Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 44
 
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton


NATURALLY WHOLESOME: “We offer service, quality products, and good value. We give customers a lot of personalized attention and advice, and our staff is very knowledgeable. We hope our natural food will help the animals to feel better, be healthier, and have fewer ailments,” says George Parente, owner of the new Dogs & Cats Rule in The Shops At Windsor Green. Shown in the photo is sales associate Debbie Sawyer.

Natural Pet Food, Supplements, and Supplies Offered at Dogs & Cats Rule’s New Location

“The pet industry as a whole is growing 13 percent a year, a $45 billion business, including food, supplements, and veterinarians. The natural food segment is growing faster than any other part of it,” says George Parente, owner of the new Dogs & Cats Rule in The Shops At Windsor Green.

He knows what he is talking about. Mr. Parente also owns two other Dogs & Cats Rule in Pennington and Newtown, Pa., and he has seen the continual growth and popularity of natural pet food. “Commercial pet food is basically a 50-year-old industry,” he points out. “Before that time, people fed their animals leftovers. Natural pet food came along in 1997.

“Commercial food is not as healthy for pets as natural food is,” he continues. “There are GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in commercial pet food. It’s how things are grown today with corn and wheat. There is a lot more awareness of this now on the part of the customer about how animals are treated and what is in their food. People want to give their pets a healthier diet.”

Because of this increasing interest, Mr. Parente decided to expand, and opened the new store in September. “We had been wanting to branch out, and we liked this location, especially because of the proximity to Whole Foods. That is our customer. A lot of our customers in the other stores come to Whole Foods. We are a 100 percent natural pet food store, and we try to sell U.S.A.-made products.”

Natural Food

Mr. Parente always had pets of his own, and after several years of owning a delicatessen in Bucks County, he became interested in natural pet food. “In 2000, I sold the deli, and thought I’d like to open that type of pet store. I became an advocate for natural food for pets.”

He opened the Newtown store in 2001, followed by the Pennington Dogs & Cats Rule in 2005. “We opened the first store the week before September 11, he notes, “and we wondered what would happen. We did well, and it seems that after that event, people became more focused on home and family, and that included their pets.”

Most of his customers have more than one animal, he reports, and this practice has been growing. He believes more people have more pets today than ever before, even with the downturn in the economy. Animals are very welcome in the store, he adds.

“There are a lot of empty nesters now, and pets can be like their children. The Baby Boomers are getting older, and they have spendable income to devote to their pets.”

Mr. Parente’s new store is spacious and attractive, with a multitude of items for pets, as well as pet-related materials — books, calendars, note cards, etc.

“There are close to 100 different brands of natural food,” he says. “It’s all kinds: dry, canned, hydrated, freeze-dried, pre-cooked, raw, and organic. There is even a frozen yogurt dessert for dogs.”

Number One

Brands include Wellness, Origin, and Merrick for dogs and cats. Primal and Brava offer raw food, which is becoming very popular, reports Mr. Parente. “There is also freeze-dried from Honest Kitchen and Dr. Harvey’s, which includes vegetables and protein. Merrick’s is the number one natural canned dog food in the U.S. They have 22 different flavors, including seasonal flavors, such as Turduken (turkey, duck, and chicken).”

There are also homemade baked goods, including cookies, for dogs and cats. Products for pets with special dietary conditions (overweight or older animals), as well as natural homeopathic remedies, are available as well.

In addition to the food, there is an extensive assortment of supplements, supplies, and toys. Leashes, collars, bowls, beds (some made of organic cotton and recycled soda bottles), “Distinctive Dog Fashion”, including coats, sweaters, dresses, and boots all made in the U.S. are on display, and some feature Princeton University orange and black. The assortment of cat trees, perches, and scratching posts is also popular.

“We also carry a lot of eco-friendly products,” adds Mr. Parente.

Personal Attention

“There has been a sea change in the pet industry lately,” he continues. “The big box stores, such as Petco and PetSmart, are being pressured by Walmart and Target, which are starting to take away the pet grocery business. Therefore, Petco and PetSmart are starting to emphasize more natural products.”

He doesn’t anticipate that this will affect Dogs & Cats Rule, however. “We can move faster than the big stores. And if we don’t have a product here, we can often get it from one of our other stores. We also have a very loyal customer base, and we focus on personal attention. We are knowledgeable, and interested in helping customers. All of our part-time staff have pets.

“I enjoy knowing that I am helping people to do their best for their pets. I feel I am important to people and have helped them. You can make a difference in their lives and their pets’ lives. The customers all want the best for their animals.

“In addition, we will be offering grief counseling for people who have lost their pets, and we will have a nutrition expert to give customers more information. We also have a lot of reference books and materials for people. Our goal is to help people enjoy their pets, and at the same time for us to have a good business. I live and breathe the business!”

In addition to dog and cat products, the store offers a selection of small animal food.

Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 to 6. (609) 799-9200. Website: dogsandcatsrule.com.

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