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Behind the Scenes: Apet Inc.


The company strives to keep fresh ideas flowing.
By Dennis Arp

Listen to John Kasprzyk and it’s easy to believe the Apet organization is just as much a living, breathing, growing organism as any of the fish, birds, reptiles and companion animals in the company’s state-of-the-art facility.

Apet’s seven animal holding rooms (top) and its aquatic acclimation facilities (a freshwater row is shown above) showcase the company’s dedication to providing their livestock with the cleanest, healthiest temporary homes possible.
“We are always moving, always changing, always evolving,” said Kasprzyk, chief marketing officer for the Midwest livestock-distribution stalwart, based in East Dundee, Ill. “We’re determined not to become stagnant.”

Apet’s dynamism is on display in the 50,000-square-foot warehouse that is a temporary home to thousands of small animals, from guinea pigs to geckos, as well about half a million freshwater and saltwater fish. The buzz of activity as workers tend to equipment and customers cruise the aisles often matches the hum of the facility’s filtration and purification systems.

“That facility is amazing,” said Paul Sindermann, owner and operator of Living Art Aquarium, a fish specialty store in Madison, Wis. “I go there about every other month to see what they have. The staff is well trained, and everything is well organized. Mark has the experience and has figured out how to do things right.”

Mark Shilkus has been a part of Apet’s success for all but two of its 35 years in business. He started working for the original owner when there were just a handful of employees. Those were the days when the same person who took a customer call might load the van and deliver the livestock. Shilkus bought Apet in 1994.

“He’s a fish guy from the word go,” Kasprzyk said.

A fin-loving self-described “fish geek” himself, Kasprzyk was a retailer and customer in Apet’s formative years. He joined the company more than 11 years ago and now is part of a work force of about 100, including seven sales representatives.

The biggest factor behind Apet’s success, those inside and outside the company say, is the ability of its people to anticipate customer needs, then move swiftly to meet them.

“What may have worked two years ago or even last year probably doesn’t work well enough today,” Kasprzyk said. “We’ve been known to put together whole delivery runs in the course of a weekend and then work them into a pattern because a customer needed it. The status quo just doesn’t happen around here.”

The company built its latest warehouse and distribution facility, now a year and a half old, from the ground up. Instead of two or three rooms for small animals, Apet built seven, each with distinct systems so there’s no risk of cross contamination.

“On air handling, we worked with a couple of different companies, because the quality of the air is vital for small animals,” Kasprzyk noted. “There’s 100-percent fresh air intake and 100-percent exhaust; the air on the rooms turns over four to five times an hour. It’s way beyond what most people have in their homes.

“The cleaner you make it, the better it is for the animals, and in the end it has to be all about putting out a better quality product. Isn’t that why we’re all here?” he added.

Apet’s aquatic acclimation facilities are a trip in and of themselves. Twenty-two rows of tanks average 4,000 gallons each, accommodating an impressive array not just of fish but also of corals, invertebrates and aquatic plants.

Apet’s people welcome retailers to visit—partly because they love to show off the facilities and partly because they know those who make the trip are likely to find something interesting that they didn’t previously have on their shopping lists.

“We hear all the time, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen that in a while,’” Kasprzyk related. “Our fish buyer, Jim Deckrow, has been with us for 34 years, and every now and again, he brings us something we haven’t seen in six or seven years. That’s when we know we still have the excitement for the business. We walk up and down the rows, like kids in a candy store.”

Retailer Sindermann likes that he can satisfy his “hard-core clients who sometimes ask for some oddball stuff.”

“The other day I asked about getting chevron tang, which are pretty hard to come by these days,” he said. “They found one pretty quickly and supplied me. Otherwise I would have to outsource to California, and the shipping would have been outrageous, plus they would have been jostled more during the long trip.”

Sindermann said though his store is only 1,250 square feet,  he gets personalized service from his sales rep, Michele.

“I know that if I complain about something I don’t like, she won’t send it again,” he said. “And once she knows I like something, she makes sure she calls me when she gets it in.”

Apet distributes more than just fish to allow retailers the chance to buy across categories, consolidate shipping costs and reduce minimums, Kasprzyk said.

“There is value in minimizing what it takes to keep inventory fresh and turning over,” he added.

These days more than ever, Kasprzyk is asking Apet sales reps what their customers need “to get more business walking through the doors.”

“I have a flock of spreadsheets on my desk right now,” he said. “Recessions are not new – this is probably my fifth or sixth. What we’re going through now may not be new, but pet-owning is still a positive.”

Therefore, Kasprzyk and his Apet colleagues do their best to keep moving forward, searching for ways to keep getting better. As he sees it, there’s really no other choice.

“If you stop, it’s a fight to get going again,” he said. “And you never want to get left behind.” <HOME>


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Behind the Scenes: Apet Inc.

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Reader Comments
Yes, I worked for Apet long ago and with Mark. I saw the new place and my jaw dropped. It is unbelieveable how far Mark has come, and yes I WAS one of the guys who cleaned tanks, answered phones, drove the vans, and moved Apet twice. I enjoyed it all too. Steve
Steve, Des Plaines, IL
Posted: 7/3/2009 6:19:27 PM
Really nice article. I've seen the APET plant and it's truly fantastic.
Karen, Caryi, IL
Posted: 7/1/2009 2:38:49 PM
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