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Retailer of the Year 2011-2012: Outstanding Natural Pet Store

Retailer of the Year
Sweet on Nutrition
This South Windsor, Conn., pet store strives to increase consumer awareness of the link between an animal’s diet and its health.
By Devon McPhee

Antoinette Rodrigues has a yellow Labrador retriever named Tino to thank for inspiring her all-natural, holistic pet store, Sweet Pea Natural Pet Foods in South Windsor, Conn.

A little more than 10 years ago, Rodrigues adopted Tino, then 8 weeks old. Tino was allergic to the brand-name food he was eating, so Rodrigues began researching the different ingredients found in most mainstream lines and discovered that some could cause health issues. Convinced there was a healthier option, she began feeding Tino a natural diet and started to see positive results almost immediately.

Sweet Pea owner Antoinette Rodrigues
Antoinette Rodrigues with her two Labs.
Also at this time, Rodrigues was taking a business class at a local university, shopping around her idea for a holistic food store. A classmate suggested that she focus on pet food, and the idea for Sweet Pea took root.

“Our store is based on the holistic approach to health, which emphasizes that if the whole body is supplied with the proper nutrition, it is more likely to remain healthy and free of disease,” Rodrigues said. “Our goal is to increase awareness of the link between diet and health.”

To that end, Sweet Pea offers a wide selection of natural and holistic items for dogs and cats, including food and treats, flea and tick products, vitamins and supplements, and grooming and cleaning supplies, as well as accessories, gifts and bed items.

In addition, the shop hosts adoption days, featuring different rescue groups and shelters. It also has a doggie bakery where it sells fresh-baked treats and offers delivery service.

Sweet Pea baked pet treats
Nutritional fresh-baked treats are part of the healthful food offerings at Sweet Pea Natural Pet Foods.
Rodrigues places a special emphasis on diet, heavily researching each new food item brought into the store, which received Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year award for Outstanding Natural Pet Store. She does not accept any lines that have byproducts or chemical preservatives in their ingredient lists, and she will not carry any brand that uses corn, since it is highly indigestible for dogs, Rodrigues reported.

In addition to researching the foods she purchases, she also focuses on educating her customers about diet and nutrition.

“We encourage our customers to take a closer look at what they are currently feeding their pets,” Rodrigues said. “Educating the owners about the ingredients of pet foods will help them make smarter choices when choosing the right diet for their pet. Just knowing that the first ingredient in their dog’s food should not be corn gluten meal is a big step toward making better choices.”

Once customers realize the importance of a proper diet, Sweet Pea helps them continue to provide better nutrition for their pets by making it affordable. The staff also passes along supplier loyalty programs, such as “buy 10 bags, get one free.”

A Special Connection
Sweet Pea Natural Pet Foods of South Windsor, Conn., helps a number of rescue organizations and shelters find homes for their pets. Yet one organization, Out to Pasture, holds special meaning for the store and its owner.

This organization takes in disabled animals that cannot be adopted and provides them with food, shelter and medical care—not an inexpensive endeavor. To help out, Sweet Pea donates food, litter, bedding and other goods to the group, and has established a donation drop-off for customers who would like to contribute.

The nonprofit was brought to owner Antoinette Rodrigues’ attention by a client, and she also had the opportunity to visit the farm where the disabled pets live. Impressed by the organization, Rodrigues said it was an easy decision to agree to help out.

“I thought it would be a great charity and opportunity to work with [founder] Carrie [Haggart] in helping her with the many items and finances she would need in order to help all the animals she rescues,” she said.–DM

“I encourage customers to take advantage of these programs and I usually have the cards available for them to fill out,” Rodrigues said.

The store also recently started a customer referral program. If a current customer sends another customer its way, both the new and returning customer receive a 10 percent discount.

“So far it has brought in new customers and makes the already-established customer happy to receive the extra 10 percent off their purchase,” she said.

Sweet Pea has two sets of mascots that welcome customers. First, there is a pair of cats rescued from a kill shelter in Greenville, S.C. The cats get a lot of attention from both young and old, Rodrigues said, and they serve as a prime example of the types of pets offered through the shelter, which Sweet Pea advertises. The second set of mascots is Rodrigues’ yellow Labs, Yogi and Duke. One of them generally accompanies her to the store, where they are a crowd favorite.

As one of only three employees who work at the store, which is open Monday through Saturday, Rodrigues said she makes herself readily available to her customers and her employees to answer questions or provide information.

“It is important to me to be at my business as much as possible,” she said. “I need to be there for customers who come in with many questions about the health and diet needs of their beloved pet…[and] employees are always encouraged to call me at any time with questions from my customers.

Sweet pea pet supplies
While dedicated to nutrition and health, Sweet Pea also offers an array of pet supplies and gift items.
“A business must be taken care of like a baby,” Rodrigues continued. “It needs your time, energy, nurturing, devotion and, most of all, your love for what you are accomplishing, which is helping to heal the animals.”

Within the next year, Rodrigues plans to renovate the store, updating its open and inviting layout with a fresh coat of paint and some new construction.

“A more ‘green’ look is what we are aiming for—and making the customers’ shopping experience a pleasant one,” she said.

And though the store will have an updated look, its mission will remain the same.

“When people shop at Sweet Pea they receive individual attention and an education about what really is in their pet foods,” Rodrigues said. 



Sweet Pea Natural Pet Foods

Location: 869 Sullivan Ave., South Windsor, Conn.

Owner: Antoinette Rodrigues

Employees: Two part time

Size: 2,500 square-feet

Years in Business: 10

Products and Services Offered: Wide selection of natural and holistic products for dogs and cats, including food, raw diets, shampoos, vitamins, supplements, flea-and-tick prevention, grooming items, cleanup supplies, collars and leashes, books, gift items, toys and treats. The store hosts adoption days and offers delivery.


Posted: Aug. 17, 2012, 2:05 p.m. EDT


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