Making a Difference, One Pet at a Time
At Healthy Spot, it’s all about the customer, the community and the environment.
By Lizett Bond
"The modern pet parent is active with their dogs, but also health and environmentally conscious,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot, with three locations in the Los Angeles area and Pet Product News International’s Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Natural Pet Store. "We feel if we continue to do the right thing in these areas, we will develop ourselves as that lifestyle brand.”
For these reasons, Kim, along with business partner and co-owner Mark Boonnark, believe that nurturing that consumer connection, along with reaching out and joining the community, are key components to the success of their enterprise.
"Our customers’ relationships with their pets are very intimate, emotional bonds, and if we can make that pet healthier and happier, we feel the owner will be happier as well,” he added.
Kim and Boonnark met in college, and a friendship developed over a shared interest in animals. Upon graduation, both men embarked on their chosen career paths but stayed in touch.
As part of its commitment to community outreach and helping dogs, Healthy Spot particpated in Race for the Rescues. Courtesy Healthy Spot
After adopting his Shih Tzu-terrier mix, Maya, and during the subsequent food recall of 2007, Kim felt compelled to research available pet foods. His discoveries did not inspire confidence in the larger brands, and the search continued for alternatives.
"I found a lot of these niche brands or smaller brands that were growing and had not been recalled,” Kim said.
These foods included raw or raw-alternative foods and treats not readily available in retail outlets. As consumers demonstrated an increased awareness of pet health requirements, Kim saw a need in the marketplace and approached Boonnark with the vision of opening a store featuring healthier options in response to this developing insight.
"The food recall created a huge paradigm shift, and consumers were much more open to switching brands,” he said.
In addition, Kim saw a need for a quality grooming facility with a higher level of care, and not just for pets, but for the environment as well. As these concepts moved toward reality, none of the top-selling food brands were in the potential Healthy Spot
"People told us we were crazy,” Kim said. "But those products just didn’t meet our criteria.”
Adopting the motto, "For Your Dog’s Mind, Body and Bowl,” the businessmen saw their ambitions come to fruition with the launch of the 3,100-square-foot Santa Monica, Calif., location in May 2008. The West Hollywood location opened in January 2010; Marina Del Rey in August 2012.
With consistent aesthetics, each site is easily recognizable as a Healthy Spot location, but no store is exactly alike.
"While we think it is important to have a consistent branding and feel, we don’t want to be a cookie-cutter format,” Kim said.
Melding into the community is important, and each Healthy Spot locale is situated in an area with foot traffic and a sense of neighborhood identity. Customers are encouraged to drop in for a visit, even if not shopping, and pets always are welcomed with a treat.
"A lot of people hang out here with their pets, even if it’s not an event,” Kim said.
Healthy Common Goals
Originally featuring dog products only, over time consumer demand spurred Healthy Spot to offer cat merchandise, including natural foods, treats, supplements, toys, apparel, beds, bowls, collars and leashes. Staying in step with the company’s core values of providing the best for animals and partnering with consumers to do so, Healthy Spot’s broad selection of alternative foods include raw, freeze-dried, dehydrated and air-dried products, along with traditional kibbles and canned foods.
"Our philosophy is to try to go back to the original diet of the animal,” Kim said. "We don’t carry brands that go into the big-box retailers.”
Community interaction is important to Healthy Spot, so they encourage owners and their pets to drop in, even if not shopping. Courtesy Healthy Spot
That credo includes ensuring natural or organic product choices and placing a priority on environmental impact over expense.
"For instance, our poop bags and pee pads, which we view as a high disposable item, are biodegradable versions, and we feel like that is working toward making a difference with our consumers,” Kim said.
To that end, Healthy Spot recently was awarded the Annual Sustainable Quality Award by the City of Santa Monica in recognition of its commitment to using environmentally friendly products.
Environmental stewardship encompasses more than just products, and Healthy Spot delivers on this front. For instance, all lighting has been converted to LED, display fixtures are fashioned from renewable bamboo, water heaters are tankless and the stores reuse paper in their offices.
"We are constantly re-evaluating ways to reduce our footprint,” Kim said.
That ecology-based way of life also comes into play in the grooming salons, which use the highest-quality, eco-friendly, biodegradable products, from shampoos and conditioners to cleaning supplies.
"We try to be as green as possible,” he said.
Above and Beyond
The full-service salon and spa offers complete, signature treatments and specialty packages as well as a la carte services, including nail trims, teeth brushing and facials.
To create the superlative spa experience, the grooming staff is encouraged to sharpen their skills (to compete at trade shows) and continue their education with a curriculum that includes outside experts visiting to share their expertise with staff members.
