Greetings! Here is the next edition of the APPA's Professional Women's Network quarterly e-newsletter.
Thanks for taking time to check out our e-newsletter. We hope you enjoy this issue, and each and every one that follows it!
Industry Spotlight: Victoria Stilwell:
Your popular TV Show - It's Me or The Dog - is a culmination of your passion for dog training, seeing a need for quality dog training professionals and your budding television career all merging together. What do you feel was the most impactful decision to move into the media spotlight with the show?
To stay true to my passion while remaining tenacious. I truly believe that both of those ingredients are essential to being able to identify, plan, execute and manage a new idea, especially in the media world. I was obviously extremely passionate about wanting to provide as large an audience as possible with info about not only the importance of dog training, but also the need to choose which type of owner they wanted to be. Unfortunately, a lot of myths and dangerous information have become steadily more pervasive in the dog training world over the past decade, and it’s come to a point where dog owners must decide which side of the fence they want to be on – you can’t go both ways. Either you can train using fear, pain and the threat of intimidation to force your dog to ‘submit’ to you, or you can harness the power of positive reinforcement to build truly balanced relationships based on mutual trust, respect and love. My passion was to let people know that dogs are not, in fact, on a quest for total world domination and that most behavior issues are rooted in fear and insecurity, not a desire to be ‘pack leader’ over you. Once that passion was crystallized, it was far easier to work hard to try and achieve whatever goal lay before me.
But tenacity and the unwillingness to take ‘no’ for an answer also played an important role in translating my passion into something tangible. Again, when you believe in something so strongly, it makes the path towards achieving your desired result seem much less daunting. I felt that if I could put myself in the fortunate position of having a large, media-based platform from which to spread my message, it was my responsibility to follow through on it and carry the torch for the movement away from force-based training methods. So far, I’m very proud to say that that recipe has worked very well.
As an executive woman in media, a professional dog trainer and head of the family, time is a precious commodity! Please give our readers your thoughts on balancing your career and family time.
I’m not nearly as well-organized as I’d like to be, so I can always do a better job of managing how my time is split up. One area that I’ve never compromised on, however, are my priorities when it comes to my family. More than anything I’ve done in my career, the production that I’m proudest of and am most dedicated to protecting is my daughter. It sounds cliché, but putting my family before everything else is non-negotiable for me, whether I’m filming a new TV series, writing a book or going on a live tour. Occasionally, the options available to me or the terms of a certain deal may not be as favorable as they might be if I were willing to allow my decision-making not to be influenced by my responsibilities as a wife and mother, but I feel that the net benefit is always worth it. In the short term, that might not always be such an easy thing to do, but to me it’s worth fighting for.
Another thing that really helps keep that balance in check is having the right team around you. I’m blessed with a husband and business partner who shares my ideals, and the rest of the Positively team we’ve assembled makes it possible to stay true to our primary business goals while keeping all the important things in life in perspective.
Your show is just one of the many facets in your dog training career. And, our readers of the Professional Women's' Network are also multi-faceted entrepreneurs! What's the one most important piece of advice you feel would enlighten busy professionals about "reaching for your dreams"?
Try everything! Don’t be afraid to give new ideas a shot, even if you’re not sure exactly how they fit into your overall business plan. Some of the most valuable and brand-supporting initiatives on the Positively platform started as concepts that we weren’t sure how or whether we would ever monetize. For example, the Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT) global network of world-class positive dog trainers was borne out of a need to answer the question: ‘Can Victoria come train my dogs?’ I couldn’t, of course, but I wanted to, especially because it was so important to me that those earnestly searching for help with their dogs not be led down the ‘dominance/punishment’ path. So we threw some ideas up on the wall and decided to do some of them, including VSPDT. Although it’s separated from our key business platforms financially and benefits from a distinctly unique mission than the rest of the Positively initiatives, it’s a huge part of where we’re headed and the identity of the push towards positive training on a grass-roots level.
So assuming you can find the capital required to get it off the ground, be willing to take a risk on a new idea even if there’s no roadmap you can follow. Just be sure that you remain passionate about it and that it fits with who you are as a person and a company, otherwise you may find it difficult to power through some of the bigger challenges that are destined to block your path.
Tell us about the Victoria Stilwell Foundation. Giving back is such an important part of today's business environment. How have you seen your donations make important impacts?
Again, the Victoria Stilwell Foundation (VSF) was a byproduct of the distinctly non-business-minded desire to make the world a better place for people and their dogs. Designed to help assist smaller rescues and especially positive reinforcement-based canine assistance training organizations, VSF fits well into what we’re trying to achieve on a larger scale. It’s also hugely refreshing to make decisions and devote time and energy to initiatives that aren’t all about the bottom line. So when I have a chance to do something specific that helps the foundation, I jump at the opportunity.
More than most, the pet industry has that unique blend of feel-good (we’re dealing with beloved family members, after all!) and business growth opportunities. Much of what drives the industry is a desire to help people communicate more effectively, live longer and play better with their pets. At the same time, this is obviously big business. So it’s not a huge leap from our regular business activities to those that support the foundation and other charitable causes.
