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Retailers Connect at NexPet Convention


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Attendees embraced the opportunity to have a meeting of minds during the convention's roundtable discussions.

NexPet, a co-op of independent pet specialty retailers, held its 20th Annual Convention, at the Orlando County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on March 19, and it was an event that its members say delivered a concentrated dose of the association’s most-prized benefit—the opportunity to connect with industry peers and share business-building ideas and insights in a noncompetitive environment. 

“[The convention] gave me some great insights,” said Matt Connors, owner of Pets Plus in Londonberry, N.H. “It re-energizes me.”

The convention, held the day before the kick-off of one the industry’s largest annual trade shows, Global Pet Expo, featured a full day of educational seminars and roundtable events, giving retailer attendees an opportunity to gather new information on trending industry topics as well as the chance to discuss their most prevalent issues and the strategies they employ to address those challenges. The day was capped off with what is a essentially a microcosm of the larger event to come—a vendor mini-show featuring approximately 30 manufacturers in various product categories, from pet supplements to toys to small-mammal supplies.

Among the key perks of the show, according to Barry Berman, NexPet co-founder and founder of Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals Pet Food, were the vendor rebates offered during the event and the roundtable discussions, including a discussion among all attendees on store sales tactics, marketing and social media, as well as smaller breakout groups discussing dog and cat nutrition, aquatics retailing and how to defend your stores in the face of growing anti-trade activism. 

“Members enthusiastically contributed ideas,” Berman said. 

Attendees embraced the opportunity to have a meeting of minds, especially among others who share common issues and challenges. 

“We independent retailers have special issues compared to other stores [in other channels], and we’re trying to gain competitive advantages, so we share a lot of ideas with each other, ” said Russell Herman, owner of Pet Saver Superstores, which has four stores in Rochester, N.Y., with two additional stores debuting within the next couple of months.

While Pet Product News was invited to be on hand for the event as an observer, the magazine’s coverage was largely off the record, particularly during the roundtable sessions, allowing for the retailer attendees to speak freely and openly. 

The event also featured keynote speakers retail specialist Phil Wrzesinski of Phil’s Forum in Jackson, Miss., Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM of Naturally Healthy Pets in Woodstown, Mich., and Lindsay Schmuecker of Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb.

“With our speakers and solution providers at the mini-show, we provided professional advice that a single store owner could not access on their own,” Berman added. 

Co-locating the event with Global Pet Expo also has some distinct advantages, Berman said. The association, which has 540 member stores, has held freestanding events in New Jersey and Connecticut in the past; however, many attendees and vendors prefer the convenience of not having to find time in their schedule for yet another event during the year. Attendance to the NexPet Convention only required that participants arrive a day earlier than they would for the larger expo. And, for those who might’ve been on the fence about attending Global Pet Expo, the convention gave them one more compelling reason to head to Orlando this March, Berman added. 

“There’s a synergy there,” Berman said of the NexPet event and Global Pet Expo.

Synergy also exists among NexPet members, many of whom credit the organization with helping their businesses thrive. 

“Belonging to NexPet and meeting the people here was instrumental to the success of our store,” said Rachael Creech of Adventure Pets in Mandeville, La. Creech is a longtime member of the 20-year-old association, which was founded by Berman and three retailers: Dave Ratner of Dave’s Soda & Pet City in Agawam, Mass.; Mike Goldsmith of Mike’s Feed Farm in Riverdale, N.J.; and Doug Alton of Pet World in Natick, Mass. 

“We’ve made friends,” Creech added. “I can call them up and say, ‘Hey, I’m having this problem.’”

According to the organization, NexPet members also benefit from vendor discounts, custom marketing assistance and training programs

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