Nina Wolf is the proud owner of Animal Nature, a Independent Pet Food store in Pittsburgh, PA. Meet Nina 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 Nina…
How/why did you open a pet food store? (Is there a personal story of a pet food harming one of your own pets?…Motivations of you starting this business?)
Almost 20 years ago, 13 rescue cats ended up on my doorstep with upper respiratory infections and so many secondary complications that their prognosis was terminal. No antibiotics worked any longer, there was nothing allopathic medicine could do for them. In desperation, I grabbed Anitra Frazier’s book and set to work. Within two weeks, all the cats were healthy, and within a month all had been adopted out. Hmmm…I couldn’t ignore that, could I? So I started to read about diet, herbal remedies, alternative therapies. Since that time, I have never looked back, and never been disappointed in the results. I have six cats and four dogs of my own, each of whom is now elderly. We have no hairballs, no hot spots, no allergies, no kidney failure. No thyroid issues, very little stiffness or joint problems, no cardiomyopathy. In my pet sitting business, I saw all these things and more, and kept harping to my clients that it was diet, diet, diet – but I couldn’t blame folks, since they had no access to the truly good foods. So…we opened a store!
What do you see as the difference between your store and a Big Box Pet Store? What advantages to you provide to Pet Owners?
It seems most folks decide to open a pet store, take a look at the products offered by wholesalers who offer the best deals, and fill the shop according to what is readily accessible. We turned that around. We wanted to offer certain products to folks in our area, so we set about finding a space in which to do that and hunting down supply sources. For a one thousand square foot shop, we have over 45 different suppliers for very, very carefully chosen items. Instead of choosing from an offering, we seek out the best of what we want to stock, and find a way to get it – sometimes at a high shipping cost and much legwork. Each and every item in our store is researched, tested, reviewed with care.
What are some of the frustrations you have about the (mis)information your customers have been exposed to about pet food and nutrition?
Probably the biggest frustration is the “prescription diet”. Most people trust a doctor, and they believe that these diets are not only healthy but necessary for their companion animal. These diets are, in most cases, so fundamentally unhealthy that it is hard to present all the reasons for avoiding them in a convincing manner over 5 minutes or so…and, of course, we would prefer not to undermine the local vets. It is difficult to manage all this with diplomacy.
How much of your job is nutritional education and counseling? Do you offer seminars or other continuing education opportunities through your store?
I’d say MOST of our conversations with customers involve some sort of nutritional advice. From recall histories, to info about the role of protein, the possible dangers of synthetic vitamin K, dispelling the myths of “prescription foods” and single-food diets (especially lamb), and more…we talk about these topics every single day.
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 are currently in the process of moving our customers from some very popular brands that were just sold to a huge conglomerate. These foods had been great for years, but we do not trust the new parent company, and will not re-order. Things we look for: fit for human consumption, organic, open info about supply chains, responsive to requests about ingredients, multiple inspections, kosher certification, low or no grains, good ratings with Whole Dog Journal, the Pet Food Project, and other independent sources of information, and a clean record at the FDA. Lastly, we make sure dogs LIKE the food!
Have any of your foods been affected by a recall? Of so, how did you handle it?
None of our foods have been recalled, and we work hard to make sure they never are…but if they were, we’d immediately pull them off the shelves, notify every customer we could identify, replace any food that came back to us with something safe, and carry on with as much diligence and vigilance as is humanly possible.
How do you go about choosing and training your employees?
We do not have employees yet – we are partners, and so cover the hours between us. We also have a pool to draw from in my other business – we are caregivers for sick, elderly, and cranky companion animals. My caregivers are well-versed in nutrition and would be the first place we turned for support in the store. We will not have anyone working in the shop without a solid knowledge not only of nutrition but also of behavior issues, rescue, and other related companion animal topics. We are a resource in the community, and feel strongly about having a solid understanding of a broad range of animal-related topics. The other day, we got a call from someone who had found a baby bird, and were able to give out the name of the wildlife rehabilitators without a second thought – this kind of background is important for anyone who works with us.
How do you stay educated about food and news in the industry, and what are some of the challenges to this?
We are constantly sweeping not only Petsumer, but the Dog Food Project, the Food and Drug Association, manufacturer websites, veterinary periodicals, Whole Dog Journal, and any number of other places for the most current and accurate info. There is sometimes conflicting information, and we must do our best to untangle the knot. It is usually not that difficult to decide between a manufacturer who claims something is all natural and safe, and a Whole Dog Journal rating that points out potential dangers with the same product!
Why should a pet owner purchase their products from your store?
We are locally owned, woman-owned, independent, and green (everything from our business cards, letter trays, light bulbs, shelving, to the way we handle trash form the store is all about being a responsible presence).
For more information visit http://www.animalnature.net/; better yet, if you are in the Pittsburgh area, give Animal Nature a personal visit – tell them you learned of their store from TruthaboutPetFood.com!