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To say that we are honored and thrilled to be named America's Coolest by our favorite industry trade magazine, Pets+, would be an understatement! I mean...we've always thought we were pretty cool, but to be chosen by our top industry peers, is SO COOL!!!
For years, we've looked up to previous winners in the hope that maybe someday, we'd be lucky enough to join them, so after moving into our new Geneva location, we decided to throw our hat into the ring.
There are SO MANY amazing businesses in our industry, all doing amazing things and we are beyond grateful to be one of them. THANK YOU Pets+ Magazine for featuring us...we feel like one of the cool kids now!
Full article below, courtesy of Pets+ Magazine.
Sheila and Joe Spitza have turned their personal experiences with dogs into a store where all pets and their people find the resources and support they need.
By Robyn A. Friedman PETS+ March-April 2023
AN ITCHY PUPPY with bad knees inspired Sheila Spitza to open Wet Nose in 2002. Nineteen years later, a reactive rescue dog influenced the design and philosophy of its current location in Geneva, IL.
“Lilly taught us the power of nutrition,” says Sheila, whose husband, Joe, joined the store early on as partner. “And Nelly taught us that with the right support and guidance, an animal with a broken spirit can blossom into a happy, fear-free pet.”
Wet Nose now serves as a resource for healthy food, supplements and other high-quality products, and also as a safe place for dogs with behavioral issues to visit for shopping, grooming and playtime. The culture of comfort and caring extends to every aspect of the business, helping it to reach revenues of nearly $3 million in 2022.
Sheila and Joe adopted Nelly at the age of 7 in 2013.
“We didn’t know she had a bite history. It quickly became clear that this beautiful girl was in severe pain, was previously abused and learned that biting was the way to protect herself from those who meant her potential harm. Trust did not exist for her. All we wanted was for her to feel safe and be happy. She wasn’t able to do ‘normal’ things like have play dates, visit pet stores or simply ‘say hi’ on a walk,” Sheila says. “So, we started learning about counter-conditioning and positive training.”
They also discovered Fear Free initiatives. Founded by Dr. Marty Becker, these programs and courses work to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety and stress in pets. While Fear Free Certification does not yet exist for stores, the couple mirrored the requirements for veterinary clinics when designing the current 8,650-square-foot location.
Pets and people visiting Wet Nose find themselves in a supportive space with low-gloss, non-slip flooring, and a color palette of blues and whites more visually understandable to animals. Because sound can have a negative effect on dogs and cats, Sheila says, “We installed acoustic ceilings, sound-proofing wall insulation, and roof-mounted compressors to power our glass-door walk-in freezers.”
Private self-wash suites feature plug-in pheromones, non-slip steps and calming music, plus lick matts are available. Wide aisles run throughout the store, and retail associates carry mobile devices so they can check out customers with reactive dogs far away from others in line. There’s even a private entrance to the store so timid, fearful and/or reactive dogs can access services without encountering triggers.
All Wet Nose team members, from retail associates to grooming staff, achieve Fear Free Certified Professional status, as do partner trainers, massage therapists and chiropractors.
“Wet Nose is ‘Your Pet’s Happy Place’ for a reason,” Sheila says, referring to its slogan. “Social dogs are smothered with treats and belly rubs, while apprehensive dogs are offered space, kindness and support.”
Sheila and Joe pride themselves on providing exceptional service to human customers as well, whether by offering live chat through the Wet Nose website, text updates on deliveries, or unpacking frozen products in a customer’s kitchen.
She adds, “We don’t support the typical manufacturer ‘Buy 12, Get 1 Free’ programs. Our free Loyalty Program offers rewards beyond the industry standard, boasting a 97% customer enrollment rate and honoring over $200,000 in discounts annually.”
The store also has a dedicated Facebook group, the Wet Nose Society, for customers. With a current membership of 700-plus, it helps create a sense of community — to make members feel connected to other customers. Sheila gives previews of new products and sneak peeks of events. Each year, reservations for photos with Santa Claus sell out within 24 hours, but group members get advance notice so they can sign up before reservations open to the general public.
