A Natural Resource
With a meticulous approach to product selection and true passion for pets’ wellbeing, TrailBlazer Pet Supply has made its mark as a trusted natural-focused retailer.
Erik Gledhill’s dog Jackson, a Labrador/Pit Bull mix, had spent his whole life scratching and itching. Traditional medicine offered no relief. It was only when Gledhill found an all-natural pet store and learned about grain-free pet foods that he found the solution. With that change in diet, nearly all of Jackson’s symptoms disappeared.
When that pet store was closing down, Gledhill decided to start his own store so other pet owners in the area could continue to have a resource for natural pet foods. In 2009, he opened TrailBlazer Pet Supply. Lori Wells, who was a partner of Gledhill’s for the store’s first three years, has managed the business since 2012.
Located in Chico, Calif., TrailBlazer aims to improve the health, wellness and longevity of pets, offering nutrition consultations, on-site talks, referrals to holistic practitioners and a top-quality selection of natural products. The store carries a variety of diets for dogs and cats, as well as treats, supplements, toys, leashes, harnesses and more. As a comprehensive resource for pet owners, TrailBlazer also offers grooming services and dog training classes, maintains a list of pet-friendly businesses in the area and provides other educational information on its website.
Wells, who came to the store from working at the local humane society, brings a passion for pets and TrailBlazer’s mission to the business. Her educational background is in nutritional therapy, which informs her vetting process for introducing new foods to the store.
“I’m a stickler for quality products,” she says. “The first thing I do is turn a product over and check out the ingredient panel before I consider bringing it into my store.”
Wells has also been trained in animal anatomy and physiology, which allows her to analyze an ingredient panel to see which ingredients are truly functional for pets’ wellbeing. Her definition of natural includes considering whether dogs or cats can actually metabolize everything in a particular diet.
“This is such an important piece to understand,” she says. “An ingredient might look great on paper, but if it can’t be metabolized by an animal’s body, then it isn’t a natural product for them, and I don’t want to carry it.”
A big part of the goal at TrailBlazer is to help customers take the guesswork out of finding the right food for their pets. That starts by creating a store environment where questions and conversation are an essential part of the customer relationship from the moment they come in the door. As a pet owner herself, Wells knows the frustration of just being told what she needs, rather than having someone take the time to listen to and understand her concerns.
“The first thing out of my staff’s mouth is, ‘Welcome, let us know if you have any questions,’” she says. “And you know what, 99 percent say, ‘I do have a question.’ After I feel like I fully understand what they need or are looking for, I feel confident I have a product in my store that will help them, even if it isn’t a name brand.”
Once she has figured out the right product for the customer, Wells makes sure to explain why she is recommending it based on that individual pet’s physiology and any symptoms they are having.
“I know I’ve done my job when the customer says, ‘No one has ever explained things to me so well,’ or, ‘I feel you truly understand what my pet and I are going through,’” she says.
TrailBlazer has taken its mission of supporting pets’ health even further by creating a Consumer Promise, through which the business aims to provide customers with the greatest possible assurance of the health and safety of the products it stocks. That promise includes the creation of its own banned ingredients list, which includes a range of ingredients that could be unhealthy, whether they are inherently unsafe for pets or are poorly regulated. The list, available on TrailBlazer’s website for its customers to reference, also provides an explanation of the potential health hazards of each ingredient.
“If a product has one of the ingredients, I’m not interested in selling it in my store, even if it’s popular. I take the health of our customers’ pets very seriously, and our customers really appreciate our strict standards,” Wells says. “They feel like we have their back, and that’s something every pet owner needs to feel.”
For Wells, this trust is what sets the store apart and brings customers back through the door, rather than picking up their food at a grocery or big-box store. Because of this personal relationship, TrailBlazer’s customers know they can buy any product on the store’s shelves and be confident that it is safe for their pet.
As a small, independent retail store, TrailBlazer also gains an advantage in its flexibility and ability to work with smaller companies. The business can bring in the latest in natural products and stock brands that customers may not have seen anywhere else yet.
“We have great relationships with our large pet supply vendors, but we also want to focus on small start-up companies who are real innovators,” Wells says. “We want our customers to walk into the store and get excited about all the products they’ve never seen or heard of.”
Wells has seen growing demand for natural pet products, especially as owners learn more about what’s in pet foods and about the industry as a whole. Pets being seen as part of the family also drives owners to seek out healthier, high-quality diets, a need that TrailBlazer is happy to meet.
“All our customers want what is best for their pet,” she says. “They want to see their pet happy and healthy. At TrailBlazer, we understand what pets need to thrive, and that is what we provide.”
Wells also makes sure TrailBlazer grows and changes as a store, incorporating new and innovative products and adjusting the store’s layout to give customers a fresh experience. She aims for an exciting and energetic environment, rather than having a static layout.
“I’m constantly changing up the flow of my store to get conversation going between staff and our customers,” she says. “I want to show customers that our store is growing and evolving as their needs are growing and evolving. I want customers to feel like every time they come into the store, there is something new.”
Currently, Wells sees securing trust and transparency with manufacturers and other suppliers as the biggest challenge TrailBlazer has as a natural-focused retailer. To face this, new products and manufacturers are carefully vetted before being brought into the store, and Wells seeks to build relationships with the store’s salespeople and vendors. She points out that recalls or an issue with a product can have a big impact on small, independent retailers, and they take the burden of providing the best for their customers’ pets very seriously.
“We value our customers and the relationship they have with their pets, and we owe it to them to be their watchdog,” she says. “By educating ourselves, by focusing on the health and wellbeing of dogs and cats, by educating our customers, by remaining flexible and courageous with our decisions and purchases, we will help customers have wonderful and long-lasting relationships with their pets.”