A Display of Excellence

Pet Business, Coastal Pet Products and the organizers of Global Pet Expo honored 10 outstanding pet specialty retailers at Thursday’s Retailer Excellence Awards presentation.


All Pets Considered, TailsSpin and  Natural Pawz took the top honors at the fifth-annual Retailer Excellence Awards presentation, sponsored by Coastal Pet Products. The awards ceremony was part of Thursday’s Pet Industry Breakfast and was hosted by Pet Business magazine and the organizers of Global Pet Expo. 

“The retailers do the heavy lifting and we want to support them,” says Kim Stout, COO of Coastal. “We do not think they get enough acknowledgement. Sponsoring these awards is our way of recognizing those retailers who are best in class. We are proud to be involved.”

The Retailer Excellence Awards are presented to outstanding independent pet specialty retailers in a variety of categories, including:

Best Overall Single-Store Retailer
All Pets Considered – Greensboro, N.C.

Best Overall Multi-Unit Retailer (2-10 Stores)
TailsSpin – Savannah, Ga.

Best Overall Multi-Unit Retailer (10+ Stores)
Natural Pawz – Houston, Texas

Best Live Animal Retailer
Pet Express – Boston, Mass.

Multiservice Excellence
Woof Gang Bakery - Orlando, Fla.

Merchandising Excellence
Gorge Dog – Hood River, Ore.

Marketing Excellence
Brookside Barkery & Bath – Kansas City, Mo.

Store Design Excellence
Healthy Pet Products – Pittsburgh, Pa.

Community Service Excellence
Pet Things – Douglasville, Ga.

Customer Service Excellence
Blackbird’s Bowl – St. Morris, Ill.

At the awards ceremony, Natural Pawz owners Biff Picone and Nadine Joli-Coeur were ecstatic about having their chain—which operates 19 stores in Houston and Austin, Texas—recognized as one of the premier retailers in the pet industry. “It means a lot to be recognized by our peers, and it is a testament to all the hard work we’re doing,” said Picone.

Part of that hard work is in ensuring that their considerably sized multi-unit operation maintains the small, independent retail sensibility that fueled Natural Pawz’ success in the first place. It is a challenge that Picone and Joli-Coeur keep front of mind on a daily basis. “We have the vision statement that we started the company with hanging on the wall of our office, and we look at it every day,” said Picone. 

But the Natural Pawz owners are not alone in their efforts. “We do our best to surround ourselves with the right people, passionate people, who also strive to stay true to our mission,” noted Joli-Coeur.

Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products—which operates two stores in the Pittsburgh area—was another Retailer Excellence Award winner (for store design) who credited her staff for the honor. “I have the vision, but they are the ones who implement it,” she said. “I wouldn’t have won without them.”

As for that vision, Shelaske said her focus is on providing customers a comfortable environment to shop in while constantly keeping the store fresh with a healthy dose of new products.  

Of course, none of the Retailer Excellence Award winners would have achieved success without the support of their local pet-owning community. This is a fact that is not lost on any of them—particularly Community Service Award winners Terry and Cathy Brlecic, owners of Pet Things, a single-store operation in Douglasville, Ga. It is the Brlecic’s commitment to pay their community back for that support which earned them the honor at this year’s Global Pet Expo. 

For example, in the three years their store has been in business, the owners have donated more than 43,000 pounds of food to their local shelter. “And by us giving this food, the shelter is able to redirect money from buying food to paying for care of the animals,” says Terry. “They’ve started a spay and neuter program and all of the dogs can get their shots.”

“We’ve also re-homed about 40 dogs out of the store, including a litter of four puppies recently,” added Cathy.

The Brlecic’s focus on community service is one that is shared by Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeff Manley, owners of TailsSpin, a three-store chain based in Savannah, Ga. “Our community drives us,” said Bernhard, noting that he and his partner are always looking for new opportunities for involvement with the communities they serve.

With this in mind, according to Manley, TailsSpin has partnered with a local high school’s veterinary science program. However, Bernhard was quick to point out that TailsSpin’s community service efforts are not limited to the pet world. For example, inspired by the family of a store staff member, the company has also gotten involved with organizations devoted to helping children with Down syndrome.

At the end of the day, whether it involves helping customers take excellent care of their pets, or helping the local community in any number of ways, all of the retailers honored at yesterday’s awards ceremony are in the business of supporting life. And there is no honoree that appreciates that responsibility more than Rob and John Mellace and their sister Lucia Mellace-Castle, owners of Pet Express, which operates four stores in the Boston area and won the Best Live Animal Retailer Award. 

“A lot of organizations care about animals, but we care for animals,” said Rob Mellace. Still, the award was “bittersweet” he explained. “With all of the ordinances popping up around the country banning pets, it’s a tough category that we’ve been awarded in. But we’re proud to be live animal retailers.”


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