Thinking Big, Acting Locally
Animal Supply Company, Pet Business' 2014 Distributor of the Year, is leveraging its expanding resources to help pet specialty retailers on a local level.
Becoming a larger company is one thing. Managing that expanding company successfully is a completely different issue.
For executives at Animal Supply Company, getting a handle on their fast-growing company has become a priority as the Irving, Texas-based distributor expands its territory to much of the country.
Animal Supply Company was founded in 1987 and concentrated its initial growth through much of the 1990s on its home turf in the Pacific Northwest. But the company has accomplished dynamic organic growth with vendors and retailers, augmented with strategic expansion by acquisitions over its 27 years of operation. Much of that growth has been financed through The Halifax Group, a private-equity group that became involved with the company in 2010. Since then, according to George Ristevski, the chief executive officer, Animal Supply Company has made 10 acquisitions, including the purchase of a number of premier regional distribution companies, including Lone Star Pet Supply (South region), Summit Pet Product Distributors (Southeast region), Wholesome Pet Distributing (Great Lakes region) and RFG Distributing (Midwest region).
Today, Animal Supply Company serves retailers in 43 states and the Caribbean, runs 22 distribution centers and employs more than 1,300 people. More importantly, the company serves between 9,000 and 10,000 retailers operating up to 15,000 outlets, many of them single-store businesses looking to thrive in a complicated and competitive retail pet industry. “We remain committed to the independent pet channel,” Ristevski says. “Our goal is to deliver services and a product selection to make the independent channel healthy and successful.
“At this point, the only areas in the continental U.S. we are not distributing in are New York and the New England states,” he adds. “And it is just a matter of time before we expand there and take our practices and our vendors with us. We will have every metro pet store covered.”
For its rapid, but sensible growth, and its great reputation for building relationships between vendors and retailers and making a big difference in the marketplace, Pet Business has selected Animal Supply Company as its 2014 Distributor of the Year.
“Who are we? We are a distribution company that offers many value-added services to retailers, represents most of the vendors in the industry and focuses on delivering success for all of our partners,” says Ristevski, who joined Animal Supply Company about a year ago after working with a petroleum company in Connecticut.
MERCHANDISING MADE EASY
Officials at Animal Supply Company know that a well-merchandised store is the key to a strong retail business—and their Retail Services Group is there to help. The group offers professional, well-laid-out store-design solutions—from new units to remodels, or just to freshen up a section. The Retail Services Group provides design services, racking, customer fixtures, displays, headers, retail counters, and signage to create spaces that are easy to shop and designed to match a retailer’s store identity.
The future for Animal Supply is bright. Realizing that big is good but it is not necessarily always better, Ristevski says that Animal Supply Company has recently set up a distribution strategy that establishes four specific territories. While corporate headquarters has recently moved to Irving, Texas, from Washington State, regional headquarters for the West region remains in Federal Way, Wash. The other regional headquarters are located in Schertz, Texas for the South region, Greensboro, N.C., for the Southeast region and New Hope, Minn., for the Central region.
“We don’t believe in a massive corporation where all decisions are made centrally,” notes Katia Buskirk, the company’s senior vice president of merchandise management. “We drive strategy centrally and execute locally. It allows us to stay in better touch with our retailers, and we’re able to respond to their needs faster and more effectively. If you centralize all of the operations, you risk losing the ability to be nimble, and it could hurt the relationship with retailers.”
Adds Ristevski: “We are bringing our sales force together and getting them on the same page in terms of a shared value system and expectations. We are bringing a multi-regional company together into one. You can’t have a team huddle wearing 11 different jerseys.”
Helping the independent retailer remains the company’s primary mission. On its website, animalsupply.com, Animal Supply Company lists its objectives for its retail partners as delivering success with quality products, fair and competitive pricing, efficient and reliable service, and a deep concern for retailers’ success.
“For the independent pet retailer, we see a commitment to quality and a commitment to offering the local touch,” says Buskirk. “It is a different experience than going to the [major pet chains], and it is why traffic continues to grow in the independent channel.”
Ristevski says that the scale available to its retailers for marketing programs and retail services will provide a big lift to single-store operators. Animal Supply Company concentrates on three areas: food brands, supplies for all types of animals, and its own private-label brands. “In the past, it was not effective for us to roll out these programs nationwide,” he adds. “Now we have the scale to go national. At the same time, it is a careful, limited range of private-label SKUs that are designed to give our custom
ers what they want and need to thrive.”