Of course, we can also help point out to potential supporters that there are marketing and budget line-item benefits to their companies as well, and that can often help get everyone involved in a particular project on the same page and feeling good.
What is the one thing that most people do not know about you?
Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ve put quite a bit of myself out there on film over the years, so there’s not quite as much as might normally be expected to be held back. I think people know that I speak my mind, that I’m passionate about what’s best for animals, that I’m a mom, and that I come from a background as a performer. I am also an amateur historian, with a particular interest in the Tudor period. When I’m in Britain I spend time visiting historical places where I can indulge in that passion – you don’t get much of that in Atlanta!. I suppose the most common presumption that I run into when people who only know me from the TV meet me in person for the first time is that I’m not really that stern. Direct, yes. But I’m not a taskmistress as it sometimes seems on some of my TV shows.
I also don’t wear that much leather in real life, but who does?
Retailer Spotlight: Jennifer Kirk:
An interview with Posh Puppy Boutique's President & Founder.
How did you get started in the pet industry/What motivated you to open your pet business?
What do you do to make yourself and your business stand out?
Do you think there are challenges specific to women business owners?
Where do you see yourself and your business in the future?
We are currently have some projects in the background we are working on to help make a difference in the non profit pet organizations to bring more recognition to animal awareness all around.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the industry?
PWN Event Recap featuring Victoria Stilwell:
A Positively Powerful Presentation
We were thrilled to have Victoria Stilwell speak at a special PWN-sponsored event during Global Pet Expo. Stilwell gave an impassioned speech to a packed audience that emphasized her love of animals and her mission to spread the word about positive training, and how the two are driving forces behind her business choices. Having developed one of the most recognized positive dog training brands in the world, Stilwell also discussed the reasons for her success in the industry, crediting her passion and resilience. Stilwell’s presentation was so inspiring she had the audience on its feet at the end.
Sales & Marketing:
Whether you are looking for information on dealing with an angry customer or training a new sales rep, visit the Selling Power website for easy to read articles to help you with your challenges in sales.
For Your Business:
Marie Moody: Innovative Entrepreneur Fetches Profits Chasing Dog Food
Article by: Sasha Galbraith
Marie Moody, Founder and President of Stella & Chewy’s, a multi-million dollar pet food company, reflected on her company’s history as we were sitting in a café in New York City. In 2002, she had just been given the boot at her third fashion industry job. But this serendipitous event launched her career as a raw, natural pet food advocate and manufacturer.
While living in Los Angeles, Marie adopted Chewy, a rescue dog who was seriously ill. Following her veterinarian’s advice, she fed Chewy a homemade diet of raw meats and vegetables. Chewy’s rapid return to health inspired Marie to learn more about the benefits of feeding less processed, grain-free foods to animals. The more she learned, the more convinced she was that there were other pet parents like her who would want to feed their animals high-quality meals. After relocating back to New York City and finding herself between jobs, she started preparing raw pet food in her Manhattan apartment. Her two dogs, Stella and Chewy, were early product testers. Now, nearly 10 years later, Stella & Chewy’s frozen and freeze-dried raw, natural dog and cat food is available in more than 3,000 retail stores nationwide.
But how did a young, single woman living on the Upper West Side, who didn’t even cook her own meals, start to tackle that project? Marie took it on with single-minded determination – and no shortage of obstacles. She purchased huge quantities of organic ingredients and several industrial freezers, which took up residence in her living room. Then she had to market, sell and deliver the food to retailers in New York – all without owning a car. During our meeting, she described hailing taxis with her boxes of frozen food stashed behind parked cars (because no taxi driver wants to pick up a fare hauling that sort of baggage). In the process, Marie attracted the interest of a young Wall Street trader who helped her in her delivery efforts as a part-time job on the side.
“I guess I thought he needed the extra money.” He eventually became her husband, and despite no longer being married, works closely with Marie as Director of Sales for Stella & Chewy’s.
Expanding the Business
As her operation grew, Marie outsourced the manufacturing to a production facility. That worked well for a while (and liberated her living room from the freezers), but it brought on additional challenges.
“Imagine a semi pulling up at 4 a.m. and having to unload it using the residential elevator!” Furthermore, the lack of control over the process irked her. “The equipment broke down; and the manufacturer wasn’t able to do more flavors. Then I wanted organic fruits and vegetables; I wanted statements where the meat was sourced from; I wanted proof. So it became apparent to me that if I wanted to grow the business, I was going to have to figure out the manufacturing piece of it.”
In 2007, Marie relocated her family and opened a small manufacturing plant in Muskego, Wisconsin – a suburb of Milwaukee and her hometown, an area well known for food and beverage manufacturing. Her timing was impeccable. Suddenly, many pet food manufacturers were facing product recalls because of contaminated ingredients sourced from China. People were paying much more attention to where and how their pet food was manufactured. Health and safety – for people and animals – became the primary focus.
