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25 to Watch in 2011

December 27, 2010, 2:10 p.m., EDT

25 to Watch in 2011The pet industry is always changing, and after 2010’s contentious midterm elections, continuing economic tumult, and the specter of anti-pet legislation, we felt a look forward to 2011 was in order. Here’s our list of who to watch in the pet industry over the coming year.

Olivier Amice: As new president of Furminator, he is cracking down on counterfeiters of the company’s grooming tools and otherwise trying to protect its intellectual property through the legal channel. The company is also aggressively rolling out product line extensions to hone its market proposition.

John Boehner.
U.S. Rep. John Boehner.
John Boehner: The 2010 midterm election saw a historic shift in the House of Representatives as the Republican Party regained control. Under the leadership of John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House will serve as a foil to the Obama administration and pursue a more conservative agenda.

Judy Breton:  Her move from region manager and national grooming specialist at Tomlym Products to the World Pet Association as director of grooming and special services comes at an interesting time. For one, how will Barkleigh’s decision to not offer GroomTeam-sanctioned competition for the next two years at its events change the professional grooming contest landscape. More importantly, however, Breton’s hire demonstrates WPA’s desire to expand its offerings to pet service providers, including boarding facilities, pet daycare providers and trainers.

Mike Canning
Mike Canning, president and CEO of PIJAC.
Mike Canning: As the newest president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, Canning will oversee day-to-day operations of the industry’s legislative watchdog. The reptile hobbyists and public affairs specialist has already benefited from the support of the three pet industry organizations as they have all endorsed his selection by continuing their funding. His challenge is to maintain that support while growing PIJAC into a largely self-sufficient organization.

Dr. Earl Chilton II: As director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s aquatic habitat enforcement program, Chilton is the person charged with creating and implementing the Texas “white list” of aquatic plants approved for sale in the state. The final list, which covers both water garden plants and also freshwater and saltwater aquarium plants, is set for board approval in late January. Then Texas will focus on creating a “white list” of non-native aquatic animals that do not pose potential invasive species risks.

Laura Christine: In a world of single first-name divas (Madonna, Rihanna, etc.), is betting two first names make for an e-commerce maestro with its new chief marketing officer. Fresh from a multi-channel, multi-brand 6-year tenure at Skechers, she is excited about joining an Internet pure play with multiple brands (, and PetMD in addition to flagship) in a field that evokes passion. Her goal: aggressive sales growth.

Jason Coe, DVM, Ph.D.: Dr. Coe was appointed to a five-year, $1 million chair at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. The Nestlé Purina PetCare Canada-funded position has a lofty goal: reducing pet abandonment through teaching and research. Coe’s efforts will include a symposium on the human-animal bond in 2011 as part of the college’s sesquicentennial celebration and supervising research on pet behavior, overpopulation and abandonment.

John Cullen: Cullen brings considerable pet industry marketing experience (including the launch of Zoombak GPS and stints with H.J. Heinz and to a JW Pet Co. already on a roll, with new product honors at SuperZoo (PetVille Roll-A-Coaster) and Global Pet Expo (dog toys). Cullen will be expected to accelerate the momentum started by sales VP Ken Oh and marketing director Emilye Schmale.

Tony de Vos: Displaying dedication to green business practices and manufacturing processes, Cardinal Laboratories president de Vos is in the process of putting the company through a complete energy overhaul. Currently, the company is working on a solar- and geothermal-powered distribution center in Azusa, Calif., as well as converting its other distribution center in Baldwin Park, Calif., to be energy efficient. Watch for other energy innovations from this company in the future.

Philip Falcone: One of the world’s wealthiest hedge-fund managers and founder of Harbinger Capital Partners has reportedly drawn the scrutiny of the SEC regarding a $113 million personal loan and questions about certain clients being allowed to withdraw money from the fund while others were not. Falcone maintains the issues are much ado about nothing, but some major investors have withdrawn funds. One of Falcone’s goals is to shift some of his holdings, including a 54.4 percent stake in Spectrum Brands, from the hedge fund to a more stable, publicly traded vehicle, Harbinger Group Inc., of which he is CEO. Harbinger Capital, which has been selling some assets to cover investor withdrawals, still maintains a 12.7 percent stake in Spectrum.

Ezra Field: As a managing director with Roark Capital Group of Atlanta, Field sits on the board of directors of Roark’s Pet Valu Inc., which it acquired in 2009. Field, who previously managed franchise investments including Jenny Craig, will work to ensure Pet Valu lives up to its growth potential. One move was Pet Valu’s acquisition of Bosley’s Pet Food Plus, a platform for growth in Western Canada, in 2010. 

Zach Grey: Somewhat of a mixologist, dog trainer Zack Grey, who blended hipster cool with organic and eco-friendly products at his L.A. pet store chain The Urban Pet, has since expanded into Moon Shine. The new grooming facility, which opened in October adjacent to the Silver Lake Urban Pet, offers full- and self-service groom in artist-themed grooming pods, i.e., the Van Gogh pod and the Picasso pod, as Grey tries to add a splash of color to the pet industry. 

Jim Heim: As chairman of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, Heim played a critical role in developing a strategic plan for the organization and recruiting Mike Canning as its new chief executive to ensure the organization remained viable as Marshall Meyers stepped into a part-time consulting role. Meanwhile, his employer Central Garden & Pet missed analyst expectations in its fourth quarter  (mostly due to sales growth on the garden side related to wild bird and grass seed) and Central chairman Bill Brown vowed to ”be relentlessly focusing on growth.” As president of business development, Heim will no doubt be central to that effort.

