Q&A with EarthWise Pet CEO Michael Seitz
A look at the history, evolution and future of the pet franchise
EarthWise Pet CEO Michael Seitz is the child of first-generation immigrants who surrounded him with entrepreneurial lessons — and many, many animals.
“We had horse stables, we had a llama, we had sheep, we had goats,” Seitz says. His parents eventually turned their love of animals into a business, opening their first dog grooming business in 1977 and their first pet store in 1978. Eventually, their efforts evolved into EarthWise Pet.
Seitz now leads the franchise brand, and continues his parents’ mission to serve pets and their customers.
Can you walk us through a little bit of the early history of the brand?
My mother actually was a professional groomer. My father was an entrepreneur and owned a chain of restaurants out in Southern California, and back in 1977, they teamed up and decided to do something in the pet industry. They opened the first grooming shop back in 1977, and in 1978, the first retail store. Back then things were very different. Most traditional stores had 40%-45% of their revenue coming from the sale of animals — birds, fish, small animals. It was quite labor intensive and hard to keep the stores clean. It took a lot of time and effort. It was a difficult model back then.
But in the ’80s, my family — being pretty progressive when it came to how we ate and how we treated ourselves — got into natural food for pets. It was kind of a novel idea back then. At one point, we were the leading retailer on the West Coast for some of the original natural brands. As demand grew, there emerged a huge grouping of new amazing products, and we realized that there were enough natural products to go exclusively natural. Towards the end of the ’80s we shifted and had a completely natural pet store.
You mention your family had an inherent love for pets and for wellness. Where did that emanate from?
As a family, we always had love for animals. I grew up in a really unique situation – I grew up in a city but we had two-and-a-half acres in the middle of the city, and so we had horse stables, we had a llama, we had sheep, we had goats, and literally, almost on a weekly basis, we would get a call from some police officer from the city saying, “Hey, a couple of your goats got out again,” and they were running down the main roads.
We always loved animals, and that was always a passion of ours. It was really a function of my heritage. My father was born in Germany, and when they came over they opened very family-centered German restaurants. The restaurants were very labor-intensive and an enormous drain on time. Eventually, my parents decided, “You know what? Let’s just do something that we love. Let’s do something that we know.” That’s why they flipped over to the pet industry..
Given this brand is so near and dear to you, can you describe for us the ideal franchisee?
I like to use Scott Jackelen, a franchise owner in Arkansas, as an example. He is a former executive but he is a dog lover. So he’s a multi-unit franchisee, but he still has that passion for the industry. His stores are all manager-operated situations. He’s very much a go-getter.
One thing that I love about Scott is he’s aligned with our vision for where we’re going. When I’m looking for a franchisee, one thing that’s really important to me is making sure they buy into the service-centered vision that we’re trying to create. I don’t want a franchisee to come in that just wants to be a pet food seller. I want somebody that’s coming in that’s really focused on responsible pet ownership. That includes proper nutrition, that includes making sure that you’re taking your pet to the vet, that includes getting your dog groomed regularly, going on walks, using pet sitters, using pet walking, all these different services.
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