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Holistic Pet Cuisine & Market - Feed Smart

This retailer has made pet nutrition serious business in her store.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Barbara Ratner and her husband, Howard, opened Holistic Pet Cuisine and Market in Boca Raton, Fla., four years ago, just prior to the pet food recalls that swept through the marketplace in the spring of 2007. As entrepreneurs, the couple found themselves at the right place at the right time with the right mix of products and knowledge to draw customers who were concerned about what they were pouring into their pets’ food bowls.

Barbara Ratner (left) helps a customer make a decision about food for her dog.
Their business, which focused on delivery of wholesome pet foods, boomed—and it shows no sign of slowing, thanks to their dedication to providing food and supplies focused on pets’ health and vitality.

“A lot of the issues animals have right now can be resolved by getting on the right diet, period,” Ratner said. “Everything we do is driven by nutrition. That’s the guts of our business. The other products, the collars, shampoos, toys, enzymes, they all have to be safe for pets. I’m tough about bringing in product. If it doesn’t have the right ingredients, I won’t stock it.”

A self-described “nutritional detective,” Ratner and her staff of four pride themselves on their ability to recommend pet food and gear that’s well suited to each dog. It all starts with a consultation.

“We’ll sit down at my desk and I’ll ask [the customer] what they’re feeding their dog on a daily basis and what they’ve been doing in the past,” said Ratner, who says she has been studying nutrition for more than 20 years. “And then I’ll open their eyes up to what they’re doing wrong.

When they see that, they’re amazed, and once they switch to the right diet, their pets are never the same again.”

Customer comments on the retailer’s website testify to some very positive changes in pets whose owners shop there.

These reports provide a lot of satisfaction for Ratner.

“I can sleep at night and it makes me happy,” she said. “Nothing breaks your heart more than seeing a dog suffer, and there are so many dogs that suffer from the wrong foods and the effects of them. It feels good to do what’s right. I care about my customers and I care about their pets.”

Ratner shares her e-mail address and cell phone number with clients and encourages them to call or text her when they have questions.

“If a customer or one of my sales staff has a question, I’m at my phone so I can get them the answer quickly,” Ratner said. “That customer service is so important in this business. That’s what we pride ourselves on. If the customer has a question and they hear a voice on the other end of the phone, they feel a lot better.”

Her efforts, however, aren’t without challenges. Customers question why their veterinarians don’t consult with them like the team at Holistic Pet Cuisine does.

“It’s a challenge getting through to pet owners,” Ratner explained. “They’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t my veterinarian tell me this?’ We not only teach our clients  about the different foods and holistic products available for their animals,  but we insist they go back to their veterinarians and discuss their new  health and holistic decisions. But people really do listen and I get through to them. They trust me, and that’s the whole key to our success.”

Ratner also believes strongly in committing to an entire product line rather than picking and choosing flavors or varieties.

“You have to bring it in depth,” she said. “That way, you can stand behind the product. You can’t show a customer just one flavor. You need the whole assortment because a dog should have variety. You’re short-changing them. That’s what we believe, and we sell it. And they buy it. And the dogs love it. And they’re healthier because of it.”

Though she stocks deep, Ratner’s store looks well organized. Stainless steel shelves display the retailer’s range of supplies. Displays highlight seasonal items, like red wagons overflowing with toys and collars and leashes carefully strewn on wooden racks. Holistic Pet Cuisine does not sell pets, but Ratner encourages customers to visit local shelters.

As for future plans, Ratner is thinking big.

“We’d like to roll this out and franchise Holistic Pet Cuisine,” she said. “We’re looking for additional stores and other locations. We’ve done our homework, we’ve got the framework down, and that’s our next step.”

Ratner said she is currently in the process of negotiating franchises in five different marketsand will launch a line of organic treats in the near future.

Her passion for pet care and nutrition will make her efforts will be a success. Ratner says.

“We are part of the community, and [people say], ‘If Holistic Pet Cuisine carries it, it’s good for your dog,’” Ratner said. “It’s all about nutrition and it’s all about your pet. We will not compromise.” <HOME>

This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser. Click here to become a subscriber.


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