One For All
What do you a call a successful independent pet store chain that has made a mission of elevating its peers in the industry?
At Pet Business, we call it our 2017 Retailer of the Year.
Over the past three decades, Oakland, Calif.-based Pet Food Express has grown from a small store in San Francisco to a 63-unit retail powerhouse that now blankets the Bay Area and has built a strong foothold in Southern California. Along the way, the chain has developed an approach to staff education, customer service, merchandising and community outreach that is second to none.
While all this success would be reason enough to honor Pet Food Express as Retailer of the Year, what truly makes this chain stand out is the generosity that its owners—Michael Levy and Mark Witriol—have demonstrated in helping other independent retailers achieve their own success. This includes opening their doors to give numerous peers an inside look at various aspects of Pet Food Express’ award-worthy operations.
Scott Click, owner of Tomlinson’s Feed, a 14-store chain in central Texas, is just one independent retailer who got to experience this aspect of Levy and Witriol’s generosity firsthand. Several years ago, when Click and his wife realized that their business was moving into a period of growth, they sought out other chains that had successfully navigated the challenges that come with expansion and came across Pet Food Express.
“Michael didn’t know us at all, but he was gracious enough to sit down with us,” says Click. “And we learned a lot from him in a short time.”
Levy and Witriol gave the Clicks an opportunity to visit Pet Food Express’ stores and speak with employees about the company’s culture, and even invited them and some of their staff to attend a week-long employee education program to get an idea of how they could standardize training across the growing Tomlinson’s chain.
“They didn’t have to do that—it doesn’t benefit them at all,” Click says. “But I think they look at it as helping the industry, and that is very forward-thinking of them. So many of us in the industry get so insular with ourselves that we forget that what benefits one of us can benefit all of us.”
In the end, it was an experience that left a lasting impression and began what has become a great relationship between retailers.
“My wife likes to say, ‘We have a business crush on Pet Food Express,’” says Click.
Unsurprisingly, so does Pet Business.