The answer is simple, but the reasons for shopping local are more complex.
We’ve been in the business of providing for Pittsburgh’s pets for 24 years. I teach managers every day to be helpful in providing customers with the best information based on today’s science– not myths perpetuated by the pet care industry. What you think you know may not be true. Myths are everywhere.
Where Do We Look for These Myths?
Take for example the manufacturers that tell people not to feed their pets too much protein because it will hurt their kidneys. Not one shred of evidence exists to backup that claim. They want to sell low-protein food at a higher price to make more money per bag. This is so that when you see an expensive bag of food (containing nothing but the highest quality protein sources) for $70 or $80, you will automatically say that is too much to pay for any food quality.
The too-much-protein theory flaps in the face of 40 million years of canine evolution. One manufacturer representative recently told me that dogs don’t need the protein because they are domesticated. Domesticated!?
How stupid does that sound? Does the status of domesticity automatically override millions of years of evolution? On the other hand, he tried to sell me a new freeze-dried meat food at 60% protein. Real meat, only 60% protein. Does that compute? Does consistency in marketing matter any more? Obviously not.
Tell people what they want to hear. Sell people the food they think they need. People need to more often look beyond what they think they know. You simply cannot find a great pet food at the $35 price point. You’ll hear the contrary, of course, from every food manufacturer that makes food below $35 per bag. I don’t care if you are buying it online, Costco, WalMart, or the grocery store. Quality protein cannot be purchased cheap.
Think Logically. Ask Questions.
For every advertising claim ask yourself how that manufacturer would want to spin their marketing to sell you dog food. When you come up with your answer, do more investigation. Ask questions. Why might a big box store place a palette filled with one type of food right in the front of the store? Do they recommend the food? Or did they get a great deal from the manufacturer to move product?
Don’t think for a second that the vast majority of pet food is made using our best scientific knowledge about food processing or animal husbandry. The old spin used to be “complete and balanced” food. That assertion means absolutely nothing. Complete and balanced neither exists for man nor beast. Proper nutrition is an ever-moving target. It is also a subject susceptible to snake-oil sales and rampant misinformation.
The Value and Void of the Internet
Most so-called pet supply stores are not really pet supply stores. Do they have pet supplies? Many are just closets with pet food. What they lack is the skill and knowledge to guide their customers to something better or more budget-friendly. Good luck finding this information on your Internet retailer du jour.
The Internet pays very little or no taxes to local government. The Internet provides little or no information. The greatest strength of the Internet is providing access to what you want or think you want immediately. As long as you fill our your credit card information correctly, they don’t care about the welfare of your pet. They don’t care about you getting the best food for your money.
For years I have preached that quality protein from animal sources is mandatory for great pet nutrition. Now customers are starting to look at protein sources. Manufacturers want to capitalize on this consumer push and they’re trying to sell higher protein sources. But where is that protein coming from? Are they selling good protein? Is it animal-sourced? What is the ash content? I have no idea why ash content is not included in a label. It is important. Why? Too much ash means a lot of bone. A lot of bone means a lot of calcium. Too much calcium causes stones. Mineral imbalance leads to many health problems. It’s not much of a reach to suggest that the ash content of most of our pet foods is too high.
Who other than your local retailer is going to care enough to dispense this information?
Transparency in Business
So why shop in a full-service pet store that doesn’t pander to customers? That doesn’t just sell them what they think they want? A true professional full-service pet store can save you money and grief and hopefully future veterinary bills. We see hundreds of dogs each week and talk to hundreds of customers. We talk amongst ourselves about these conversations and we learn more every day.
Our managers and many integral employees have all been with us for many years. Cindy: 24 years. Steve: 24 years. BJay: 24 years. Chris: 24 years. Phil: 22 years. Donna: 20 years. Ken: 16 years. Sarah: 7 years. Milan: 7 years. Who else can provide that kind of consistent support for their customers? Buying online may save you a few minutes and a couple dollars today, but what is the ultimate cost?
Purina recently came out with a formula called Beyond. The commercial suggests you can feed Beyond to a seven-year-old dog and they will become re-energized and more youthful. Why in the world is a seven-year-old dog showing signs of senility or lethargy? Simple. He was fed a rubbish food for the first six years of his life. Now, Purina’s come to rescue that dog from, well, probably Purina’s old food… but this time it’s legit! This is the only food you’ll ever need… until we come out with another forever food next year! This time our rubbish food isn’t rubbish! Is there any limit to our gullibility when it comes to marketing?
Once full-service pet stores have been crippled by Internet competition and the neighboring big box stores run by investment bankers, the business of improving pet care will only be in the hands of the profit takers. Consumers have the power to make a difference, by supporting stores that sell more than just the stuff on shelves. Burton’s Total Pet shares its collected experience free of charge with every customer that comes in the door and takes the time to ask for more information.
The Shop Local Movement
Locally-based retail shops are the last holdout from a bygone era. They’re the last stores that feel accountable for every customer that walks through their doors. National chains like to put up a good front, feign community awareness, but what are they really selling? What’s behind the curtain? A board room full of investment bankers counting their dividends.
The Shop Local movements like Shop Small and Small Business Saturday have been gaining traction as families have rediscovered the value of face-to-face interaction, of an accountable merchant here at home. That traction, however, has been slow. We lose more of these Mom-and-Pop shops every day. The movement to shop local needs to be every day and whenever possible. Celebrate these stores for their service, for the people that pour their blood, sweat and tears into their business and serving their communities.