henschen sept 20 stock

The lack of customer service at supermarkets can be a detriment to pet brands. 

I stumbled across an ad that made me want to sell chainsaws. The headline: “Why is the world’s number one selling brand of chainsaws not sold at Lowe’s or The Home Depot?”

The ad continued: “We can give you 8,000 reasons, our legion of independent STIHL dealers nationwide. We count on them every day and so can you. To give you a product demonstration, straight talk and genuine advice about STIHL products. To offer fast and expert on-site service. And to stand behind every product they carry, always fully assembled. You see, we won’t sell you a chainsaw in a box, not even in a big one.”

My store is just pet food and treats, so I don’t think I’ll be adding chainsaws anytime soon. Judging from the advertisement, I doubt they would have me as a dealer. I wouldn’t be qualified enough to represent their brand.

What if we saw that type of advertisement for a pet food?

“You won’t find Johnny’s Pet Food at PetSmart, Petco or Chewy.com. Why? We can give you 3,000 reasons: our legion of independent pet stores nationwide. We count on them every day, and so can your pet. They will be happy to offer expert advice, explain our products and even give you some samples.”

I mentioned the Stihl campaign to a friend who is in the advertisement business. He thought the advertisement was a little too pointed and may turn off some consumers. I agree; some consumers may think it is inconvenient to find a local dealer or not comprehend why the saws cannot be found in the big-box stores. I say those are not the customers Stihl is trying to reach.

My friend also mentioned that he didn’t see the comparison to pet food. “Do you really need an expert to point out a bag of food?” The answer is yes, and, furthermore, the manufacturer needs us to point out that bag of pet food.

Let’s say a new pet owner starts to look for that first bag of pet food. She’s heard from several of her friends and a veterinarian that she should feed Fred’s Pet Food. She wanders into her local supermarket and finds Fred’s, but there are 17 different types of Fred’s foods and she is overwhelmed. For example, there is Fred’s all life stages, Fred’s large-breed adult, Fred’s grain free, Fred’s grain in and so on. Because the store only offers the line of Fred’s products that sell well, not all Fred’s products are in the store. Missing is Fred’s large-breed puppy, as it was not selling well at this location.

A store employee notices her confusion and tells her that he recommends Fred’s Lamb & Rice because, as he says, “It’s a good seller, and you can feed it to any dog.” She happily takes his suggestion, and she and her mastiff puppy head off to the register. Hopefully, many of you cringed when you read “mastiff.” It’s possible feeding an all-life-stages food to a mastiff may lead to a developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).

Turns out Fred’s Lamb & Rice formula was an “adult maintenance” food, which means that puppy was probably going to grow too fast, possibly leading to a DOD. The veterinarian who discovers the hip dysplasia blames it on the growth and asks what she was feeding, and she replies, “Fred’s.” The pet owner leaves the veterinarian disgusted at Fred’s, even though she was feeding the wrong food. She makes a point of telling everybody she meets not to feed Fred’s.

The next day, the veterinarian is seeing another new puppy, and when the owner asks about what to feed he says, “I used to recommend Fred’s, but I saw a case of hip dysplasia that may be related to Fred’s pet food.” Fred’s is a great food when fed to the right dog, but because the owner got bad information, the brand took a hit.

That situation would not have occurred with Johnny’s. Johnny’s is only sold at independent pet specialty retailers who know all about their products and carry the brand’s full line.

Micro independents need manufacturers to step up. There are several out there that do make an effort; unfortunately, many fall short. If you are a pet food manufacturer selling direct, every box leaving your facility should have a list of the independent retailers who are in the ZIP code of where you are shipping the product.

How about running an ad in specific markets talking about your products and listing the stores within that region that sell them? If you get a consumer excited about your product and get them in our doors, we will take it from there. We will not only make sure they get the right product from you for their pet, we will probably sell them a bag of your treats and maybe a supplement you offer. When you launch your new product, we will be right behind you, talking about it and selling it. It’s about time you guys get behind us.


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.