The Power of Distribution

Celeste Powers, president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association, discusses how the pet industry’s specialty distributors can be a valuable partner to retailers and manufacturers alike.




It has been a little over a year since you took the reins as president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). How did your first year go? What have been the biggest surprises or challenges along the way? My first year was excellent. It certainly went by in a flash. It can be a challenge to follow someone like [former PIDA president] Steve King, who is a veteran in this industry and was in this role for nearly 30 years. I’m really thrilled how smoothly the transition went, and that I was able to contribute right out of the gate.

My biggest surprise was just how large the pet industry is and how many groups there are within the industry. I don’t think I’ve ever attended so many board meetings in one year—and not just for my organization, but all the different organizations. The great thing about that, though, is all the coordination within industry to support important groups like PIJAC [Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council], HABRI [Human Animal Bond Research Institute] and Pets in the Classroom. Certainly, it was a challenge understanding who all the players are and each group’s mission, but I’ve finally got my arms wrapped around it all, and I’m looking forward to my second year going as well as my first one.

Did you have any specific goals in your first year?  A personal goal of mine was to bring a fresh perspective to Pet Industry Leadership Conference, to help improve the event for all attendees and increase attendance. It started with the name change, The Pet Industry Leadership Summit—“The Summit.” The goal was to distinguish this event from other events/organizations in the pet industry.

Another goal for me was also to hit our sponsorship budget, which we hadn’t done in the past. I’m happy to say that we accomplished that and ended up nearly doubling what we brought in from sponsorships the year before. I was really thrilled, because the PIDA staff put in a lot of time and effort into selling the sponsorships earlier and increasing the benefits to our sponsors. This was a win-win for the attendees and sponsors, as it allowed us to do more with the conference without raising the conference fees.

I set this personal goal immediately following last year’s conference, which took place just a few months after I started. I was very pleased that we were able to achieve those changes in my first year.

How are the pet industry’s specialty distributors doing? What are some of the key opportunities and challenges facing your membership today?  Overall, pet specialty distributors are doing really well. Obviously, it’s a dynamic time in the industry, with a lot of new changes coming, and the legacy business models maybe aren’t there as they were before. But PIDA members continue to find their niche and new opportunities to grow their businesses. They are always looking to provide new and better service offerings to independent retailers, as well as new and innovative products that are coming down the line. Any time you have a changing industry, the distributors in that industry have to continue to reinvent themselves. They have to continue to be nimble and flexible enough to face the challenges that are out there and find new opportunities. The PIDA specialty distributors are certainly embracing this philosophy.

Before I joined PIDA, there was consolidation in the specialty distributor arena, but from what I’ve seen over the past year or so, that has stabilized and the companies that are in the industry now are doing well.

From your perspective, what are the major opportunities and challenges facing the industry today? What is your outlook for the industry over the short and long term? There is definitely disruption going on caused by omni-channel consumerism. The market is changing, and that provides both opportunities and challenges for the entire supply chain. The rise of e-commerce is such a significant change—maybe the largest change in this industry in over a decade—that distributors, manufacturers and retailers need to think differently and, in many ways, change what they’re doing.

With that said, the long-term outlook for the pet industry is fantastic. It’s a strong industry with a lot of investment activity and new products. It’s an industry that is rooted in passion, and pet owners continue to seek out the best products for the animals that are so important to them. So, it is a large, attractive segment with a growing consumer base.

Do you have any advice for retailers and manufacturers on how they can make the most of their relationships with the pet industry’s specialty distributors? The most important advice I can give is that communication is key for strong partnerships. I shared this advice last year, and it is worth repeating.

Distributors’ relationships with both retailers and manufacturers has to be built on strong communication and understanding everyone’s role in the supply chain.

PIDA’s Power of D website provides a great deal of information to help retailers and manufacturers understand the value of these relationships. Interestingly, the two most popular pages on that website are those that discuss the distributor/manufacturer marketing partnership and setting up a distribution network. So, people are going to the site to see how they can improve those relationships and how each part of the supply chain is helping the others succeed in the marketplace.

What can you tell us about PIDA’s Power of D Growth Through Distribution program? Have there been any developments in the program over the past year? Last year, we came out with three new retailer videos that have been very well received. They clearly illustrate the value that independent retailers receive by working with distributors—In-Store Support, Logistical Support and Promotional Support. The retailers also speak to the value of Pet Store Pro, the free online employee training that PIDA offers for retailers.

In 2019, the PIDA website was redesigned to give it a new fresh look and, more importantly, make it easier for independent retailers, manufacturers and distributors to navigate; and we going to do the same with the Power of D website this year. It will continue to carry that same message—the value distributors bring to the supply chain in the pet industry, as well highlighting the benefit and value of the relationships between distributors and independent retailers, and between distributors and manufacturers.

