Meet an Independent Pet Food Pro
Amy Haithcock is the proud owner of Unleashed, the Dog & Cat Store located in Raleigh, NC. Meet Amy and learn just some of the differences between the Big Box stores and the personal touch of the Independent Pet Stores.
All of the Pet Food Professionals listed on TruthaboutPetFood.com (Find Healthy Pet Food) are asked the same list of questions. It’s our way to show pet owners the true difference between Big Box and Independent. Meet Amy and Unleashed…
How/why did you open a pet food store?
Unleashed had a very small start. I began with a stand at the Raleigh Flea Market with some sweet potato chews and treats, some natural chews (rawhide alternatives) and a little bit of Lupine collars and leashes. It was amazing the amount of educating I did on a daily basis. I was able to reach so many people and teach them about the dangers or rawhide and other common dog chews and treats. I also educated them about good nutrition and was surprised that people actually started buying dog food from my little stand at the flea market. The large recall of 2007 happened shortly after I opened and I soon became a resource for many people who were effected. The more questions people asked, the more information I researched. Later that year, we were invited to the State Fair, and at that point my husband quit his job, and Unleashed became our primary focus. We started a website and began looking for a storefront so that we could be there for people 7 days a week. Our goal for our own animals is to prevent them from having any of the medical conditions that we see in others so frequently. Our goal for others, is to help them either prevent, or treat holistically those problems. There aren’t many holistic vets around so we have become the holistic source for so many people. With each new problem that presents itself, we research and learn more and more. So Unleashed came about not because of any particular problem with our own pets, but because of the need of our area for a good source of quality information and products, and our desire to help as many dogs and cats as possible.
What do you see as the difference between your store and a Big Box Pet Store? What advantages to you provide to Pet Owners?
Well, as you can see from the previous answer, we are more than a store, we are a resource. We hear testimonials daily from customers including ones who’s dogs were on prescription drugs and foods, but are 100% better after switching to natural foods and supplements that we recommend. We also stand behind all of our products 100%. Furthermore, our customers have peace of mind knowing that anything that they purchase from us is going to be all-natural with no byproducts, and not from China. We also get to know many of them, have lots of social functions, carry their food to their cars, offer an across the board buy 12 get one Free food program, and listen to them when they talk about the products that they want. And to top it all off, our prices are generally better than the big box stores anyway.
What are some of the frustrations you have about the (mis)information your customers have been exposed to about pet food and nutrition?
Our biggest frustration is from vets. There is a vet only a few miles from our store that has told their customers that everything that we carry is too high in protein. Despite the pure ignorance in this statement, we carry foods including Canidae (even their Platinum formula), and Nature’s Variety Prairie, which have very average protein levels. Other vets at the same practice have told their customers that their dog needed a very specific protein percentage, which of course was the exact percentage of the Science Diet that they push like crazy. We even had a customer tell us that while they were waiting in the lobby someone was giving all of the employees there a talk about how they needed to push Science Diet. These vets have used scare tactics to switch people off of our foods to their Science Diet. I don’t really want a confrontation, but it is getting out of hand, and I don’t know what to do. They have been over-diagnosing pancreatitis lately to the point where if a customer mentions that their dog has pancreatitis, I can tell them exactly which vet office they went to. If the customer is willing, I can recommend them a natural diet, tell them to switch vets, and see the dog prosper in great health. We have become quite bold with some of these customers. A recent customer told my husband that the vet told her our food was too high in protein for her dog, and he just said “why?” which of course she could not answer. So, our biggest frustration is people’s blind obedience to their vets. They don’t even know why. We only hear about the ones that are somewhat questioning their vet; who knows how many people just start buying Science Diet and stopping their road to good nutrition. It’s more than just this one practice (a chain of 5 locations) and their Science Diet, we also have vets in the area, and the Vet School, pushing Royal Canin, and Iams Veterinary Diets. And the problem is that they are not just switching dogs with problems, but completely healthy ones too.
How much of your job is nutritional education and counseling? Do you offer seminars or other continuing education opportunities through your store?
Most of our job is nutritional education and counseling, on a one-on-one basis. We have thought about doing seminars. As of now though, we have just given one to the Triangle Area Professional Pet Sitters, which was great. They are on the front line, and now know that they can send their customers our way when they know the dog is in need of better nutrition.
Do you have some success stories to share about how good nutrition has helped customers to eliminate health problems?
