Retailer Of The Year: One Fresh-Baked Treat At A Time
The following words define the core curriculum of Treats Unleashed, where consumer education and nurturing community relationships are wrapped in a unique, welcoming store.
Welcome to Treats Unleashed
“We believe in making healthy choices for our pets
We believe that healthy foods, treats and toys don’t have to be expensive
We believe in the power of family and community
We strive to make a difference in the lives of our four-footed customers with
Quality products and expert recommendations!”
“We stress these ideals with all of our employees,” said Teresa Miller, co-owner and founder along with her husband, Ian, of the seven-store, 54-employee-strong St. Louis pet retailer chosen by Pet Product News International as the 2014-2015 Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Consumer Education. “We want to help our customers make healthy choices.”However, the Treats Unleashed “welcome” statement transcends mere words.
Mouthwatering aromas waft a lazy, homey greeting through the air as fresh-baked pet treats are pulled from ovens sited at each location.
The cozy atmosphere entices four-legged visitors and their owners to linger.
“It’s a part of our story,” said Miller. “If you come in for a healthy food option for your pets, we have healthy treats baked from scratch, too.”
“My Dad, Frank Ivey, has an animal nutrition background. He creates all of our treat recipes and does the research on all of our treat lines.”
The stores, which average 2,000 square feet, extend an intimate ambience, with blond woods and a soothing green and blue color palette.
“It’s like walking into a friend’s kitchen,” Miller said.
Home to St. Louis
The Treats Unleashed story begins in New York, which was home to the Millers for 10 years. While there, the couple discovered a niche in pet—natural products. A subsequent move back home to St. Louis in 2001 found these selections to be lacking. They recognized an opportunity.
In 2002, the couple, along with Teresa’s sister Gayle, marked the beginnings of Treats Unleashed with a simple kiosk. Spotlighting freshly baked pet treats, the shopping mall venue was a hit.
The first Treats Unleashed brick-and-mortar store opened in Chesterfield, Mo., in 2003.
Today, Treats Unleashed features all-natural raw, freezedried, canned and kibble dog and cat food, “home-baked” treats and other goodies. Collars, leashes, toys, grooming products, and health and wellness supplies round out the inventory.
“Our criteria has been the same since we started, and these days, more and more foods fall into the category of no corn, wheat or soy and no artificial preservatives,” Miller said.
Grooming services, launched in 2011, are offered at four locations, which also include self-service washing facilities.
“Our customers were purchasing food, toys and supplies, and they wanted grooming, too,” said Miller. “We plan to offer this service at more stores in the future.”
Groomers meet pets arriving for grooming appointments, and sessions begin immediately, eliminating long waits or time spent in cages. Pet owners pick up beautifully styled pets without delay.
“Our customers love this,” she said. “We get referrals from other shops, for instance, if a dog is nervous and can’t stay in a cage.”
Do-it-yourselfers use the self-service dog wash, which includes every necessity. Members of the Scrub-A-Dub Club receive their ninth bath free.
Treats Unleashed University
It’s Treats Unleashed’s commitment to knowledge and community that sets it apart.
“We offer classes in our stores; this year we branded this offering as ‘Treats Unleashed University,’ and we make it fun, like going back to school,” said Miller.
Classes take place at various Treats Unleashed “campuses.” Local authorities are “professors,” teaching hour-long, Saturday-morning lessons in their area of expertise. Topics run the gamut and might include Running With Your Dog, presented by a local veterinarian, also an avid runner. A discourse on How to Choose a Pet Sitter is delivered by a professional pet sitter, and Pet Food 101 finds Miller at the podium. Tuition is free, and the university is open to all.
“The instructor is someone that we know and are comfortable with,” she said. “We usually have about a dozen participants per class. It’s a wonderful way to provide resources to our customers.”
In addition to the course of studies offered by the university, well-educated Treats Unleashed team members are ready to impart their knowledge and, equally important, to enhance a welcoming vibe within each store.
“Our environment makes us unique, but the longevity of our team adds to the feeling of community,” she said. “Our team gets to know our customers, their pets and the life cycle of those pets. We are our own small community.”