Have there been any notable changes/updates to PIDA’s Pet Store Pro free online training program for retailers?  Yes, two new chapters are launching here at Global Pet Expo. There is the new Zoonotic Disease Prevention chapter, which was developed in conjunction with PIJAC. This new chapter will be reviewed in two educational sessions today. First, there is a mini-session at 9:30 am in the New Products Showcase. Then, PIJAC will be moderating a panel discussion about the course at 11:30 am. The goal is just to share with everyone what this chapter is about—all the key points it covers. Also, a staff member from PIDA will be highlighting how to use Pet Store Pro and what courses are available on the website.

The other chapter that’s launching here at Global Pet Expo is our new training strategy course. This course, Training for Success, is designed to help managers and owners use Pet Store Pro to train their employees more effectively. The chapter outlines the process of implementing a consistent, structured training program to transform entry-level workers into essential, even long-term, employees. Content will help owners and managers gather materials, determine rules and processes, encourage staff to take their training seriously, and introduce the program to their whole team. The goal is to ensure employees can deliver the type of knowledge and face-to-face service that consumers can only get from independent retailers.

Another new development with Pet Store Pro is our board is undertaking an e-learning needs assessment this year. We’re looking at the whole program to see if we need to format the courses differently to benefit the users, as well as identify the long-term goals for Pet Store Pro. Our goal is to undertake any improvements later this year, into 2021.

Be sure to stop by our new booth (now co-located with APPA) #2401 to learn more about Pet Store Pro.

How many retailers are currently using the Pet Store Pro program? We now have more than 37,000 users. In 2019, 313 new stores registered for the program, which was an eight percent increase over the year before. That brings us up to a total of more than 7,000 stores utilizing Pet Store Pro for their employee training.

Every year, PIDA organizes the educational seminars at Global Pet Expo. What can attendees expect to find at Global Pet Expo Academy this year?  This year’s Global Pet Expo Academy features 22 speakers delivering 55 hours of retail education. We’ve brought back a lot of the great experts who have presented at Global Pet Expo in the past, as well as some new speakers, to cover a variety of topics that are important to pet retailers—from marketing to store design to engaging customers online. This year, we offered three pre-show workshops, and we have four retailer panels and 12 mini-sessions that are being presented in the New Products Showcase. So, we continue to expand the number of offerings in the Global Pet Expo Academy program.

One thing that I cannot stress enough is that our seminars are free to all retailers. This is the only major trade show in the industry where retailers can take advantage of all this free education. Last year, we had more than 1,700 retailers participate, and this year we’re really looking forward to having even more.

Do you have any advice for buyers on how they can take full advantage of their time at Global Pet Expo?  My biggest piece of advice, especially for anyone who is new to this show, is that you need to plan ahead. Go to the Global Pet Expo website, review the floor plan, figure out who you want to meet and where you want to meet them.

I also stress that retailers should collaborate with their distributor partners. Your distributors know a lot of the companies that are exhibiting, and they can make introductions and help guide the buyers on how to navigate the show. They can assist in organizing an agenda and making the best use of your time here at the show.

I would also strongly suggest that buyers watch the webinar we did on how to plan and navigate Global Pet Expo. It’s on the Global Pet Expo website, so you can still review it while you’re here at the show.

Do you have any advice for manufacturers that have come to Global Pet Expo looking to expand their distribution?  I would stress to manufacturers the importance of being prepared. Be prepared to present to distributors your strategies for things like pricing promotions and the channel you want to use. Everyone’s time is so limited, they want to quickly hear, “This is what we’d like to offer. This is what we’d like you to consider.”

Now, they have to understand that they mostly likely will not get an answer to show, but this is an important first step in opening a conversation with the distributors. To follow up, I suggest going to the PIDA website to look up distributors under the “Find a Distributor” feature. Then, of course, they can certainly go to the Power of D website, which again provides a lot of information on that manufacturer-distributor relationship.

Last month, PIDA—along with APPA and World Pet Association—hosted the fifth-annual Pet Industry Leadership Summit. How did the conference go? What were some of the highlights? Is there anything you can tell us about next year’s conference?  It was a huge success! Attendance grew by 10 percent, with a little more than 250 attendees, and everyone was very happy with the changes that were made to the schedule this year—shortening it to two days and not having concurrent breakout sessions. We had packed educational programming, which featured keynote presentations, a panel discussion and four breakout sessions, that where all filled to capacity. The social events provided great networking opportunities and were a big hit. All three organizations—APPA, PIDA and WPA—who put The Summit together were very pleased.

We haven’t started planning The Summit 2021 yet—we’re still taking in the evaluation forms from this year’s attendees—but you can expect us to build upon the successes we had this year and find any areas that still need to be tweaked. Most importantly, we want everyone to save the date for the Pet Industry Leadership Summit 2021, which will take place Jan. 25-27 at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Gardens, Fla. 


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