We get testimonials daily. We have had customers who were able to stop using seizure medication and reduced daily seizures to about yearly seizures by switching to an all-raw diet. We have a particular dog whom the vet school had pretty much said there were no other options- the dog had lost all of his toenails, much of his hair, and had a list of other issues- now the dog has grown all his hair and even toenails back and is a complete mystery to the vet school by switching to an all-raw diet. We have tons of testimonials of dogs with “sensitive tummies,” from a variety of our foods and supplements. And we have hundreds of testimonials about itchy skin and allergies. We have many testimonials about tear staining going away. We have testimonials for almost everything including UTI, IBS, pancreatitis, and even cancer. Many of our customers’ dogs have long outlived the vets’ estimations and some of the vets (although, like I explained earlier, not many of them) have started to take notice. Even at the most traditional vet offices, we have employees such as receptionists and vet techs, buying their food from us (even though they probably can’t talk about it at work!)
How did you choose your foods, or what defines foods that you will agree to carry, and what makes you decide against a certain food? Would you be willing to eliminate a certain popular food if something changed about it that you didn’t like? What sort of thing would that be that would make you do this? How would you handle it with your customers?
We have very strict guidelines with our food selections, and would absolutely drop a food if something changed that we did not like. We carry no food with corn, wheat, soy, byproducts, chemicals, and that don’t source from China. We also look at the meat to carb ratio and don’t carry a food if it has lots of carbs. We also like foods that use digestive enzymes. We do keep a close eye on every company and have no problem saying no. For example, we carry Nature’s Variety’s line, except their canned and raw rabbit, because we know that comes from China. We ask them constantly if that has changed and let them know that if it does, we will add it. We also pay attention to who owns the food and where we think the future of the food is. For example, we did not carry Natura, but would have most definitely dropped it as soon as it was purchased by P&G. If we had carried it we certainly would have worked with all of our customers during the transition phase, just as we do with anyone that comes in our stores now looking for it. We are currently facing this on a small scale. Tiki Cat is considering adding synthetic vitamin K (which is a no-no in our foods) to two of their formulas (which, by the way, your website shows that it is in all of them, but it is currently in none of them.) We told her we would drop those two skus if that happens and advised her that she should not compromise her formulas to appease AAFCO- we suggested she call those two skus supplemental instead of adding the vit. K. But we also worked it out that she would hold for us as many of the current formula so that we could sell that and not the potential new formula. Then we can easily transition any of those customers to the other flavors.
Have any of your foods been affected by a recall? Of so, how did you handle it?
The only food recall that has affected us was a small recall of some Nature’s Variety frozen chicken medallions. We contacted the customers that had purchased that particular product during that time and told them that they could return it for double product. We also explained to them the reality of salmonella and that if they returned the food we would feed it all to our dogs because we had no concern with the recall. We did actually feed all of that recalled product to our animals with no consequence. Salmonella is a way overrated recall issue.
How do you go about choosing and training your employees?
We have 2 types of employees. One type can help customers and do most things. They are mostly family. We have recently hired one that has been a long-time customer and the medical director of a local rescue group, so she came with a pretty good amount of knowledge. Our other type of employee is “stocker/cleaner.” They are not allowed to help customers, but must redirect them to one of us if asked a question (in a friendly manner of course.) Those have been hired in very basic ways. It is most scary for us to hire anyone that is going to help our customers.
How do you stay educated about food and news in the industry, and what are some of the challenges to this?
We stay educated most by going to every trade-show possible, and talking directly to the highest up people from the manufacturers as possible. We are also in constant contact with our reps, asking them questions about their own companies, but also their competition. We also watch forums on the internet and glance through trade mags.
Why should a pet owner purchase their products from your store? (Anything other that above.)
Because we truly love helping pets and want only the best for them.
Did I miss anything? If there is any other info you would like to share about your business – please do.
There is more info and pictures on our website: www.unleashedmutt.com and our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Unleashed/177087051130?ref=ts.
For more information visit www.unleashedmutt.com; better yet, if you are in the Raleigh area, give Unleashed a personal visit – tell them you heard about their store on TruthaboutPetFood.com!
Support your local independent Pet Food Stores!
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
Is your dog or cat eating risk ingredients? Chinese imports? Petsumer Report tells the ‘rest of the story’ on over 2500 cat foods, dog foods, and pet treats. 30 Day Satisfaction Guarantee. www.PetsumerReport.com
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