"Most recently, we hosted a seminar for our groomers with the owner of a Japanese grooming salon chain,” Kim said. "That sets us apart for our staff as well as our customers.”
At a Glance
Locations: 3 California stores: 1110 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 8525 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; 4718 Lincoln Blvd., Marina Del Rey
Co-owners: Andrew Kim and Mark Boonnark
Size: an average of 3,800 square feet
Years in Business: 5
Employees: 65 full-time, 10 part-time
Products and Services Offered: Raw, organic, vegetarian and grain-free foods; natural supplements and treats; apparel; toys; bedding; and accessories. Grooming salon, doggie daycare, adoption days, training programs, yappy hours.
For this reason, Healthy Spot has attracted top talent within the grooming field.
The doggie day care features a completely enclosed, glassed facility for dogs weighing 30 pounds or less. While these pets enjoy playtime, the transparency of the facility allows customers to feel at ease when leaving their charges. In addition, passersby enjoy watching the dogs at play.
"There is something magnetic about seeing dogs playing in the window,” Kim said.
Furthermore, by offering day care to dogs of like size, pets are able to play together safely. Most clients using this service take advantage of the opportunity to provide socialization for their pets.
"These are clients who live in the area and want to provide their dogs with companionship while they are at work,” Kim said.
Aside from socialization and care, the enclosure plays a strong role in encouraging pet adoptions, another means of connecting with the community and supporting these agencies.
"Because part of our business plan is to ‘do good by doing good,’ we decided to dedicate the daycare space on Sundays to rescue groups,” Kim said.
This cage-free environment serves to better showcase the personalities and temperaments of pets as they become acquainted with potential adoptive owners, according to Kim.
"From a business standpoint, we are giving up the revenue of doggie daycare on those days,” he said. "But we think it is important to give back, particularly with the overpopulation of pets in the Los Angeles area.”
Aside from Sunday adoption events, supporting rescue and adoption agency efforts is accomplished in a variety of ways. For instance, with a tagline of "donating a little can make a big difference together,” the Healthy Spot "Round Up For Rescues” program has grown since its inception in 2008, with the opening of the Santa Monica store. Rescue organizations must apply to be considered as recipients of these funds, and a different group is selected each month.
"Instead of asking customers to donate a dollar toward rescue efforts, we found that consumers are much more open to rounding up their purchase to the nearest dollar,” Kim said. "We have been able to raise more than $65,000 in this way.”
Kim added that this program has gone global by assisting rescue work in Haiti and Japan.
However, involvements in local community efforts and programs extend beyond animals in need. In this way, Healthy Spot donates or participates in a variety of community fundraisers, including those held by local schools or The Boys and Girls Club, for example.
"It is important to support our community in principle and practice, not just on paper,” he said.
Events and Education
Happy Spot events provide a venue for community pet lovers to gather and mingle. For this reason, Yappy Hours are held regularly at the Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey locations. Working with local businesses and vendors, each fete provides food and libations for humans and treats for pets.
All three stores host special events, such as this "Howl-o-ween" party. Courtesy Healthy Spot
"We might have a sushi and sake night, with a local sushi restaurant providing food for pet parents,” he added. "We try to keep things lively, we don’t want to become stale.”
Breed meetups also are held.
"We had a Boston Tea Party for Boston terriers and a low-rider event for the local doxie group,” Kim said.
Special events occur in all three stores, with some of the larger ones, such as the annual "Howl-o-ween” party, spilling out into the "Barking Lot.” A neighborhood favorite, the spooky celebration has become an indoor/outdoor festival with local businesses participating, vendors passing out samples and costume contests for owners and pets.
"People get really excited about it, and I love to see the creativity of our customers,” he said.
Surpassing fun times, customer education is a strong focus accomplished through educational seminars, including presentations from holistic veterinarians, trainers and food vendors. With education considered paramount to the success of Healthy Spot, Kim noted that well-versed employees are pivotal, and Healthy Spot employees must display a genuine interest and passion for pets and for helping customers. A well-staffed store allows these knowledgeable emissaries to work their magic.
"We over-staff, and while it might be more profitable to run with a leaner staff, it’s important to address the questions and concerns of potential clients by spending 20 minutes or even an hour, if necessary,” he said. "It’s not just about selling products; it’s really about the lifestyle.”
"I can’t imagine having to go through a turnstile where people are just pointing out different products; that’s why we make that investment in the education of our staff, to make sure we are building one relationship at a time,” he added.
Healthy Spot recently celebrated a five-year anniversary, and Kim is looking forward to more growth over the next five years as they continue to form that unique, Healthy Spot culture.
"One dog and one cat at a time, that’s how we feel we can make an impact on the world,” he added.<HOME>
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