Finding an Edge

The World Pet Association is constantly looking for exciting new ways to set its SuperZoo trade show and conference apart from other pet industry events.



Back in the early 1980s, after paying my dues working 12 years at Woody’s Pets and when I was first learning to grow Doug’s Animal House into a viable business, I was always looking for an edge. I’d constantly ask myself and trusted employees, “What’s next?”

I wanted our store to be on the cutting edge of new technology, innovative promotional tools and the latest trends in pet products. I left no stone unturned in trying to gain an advantage over my competitors. 

I realized one tactic that could set us apart was running a commercial on the local cable-access channel. So, I scraped together the money and—with the help of the local cable station—filmed our first commercial starring my neighbor’s cat. 

In the days before GoPros, we did a point-of-view angle of the cat making his way through Doug’s Animal House to shop for what it wanted its owner to purchase. The storyline centered on the fact that we carried products for every type of pet and every type of pet owner. 

We did several more commercials after that featuring everyone from my grandmother and a parakeet to my kids, the neighbor’s kids and dogs from our store. Because not many other stores were doing similar spots, it helped us gain traction and stand out in a competitive market. 

By 1982, I had the entire store computerized at a time when other retailers were hand writing receipts and doing their bookkeeping in ledgers. After realizing there were very few bar codes on pet products, we bought software that allowed us to print our own labels and bar codes, so we could scan what we were selling. This let us run reports on what products were most profitable and showed me, for instance, that selling 40-pound bags of dog food was my largest generator of profit dollars and far outweighed selling other items that may have had a larger margin for profit. To me, at the time, this was revolutionary and helped changed the way I thought about ordering, pricing, marketing and selling the products I carried in my store.

This all sounds quaint now, especially when you consider the U.S. pet industry has grown into a more than $60-billion business, and pet products can now be found in almost every retail setting you can imagine. 

The World Pet Association (WPA) approaches SuperZoo—North America’s leading pet retail trade exposition and conference—with that same question I posed back in 1982: “What’s next?” We constantly look for ways to keep pet industry professionals from across the spectrum, from manufacturers to consumer-facing retailers, on that cutting edge by continually evolving what we offer and ensuring only the best qualified buyers are in attendance for exhibitors.

A major risk we took in the name of adding an entertainment element to SuperZoo was the first year we did a concert. The WPA board gave me the latitude and budget to make it happen and we were able to bring in Pat Benatar. During the show, when I looked around and saw the pure joy and fun everyone was having, I turned to a board member and said, “This is worth every penny to see our attendees, exhibitors, staff and board having such a great time with each other. Everyone works so hard to make sure SuperZoo is a success, and they deserve this.” In the years since, it’s become one of the most popular aspects of SuperZoo and something that sets us apart as trade shows continue to move in a more experiential direction. 

Knowing that the quality of buyers is extremely important to our exhibitors, and as participation continues to grow, we’re streamlining the registration process for 2017. We’ll have a new system whereby qualified buyers who have registered for SuperZoo in the past will be able to use a personalized form, pre-populated with their past registration history, to register for this year’s show. Those who have not registered previously will be asked to supply business information to ensure they are qualified. These improvements to our registration system will help SuperZoo remain a quality, important event for all segments of the pet industry.

Building on its more than 65-year history of helping pet retailers and service professionals discover new products, learn how to build their business with more than 80 education sessions and connect with others who share their passion, SuperZoo has grown from a small, regional event to one of the most productive, collaborative gatherings and positive trade shows of the year. 

We’re light-years ahead of where I was, revolutionizing the pet industry by printing individual bar code labels way back in 1983. WPA prides itself on taking carefully considered feedback from attendees and exhibitors alike to ensure grass doesn’t grow under our feet, and we continue to find new ways to improve SuperZoo and keep people engaged.

Doug Poindexter is president of the World Pet Association. SuperZoo will be held July 25-27 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. 


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