More pet owners than ever opting to feed their pets as well as they feed themselves
In the retail business, it's no longer good enough to just be the right store in the right place at the right time. Even when demand for the products you sell is soaring, you're working harder than ever just to survive. Brick and mortar can feel like a ball and chain.
So it's downright energizing to hear how Garden Home resident Barb Cantonwine, president of Healthy Pets NW, intends to perish doubt and outdo the Walmart of Washington State, aka — Amazon.
Cantonwine runs three pet supply stores in Portland. One in the Woodstock neighborhood, one in the Hawthorne neighborhood and the store in Multnomah Village at 3612 S.W. Troy St. The stores feature natural alternatives to mass market pet foods and supplies. Owners these days are willing and able to pay more for better products for their pets. So demand for the line of products at Healthy Pets NW stores keeps increasing.
"This business has continued to grow but it has changed," Cantonwine said. "It's growing but it's growing in online sales and sales at the big box stores. That makes it kind of hard for the smaller, independent stores like ourselves to compete."
"We're always being creative and we offer above and beyond," she said. "The customer service here is something you don't get when you're clicking on boxes on the internet to get food and supplies for your pet.
"The in-store knowledge base of all of our employees means you can ask questions. You can't do that if you go online. We do have a lot to offer above and beyond but it's tough and online shopping is definitely cutting into the moms and the pops."
The other thing you can't get online when it comes to the care and feeding of your pet is advice.
"There are times when we've had employees spend half an hour to 45 minutes with a customer just discussing all the different options. I've been there when somebody will bring their pet in because they've got a little hot spot or an irritation on a paw," Cantonwine said before pausing.
"No that we're vets," she emphasized, pointing out that her employees have the experience to answer basic pet health questions, especially when an ailment may be food-related.
"A lot of things we see can be caused by diet," she explained. "One of the big (causes) is grains. And food with bad ingredients. We see a lot of it."
"Bad ingredients" is why she got into the business. Her sister Julie Cantonwine opened the first Healthy Pets NW store in 2000. Seven years later, Barb opened the Multnomah Village store.
"We definitely felt like there was a need for products that were a little more dedicated to healthy pets," she said. "Food with really good ingredients, good, solid, quality protein. You weren't finding that in pet food with a lot of grains and a lot of really cheap ingredients."
A pet supply store featuring natural products was the logical extension of the health food store for humans.
"Absolutely. Definitely. That is kind of how it progressed," Cantonwine said. "As we started thinking about changing our diet and looking at the ingredients in our diet, we did the same for our pets. My sister was looking for some supplements that were not chemical and not toxic and they were hard to find. So that's one of our things. We offer products without chemicals and without toxic ingredients."
Another big part of Cantonwine's competitive strategy is community activism. She's on the board of the Multnomah Village Business Associaiton, testifies before City Council and helped organize a new coalition of 12 independent pet supply stores in Portland.
She knows consumers might prefer lower prices for lesser products for their pets. She has heard it asserted that the price of the pet products sold at Healthy Pets NW is prohibitive. She's not buying it.
"It's misinformation, but it is very much believed that we're more expensive," Cantonwine said. "One thing that I tell people though, is if you pay a little bit more for the quality ingredients, your pet doesn't use as much of this food because it's all usable nutrition. There's not a lot of grains and those things that all are just wasted out of the body. They utilize all of the nutrition that's in the food. So sometimes that balances out (the higher cost)."
Cantonwine and crew must be doing something right in the business. There are six employees at the Multnomah Village store and 13 more at the other locations. Cantonwine and her husband and business partner, Michael Carroll, oversee operations and as often as possible travel to inspect the "kitchens" where the food they feature is produced. Cantonwine's daughter, Chandra Howard, manages the Southwest Troy Street location, while daughter Dusty Smith is operations manager for the three stores and granddaughter, Alexis Barnes, was just named assistant manager at the Hawthorne store.
Asked if expansion is a possibility, she laughed and said, "Part of being a small business owner is always, everywhere we go we're looking at buildings; we're looking at lease signs but you know, with 12 healthy pet food stores, the Portland market is kind of over-saturated."
WHAT CANTONWINE FEEDS HER DOG
"We feed our rescue dog Meadow (an English Shepherd mix) a rotational diet of a combination of dehydrated raw meat and canned food, and high quality meat treats. She definitely prefers meat, raw or otherwise, and turns her nose up at most veggies and fruits. She's about 12 years old but not showing many of the typical senior dog signs. She's mostly just slowing down a bit activity wise. She's quite healthy and, actually, I can count on one hand the number of times she's been to a vet in the 11 years we've had her."
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