The ability to control all phases of her raw pet food operation led Marie, working with a leading food safety scientist, to develop an exclusive, patent-pending, food safety procedure called Hydrostatic High Pressure Process (HPP). HPP kills pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella, using high pressure without diminishing the health benefits of raw ingredients. “Nobody had ever considered using HPP on a pet food product before it was further processed.” In addition, Stella & Chewy’s has an independent lab test each batch to check for pathogens and they post the results on their website. You’d be hard pressed to find a human food manufacturer that’s using such stringent food safety processes.
Marie has implemented some other “non-traditional” activities in her female-dominated manufacturing operation. Of 155 employees, 98 are women – or 63 percent. And just over half of her senior management team is female, which is typical for a woman-created enterprise. “Our first banker was a woman, and presently our accountant, attorney, and CEO are all women. We really have a lot of women in management positions and that’s just part of our culture.”
“I find that the types of people who thrive in the Stella & Chewy’s environment are really good at what they do, and self-starters. They wouldn’t work well if they were being micromanaged. They tend to need room in order to fly and they need the right tools. I feel like that is our job – management’s job – to give people what they need in order to best do their jobs.”
“We went through a couple of plant managers. The first one had a military background, which is great and can really be an asset. But he used to not let the guys on the line take a bathroom break. They could only use the bathroom on their break. When I heard this, I said, ‘No, that’s not okay. I’m not comfortable with that.’ He just didn’t know how to manage. Then we had another plant manager and he was very political. It was all about his ego. He forbade people to come and talk to me. They had to go through him and that’s just not the culture of our Company. I’m always available.”
Traditionally, the command-and-control manager tends to be associated more often with men. Marie seems to embody a type of management philosophy that is more “female,” and certainly at odds with many of today’s alpha-driven entrepreneurs.
Here are some clues to Marie’s success:
1. Respect, encourage and reward individual effort
“You have to show respect to the people who you work with as an example of how you run your organization. That should be common sense and the fact that it’s not is what’s surprising to me. And there is always room to reward people, to recognize achievements, to name an ‘Employee of the Quarter.’ It took a long time for the company to be profitable, and now that we are, I really want to share that with the people who are in there every day – especially the production people. We’ve got the most amazing team.”
“I told my plant manager to go and buy a couple thousand dollars’ worth of gift cards. I said, ‘If you notice something that somebody does on the line, or somebody thinks of something or solves a problem, here’s a way to say, ‘Thank you, great work today.’ We also just started an ‘Employee of the Quarter.’ When our vendors donate gifts like tickets to Brewers baseball games, we use those as additional rewards. It’s recognizing the hard work and dedication of our employees. That’s what we are celebrating.
2. Give back – philanthropy
“I find that a lot of what really gives me the most fulfillment is figuring out how to keep people incentivized, and what can we do for the community. Since the beginning of Stella & Chewy’s, I’ve always wanted to help animals in need. We have worked with nearly 500 rescues, shelters and organizations across the nation and in 2012 the Company donated close to $400,000 in product. Giving back is part of our corporate culture and something we hope will continue to grow in the future.”
3. Be a facilitator – don’t micromanage
People learn management skills from some amazing places. In Marie’s case, she experienced an important realization when her son was born: How to be a facilitator.
“When I gave birth to him, and the doctor whisked him away to check whatever they check, I said to myself “Oh my God, he’s already off having his own life!” That was a really profound realization because then it occurred to me that what I really am is his facilitator. That is my job: to facilitate him to be the best person that he can be and to grow into the person he’s supposed to be.
“The business also has its own existence. For example when I first started, I did everything; sales, deliveries, customer service and the business felt like an extension of me. Now there are a lot of people involved and it has a life of its own. It’s an independent entity. That’s a great thing because then there is so much more momentum. I will still sometimes look around at staff and sales meetings, and I’ll think, WOW, all these people are pushing forth this idea I had about feeding dogs differently. This person next to me, who probably never had heard of raw pet food before joining Stella & Chewy’s, is now so passionate about and totally focused on how to market these products. What an amazing thing!”
“I hear that it’s so hard to let go of things, and often, people don’t want to let go of any control of anything. And for me, it’s always been the opposite, where I’m like, ‘Go, go. Take this, figure it out, do it better and improve it. This is your area of expertise; run with it.’”
Now that Marie is master of her own destiny, it’s unlikely she’ll be fired anytime soon. But my dogs and I, longtime Stella & Chewy’s customers, are very happy she did get fired from the fashion industry.
This article was originally printed in Forbes.com on 1/14/13.
PIJAC's Top2Top Conference
The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) second annual Top2Top Conference is taking place April 23-25 at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, CA. With groundbreaking sessions and exciting networking events, this must-attend conference provides opportunities for leaders to discuss ways to unite, address the challenges facing the pet industry, and forge a successful path for the industry as a whole.
Click here to register and learn more about the program and speaker lineup.
The APPA Professional Women's Network:
The APPA Professional Women's Network's (PWN) mission is to attract and engage women in all aspects of the pet industry. Our purpose is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, and to promote social and career development activities that can help everyone achieve greater success.
For updates on the PWN and our latest activities and events, visit www.americanpetproducts.org/pwn.