Sunday, June 17, 2018
Business

Brooksville pet store owner knows thing or two about dogs and cats

BROOKSVILLE — The merchandise is shiny, alluring or I-never-knew-there-was-such-a-thing at Happy Tails Pet Supply Outlet. And the pleasantly shared knowledge and advice offered by owner Jason Holt are a rarity at competing big-box stores.

This summer, Holt moved around the corner from his previous location into more spacious and visible quarters facing busy Broad Street on the south side of Brooksville. It's a move that has brought in new customers and pleased regulars, some of whom date back to the shop's opening in 2007.

Holt, 35, emphasizes he's no veterinarian. But he will suggest a dog food low in fat and fiber-balanced for a canine plagued with pancreatitis. And to a military veteran struggling to handle a service dog, he will pass along contact information for the Brooksville-based K9 Partners for Patriots or professional dog trainer Mary Peter.

"I'm not medically trained, but I do study a lot," Holt said. "If I can be helpful to somebody or refer to someone, I try to do that."

As for competing against big-box chains, Holt said Happy Tails is "a couple of bucks lower on big items."

"I try to be as competitive as I can," he said. "I have less overhead, lower electricity, heating, employees, all that."

His wife and ownership partner, Stacy, is the lone staffer with her husband in the roughly 4,000-square-foot emporium.

Furthermore, pet owners statistically prefer to shop at family-owned establishments. Nationally, 59 percent of players in the pet supply industry are small independents.

In tune with other nationwide figures, about 60 percent of the couple's business consists of dog food, 20 percent to 30 percent cat food, and the remainder supplies such as toys, beds and carriers, chews, feeding utensils, cleaning products, leashes and whatnot.

The store fulfills the increasing trend toward premium dog foods, stocking nearly a dozen brands and encompassing dry, wet and fresh refrigerated and frozen. Labels tout, for instance, inclusion of duck, seafood, venison and vegetables. Holt points out that the frozen feedstuffs are pasteurized, not cooked, so they contain all of their natural vitamins.

Fromm stands out as the best-selling brand, of Fromm Family Foods, a fifth-generation family-owned artisan pet food company in Wisconsin.

"I like it," Holt said, "because it has no corn, no wheat, no soy, artificial colors or preservatives, no byproducts."

With more cats than dogs as pets in U.S. households — roughly 75 million versus 70 million — Holt pointed out that cat food sales amount to about half that of dog food sales because "a large dog can eat many times more than several cats."

Beyond food, Happy Tails' selection of pet "others" is tempting:

For canines, stainless steel dishes ranging from half-pint size to five quarts, compartmented slow-feeder bowls, designer collars and leashes, fashionable warm-weather ruffled beachwear and golf shirts, cold-weather coats, treats the flavor of blueberries and watermelon, practical diapers for a bitch in heat, toys from soft fleece to a "tuff" snowball, and coal lump replicas for Christmas stockings.

For cats, a mock carousel with feather-tailed mice riding on tiny springs; a collapsible agility tunnel; chirping teasers; soft to dental treats of duck, salmon and ready-to-grow mixed grasses; utilitarian antihairball chews; and climbing apparatus with carpeted stairs.

Pets are welcome to shop with their keepers. On a recent afternoon, local resident Jesse Crom brought his spirited pit-boxer mix, Chris, to be fitted for a muzzle. The 58-pounder had been set upon by a pack of canines, consequently adopting a "defensive" attitude, Crom said. The owner wanted to ensure safety for canines and humans alike.

Chris objected to the gear, pawing at the muzzle. Holt recommended brief wearing periods, then rewarding each with a treat. Dogs can be taught new behaviors with the use of rewards, he told Crom.

Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]

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