Steve King Steps into New Role With Advice for Global Pet Expo Attendees
Stepping into a role that has been held by a predecessor who was both highly esteemed and in the position for nearly two decades is no doubt a daunting endeavor. Fortunately, for the American Pet Products Association (APPA)—both its members and staff—incoming CEO Steve King’s more than 20 years’ experience in the pet industry portends a relatively smooth transition as he takes the reins from outgoing president and CEO Bob Vetere.
King most recently served as the president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), an organization he’s worked with for close to 30 years, and his long-standing ties within, and knowledge of, the pet trade will no doubt serve both the organization and the industry as a whole as well.
As he gets set to officially step up into his new role, King discusses what he brings to this position, the synergistic connection between APPA and PIDA, and his forecast for the future of the trade and what all parties involved need to keep in mind to secure the industry’s ongoing success. He also reveals his pointers for retailers heading to Orlando, Fla., for Global Pet Expo March 20-22.
Pet Product News: Congratulations on your new role as CEO of APPA. As incoming CEO, what excites you most about your new position?
Steve King: Working with the terrific APPA staff. Among the 21 employees here in the Stamford, Conn., headquarters are a dynamic mix of seasoned veterans and enthusiastic young professionals. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of them for years as PIDA’s president. They are a highly effective team dedicated to the success of members large and small.
I’m equally excited about serving the needs of more than 1,200 member manufacturers that look to APPA for a wide array of services. Getting to know the members better, understanding what they look for from their association, and developing products and services that meet those needs is what association executives live for!
PPN: How do you think your experience as head of PIDA will inform your approach to this new role? What unique perspectives do you bring to APPA’s table?
King: Nearly my entire 35-year career has been spent in the pet industry, including 28 years with PIDA, giving me a deep historical perspective on the changes that have taken place and that continue to shape the industry today. The close ties between PIDA and APPA that began with the partnership that created Global Pet Expo more than 15 years ago will only grow stronger as we explore more opportunities to cooperate, not only between our associations, but with the other industry organizations as well.
PPN: What inspiration will you take from Bob Vetere’s tenure in the role? What aspects of his leadership might you continue?
King: Bob has been a tremendous leader at APPA and is a true visionary. He has consistently looked for ways to solve problems by building coalitions that bring different perspectives to the table. His championing of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is a good example. He realized the innate value of research into the human health benefits of pets and gathered business leaders from throughout the pet care community to support and fund a more robust research effort. Today, HABRI supports dozens of groundbreaking research projects that are opening eyes in the health profession, insurance industry and veterans’ organizations to the healing power of pets.
I hope to emulate and build upon Bob’s coalition-building prowess. His rapport with APPA staff is also remarkable, and I want to establish the same level of trust with the team.
PPN: Stepping back to take a look at the industry as a whole, what are some of the key challenges facing the industry?
King: We have experienced a period of steady growth in the industry in recent years due to a strong economy and favorable demographic changes. The industry’s stability and attractiveness to investors have driven a lot of the mergers and acquisitions that seem to occur almost daily. Can this growth be sustained when the next economic downturn occurs?
A sustainable supply of pets is a critical challenge for the industry. Sourcing restrictions are limiting where and how prospective pet owners can find a suitable pet for their families. Fewer breeders of all types of pets have squeezed supplies and driven up prices. The pet care community needs to address this issue for the long-term benefit of pets, pet owners and the businesses that create products to care for our pets.
Removing impediments to pet ownership is another challenge that we are just beginning to address. Lease restrictions that prohibit pets in rental housing deny millions of potential pet owners the ability to enjoy the companionship that pets provide. We are just now, through the Pet Leadership Council, working on a pilot program to encourage landlords to adopt pet-friendly policies. We are also working on ways to promote pet-friendly workplaces to help business owners understand that it is one of the easiest ways to boost productivity and employee retention.
PPN: What are the industry’s strengths, both the inherent strengths and ones that might be developing as we speak?
King: Humans have a deep and abiding love for our pets. The pet care community exists to provide products and services that help pet owners care for their pets better and easier. If we keep that basic tenant at the heart of what we do, the industry will continue to thrive.
Another strength is the entrepreneurial nature of this industry, which helps drive innovation. Every year, dozens of new companies emerge with clever pet products designed to solve a problem or meet a need. As long as barriers to entry remain low and channels to market are open and diverse, new products and product categories will drive growth.
PPN: What would you say are the toughest challenges for today’s independent pet specialty retailers?
King: Competition from online retailers is the biggest challenge cited by independent retailers. The growing percentage of pet product sales that has moved online bears that out. Independent pet specialty retailers face some of the same challenges that brick-and-mortar retailers across the spectrum are confronting as millennials and younger post-millennials begin to dominate the consumer marketplace.
PPN: How does APPA help address those challenges? And how does Global Pet Expo help alleviate those challenges?
King: APPA, in our partnership with PIDA, provides hours of free training to retailers designed to help them meet the challenges of competing in a changing retail environment. For the past two years, we have sponsored a series of free webinars in conjunction with PIDA’s Pet Store Pro online training program. The Global Pet Expo Academy provides more than 30 hours of seminars during the show featuring some of the country’s leading retailing experts. All seminars are free to retailers who attend Global Pet Expo.
PPN: What advice do you have for pet retailers who will be walking the aisles of Global Pet Expo this month looking for ways to support and boost their business?
King: Come with a plan! The show’s massive size overwhelms anyone who has not taken time in advance to lay out a plan for the week. Decide which seminars you want to attend and add them to your calendar. Visit the New Products Showcase—which opens an hour earlier than the exhibits on Wednesday—to scope out exciting new products you want to learn more about. Know where key suppliers are located on the show floor and plan your visit schedule accordingly to minimize travel time and distance between exhibitors. And take advantage of the free trolleys that can give you a lift from designated stops on the show floor.
PPN: What excites you most about the future of the pet industry?
King: The amazing people who have dedicated their careers to helping pets and their people live happier, healthier lives, as well as the companies that support APPA and the other pet industry associations, allowing us to collaborate on initiatives that benefit the entire pet care community. And, the bond between pets and people that transcends generations and that makes everything we do vital and fulfilling.