SUPPORTING LOCAL RETAILERS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO US AT THE HONEST KITCHEN.That's why we caught up with Heidi Vanorse Neal, the owner of Loyal Biscuit, to highlight one of our amazing retailer partners.
The Honest Kitchen: Please tell us a bit about Loyal Biscuit, how it got started, and how you first became involved in the pet industry?Loyal Biscuit: I ended up in the pet industry purely by being in the right place at the right time. I was a VP at a local financial institution and I had a black lab mix named Fenway (who is currently 13!) and the Loyal Biscuit on Main St in Rockland was our favorite store. In a random conversation with my husband one night, I said I would love to own the Biscuit, I mean how much fun would that be? He encouraged me to reach out to the owner and I laughed at him. But I reached out to her and much to my surprise, the store was for sale! I quit my job and bought my favorite store! At the time, it was only one location, and we have since grown it to seven great locations in Maine!
THK: Are there any key things that really set Loyal Biscuit apart from others, such as specific events, services or community involvement, or anything else that your store is known (and loved by customers!) for?
LB: I really think our community involvement sets us apart (after my awesome team, of course!). Every year, we do a huge Howliday fundraiser and then use that money to purchase food for our local shelters. Just this year alone, we provided over 11,000 pounds! In 2019, when entering our 10th year in business, we created the Fenway Fund (Fenway is my dog!). Every month, we set aside a portion of our profits, and twice a year we grant funds to Maine-based 501c3 animal-related organizations. The committee is 100% employee-based (I have no voting rights). The Fund is a vital way for the LBC to support animal welfare within our communities by providing seed money for projects in Maine. The Fenway Fund committee looks for projects which often fall below funding availability projects that we believe will help better the lives of animals in the State of Maine. Since we started, we have donated over $35,000 through this program.
THK: When a customer first walks into a Loyal Biscuit location, what do you hope their first impressions are? Any on-staff pets that might be likely to greet them (Please include a photo or two, if you have them).
LB: There are several first impressions I hope our customers feel when they come in - but first and foremost would be warmth. I absolutely love our team - they are kind and caring and genuinely want to help our customers and I hope they can feel that warmth and caring when they enter our stores. Visually, I want them to see our stores are clean, well-organized, and FUN! With our bright colors and our awesome team, I really think this is what they feel when they enter our stores. Our Waterville store has a store cat - she was up for adoption from the local shelter and hanging out in our store waiting for the perfect home, when really, our store was her perfect home! Susan is now 10 and totally runs that location. She loves to sprawl on the counter or lay in the sun in the windows. She could care less about the dogs that come in and has no desire to go outside. However, once in a while she helps herself to a new toy.
THK: Some of our most successful indy pet partners have very specific nutritional philosophies that they aim to share with everyone who shops with them. What are two or three must-do things that you tell customers about when it comes to feeding their pets a healthy diet?
LB: Ohhhhh - we strongly encourage variety for sure, the addition of moisture in some form, and the inclusion of whole, fresh foods.
THK: Are there any new trends that you’ve noticed within your customer base, as a result of stay-at-home orders, such as homemade treat making, increased demand for puzzles to occupy pups during work from home Zoom calls, etc?
LB: We definitely have had an increase in puzzle toys and chews to occupy the "kids" while the humans work or do school. We also introduced In the Kitchen with Kevin, a fun, live Facebook show of my cooking with my pug (including many Honest Kitchen recipes!) This has been such a fun series to put on and people are loving it and making the treats at home!
THK: Can you explain any key things that Loyal Biscuit stores have done to pivot into a new way of operating since the pandemic began and social distancing became the new normal? Or perhaps any special services that customers might like to know about, such as home delivery or shipping options?
LB: Pivot - that was definitely the word for 2020! We quickly added etail pet for online shopping last March and that has been a huge success for us. Right now, we only offer curbside service but will be adding shipping soon. We currently only offer delivery on a case-by-case basis - Maine is incredibly geographically challenged for us to be able to offer delivery at this time. We, of course, also implemented all Covid safety protocols and I feel that our level of commitment to the protocols has made our customers and our team feel safe when it comes to shopping in our stores.