At a time when layoffs and downsizing headline the news, some individuals decide to start their own businesses. Case in point: Pet Pantry owners, Tim and Meda Bower. The couple moved to Colorado Springs from Michigan in the mid-90s. Both had left full-time employment to find new jobs in Colorado Springs. Meda, an R.N, quickly found a position. Tim Bower, after completing a ten-year career as purchasing manager for a large Detroit-based auto parts manufacturer and subsequent positions in the Colorado Springs’ insurance and funeral industries was ready for a business of his own.
A long-time subscriber to Entrepreneur Magazine, Bower used his accounting and business background from the University of Michigan, to investigate new franchise opportunities rather than send out resumes. He was especially impressed by Nevada-based Pet Pantry, which today boasts dealers in 40 communities throughout the country. “I’ve always loved animals,” says Bower, “and I was intrigued that the premium quality pet food and supplies offered by Pet Pantry could be delivered to the home for less than the cost of purchasing big bags of food at retail stores.” Most of all, Bower liked the opportunity to work for himself, unencumbered by bureaucracy and office politics.
The challenges of self-employment, however, include isolation and a lack of synergy usually generated by co-workers and supervisors. Fortunately Bower considers himself an extrovert and has become involved in a formal networking organization, BNI, which meets on a weekly basis. “I really enjoy the opportunity to find out what other people do, and I haven’t run into much competition.” In fact, Bower’s account list exceeds four hundred customers and he expects to increase that by 20 percent within the coming year. Customers live in locations ranging from the extreme northern parts of El Paso County to Black Forest; from Falcon to Security; and even extend up Ute Pass to Woodland Park. Bower has not marketed to communities outside the Colorado Springs metropolitan area, but word of mouth has spread the value and convenience of his home delivery service. In addition, so far rising gas prices have not seriously affected his bottom line.
A special board of veterinarians and nutritionists at Pet Pantry helped formulate the dog and cat food varieties offered. “We market six types of dry dog food and three cat food varieties — as well as the wet food products,” dog-owner Bower notes. But his love of animals was not the only reason Bower decided to commit to a life of entrepreneurship. “We’re not another mortgage company or high-tech start-up — and I didn’t have to borrow on my house to pay for an expensive initial investment like so many folks do these days,” he acknowledges. “Pet Pantry is a simple concept, but it incorporates the same business principles as more complex corporations. My basic costs include 40,000 pound shipments of pet food, warehouse storage, a van, and a small marketing budget — but I don’t have expensive office overhead, employees and benefits to pay. This works for me.”
As a business model that markets to the consumer rather than a business-to-business operation, the success of Pet Pantry depends largely on the initiative and resourcefulness of its owner. “For one thing, consumers are harder to access, says Bower. “Most clients are away from home during the day. We aren’t interested in telemarketing to prospective clients, so we had to find a way to reach our target market. Qualified leads were difficult to obtain, so Bower researched the best spots for his company’s involvement. These include: the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region; Canine Companions; area dog shows and special events as well as home shows and the Chamber’s bi-annual Business Expo. All have been successful sponsorship and marketing outlets for Pet Pantry.
As a franchisee, Bower does work closely with Pet Pantry’s headquarters organization. The company has made a conscious decision to stay focused on its current product line says which Bower finds mildly frustrating. “I have added a few custom items that our customers like,” he says. The best part of Pet Pantry according to Bower is the animal aspect. “People like to talk about their pets — and I never have to pressure anyone into trying my products. Most of our customers just like the service and the fact they spend less. And of course, I do really enjoy the animals I get to meet.”
Company: The Pet Pantry
Owners: Tim & Meda Bower
No. of Employees: 2
Business address: 25 Leaming Road
No. of years in business: 5(since 1996.