When the COVID-19 pandemic reached The Filling Station Pet Supplies, which has stores in Portland and Tigard, Ore., store owner Laura Amiton immediately went to work to keep her brick-and-mortar stores relevant as she faced increasing competition from online retailers. 

Pet Product News: What are the top-selling products in your stores right now?

Laura Amiton: Answers Pet Food raw dog foods, Answers Pet Food fermented raw goat milk and Open Farm dry dog food are currently my top-selling food products. 

PPN: What are your favorite products right now?

Amiton: I absolutely adore and stand behind all the products in my store. A lot of careful thought has gone into the decisions to provide the products and brands that I have; however, it’s probably not a surprise that some of my favorite products are also in my top sellers list! Answers Pet Food: particularly, all of their foods are, hands down, at the top of my list. From the first meeting with them before they were selling their food to today, this company exemplifies the way I wish all companies would operate. They are transparent and honest, and they walk the talk. I never feel they are putting sales before quality, and that is hard to find in any industry. They have steadily made a name for themselves by doing the right things right and by never compromising their standards for ingredient sourcing and manufacturing. In addition, they are so smart. They use science and simplicity to formulate their foods. I never feel like they are attempting to capture a trend.

I carry a lot of good treats from amazing small companies, but for years I’ve stood behind Polkadog Bakery. They have excellent-quality dehydrated treats, all sourced from their area of Boston. I learned about them by visiting one of their stores in Boston just after I opened my first store, and I was hooked. At that time, they were so small they didn’t have local distribution, so I would purchase directly from them. Later, a local distributor picked them up and suddenly everyone knew about their claim-to-fame product, dehydrated cod skins, which are still my biggest seller.

PPN: What industry trends have you been keeping your eye on most closely? 

Amiton: Like many of us, I’m very much involved in staying current on the whole canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) potential connection to grain-free, legume-based foods. It’s made a major impact on the industry, and all I want is what everyone wants: to fully understand if there is a connection and to provide a lot of options for the pet owners so that there is peace of mind. This has increased my desire to continue to educate my team and customers on diversifying their pet’s nutrition plan by adding freshness every single day. As an industry, us store owners need to help lead the discussion that our pets need more than a kibble diet day in and day out, so I’m very much liking the companies that are helping to make it easier, such as Green Juju, Nugget’s Healthy Eats, Stella & Chewy’s, K9/Feline Naturals and Answers Pet Food, to name a few. I’d like to see more and more pet kibble companies innovate themselves to provide more than a kibble diet.

PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the process of tackling?

Amiton: Staying relevant during COVID. We hope that pet owners continue to support the local stores, and the local stores absolutely need to step it up to compete with the ease of online ordering. My online store is a significant part of my daily sales, and I’m always looking for new ways to communicate to the pet owners that we are in and dedicated more than a global online retailer. We can compete on ease, reliability and timeliness much better than they can. So, the biggest business challenge is making sure all of my customers know this, while growing my customer base in the area.

PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve in 2020?

Amiton: I don’t know where to start, but my main goal is to continue to provide the highest-quality customer service via my excellent team of employees no matter what is happening around us. I am hopeful that 2020 will continue to be a year of growth, despite COVID and all its implications.

PPN: What is your best tip for connecting with customers?

Amiton: It always will be doing the little things right. Connecting with them while they are in our store, standing in front of us. Asking how they are and asking from a wanting to know, not because it seems like the thing to ask. Outside of my store, my email marketing has been a very effective way of touching base, connecting and communicating.