to be spreading, as Summit 2020 drew a larger crowd than the previous year, according to Celeste Powers, president of PIDA. 

“Attendance grew by 10 percent this year with more than 250 attendees,” she said “This was a positive result of the schedule changes.”

Among the key changes was the more compact format that shaved a day off of the event, allowing for two days of presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities, preceded by a day of golf and a tour of the San Diego Zoo.

“This was done to provide maximum value in a shortened timeframe,” Powers said. “These are very busy executives, and their time is important.”

Not new this year, however, was the carefully selected lineup of speakers. 

“We kept the all-important three featured world-class keynotes and panel presentation, as well as the PIDA Executive Conferences,” Powers added. “These are the ‘core’ of the program, with thought-inspired sessions and relationship building. The breakout sessions were changed to not have concurrent speakers. This too proved successful, with all breakouts having packed rooms and maximum attendance.”

Speakers included Michael Johnson of Finn Cady Marketing & Professional Services discussing the evolving demographics of today’s pet owners and Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard, who delivered the second day keynote presentation on Trump, Tech, Trade, Turbulence and the 2020 Election. Among the most talked about presenters was economist Brian Beaulieu, of ITR Economics, who returned to the Summit again this year to offer his predictions of what’s to come for the industry and the global economy as a whole. 

“I enjoyed his analysis and perspective on the economy,” said Frank Hon, president of sales and marketing for San Diego-based product manufacturer Replenish Pet. “It was relevant to our industry and provided an outside perspective, which is important.”

Beaulieu’s prognosis for the U.S. pet market was upbeat overall, although he did warn that businesses should be prepared for a “flattening out” of growth that appears to be on the horizon in a couple of years.

“Brian’s predications mean a lot to me, as his record of successfully predicting the future is truly remarkable, so I believe what he says and will plan accordingly,” Reid said. “The good news is that the pet industry historically performs better than the overall economy in good times and bad, and there is no reason to think this won’t continue.”

The event’s welcome and keynote speaker, Robyn Benincasa, also struck a chord with attendees. A well-known motivational speaker, Benincasa is a world champion adventure racer, who used her experiences on winning—and sometimes losing—teams as examples of effective teamwork and inspired leadership. 

“I liked to learn about her struggles and her determination as a woman in a fierce competitive environment,” said Neda Khorami, co-owner of Independent Pet Supply, a distributor in Snohomish, Wash. “Like Robyn, I also [work] in a competitive environment.”

Khorami added that while the industry-focused sessions are informative, presentations such as Benincasa’s offer up something different. 

“I really enjoy learning about the industry as a whole and where it’s going; however, the inspirational talks, on the other hand, give me the sense of positive emotions that broaden my sense of possibilities and open my mind even more, which in turn allows me to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of my life.”

Smith also praised Benincasa’s presentation.  

“[She] was very interesting and inspiring, [and] showed what the human spirit can really do if we let go of preconceived notions at times,” he said. 
Summit 2021 will be held Jan. 25-27 at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., a location that King predicts will in and of itself be a draw. 

“Next year’s conference will be in South Florida, where we have historically had higher attendance, so I expect that we will build on the increase we had this year,” he said.

Powers added that feedback from January’s Summit will inform the development of next year’s event. 

“Obviously, we haven’t started the planning yet,” she said, “but I can assure you, that the organizing associations will be building upon the successes of this year as we plan.”

Reid has already thrown in her endorsement of the 2021 Summit, saying, “I would encourage anyone that is a decision-maker in their organization or business to attend next year!” 

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