(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Q: How did your business Busch Pet Products begin?
A: I was looking for a way to get back into the pet industry. My parents still have a successful local boarding kennel and were professional dog handlers for 40-plus years but weren't ready to retire, so I started thinking about a pet website. I did a lot of research and realized that many of the pet supply websites were not that great. They were poorly set up and had items that everyone else had. I found a web designer in the Washington, D.C., area who was willing to take on the task and she designed a logo and a website for me. That was back in October 2008.
Q: What motivated you to move from online sales to open a retail store?
A: At the time I opened the online store, I also started working for Victoria McDowell, who owns the local dog food company Miss Autumn's Barkery. I began traveling for her to the St. Louis area and selling her products to local pet supply stores. I met some wonderful ladies who had successful stores, and they both convinced me that I needed to open a pet supply store in Cape. I was hesitant at first, but when I realized that all Cape really had were big box stores, I decided to give it a try. Originally my online store was more boutique items like bling collars and fancy beds, but after the big pet food recall in 2007, people began to switch focus to healthy, all-natural foods. I soaked up as much knowledge as I could from my friends and began to look at retail locations.
Q: Your dog wash is a unique concept. Where did that idea come from?
A: I can't say that this was an idea I came up with, but I wish I had! As with unique businesses and things, the self-service dog wash originated in the bigger metropolitan cities. I know one place in the metro St. Louis area that's been open for over 10 years. It's a great concept. ... We supply everything you need to wash your dog, and all you bring is the dirty dog and a little elbow grease. There's nothing to clean up, your back doesn't hurt and you get to spend some uninterrupted quality time with your pet. We've also recently added in some specialty treatments like water-PIK dental treatments and a botanical foot bath, so owners can do even more nice things for their pets.
Q: What are some of the benefits of the all-natural products your store features, compared with traditional pet foods and treats?
A: As with human foods and snacks on the market, there's the good, the bad and the ugly. Mass-marketed dog and cat foods traditionally have a lot of fillers. Corn, wheat and soy are the most common. The problem with those is that they can cause allergies in some pets. How many times have you heard of people with a wheat gluten allergy? And the human body doesn't exactly process corn efficiently, so imagine what your pet's body is doing with it. Think of it in terms of healthy people. They live on a diet of lean meats and veggies, little or no sugar and no fillers or preservatives. One of the most popular "healthy" foods in grocery stores and retail chains is actually one of the worst foods you can feed your dog. It has ground yellow corn, chicken byproduct meal, corn gluten meal and whole-wheat flour as the first ingredients and contains at least four different types of food colorings. This product is being marketed to pet owners, but it's not a good pet food! Pets need healthy foods that are easily digestible with no side effects. A lot of people think that all-natural, holistic or even organic pet foods are more expensive than the mass-marketed brands, but that's really not the case. Since the foods we carry contain no unnecessary fillers, you don't have to feed as much. Even if the foods I carry are a bit more money on the front end, they actually end up being a savings in the long run and your pet is healthier.
Q: What kind of research do you do and how do you determine which products you want to carry in your store?
A: I really try to carry items in my store that no one else has seen around here. It's pretty easy to do in the ever-growing pet industry. Every once in a while I get asked, "Why don't you carry ?" Or "Don't you want to compete with Petco by carrying ?" My answers to those questions are easy. I don't need to compete with any big box store and I carry products that are as good or even better than anything you will find. I don't want or need to compete with those stores or vets for my business. Traditional veterinary medicine is a first step for many, and that's fine. I'm not trying to replace the good a vet can do for a beloved pet; it's nice to have an alternative available when Western medicine isn't working.
Q: I know you donate a portion of your proceeds to local rescue groups. Why is this so important to you?
A: I think it's our responsibility as pet owners to have our pets spayed and neutered. Unfortunately, Missouri "breeders" don't see it that way. I came from a family of responsible breeders. My mom and dad researched genetics and bloodlines and didn't breed if it wasn't a good fit. Breeders are supposed to breed for the betterment of the breed, not for profit. Unfortunately, Missouri has a horrible reputation where this is all concerned, and it doesn't look like it's getting better anytime soon. I've seen so many "purebred" dogs who suffer from a variety of maladies. It's so sad. It's so simple to have a pet spayed or neutered. Don't believe all the hype out there when it comes to breeding dogs. I'm not opposed to breeders doing things the right way, but that doesn't include profiting from it all. I'm on the board of Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary/Silverwalk Hounds, and since I can't volunteer due to my schedule, I give back by donating some of the profit from my store to both Safe Harbor and the Humane Society. I just wish I could do more.
Q: What tips do you have for someone who might be finding a new puppy under their Christmas tree this year?
A: Do your homework before you even bring that puppy home! Cute and fluffy doesn't always stay cute and fluffy. If you are looking at a particular breed, go beyond reading about that breed and ask people who currently own that kind of dog. You might find out that that breed might be too high-energy for your lifestyle or might get too big. When you do find a breeder (and never, ever buy a puppy on a broker website), ask lots of questions. Ask to see their setup. Ask to see the puppy's parents. Ask, ask, ask. When you get that puppy home, be patient. Don't expect a dog to know things like how to go outside to potty. Dogs do have to be trained, but so do dog owners. I've heard so many people say they tried training but it didn't work. That's another reason our shelters and rescues are overpopulated. The problem is you have to be diligent. Things won't happen overnight, but if you spend time with your pet and work on training each and every day, you will have success. I have to remind people (myself included) that dogs and cats don't think like humans. It's easy to forget that when they look at you and you see emotion in them. I'm not saying pets are simple creatures, but if you think on a simple level like they do, you will understand a lot more about them.