I stepped off the hotel shuttle with the song “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” from the Broadway hit “Kiss Me Kate” buzzing in my head. (Yes, that is how “opening” is spelled in that song title. I know my musicals.) The particular “op’nin’” I was excited about was among the first pet industry shows of the year, and my first since 2019.

The day before the event started, I wandered into the hotel bar. The room was practically vibrating with energy. I saw many friends chatting about the latest in the industry and ended up sitting next to a new-to-me raw pet food manufacturer. The show had not even opened, and I was already making new contacts and learning new things. When the show officially opened the next morning, registration had a line around the hotel to get in. It was so refreshing to see so many eager attendees.

Most micro independents can probably classify their customers into one of three categories: new, existing and “superconsumer.” The new one is the easiest sell. They have wandered into the store and are looking for something. It is a slow softball pitch for most of us. We can get to know them and their pets, make some stellar recommendations based on what they tell us, and knock it out of the park.

The existing customer is one of the hardest to sell because they heard your pitch when they were a new customer. They are returning to the store to replenish their food and are not in the “learning” mindset like they were as a new customer. Of course, our goal is to increase the ticket price by offering more. We always try to let existing customers know about new products and any sales we are currently running. It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise—although it often does—but simply offering impulse items like treats, chews or toppers during checkout tends to increase sales. If I’m not on my game, I could easily forget to sell to an existing customer during checkout and assume the role of fulfillment clerk.

The toughest customer to deal with, and sell to, is the superconsumer. They have read all the books, belong to no less than six Facebook groups related to their pets, and have no problem telling you what is wrong with your offerings. It can be tricky to stay ahead of the superconsumer because many times they have the latest information before you do. Their information may or may not be factual; sorting through is part of the “fun” of handling superconsumers. I always try to meet them with the latest product in my store and the reason I brought the item in.

My starting line might be: “Great to see you again, Ms. Picky. Have you seen the new topper from ABC? It is 100 percent whole sardine in an easy-to-feed format. As you know, sardines are fabulous for heart health, skin and coat, joint health and so much more.” I am never surprised to get a response from a superconsumer with information I have never heard, or that is incorrect. In response to my opening line, Ms. Picky informed me, “I avoid sardines because of the chance of radioactive minerals contaminating the fish.” Wait, what? Radioactive sardines?

I had to do a deep dive on the internet to figure out what she was concerned about. It stems from the 2011 Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster. The concern is that the nuclear accident contaminated one of the largest spawning areas of sardines. I could not have imagined I would ever be researching a nuclear accident in regard to pet food.

But back to the show. I classified the three consumer types because the line around the hotel was made up entirely of superconsumers. I was at Healthy Dog Expo in Albany, N.Y., which I believe is a consumer event specifically focused on pet health.

These superconsumers not only paid an admission price that exceeded one hundred dollars, but they also made their way from all over the globe to be there. I met Noor, who has a very spoiled kitty cat back in France. She was excited to meet Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker. I also got to spend time with one of my favorite couples, Charly and Larry, who own the only exclusively holistic and natural pet health store in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They want to keep up on the latest information and products to bring home to the UAE.

The lineup for Healthy Dog Expo was just awesome, so it was no surprise people came from around the world. Dr. Kendra Pope spoke on “Shedding New Light on Cancer,” Suzanne Clothier spoke on how functional assessment tracking promotes whole dog health, and Susan Thixton presented on commercial pet foods and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The headliner for day one was Dr. Becker, who talked about building the next generation of healthier, happier companions.

Day two was shorter but still brought out the stars. Pet nutrition expert Billy Hoekman covered diet principles and healthy foundations, followed by the social media mega star Rodney Habib, who discussed the New York Times best-selling book “The Forever Dog,” which he and Becker co-authored.

There were photo and signing opportunities throughout the expo and gifts for attendees. It really was a fun and educational event. You might think I wrote this column to motivate you to attend more educational events, and you would be right. You need to stay abreast of the current trends to be able to satisfy the superconsumer.

If a superconsumer walks into a store and can’t find more information to help her furry family than just marketing buzzwords, she is going to walk away and hopefully end up in my store. The manager of the nearby big-box pet store sends them straight to me; he views them as “time suckers.” Sure, talking about radioactive sardines might not be viewed as a good use of time to many, but it is important to that superconsumer, and we are here for them.

My second objective for this column is to plant the seed for you to consider hosting an educational event. It would be hard to get to the level of Dr. Laurie Coger and her Healthy Dog Expo, but planning a small local event is doable even for the smallest store. Many years ago, I teamed up with another micro independent, and we hosted an education event in the local library’s “party room,” which I believe we rented for $50. It all started because one of the fresh food influencers, Hoekman, was going to be in the area. We rented the room, advertised it heavily between the two stores, and the event was born. We had a roomful of superconsumers who listened to him, and then we all fielded questions. A few of the guests were people who followed Hoekman on social media and had not been to our stores, so we gained some new clients that day, plus fed the minds of many.

Whether you’re an attendee or a host, educational events can benefit everyone: stores, consumers (even super) and, ultimately, our furry friends.


B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.