“We go above and beyond,” she says. “We want every customer to feel like they’re part of our family.”
Sheila and Joe share leadership responsibilities, with Sheila focused on customer experience, marketing, products and Fear Free, and Joe on finances as well as sales and customer service training. He also serves as Concierge Lead, coordinating all deliveries and providing personal shopping for Wet Nose VIPs.
Below that, the business does not use a traditional management structure. Instead, senior associates guide associates and associate trainees.
“Our senior associates have been with us for years, know what’s expected and possess a wealth of knowledge regarding the ins and outs of what makes Wet Nose tick,” Sheila explains. “Ultimately, our entire team ‘reports’ to Joe and me, but our overall vibe is about teamwork and holding each other accountable regardless of our roles or responsibilities.”
With that in mind, team members participate in all aspects of the company’s operations. “Nothing is beneath anyone,” Sheila says. “We all clean the bathrooms, pick up poop and do deliveries. We all wait on clients, answer the phones and help with shipments.
Everyone is cross-trained, which makes our team more versatile but, more importantly, helps each associate respect others’ primary roles and job pressures.”
Wet Nose offers full benefits to team members who work 30 hours or more. It includes medical, dental and vision insurance, plus an employee discount, paid time off and a retirement savings plan. The company also offers tuition reimbursement for courses related to roles and pays for the Fear Free Certified Professional program. There’s also a team Wellness Day once a month, featuring a healthy catered lunch and massages for the entire team.
Team members have a private Facebook group, as well, where Sheila and Joe share new product announcements, policy changes, store updates and shout-outs. The Homebase app pushes messages to the team upon clock-in, announcing what’s on sale or reminding them to complete a task that day.
Looking back on the history of Wet Nose, Sheila says, “Twenty years ago, we were a novelty, just a cute little boutique selling fun stuff for pets. But underneath it all, we were leading a revolution. We were educating and inspiring pet parents to think differently, to question what they were feeding their pets. One by one, we shared our story of Lilly and how feeding her a species-appropriate diet changed her life and allowed her to thrive. And one by one, we inspired change.”
That change can be seen in the store’s offerings of raw and fresh foods. They fill two walk-in freezers spanning 42 linear feet total with 20 glass doors. Overall, food accounts for 50% of revenue, with 40% of that in frozen.
Now they aim to find the same success with the store’s mission of providing a space where reactive dogs and their people feel welcome and respected.
1. BARK ROOM Dogs who don’t do well at off-leash parks can enjoy private playtime in this 1,200-square-foot room. They can use the room alone with their people and other household dogs, or even be pre-approved for playdates with non-household dogs. Reservations are required, with rates of $15 to $30 per 30 minutes for one to four dogs.
2. RECYCLING Reclaimed and repurposed materials combine with Fear Free design to give the store a unique charm. Items include all 12 interior doors, deli and bakery cases, and commercial ovens. Authentic Chicago brick covers the main kitchen wall, and the kitchen hoods feature trim from reclaimed cedar. Two custom islands were fabricated from an 1800s Welsh grain bin and a Chicago elevator shaft. The Bark Room sign features vintage neon letter shells and has become a favorite selfie spot for customers.
3. LILLY’S DAY Held on the last Saturday of August, this annual event started as a birthday celebration for Lilly but morphed into a customer appreciation event so popular that people line up around the building for access. The event features over-the-top pink décor, exclusive savings, and swag bags “worthy of an Oscar attendee,” Sheila says, adding, “It’s the biggest sale of the year. Customers plan their family vacations around it.”
4. THE KITCHEN Wet Nose partners with Always Real Food. The local dog food brand fills the store’s fresh food deli case in exchange for use of its open-air kitchen. Among the items available are slow-cooked turkey and beef dinners, meatballs and bone broth, plus holiday meals.
5. CARING FOR THE COMMUNITY Every holiday season, the store raises more than $10,000 for a different local rescue. One year, it was able to donate $16,000 to Paws & Stripes, an organization that provides service dogs at no cost to veterans.