Selling in Style
Pittsburgh’s Healthy Pet Products is a successful fusion of owner Toni Shelaske’s wealth of knowledge in both store design and nutritional pet products.
The main focuses and efforts of many “healthy pet food” stores begin and end with the quality of the food. But not for Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh.
Shelaske puts extra thought into creating an aesthetically pleasing retail environment at all three of her stores, something that helped her win a Retailer Excellence Award for Store Design at last year’s Global Pet Expo.
With her unique and artistic approach to merchandising displays and interior decorating, shoppers could easily mistake Shelaske’s store for a boutique rather than a pet food store.
“I recognize the need to create an attractive space,” she says. “I’m fortunate because I do have that passion for educating as many consumers as I can about the importance of quality pet foods, supplements and treats, but I’m also very much a business person. I have an extensive retail background and education.”
That prior retail experience at places like The Limited and Aeropostale gave Shelaske the skills and inspiration to keep her store’s look fresh and engaging.
She changes her front table display monthly, and with each month she has a different focus for a sale. July was national anxiety month, so Shelaske put out a complimentary display of anxiety products.
“I’m forcing customers to walk through items that they wouldn’t necessarily always buy,” she says.
Healthy Pet Products customers can also find an inviting archway made of cat boxes over the store’s aisles.
Shelaske’s foray into the pet industry began in 2000 when she started a pet-sitting business. Eight years later, she sold the business and got into the retail side. She took over the 1,000-square-foot Healthy Pet Products in October 2008 and gave it her creative treatment.
“When I took over, it looked absolutely nothing like it does now,” she says. “Organizationally, things were pretty good as far as how they laid out the store, but there was no real character or flow to the store. You walk into my store and realize it’s a brand, and there’s a feel to it.”
Upon her takeover, Shelaske created a new logo and changed all the visual components of Healthy Pet Products. She also brought in a freezer to incorporate raw food into the store’s product lineup.
Two main components of Shelaske’s legacy at Healthy Pet Products are moving and expanding—both good signs for her business’ health and success. About a year after taking over the business, Shelaske moved the original Healthy Pet Products store, doubling its square footage. She then opened a second location in 2011. The original store moved once more in 2014, again doubling the space, and the second location moved in April 2016 to a space three times as large.
Though multiple moves are physically and financially challenging, Shelaske says she took the risks so she could make her spaces exactly how she wanted them. “It was very well worth it,” she says.
In April 2015, Shelaske purchased a third store—a 2,000-square-foot combination grooming and retail space. The previous owners were moving across the country and asked Shelaske to buy. She purchased and renamed it Healthy Pet Grooming. It now lives under the Healthy Pet Products umbrella along with her other two retail-only shops, though Healthy Pet Grooming’s retail selection is very small and mostly consists of limited-ingredient diet products because of the skin issues in the grooming world.
Between her three spaces, Shelaske employs around 25 people—seven of whom are full time—and most have been with Healthy Pet Products for quite a while. One of her employees is a graphic designer and creates nearly all of Shelaske’s signage.
“She understands the mission and how to convey that through our marketing,” Shelaske says of the designer. “I can tell her what I want and she’s just very skilled at putting that on paper and actually creating what I have in my mind. I’m very lucky to have her.”
With a name like “Healthy Pet Products,” one expects a certain caliber of foods available. Shelaske’s main guidelines for product selection are no wheat, corn, soy, byproducts or food coloring, made in North America and nothing chemical based. But as more and more companies have jumped on the natural bandwagon over the years, she’s gotten even pickier about which products she’ll carry.
“Everyone is trying to make an all-natural food and a grain-free food, so I’ve gotten a little tougher with it,” she says. “Now I’m looking at company support. That means a lot, especially when I have a customer with an issue and I can’t get ahold of anybody.”
Shelaske now aims to carry products from companies that are truly invested in independents, not just capitalizing on a trend.
Shelaske’s introduction of frozen and refrigerated food to the Healthy Pet Products’ roster is, unsurprisingly, cohesive with the rest of the store. While some stores will throw a fridge somewhere and call it a day, Shelaske worked hard to integrate her five, eight-foot-tall stand-up freezers into the store by making a walk-in space wrapped in colorful graphics.
Healthy Pet Products carries foods for dogs and cats of all ages and sizes, plus natural flea and tick, toys and boutique-type items like clothing, coasters, stickers, car magnets, mugs and more.
Shelaske feels strongly about educating her customers and integrating Healthy Pet Products into its surrounding community. The store has an education center with ample literature and a TV playing educational videos. She has close relationships with like-minded area businesses and groups to refer her customers to, and hosts an annual Healthy Pet Day where local organizations and vendors set up booths in the store’s parking lots.
With Shelaske’s creative and community-focused approach to pet food retail, the Healthy Pet Products brand has become an important and unique asset to the Pittsburgh area.