Once More, with Feeling

A pet industry veteran reflects on a long, successful career and offers his thoughts on how to ensure a bright future.


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This will be my last column for Pet Business as I head into retirement, so I thought I would share some of my experiences and thoughts about the industry we all love.

 

In almost 40 years in the pet industry, I have learned many things. The most basic but valuable of those lessons has been to always treat the people who work with you with respect and listen to their ideas. From my start cleaning cages and dusting shelves to being the head of the World Pet Association (WPA), I learned that most great ideas came from those with whom I worked and the customers we served. Your customers and coworkers will let you know what they want, and it is up to you to listen and act on those requests.

 

Listen not just to conversation and feedback, but also analytics. I computerized my pet store in 1982, well before there were even barcodes on all the products we sold. It taught me things about inventory control, turns and profitability that I would never have realized had I not taken the chance. Do not be afraid to try new things.

 

Change is going to happen, and those of you who work to stay ahead of the times will continue to succeed. Explore new ways of serving your customer. It’s going to be different and you must change to be successful.

 

Handing Over the Reins

After 27 years with WPA, it is time for new leadership. I would like to thank all of those with whom I have had the pleasure of working with all these years. I would not be here without all of your support, guidance and willingness to share your visions with me.

 

I am very proud of where our team has been able to take WPA. We grew SuperZoo from maybe 500 booths to now more than 2,500, and America’s Family Pet Expo from 17,000 attendees to over 47,000. We also acquired Atlanta Pet Fair & Conference and launched Aquatic Experience in 2014. It has been an outstanding ride.

 

Now it is time to turn it over to a new leader that can take WPA to even more success. I am truly pleased with the choice our board of directors made in selecting Jacinthe Moreau to lead us into the future. I am excited to see where Jacinthe takes WPA and the industry in the years ahead. She will make a difference in the lives of animals and the industry we serve.

 

Telling Our Story

As my last charge to you, I say we must get better at telling the story of the pet industry. This is an industry that is not about the money, but rather one that truly cares about animal welfare. You must not only say it, you must show it. It has been disheartening to see all the legislation we have faced in recent years regarding the sale of animals in pet stores.

 

It is even more disappointing to see that legislators are not hearing us when we try to explain that passing these laws will do nothing to stop the unlicensed, disreputable breeders that none of us support. Pet stores can only buy puppies from USDA-licensed breeders who meet the USDA standards. Many of these breeders far exceed the minimum standards set by regulators. We have even tried to include sourcing regulations that would require that breeders from whom pet stores can buy have no major USDA violations within the last three years.

 

But we are not being heard. We must get our message told more effectively and we must unite to stop the untruths that are being told about our industry.

 

It is important that consumers have the right to choose where they get their pets, and this is what we must work toward as an industry. The future is bright, but we as an industry and each of us as individuals must continue to strive to show the world we are truly interested in animal welfare, that we are the experts in animal care and products and that we will continue to strive to do what is right for the animals.

 

Making a DIfference

At our America’s Family Pet Expo 12 years ago, I recall a man pushing his ailing wife in her wheelchair. He stopped at Donna Crossley’s bird exhibit and asked if his wife could pet Donna’s big red, blue and green macaw Jasper. Of course, she could. That’s what America’s Family Pet Expo is all about—getting up close and personal with the pet world. Jasper bent toward the lady, cocked his head and said, “Peek a boo.” After a minute or so, the lady in the wheelchair said in return, “Peek a boo.” The man’s eyes brimmed with tears as he told Donna that was the first time his wife had uttered a word in six months.

 

This is what I am working to sustain. This human-animal bond. My years fighting legislation across the nation, funding agencies actively working to empower the industry, spending time with the WPA board to make decisions that will shape the pet industry for years to come and producing events intended to benefit all pet lovers culminate in moments that will stay with me long after I’ve retired.

 

I take with me a grateful heart that has been softened by a lifetime of work surrounded by people who are trying to make a difference in the pet industry. My memories of a fulfilling and purposeful career, making decisions that really matter and keeping those moments, which are the evidence of our success, is what I will take from my office as I turn off that light switch one last time.

 

Listen, explore and be daring and you will find success not only for yourselves, but for our industry as well.  PB

 

Doug Poindexter is president of the World Pet Association.

 

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