For these reasons, a keen interest in learning and the desire to embrace this unique atmosphere are sought-after attributes in a new hire. During the interview process, the applicant is introduced to the entire store team.
“We are small stores, with small teams, and we find it very important that every hire is a fit with the team,” she said.
Training is extensive for a new team member and ongoing for the entire staff. Once a month, all staff members meet for a companywide meeting that might include a product training, nutritional presentation or store procedural topic.
“It’s a chance for more studies and to get to know people in the other stores,” said Miller.
Team members reaching a certain level of nutritional expertise are tapped to provide nutritional consultations. As a result, veterinarians frequently refer patients to Treats Unleashed to discuss food options.
“We started working with the veterinarians through word-of-mouth, and it’s something that has grown over the past 10 years,” Miller said.
In the Spotlight
Warm, savory treats and welcoming visits combine with myriad activities and events within each store, many with a fundraising component, to make a difference in the lives of animals.
Adoption days take place on a regular basis at every location, with the aim of increasing awareness of the plight of homeless pets and the various agencies that assist those animals.
“We don’t recommend adoptions on the spot,” said Miller. “There’s usually an application process, and we want to make sure it’s the right fit. This is a chance to learn about the various groups and what types of assistance they need.”
One group per month is chosen as the recipient of fundraising efforts. The Spotlight Organization of the Month is selected based on need.
In addition to funds raised during special events, Spotlight Treats, decorated to resemble small paws, are baked and sold in each store. All proceeds benefit the Spotlight Organization.
“We try to focus our spotlight on the groups that need a little bit of extra help going forward,” Miller said. “We started doing this five years ago when we realized we could make a bigger donation and have more impact in this way.”
Most in-store events feature a fundraising component. For example, annual Halloween parties, held storewide, find costumed, four-legged goblins and princesses joining their owners for trick-or-treating with nearby merchants, who pass out treats supplied by Treats Unleashed. A $5 donation benefits the October Spotlight rescue. However, no one is turned away.
“It’s so fun, and people get so into it, making costumes to match their pets,” Miller said.
In December, a Giving Tree is decorated with ornaments featuring the faces of rescued pets searching for a family and noting necessities that can be donated to that month’s Spotlight Organization.
“It’s easy to tell the story if you have one group that you are focused on each month; it’s easier for our team members to see where exactly the money is going,” Miller said. “It’s very transparent.”
When Thanksgiving rolls around, ovens are fired up and stores fill with the alluring aroma of pumpkin pies for dogs. These are baked with a recipe formulated by Ivey, and customers can purchase a slice or an entire pie so their pets can join in and give thanks.
“It’s become a holiday tradition,” Miller said. The Treats Unleashed Treat Truck is considered a rolling classroom. The refurbished 1988 truck, found in an Illinois barn, is stocked with food samples and considered a presence at many community events. A designated treat-truck driver, regarded as the Treats Unleashed community outreach person, is always ready to discuss pet nutrition.
“It’s nothing fancy but a lot of fun,” said Miller. “The truck draws people in; we get a lot of media attention.”
Getting the word out also is accomplished with website-based Dog Blog and Facebook, where educational content and fun fluff peacefully coexist.
In the future, Miller sees additional stores providing more opportunities to offer education and resources to area pet lovers.
“We take the approach that if it’s here at Treats Unleashed, its healthy,” she said.
|treats Unleashed at a glance|
Location: Seven stores in the St. Louis; Columbia, Mo.; and Leawood, Kan., areas
Founders/Owners: Teresa and Ian Miller
Employees: 30 full-time, 24 part-time
Years in Business: 12
Average Square Feet: 2,000
Products and Services Offered: All-natural raw, freezedried, grain-free canned and kibble dog and cat foods; small-batch, made-from-scratch soft bites, biscuit treats, Spotlight Treats and birthday cakes; grooming and self-service dog wash; collars, leashes and harnesses; beds, crates, carriers and strollers; pet travel items; grooming supplies; health and wellness items; coats, jackets and boots; water vests and floats; and toys