Posted: September 26, 2013, 2:55 p.m. EDT
Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, committed to community and pets, has conducted business by the "deeds, not creeds” motto for 23 years.
By Lizett Bond
Social philosopher Will Herberg defined the American way of life as "humanitarian, forward-looking, optimistic.” He further opined that "deeds, not creeds, are what count.” Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, this year’s recipient of the Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year Award for Outstanding Human-Animal Bond Promotion, embraces and exemplifies these very values.
"The vision for Chuck & Don’s is to be your local, hometown pet supply store,” said Chuck Anderson, CFO, who started the business with Don Tauer. "We are committed to our community and passionate about pets.”
Before opening Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, both men enjoyed professions in the canine industry.
Anderson operated a training school; Tauer ran an adjacent boarding kennel in Lake Elmo, Minn. Both establishments stocked and sold pet food. As sales increased at each site, Tauer suggested the two pool their resources to open a pet supply store.
"Community commitment is one of our core values,” said Chuck Anderson, CFO. Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet
The Story Begins
"I asked Don how much money he wanted to put into the venture,” said Anderson. "He said he had $125. I had about the same.”
Meager funding aside, the duo remained optimistic. However, with locating a building the first order of business, finding a landlord willing to provide free rent for the first three months—with no security deposit—seemed a hurdle. Surprisingly, the owner of the chosen property accepted this stipulation. The next hurdle was securing product.
"We called the president of a local distributor in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area and said we would buy our entire product from him,” said Anderson. "The only thing we asked for was 90 days financing on our first invoice.”
After some consideration, the deal was struck. A manufacturer’s representative subsequently located shelving and racks, at no charge. A newly purchased $125 cash register rang from a 2-by-6-foot folding table, and in May 1990, the first Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, located in Eagan, Minn., was open for business.
Initially, Anderson and Tauer, as sole employees, swapped daily hours and weekend work.
"I’d work half a day; Don worked the other,” said Anderson.
In spite of these modest beginnings, Chuck & Don’s experienced steady growth. Since 1990, 19 locations have opened in Minnesota and five in Colorado.
"We opened to make a little ‘walking around’ money,” said Anderson. "I never in a million years thought we would have 275 employees and 24 locations.”
In 1998, Robert Hartzell joined the concern and, with Tauer’s 2000 retirement, stepped up to serve as president and CEO. Tauer continues to lend his name to the business.
Today, Anderson said that Chuck & Don’s carries a comprehensive selection of natural and holistic dog and cat food options with close to 40 brands on the shelf, including frozen raw. In addition, should a customer desire a brand not already in stock, the special order department is ready to meet that demand.
"We make the pet food available,” he said. "Our philosophy is ‘If that’s what you want, we will get it and carry it out to your car.’”
In addition, treats, toys, bedding, dishes, supplements, grooming supplies and training aids are included in the product mix.
Further, small animal, bird or fish enthusiasts are able to browse an extensive inventory of foods, treats, bedding and supplies.
To encourage familiarity, each pet friendly location is laid out in a similar fashion, depending on the configuration of the particular store.
"We try to make it so that shopping is convenient in every location,” he said.
Expediency aside, dedication to the community is the overriding passion for this enterprise. That devotion is witnessed through fundraising efforts, creating awareness and involvement.
"In 2012, we gave away more than $225,000 to various rescue organizations,” Anderson said. "Community commitment is one of our core values.”
Fundraising to combat animal overpopulation is a key component to this ideology.
At a Glance
Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet
Locations: 24 total; main location is at 910 Wildwood Road, Mahtomedi, MN 55115
Owners: Chuck Anderson, CFO; Robert Hartzell, president and CEO
Size: 3,000 square feet (average)
Employees: 125 full-time, 150 part-time
Years in Business: 23
Products and Services Offered: Dog and cat food, treats, toys, beds, leashes and supplies; small animal, wild bird, herp, freshwater fish products; adoption days, grooming in certain locations, educational seminars and clinics, microchipping, nail and wing trimming, Abby’s Pet Place.
With locations in Minnesota and Colorado, these efforts are tailored to the needs of each region.
In Minnesota, the Raising Awareness for Pet Overpopulation event aided The Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program. For this endeavor, customers and community members purchased a paper "balloon” for a discretionary amount. Inscribed with either the buyer’s name or the name of a pet, the balloons were then displayed throughout each store.
During the same period, Denver-area patrons invested in a paper raindrop for the sake of animals affected by wildfires and to benefit the Special Operations Response Team of the Pikes Peak Region Humane Society.
In the same manner, the Pawprints holiday fundraiser benefits various rescue organizations and shelters in both states.
"We are committed to helping as many rescues and organizations as we can,” Anderson said. "Not only is it part of our business, but it’s also part of our culture.” Homeless pets seeking to curl up at that forever hearth are apt to find just the right family at adoption days held monthly at every location. In addition, individual stores partner with rescue organizations by keeping one or two adoptable cats on site at all times. Adoptive cat owners work with the agency involved to finalize the process.
"We have one store that has placed more than 400 cats in a two-year period,” Anderson said.
Agencies or groups wishing to hold larger adoption events or meetups often take advantage of Abby’s Pet Place. The dedicated meeting rooms, approximately 500 square feet each, are located in the Aurora, Colo., and Edina, Minn., stores. Named for Hartzell’s dog, Abby, the idea of devoting a space for community events was conceived by Hartzell in 2011.
The University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection Institute uses Abby’s Pet Place to present educational seminars to the public. This nonprofit, independent research and educational organization serves to address the relationships between humans and animals in society.
To further promote that rapport through education, Chuck & Don’s partners with this program by awarding scholarships to Master’s of social work students attending the institute.
Perhaps nothing within the human-animal link serves a higher purpose than animals bringing cheer to ailing children. In the Twin Cities area, Chuck & Don’s sponsors Jerry the Dog, the resident cheer-giver at the Ronald McDonald House.
"We make available all his food, treats, leashes, collars and anything else he needs,” Anderson said.
Beyond sustenance and supplies for Jerry, the Ronald McDonald House is also the beneficiary of fundraising efforts.
In-store events vary by location and might include educational workshops, nail and wing trimming, microchipping or even an animal communicator. The charges for these events are minimal, with the money raised designated for a chosen rescue organization or humane society.
"The events that we charge for are always fundraisers, and that is stated on the flier,” he said. "Each store has one fundraising event every month.”
Dogs love to attend the popular and oft-held event, "Dog Treat Sample Day.”
"We put out a large selection of treats for pets to sample,” Anderson said. "These days are held on an ongoing basis, and we always have a big turnout.”
Events are listed on the company website and in the Barkin’ Mews, a quarterly newsletter. The glossy journal contains coupons and information to keep customers apprised of specials and any news that might pertain to their pet, and it is sent to members of the Friends of Chuck Reward Program.
Program membership is free and offers quarterly savings to customers by tracking purchases and providing rebates.
This significant commitment requires exemplary customer service from outstanding and dedicated employees.
"The training of our employees takes up to six weeks,” Anderson said. "We look for people who are passionate about pets, because that passion is one of our core values.”
Team building and goal setting coexist, and that might mean a company meeting in the morning and fishing in the afternoon. In addition, the individual accomplishments of outstanding employees are recognized at the yearly awards banquet.
"We try to give our employees ownership; we want them to feel they have a direct result in what happens,” he added.
For the future, Anderson sees even more expansion but will continue to strive to meet the criteria put forth in the Chuck & Don’s code of values listed on the company’s website, including this statement: "We value and care about our communities and do our very best to have a positive impact in those communities in which we operate.”
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