Petland seeks animal lovers as it opens new franchise locations.
By Alan Dorich
Petland’s top priority is to enhance the bond between humans and their pets. “The reason we go to work every day is to fulfill that pet mission,” Vice President of Business Development Steve Huggins declares.
Based in Chillicothe, Ohio, Petland operates stores across the United States and internationally that find homes for pets and sell pet supplies. Chairman Ed Kunzelman founded the company in 1967.
“He was always someone who loved pets,” Huggins says, adding that Kunzelman was a tropical fish hobbyist who grew up in southern California. A childhood visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., had a profound influence on his vision for the company.
Years later, Kunzelman worked as a teacher in Chillicothe, and learned that the only pet store in the city had closed. He saw that as an opportunity to open his own store, which would be operated by a professional, well-trained staff in uniform like he had encountered at Disneyland.
Petland, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has 185 locations around the world that employ “pet counselors” who are knowledgeable about pets and pet supplies. “Our pet counselors are dedicated to matching the right pet with the right customer and meeting the needs of both,” Huggins says.
Petland has a broad base of clients who are allowed to bring their pets into its stores. “The stores have very high traffic,” he says, noting that this often includes families who come to shop or see the pets.
“We have single people walking in the doors as well,” he says, adding that Petland’s pet counselors enjoy introducing children to small animals or helping the elderly adopt new companions. “Our customer is really anybody who has an interest or love for pets.”
A Strong Model
Huggins joined Petland 26 years ago and credits its success to its treatment of its pet counselors, animal care technicians, and other associates. “Most retail businesses treat employees as a controllable expense in payroll,” he says.
“But they need high quality staff to run their business,” Huggins says, asserting that Petland treats its associates as an important investment and spends a substantial amount of time training them. “We also have high standards and hold them accountable for the things we’ve taught them.”
The company thrives thanks to its simple yet relevant business model. “Sixty-eight percent of American households have a pet at home,” he says. “What we really do is teach and educate customers about pets and pet care to make good buying decisions. People always want to do what’s best for their pets.”
The Right People
Now is a good time for Petland to be in business. Last year, the U.S. pet industry enjoyed sales that exceeded $70 billion, Huggins says.
That has allowed the company to focus on growing its franchise system. “It’s all about finding the right people to partner with,” he says.
The right traits, he notes, include basics such as business acumen and past experience. However, “We’re looking for strong, educated entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss, [and] want a system that’s proven,” he says.
“We’ve established a well-rounded, good operating system,” he says, noting that its franchisees include former attorneys, rocket scientists, teachers, military veterans, corporate America and others.
But despite their differences in backgrounds, all the franchisees share a love for pets. A Petland franchise “gives them the opportunity to make a business about something they’re so passionate about,” he says.
“There’s no better way to do it than be out there on the front lines,” he says. “[You’ll be] teaching someone about pets and pet care. It’s just a great opportunity.”
Part of the Family
Petland extensively prepares its franchisees for their new business. “Before they would open a new store or take over an existing establishment, there’s required training that they would do at our headquarters in Chillicothe,” Huggins says.
“We also provide in-store training and of course do follow-ups,” he continues. “There’s lots of ways to communicate and share information these days.” Petland hosts training throughout the year at the headquarters, regional classes and seminars, along with an online portal, Petland University, which gives the franchisees access to training videos, information, training materials and more.
Petland also gets close to its franchisees, Huggins says. “When someone joins the franchise, we welcome them into the Petland family,” he says, noting that this familiarity helps the company easily settle concerns between franchisee and franchisor.
The company’s executive team, which runs the day-to-day operations, resolves those issues. “We have a good track record of working through any disputes or concerns and getting back to effectively running a good business,” he says.
After nearly three decades, Huggins finds that work at Petland continues to be very satisfying. “[I’ve had] the opportunity to work with [and] meet so many good people and develop relationships with franchisees both domestically and around the world,” he says. “It’s probably the thing I enjoy the most.”
Petland recently brought those people together for its annual trade show. “We celebrated our 50th anniversary in Orlando at one of the Disney properties,“ he recalls, adding that Disney continues to remain an inspiration for the company. “We want to mirror a lot of their experiences.”
Petland will continue to thrive, Huggins predicts. “It’s a growing industry and a growing business filled with a lot of opportunities,” he says. “We [continue to] evaluate ways to grow our business. We’re pretty bullish on the future.”
On Its Own
In 2016, Petland Inc. started manufacturing its own exclusive store fixtures. “We are exclusively manufacturing in-store fixtures for our locations,” Vice President of Business Development Steve Huggins says.
Petland retail locations carry products from many manufacturers. “We’re also doing many new private-label products,” he says. The focus has been on high turning items that drive sales with improved margins while emphasizing quality.
Petland focuses on its connection to its communities. “Petland is proud of its leadership in the area of public education on spaying and neutering as well as its proactive adoption program for placement of homeless litters of puppies and kittens, whether from a shelter, pet rescue group or just a member of the local community,” the company says.
“A child’s first class tour at Petland where she learns to finger-tame a parakeet is priceless,” the company says. “Equally gratifying is the look on a senior citizen’s face while holding a Petland kitten. Petland therapy is a natural extension of Petland’s retail environment and our pet counselors love visiting schools and nursing homes with Petland pets.”