Doing right by pets and their owners comes naturally to the two founders/proprietors of the upscale store located in Santa Monica, Calif.
By Mike Ventre
|An all-window store front provides passers-by an inviting glimpse of all that Healthy Spot has to offer. |
Andrew Kim worked at a hedge fund in the San Francisco Bay area, doing equity research. Mark Boonnark had a job as a media buyer for an advertising agency. They had been president and vice president, respectively, of their fraternity at UC Berkeley. Both were on the fast track to Easy Street.So naturally, they gave it all up and opened up a small pet shop in the Los Angeles area.
“It just felt right,” Kim explained. “The more we worked at it, the more it felt right and the pieces came together.”
The result is Healthy Spot, a neighborhood establishment on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica that specializes in natural foods and other products for dogs. Kim, 30, and Boonnark, 29, envision it as the Whole Foods of pet stores.
How did they find themselves out of finance and advertising and knee deep in kibble?
AT A GLANCE
Location: 1110 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA.
Owner: Andrew Kim and Mark Boonnark
Size: 3,100 square feet
Employees: 24 full- and part-time
Years in Business: 1 (opened May 31, 2008)
Products and Services Offered: Natural foods, including raw, organic, vegetarian and grain-free; natural supplements and treats; toys, beds and fashion; grooming and spa supplies; small dog day care and puppy pre-school; training program; anesthesia-free teeth cleaning; pet massage therapy; Reiki treatment.
For more information, visit www.healthyspotla.com
Kim said the catalyst might have been Maya, a Shih Tzu-terrier mix that was available for adoption because a couple he knew was splitting up.
Kim fell in love with Maya, and at the same time
grew dissatisfied with his career path. He reconnected with Boonnark, and they discovered they had a mutual passion for animals and a shared desire to make a difference.
Kim took Maya into his home around the time that the melamine pet food recall of 2007 occurred. Kim and Boonnark then came up with the idea for what would become The Healthy Spot. But first, they did their homework.
“We went to several stores,” Kim said. “We went to trade shows. We did what most people do when starting a new business. What we concluded was that maybe there were stores like ours somewhere in the country, but we felt it was a unique offering here.”
Adopting the motto, “For Your Dog’s Mind, Body and Bowl,” Kim and Boonnark set out on a holistic approach to dog care.
“Our customers are people who do not keep their pets in the background,” Kim said. “They’re an integrated family member.”
Kim and Boonnark employed the Whole Foods approach by screening all products, inquiring about the manufacturing, ingredient level and packaging.
“Even with the stores that do carry some of the more high-quality foods, they carry it with the junk foods as well, the big brands, the supermarket brands,” Boonnark said. “They’re going to sell what’s marketed and what’s popular.”
|The sales counter offers a unique selection of add-on purchase items (top), as does the stylish grooming and spa services area.|
Some of the products offered at Healthy Spot include brands of raw and dehydrated foods, treats and dietary supplements such as ZiwiPeak, The Honest Kitchen, Primal and Stella and Chewy’s; grooming products from Isle of Dogs; and collars, leads, bedding and other items from Jax & Bones. “We have everything from general basic needs to eco-friendly alternatives and holistic alternatives,” Boonnark said. “We stand behind each and every product on our shelves. We’re not going to compromise our values for a profit.”
It seems they won’t have to. Kim said Healthy Spot has been such a hit that, although he declined to reveal sales figures, business has been consistently on the rise since the 3,100-square-foot location opened on May 31, 2008, even in a brutal economy.
“We started with four employees,” Kim said. “Now we have 24.” Healthy Spot is planning to launch its e-commerce operation by the end of this year, and the owners hope to expand by one or two more locations in the next two years.
Kim and Boonnark have been able to think about branching out because they say they have achieved their primary goal, which is to build a loyal customer base. Pet moms and dads have come to look at Healthy Spot as a place where they can get a straightforward assessment of their pets’ needs, they said.
“From Day 1, and I say this to everyone I meet, I think we have the best customers,” Kim said. “What I heard a lot during the first three to six months we were open was, ‘I’m going to tell every dog owner I know about the store, because we don’t want you to go out of business.’
|Minimalism meets playfulness at Healthy Spot, where clean lines and an open floor plan provide a welcoming atmosphere for two- and four-legged customers.|
“When we were embraced by the local community, it was rewarding, but it also told us that we were doing something right,” Kim added.
They have achieved that level of devotion, they say, because when a consumer comes through the door seeking information, Kim and Boonnark make sure they have some to offer.
“A lot of times people come in and they thought they were buying the best possible food for their dogs,” Kim said. “It’s usually just a lack of education in reading the label and finding the right food.”
Said Boonnark, “I feel we are a trusted education center. They come to us with all their pet questions and needs. People have called us when they find raccoons in their yard and want to know what to do about it. When they get puppies, they have nutritional questions, training questions.
“We want to bring a cerebral approach to the pet business,” Boonnark continued.
Healthy Spot has also become something of a hub for rescue advocates. Kim and Boonnark said they made a conscious decision not to sell animals, even though brokers have approached them many times. Instead, they sponsor rescue efforts such as Make A Change, which encourages customers to donate their spare change, a campaign that has raised more than $7,000 thus far.
|Healthy Spot’s classy food display shelves would fit right in at any high-end establishment.|
“At the end of the day, it’s not about making as much money as possible,” Kim said. “There is something deeply satisfying this past holiday season when we received gift baskets from people that said, ‘Thank you for taking care of our babies.’”
Michael Ventre has written on various topics over the years for many publications, including Daily Variety, MSNBC.com, the Los Angeles Daily News and American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines.
This article first appeared in the October 2009 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser<HOME>
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