The company is also committed to helping its vendors. Again, on its website, Animal Supply Company lists its commitment to suppliers as “to be your trusted, preferred distributor sharing the commitment to deliver quality products and promotion opportunities to the independent retailer.”
“Our job is to deliver best practices where they don’t exist,” Buskirk adds. “We want to provide the tools to help these retailers be more successful.”
Ristevski says that the company’s philosophy is to get to know each and every retailer it does business with, so it can gain a better handle on the individual needs of each merchant. “We want to walk the store and understand each retailer,” he says. “We want to find out how to bring more traffic into each store and determine what services we can offer. Hopefully, we can create a partner for life.
“We ask retailers who they are and who they want to be. Then, we make sure they are aware that we want to offer them the widest breadth of SKUs and give them the flexibility they need to move in and out of categories and brands.”
In the end, both Ristevski and Buskirk say that the company has set two goals for the future. The first is to stick to its core mission, which is to support, defend and build the independent
channel. The second is to use the company’s infrastructure and its employee’s skills to expand into similar markets, which could include broader distribution to veterinarians.
“We certainly can become a much larger operation,” says Ristevski, “but our mission is really not about size, as much as it is to deliver success to our retail and vendor partners.”
In addition to supplying independent pet retailers with a wide range of brands from the industry’s top manufacturers, Animal Supply Company offers its own comprehensive private label line, under the Neighborhood Pet Products umbrella. The line, which was created to help small, independent retailers differentiate their pet supply (nonfoods) offerings from big-box competitors, comprises five high-quality brands that are exclusive to neighborhood pet shops.
Integrity Natural Cat Litter encompasses seven varieties of litter that are formulated to be “healthy for cats, the home and the environment.” Included in the line are Clumping Clay, Multicat Clumping, Natural Pine, Natural Wheat+, Natural Corn Cob+, Cobbled Paper and Clumping Pine products in various sizes, ranging from six to 40 lbs. Also included in the Integrity line is Heavy Duty Cat Urine Stain & Odor Eliminator. This non-toxic, fragrance-free product can be used on fabric, carpets and hard surfaces and is safe for pets and children.
Rogue River Naturals
The Rogue River Naturals line is made up of 100-percent natural, handcrafted bones and treats that are sourced from the U.S. and Brazil. Included under the Rogue River Naturals label are jerky, body parts, bones, frozen treats and bully sticks. Rogue River Naturals products are USDA inspected and contain no hormones, steroids or antibiotics, or artificial colors, flavors or additives.
Basil & Baxter’s Bakery
The highly palatable baked treats in the Basil & Baxter’s Bakery line are all-natural, limited-ingredient products that contain no artificial colors or flavors, and no corn, wheat or soy. Available pre-packaged or in bulk, the treats include varieties such as an anti-oxidant formula made from rolled oats, blueberries and peanuts; a hip and joint formula made from apples and ginger; and a weight-control formula that includes pumpkin.
The Nature’s Café brand centers on high-quality diets for small animal pets and domestic birds, as well as wild birds. The nutritionally balanced line, which includes custom seed blends and timothy hay products, is made in the USA, has no added colors, flavors or preservatives, and incorporates probiotics to aid in digestion.
Naturally high in protein, Essential Delights treats for dogs and cats are made with premium ingredients to deliver high-quality nutrition. These freeze-dried and roasted meat treats are highly palatable and can also be used as a meal topper. Included in the line are varieties such as Whitefish Treats and Seafood Crunchers for cats, and Beef Liver Treats and Wild Pacific Salmon Sushi Roll Treats for dogs.
According to Katia Buskirk, senior vice president of merchandise management for Animal Supply Company, all of the products under the Neighborhood Pet Products umbrella have been developed with one goal in mind. “We want to offer consistent quality that retailers and pet owners can trust,” she says.
In the months and years ahead, retailers can expect all of the Neighborhood Pet Products brands to expand organically as Animal Supply Company identifies new opportunities to support its independent retailer partners with high-quality products. One thing pet stores shouldn’t expect to see, however, is a bunch of me-too items designed to piggyback on emerging trends.
“We want to create products that improve upon what is already on the market,” says Buskirk. “They have to offer something special to the retailer, the pet owner and the pet.”
All of the above brand names are trademarks of Animal Supply Company.