Thursday, September 20, 2018
Business

Owner of Pet Food Warehouse battles chain stores with personal touch

HUDSON — Big-box stores can offer variety and hard-to-beat prices, and owners of small businesses often find it difficult to compete.

The rise of chains such as Petco and Pet Supermarket has led to the demise of many small pet boutiques.

But Debbie Spencer, owner of Pet Food Warehouse, continues to fight the trend.

While some of Spencer's customers may believe she met the same fate as other small shops — she is no longer at her longtime location in Hudson Square — Pet Food Warehouse is still going strong after moving to Beacon Woods Plaza, just south of Kmart, in early March.

"It just got too expensive," Spencer said of the store's former location. "The move definitely helps. Unfortunately, we don't have the visibility to U.S. 19 we once did."

The new location not only offers Spencer lower rent, but, at 1,000 square feet, is slightly larger than her previous storefront.

Pet Food Warehouse is an independently owned pet food and supply store that has been serving the Hudson area since 1992. Spencer helped open and manage the store until purchasing the business in 1999 from the original owner. But the industry has seen significant changes during the past 25 years, not only with the rise of the large chains, but also with Internet-based companies that ship directly to customers' homes.

Before the arrival of the large retail chains, Pet Food Warehouse was three times its current size, with several employees. Today, it is just Spencer and one part-time employee, Marc Geiger.

Spencer admits it is difficult to compete with the big-box stores. In fact, she doesn't sell some popular brands, such as Pedigree, because folks can purchase it cheaper at chain stores than what distributors will sell it to her.

"Distributors today couldn't care less about the small business," Spencer said. "They only care about the big stores. We don't even see sales reps anymore."

She may not be able to compete with the variety and prices of the big stores, but Spencer says she offers quality.

Spencer's store carries a large selection of wheat-free and grain-free foods and treats for pets, including dog and cat food, as well as bulk feed for birds, rabbits, hamsters, rats and gerbils. There is also a selection of collars, leashes, harnesses and other supplies.

Spencer puts a lot of thought and care in the products she chooses to sell, selecting natural and holistic choices from trusted companies, such as Science Diet, California Natural, Wellness Natural Food for Pets, and Holistic Select. Most importantly, she says, everything sold at the store is made in America.

"The true charm of her business is defined by her supreme love for all animals and her staunch dedication to the community," said Shannon Nehoda, Spencer's landlord. "Debbie's warm smile and pet-friendly atmosphere are the reason customers and their pets enjoy shopping at Pet Food Warehouse."

Nehoda said as animal lovers, she and her husband, Steve, value the presence of Spencer's store in the community so much so that they donate a portion of her rent to the local Humane Society.

Before working for, and then owning, Pet Food Warehouse, Spencer worked for seven years at a farm and feed store in Pasco County. Back then, she owned her own farm, where she had dogs, cats and horses. In fact, she used to breed and show horses. Today, at age 62, she no longer has a farm, cats or horses, but owns four Australian shepherds.

"That is all I can handle now," she said.

Drawing from years of experience, Spencer and Geiger are able to share their knowledge with customers. It is something they are happy to be able to do.

"We try to be honest," she said. "We treat our people like family."

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