Kelly Dracos and Lori Holtsberry said that after they opened a business in Millington in Tuscola County in July of 2014 focusing on selling top-quality American-made pet food, customers ate it up.
So much so that All American Animal House — the two longtime friends’ shop selling merchandise from the back end of a Millington house — moves Wednesday to a spot that’s five times larger, the former Enduring Reflections antique shop at 8516 State Road (M-15) in downtown Millington.
Following the move from the 400-square-foot storage area in the back of a house on M-15 at Bishop Street, Dracos, Holtsberry and their employee, Shawn Cameron, will occupy a 2,000-square-foot storefront.
Holtsberry’s mother, Martha Jensen, also is an owner of the business that’s relocating into the bigger building the women bought from Billie Loper.
“We chose the house (on M-15 at Bishop Street) originally with the intention of putting this business in there, because we didn’t know how a specialty pet-food business would go,” said Lori (Jensen) Holtsberry, 47, who, like Kelly (Brainard) Dracos, is a 1987 graduate of Millington High School.
“We don’t sell just a regular dog food or cat food you can find in the grocery store, and it’s all healthy, American-made,” Holtsberry said. “It took us years, actually, to do this. We were talking about opening something for about five years, and we did about two years of research speaking with owners of companies — or a little bit lower down — who answered questions that we had.
“Everything is made in China, it seems like, and there are so many chemicals and bad ingredients that are put in dog and cat food. It’s just pathetic.”
Revenue growth at All American Animal House, however, has been anything but anemic. From early July in 2014 — when the store opened — through December of that year, the store recorded $30,000 in revenue, Holtsberry said.
In 2015, the annual revenue was $90,000, but that amount soared by 44 percent to about $130,000 in 2016, Holtsberry said.
“Growth has been excellent,” Holtsberry said.
Many customers say they prefer to buy pet food and supplies locally, from people they know, Holtsberry said.
“People also are shopping at stores like this because everybody has a pet and everybody’s becoming more informed,” Holtsberry said. “Years ago, Kelly and I didn’t feed our pets good dog food. We fed food from (a chain store), and the food was terrible.
“Once we started talking and investigating, we learned we were really putting some bad stuff in our dogs.”
“Just because you’ll see ‘Made in America’ on a bag, that could mean one ingredient is made in America, and they’re allowed to stamp it that way,” adds Dracos, 47, who said she is a former Millington High School cheerleader who specializes in promoting her business, and its sales.
“We feel it’s our job to research these companies,” Dracos said. “Sometimes they have these preservatives that are carcinogens.”
Dracos and Holtsberry make it a point to pass on knowledge to customers.
When Cameron, the store employee, began working at the business more than one year ago, “she would write notes and take stuff home to read, she studied brochures and she wanted to really get into it,” Dracos said.
Workers give customers attention in other ways, too.
“We take pictures of everybody’s dogs when they come in,” Dracos said. “Some customers bring their dogs and will stay in here and talk for two or three hours.”
The store maintains a loyalty program, providing a discount after a customer’s purchases reach a required minimum. Dracos said the store conducts a number of special promotions and sales during the year.
“We love animals,” Holtsberry said. “People bring in their pets all the time and it makes us happy. I love spending time with our pets and I love spending time with other people’s pets. If there are issues, I love trying to help them, and try to help the pets get healthy.”
“If you feed ’em good, too, you’re also looking at less vet visits,” Dracos said. “We all know veterinarians are expensive anymore.”
Dracos said dog owners may visit dogfoodadvisor.com for ratings on dog food quality. She said that while a “5-star” rating symbolizes the best quality, many brands in larger retail stores carry only a 1-star rating.
“Everything we have in here is from 3.5 to 5 stars,” Dracos said.
The owners of All American Animal House also plan to create distinguished amenities at their new location. They’re building a two-room “suite” where their own dogs can play inside the business.
They’re designing a play area for pets in the rear of the store — a space that will double as a spot for obedience-training classes. They’ll place at least one table up front where customers can sip coffee inside the business, which will feature WiFi. They’ll make treats in a kitchenette they plan to add in the store.
“Once we get homemade treats going and stuff, you can sit and have a biscuit with your dog,” Dracos said. “It’s going to be great.”
“Kind of like a café for dogs,” added Cameron.
The owners plan to find a pet groomer to work out of their new location and, within a few months, plan to sell GPS tracking collars for pets. Dracos said the store sells merchandise “for everything — items for snakes, reptiles, chinchillas.”
The owners stock Michigan-made products such as Happy Howie’s Natural Dog Treats from Detroit, and PetFection Puppy Suds, made in St. Clair Shores.
“We’re thinking about getting crickets but we just didn’t have the room here,” Holtsberry said.
“There are a lot of people with bearded dragons and turtles who feed them crickets,” explained Dracos.
Dracos said she and Holtsberry wanted to do business in Millington because the nearest stores selling the same pet foods and supplies are at least a 30-minute drive from there.
“We’ll match prices, and we’re even below a lot of your larger retailers’ prices,” Dracos said. “And when you go to your big chain stores, you walk in there with your dog, but you don’t have people like us who are going to walk around and actually talk to you and explain things to you about your pet food.”
The bigger space in the former antique store — where the owners have beautified its venerable hickory floors by sanding the surfaces and adding two coats of polyurethane — will allow the women’s business to display products that once were hidden due to the lack of space at the original location.
“We have so many products downstairs on shelves that people can’t see,” said Holtsberry of her existing location in the rear of the Millington house. “We kind of overflowed, and we didn’t know if it was going to go this way or not.”
“We outgrew our space,” said Cameron, the store employee. “Our customers, too, have been behind us saying ‘Hey, you guys should get a bigger place.’ They kind of helped push us a little bit.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com