Moverz & Shakerz
Along with being named the PPN Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Human-Animal Bond Promotion, Natural Pawz recently marked a 10-year anniversary.
Meeting townsfolk and pets where they congregate, the Natural Pawz Treat Truck is a staple at community events, dog parks and other pet-friendly happenings.
Should Natural Pawz decide to appoint a poster dog, there is a stocky, 9-year-old Labradoodle, affectionately known as Barkley, that just might fit the profile. Suffering from allergies as a youngster, Barkley and his owner, Marcia Chaffin, visited a local Natural Pawz in search of a nutritional solution to his challenge.
The new diet did the trick, and the two have been loyal customers ever since. Their favorite store also happens to be on the route of Barkley’s twice-daily walks, and the sociable canine never passes up an opportunity to pop in.
“Barkley leads me there. He loves it,” Chaffin said. “He will stop at the front door and just sit, waiting to go inside.”
“Pets know when they are going someplace safe and friendly, and that’s the bond we have with pets and pet parents,” said Biff Picone, co-owner of Natural Pawz with his wife, Nadine Joli-Coeur.
“Our customers are four-legged family members,” said Joli-Coeur. “They are our nieces, nephews and grandkids from across the city of Houston.”
Nadine Joli-Coeur and Biff Picone
The Natural Pawz journey began in 2000 with the adoption of Callie from the Houston Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The chocolate Labrador suffered from food sensitivities, and Joli-Coeur began to investigate nutrition as an alternative to medications and injections. Callie’s health and appearance improved with the new diet, and friends and neighbors began to ask about the transformation.
“They wanted to know how to get some of that food,” said Joli-Coeur, who then chose to establish a pet food delivery business out of the couple’s garage as a hobby. After a year and a half and nearly 400 customers later, Joli-Coeur had more than a weekend pastime on her hands.
“One night, I told Biff I’d found my calling and we needed to open a pet supply store,” she said. “We found a location and haven’t looked back.”
The first Natural Pawz opened for business in 2005. Initially, the couple retained their full-time careers, but they quickly devoted their attention to the new venture full time.
In 2015, Natural Pawz not only celebrated a decade in business, but it also welcomed customers to locations 16 and 17 in Pearland and Round Rock, Texas, respectively
Healthy Pets Live Longer, Happier Lives
Food safety is pivotal at Natural Pawz, according to Joli-Coeur. In order to ensure that the stores’ high-quality benchmarks are met, personal visits to manufacturing plants take place before a food product is accepted into the stores’ inventory.
Besides scrutinizing the manufacturing process, key considerations include sourcing, plant cleanliness, distribution and customer service. With the tagline “Healthy Pets Live Longer,” Natural Pawz carries only corn-, soy- and wheat-free products, and the less processed, the better, said Joli-Coeur.
“We stay away from fractured grains or vegetables,” she said.
The product mix includes Canadian and U.S.-manufactured holistic, natural and human-grade dry, freeze-dried, dehydrated, and raw dog and cat foods at a range of price points.
Educational resources are a computer click away at the Customer Information Center, which is available in every store for customers and employees wishing to investigate food ingredients and other products.
Included in the treat selections are Callie’s Naturals Chicken Chews, a private-label treat exclusive to Natural Pawz that is formulated using chicken sourced and manufactured in the U.S. Callie’s All-Natural Cleaner is created in partnership with a local Houston manufacturer. Harnesses for small dogs, produced by an independent manufacturer and bearing the Callie’s Naturals label, are designed just for Natural Pawz.
“We believe in our partners and in working together,” said Joli-Coeur.
Grooming and spa services are offered at five locations in communities that don’t have an alternative, Joli-Coeur said, adding that stores with neighboring grooming salons provide referrals to those nearby businesses.
Natural Pawz groomers are trained in-house, and new hires undergo a nine-month apprenticeship program, coming onboard as bathers and working up the ranks. Along with continual in-store guidance, groomers participate in outside training.
“Our system allows for consistency and the grooming expertise we are looking for,” Joli-Coeur said.
Extensive training also is provided for retail employees and includes the shadowing of managers and senior staff members for new hires, vendor training and a comprehensive in-house course of study. The Natural Pawz curriculum encompasses general pet health, nutrition, common ailments and product training.
“We look for passionate pet people to work at Natural Pawz,” Picone said. “Employees are considered probationary until completing 100 hours of training and the store manager signs off.”
Once that standard is achieved, staff members proudly sport a “nutritional consultant” badge.
Building The Ties That Bind Communities
Natural Pawz is devoted to cultivating the human-animal bond through community giving.
Meeting townsfolk and pets where they congregate, the Natural Pawz Treat Truck is a staple at community events, dog parks and other pet-friendly happenings. Yappy Hours get yappier when this one-of-a-kind attention-getter, bearing savory goodies, rolls up playing its signature tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
“We don’t sell anything out of it; we make it fun,” Joli-Coeur said. “The truck is about education and being a resource to the community.”
Championing the cause of homeless pets, adoption days are held on a regular basis in all stores.
“That has been one of my passions since day one,” Joli-Coeur said. “In Houston, the overpopulation of homeless pets is huge. We’ve had countless numbers of good dogs and cats adopted from our locations.”
Ensuring that Houston-area pet shelters and rescue groups are well stocked with nutritious food, Natural Pawz recently organized and collaborated with three pet food vendors to donate 100,000 pounds of food to these groups.
“If you feed these pets a healthful diet, they feel better and are more adoptable,” Joli-Coeur said.
To increase the survival rates of pets rescued from fires, Natural Pawz is involved in an ongoing fundraising effort to donate pet oxygen masks to Houston area fire stations. To date, 200 units have been handed out.
“These masks have saved the lives of 25 to 30 animals to date,” Picone said.
In The Woodlands suburb of Houston, neighbors combine a dog walk with a watchful eye. The Dog Walker Watch program is a crime prevention initiative operating on the premise that humans and canines out for a stroll can act as eyes and ears for their community.
“We partnered with the city to drive awareness to this watch program,” Picone said. “We donated poop bags showing our logo that are printed with a phone number to call to report unusual activities. The focus is to get to know your neighbors. If you know your neighbors, you’ll notice suspicious activities.”
Neighboring schools are the focus of the Pawz for Education program. The convenient fundraising opportunity designates a specific day in support of an individual school. Shoppers know that a percentage of their purchase price will be donated to the identified school on that day.
“The majority of these folks are already shopping with us, so it gives them a reason to come out on a certain day,” Joli-Coeur said.
Dog owners looking to mix a little “downward-facing dog” with their shopping trip love to lay down their mats at a Natural Pawz “doga” session, which features a professional instructor and separate classes for larger dogs or smaller dogs.
“It’s fun,” Joli-Coeur said. “There’s no charge. I take my own big Labrador and am shocked at how calm all the dogs are.”
In-store events include monthly promotions revolving around an educational topic such as hurricane preparedness, back to school or senior month.
“The themes are a fun way to educate our customers,” Joli-Coeur said.
|Natural Pawz at a glance|
Co-owners: Biff Picone, Nadine Joli-Coeur
Employees: 57 full time, 50 part time
Years in business: 10
Average square feet: 1,800 to 2,200
Products and services: natural dog and cat food, treats and supplies, private-label treats and cleaning products, holistic herbs and supplements, grooming, adoption days, treat truck