Unifying the Pet Industry
Since he became the leader of the American Pet Products Association, Bob Vetere has made it his mission to ensure the continued success of not only the organization's membership, but also the pet industry as a whole.
When Bob Vetere took on the role of executive director of the American Pet Products Association (APPA) in 2002, it was still called the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association—a difference that may seem simple on the surface, but speaks volumes about the direction in which he has led the organization. The change in moniker reflects the fact that Vetere has turned APPA into an association that not only tends to the needs of its manufacturer members, but is also committed to unifying and ensuring the continued health of the overall pet industry.
It is for this ongoing commitment to the industry at large, as well as his forward-thinking approach, that Pet Business has chosen Vetere as its first Pet Industry Executive of the Year.
“Through his leadership, Bob has leveraged APPA’s strength to bring together various groups within the pet industry to address some of the challenges facing our industry,” says Joe Watson, president and CEO of Petland, Inc.
APPA has thrived as an organization under Vetere’s leadership, growing to more than 1,000 current members from 650 when he took over the association. He did it by delivering more value to the membership.
Andrew Darmohraj, the association’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, says that Vetere’s unique point of view has been instrumental in that success. “Bob came in from the corporate side, which is much different than association management,” he explains. “He brought a very different perspective on the industry and the role that the association should play. He drove home the idea that it’s the members that make up the organization, and we must deliver value to those members.”
While he has certainly had a strong impact on the success of APPA as a trade association, there are several programs, in particular, that have defined Vetere’s tenure as the leader of APPA—and all of these programs have served not just manufacturers, but the wider pet industry, as well.
The role of unifier is one that Ken Oh, director of pet care division sales for W.F. Young, Inc., says Vetere is uniquely suited for. “Bob’s greatest strengths are that he is very levelheaded and forward-looking, when it comes to the industry,” he says. “He has a nice mix of industry and association experience that allows him to guide APPA in doing what is best for the industry. I think that is what has made him as successful as he is.”
Paul Cooke, vice president of trade and industry development for Nestlé Purina, adds that Vetere is unique in his commitment to the pet industry and his organization. “Everything Bob does is focused on the best interests of the industry,” he says. “He truly tries to manage above the noise to do what is best for the industry and the people involved in the industry. He has a unique skill set where he will listen to all of the interested parties and will respect everyone’s opinion. Then he will state what is in the best interest of the industry going forward.”
Holding an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a law degree from Seton Hall University, Vetere joined APPA with a wealth of both business and trade association experience. He previously served in roles at companies like First Brands Corp. and Oil-Dri Corporation of America, as well as non-profit organizations such as the American Plastics Council, the Sorptive Minerals Institute (SMI)—a trade association of cat litter manufacturers—and the Chemical Specialty Manufacturers Association.
“That is where I learned the power of a trade association, versus the power of an individual company trying to do things on its own,” says Vetere.
However, when he set his sights on a leadership position with APPA, getting the job was not necessarily a layup. “Through a series of interviews, I was able to convince them that they didn’t just want a seasoned association executive, but rather someone with experience in the for-profit world—particularly in the manufacturing of pet products—to represent what was, at the time, a membership made up of 650 pet product manufacturers,” he says. “It was a big step for me, and it was a big step for the association.”
Not long after joining APPA, Vetere’s ability to bring organizations together was exercised in the creation of Global Pet Expo, which launched in 2003. Since the event essentially fused two existing annual trade shows—the APPMA Trade Show and the Pet Industry Distributor’s Association’s (PIDA) PETS show—cooperation between the two organizations was essential. According to Darmohraj, Vetere came into the picture at a critical time in the formation of Global Pet Expo. “It is hard to explain how much goes into making that type of cooperation work,” he says. “Bob worked very closely with [PIDA president] Steve [King] to clearly delineate the roles of the two organizations, which made for a smooth implementation.”
Since its inception, Global Pet Expo has grown exponentially to become the pet industry’s largest annual trade show. In 2014, the event featured 985 exhibitors and drew 5,597 pet product buyers from around the world.
With APPA thriving as an association and Global Pet Expo gaining more momentum every year, Vetere set his sights on the future of the pet industry. In 2006, after a commissioned study by management consulting firm Baine & Company revealed a number of challenges that the industry would likely face over the decade ahead, Vetere sat down with the APPA board to discuss strategy. “We held a strategic planning session with the board, which viewed the challenges as sweeping,” he says. “But who would address those challenges? There were no obvious answers. Thankfully, the board was willing to look at the big picture and use resources to meet the challenges on an industry-wide level.”
One of the first programs to come out of that strategic planning was the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI), a non-profit research and education organization that is gathering, funding and sharing the scientific research that demonstrates the positive health impacts of animals on people. While it was initiated by Vetere and APPA, HABRI has gained the support of a wide range of organizations within the pet industry, proving that a cooperative approach to addressing industry-wide issues is possible.
The program has also been extremely successful in drawing interest from a variety of organizations outside the industry, including medical associations, universities and even health insurance companies. As a result, it shows much promise in affecting the conversation about the role that pets can play in advancing human health, which Vetere finds gratifying. “HABRI is one of the programs I am most proud of,” he says. “That’s the one I’m going to hang my hat on.”
Still concerned about the many challenges that lay ahead, Vetere was not content to stop with HABRI. “Once HABRI was up and running, he continued coalition building on behalf of the industry,” says Darmohraj. “He got people [from all over the industry] in a room and got them to agree that something needed to be done and the direction of what needed to be done.”
The result was the creation of the Pet Leadership Council (PLC), a coalition of the industry’s various non-profit organizations, including APPA, PIDA, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the World Pet Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association, as well as for-profit companies such as Petco, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, Petland Inc., and Central Pet and Garden. PLC is focused on addressing current and future issues facing the pet industry, including threats from overzealous government regulation, through initiatives such as creating clear animal-breeding standards, as well as animal care guidelines for retailers.
“As the opposition to our industry was gaining strength across the country [with the] passing [of] emotionally based pet store bans, Bob was able to bring the industry together through the creation of the Pet Leadership Council to help address this threat,” says Watson. “The leadership of the PLC immediately engaged in the federal lawsuits and provided much-needed resources at a critical time. Bob recognized the importance of these cases and was willing to go to bat for the live side of our industry.”
However, Vetere says that there is still much left to be done to ensure the ongoing success of the pet industry. For example, he says, “The Pet Leadership Council must straighten out the puppy-mill situation,” noting that even the definition of what is or isn’t a puppy-mill can be contentious.
He also sees potential trouble looming behind the inevitable drop-off in pet ownership among Baby Boomers, which have been a key demographic in building the industry to where it is today. “We have to figure out how we can engage emerging consumer demographics in a way that is meaningful to them,” says Vetere.
In the end, it is what Vetere has done for APPA membership and the industry that matters most. “He has done a wonderful job with APPA,” says Mark Hirschberg, president of Multipet International. “Under his leadership, the organization has grown into a world-renowned group, the trade show is a first-class event, our dealings with them are always very fair and as an organization they are extremely accommodating.”