Pennye Jones-Napier: As co-founder of The Big Bad Woof Inc., Pennye and partner Julie Paez are on the vanguard of a new concept in business organization: benefit corporations, which include “general public benefit” as part of their corporate charter and are subject to third-party verification. Moreover, Big Bad Woof is trying to franchise its beneficial retail concept to areas outside its DC home.

Matt Klinger: New president and fourth-generation leader of Hunting Creek Fisheries, Klinger is bringing technology and sustainability to the 86-year-old operation. Among his first moves was revamping the fish farm’s website and social networking efforts. Longer term, he’s exploring alternative sources of energy to make the facility more sustainable by replacing propane with a wood furnace and solar energy.

Debby Lening: Reaching out and networking with other women in the pet industry is the idea behind the Women in the Pet Industry Association, brainchild of Lening, founder and director of the organization. The group has attracted several members, though they mainly hail from the equine industry, so there is room for the organization to grow by adding members from other areas of the pet industry.  

Scott Nash: As CEO of Aquarium Retail Holdings, Nash broke away from Big Al’s Aquarium Services last summer to go the independent route as the 20,000-square-foot Allfish Emporium in Tamarac, Fla. He expects to open his first full-line pet store (albeit with a strong fish emphasis), a 23,500-square-foot Allpet Emporium, in mid-2011 in Pembroke Pines, Fla., then expand that brand throughout South Florida and beyond. With many pet retailers becoming increasingly specialized, it will be interesting to watch his progress.

Jackie Oakes:  The founder of K-9 Coastal Bakery, a retail store in Wilmington, N.C., Oakes had a banner year in 2010. Not only did she open a second store, Tippy’s Treats & More in the same city, Jackie also exhibited for the first time her natural baked goods line at the H.H. Backer Christmas Trade Show in Rosemont, Ill. Oakes is on a roll and could have even more business innovations in the making for 2011.

Andrew Quinn
Andrew Quinn, director of education for Zoo Med.
Andrew Quinn: Quinn stepped into a larger role with Zoo Med in 2010 with his promotion from New England sales director to the newly created position of director of education. Quinn will be expanding Zoo Med’s educational efforts not only to retail staff and hobbyists, but to politicians and regulators as well. His responsibilities include working with government reps on current and future reptile regulations—certainly a growing field. 

Betsy Banks Saul: She celebrates the 15th anniversary of, which she founded in 1996 as a local site in New Jersey. The site has since expanded to link 13,500 animal welfare groups across North America and posts 300,000 adoptable pets at any time. Since 1996,, now part of Discovery Communications, reports it has found homes for more than 16 million pets and plans to find homes for 2.5 million more in 2011. This could help stem dips in new pet acquisition rates.

Patti Strand: As national director of the National Animal Interest Alliance for more than 20 years, Strand had long fought for responsible pet ownership. With an increasing number of cities, counties and states considering regulations that would restrict pet owner rights, she is likely to be stretched in many directions in 2011 as she continues to promote animal welfare over animal rights agendas.

Steve Thoeny
Steve Thoeny.
Steve Thoeny: Thoeny is a third-generation president of family-owned RFG Distributing, one of the original Iams distributors. Since 2005, when Iams dropped its exclusivity requirements from its distributors, Crystal, Minn.-based RFG has expanded geographically and in its offerings, both pet foods and hard goods, while maintaining a tremendous customer service reputation with both retailers and vendors—including P&G Pet Care, which recently named RFG its distributor of the year for 2009-10. Future plans call for more growth, including a distribution facility in Missouri.

Mel Toellner: Though never still, “Bird Man” Mel, president of both Gold Crest Distributing and manufacturer Songbird Essentials, has seemed especially busy of late. Songbird has been buying company’s and licensing products (Eklund’s gift line, Rubicon Intl., the Bird Bath Raft, and the Seed Hoop) in the past year, and Gold Crest launched a training program called Wild Bird University to teach retailers how to sell more wild bird product.

Debbie Wakabayashi: Wakabayashi, owner of Salmon Paws in Encinitas, Calif., founded her new company with just one product, pure salmon treats for dogs, and less than three years later, is already up to seven. Debbie is also dedicated to educating pet owners on the dangers of sago palms—a common plant in Southern California that when ingested is highly toxic to dogs, cats and children. Wakabayashi’s entrepreneurship, animal-welfare dedication and growing involvement in the industry could take her far in the pet industry. 

David Waters, DVM: A professor at Purdue University’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences and associate director of Purdue’s Center on Aging, Dr. Waters capped off three years of researching 140 exceptionally old (at least 13 years, equivalent to 100 for humans) Rottweilers last year by visiting 15 living ones. Waters is now expected to publish many research papers regarding longevity in dogs, which could shed light into extending longevity in both pets (for example, by providing data on the optimal age for spaying dogs for longevity) and people alike.

See the 25 To Watch list for 2010.

See the 25 To Watch list for 2009.


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25 to Watch in 2011

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Reader Comments
One of you people on your watch list is not even in the pet industry any more, Laura Christine. Thought you might want to replace that one.
Arnie, Atlantic Beach, FL
Posted: 5/31/2011 5:23:49 AM
You guys should add Mark Arnold, CEO of Critter Alert Center, LLC. It is a recovery spinoff of Child Alert Center, LLC, which has been around for 6 years. Their approach to pet recovery it unmatched anywhere and extremely effective by sending missing pet posters to mobile phones with any mile radius necessary, plus additional features.
Mark, Jacksonville, FL
Posted: 5/27/2011 8:15:02 AM
What a waste of time.
Steve, Rochester, NY
Posted: 1/9/2011 2:39:59 PM
a company you should keep an eye on ,is the new site
helping older dogs
Paul, canimlake, BC
Posted: 1/6/2011 8:11:55 PM
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