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Child Entrepreneur Turns Passion Into Profit at Petsway

The Petsway story starts, like many other stories, with a very determined mother, and a caring little boy. In this case, however, the mother was not of the human variety, but rather from the fish family. She was a very fortunate guppy that Karl Keller had purchased as an eleven-year-old boy, after reading a book about them while visiting a friend’s house one day in early 1951. This research led to him purchasing a guppy, which would later produce more guppies that would provide additional capital for his blossoming business venture.

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The fish almost didn’t survive the trip home, however. After purchasing the fish, which was placed in a glass mustard jar, young Karl went to see his dad at work. The mustard jar with its small, pregnant occupant was set aside, and at one point during the evening, the cause was nearly lost. While someone was opening the sliding-lid cooler where the jar was resting, the jar crashed to the floor, spilling everything inside, and dashing the boy’s hopes. Even worse, the guppy had slipped between some wooden floorboards, and the closest water available was in the cooler, and much too cold for a tropical fish. However, Karl and his dad were able to save the pet–one found a toothpick and scooped the fish from the floor, while the other fetched some warmer water. Amazingly enough, the fish survived, and lived to give birth to many offspring. Karl was able to sell some of them back to the hardware store (where he had bought the original fish), and to his friend who had owned the fish tank that first captured his fancy. Out of his home in Ava, Missouri, a small business was spawned.

Karl’s Aquarium and Pets was very successful, and after half a dozen years or so, and like a well-fed goldfish, it outgrew the family home. It just wasn’t feasible or comfortable for customers to be trafficking in and out of the house anymore to buy products, which now included fish supplies as well as fish. At the age of 17, Karl opened his first brick and mortar store, which was located in Springfield. By this time, the family had moved to that town, so it was a natural fit. With suppliers located in St. Louis, Keller’s father would take him on regular trips there to restock his store.

Over the years, Karl and his business have undergone several major changes. In the 1980s, the name was changed to Pet Warehouse, and in the last five years, to Petsway. Not unexpectedly, more and more products and pets were added, and several other locations across the state were opened. All of them feature the same down-home, family values that Karl was raised with. Speaking of family, in the year 2,000, Karl’s son Karl II joined the company after a successful career with McDonnell Douglas.

The industry has changed a bit too. Karl II cites the “humanization” of pets as one of the biggest trends nowadays. People are treating their pets more and more like family members, and less like an old dog they would just leave outside all the time. They are taking them on trips, and to spas, and the like. The products available have reflected these changing values, and Karl says that the quality of pet foods has really increased over the years. While some brands are newcomers to the industry, or have always been considered high quality nourishment, other brands that weren’t considered high quality are stepping up their game and are sometimes even changing their recipes to offer better food. Also, while dogs and cats used to be more widely sold at pet stores, at Petsway, these furry friends are only available during special adoption events held in conjunction with local animal shelters.

The Kellers themselves have made some changes to reflect the needs and wants of their customers. In spring of this year, they opened another store, this time in St. Peters, MO. While it has many offerings similar to their other stores, such as a wide array of furred, feathered, and finned pets, along with corresponding supplies and foods, it also boasts a feature that not all stores have–a dog wash.

This allows a dog owner to give their dog a thorough cleaning without the cleanup. Fur moms and dads will purchase a session, which includes a caddy containing shampoo, conditioner, a bandana or bow, comb, brush, ear wipes, towels, and an apron (for the person bathing them). Like a car wash, users can purchase upgrades, but instead of adding wax, those upgrades include specialty shampoos or conditioners. If you want to bathe more than one animal, the second one can be washed at a discount. Tethers are available to stabilize the pets, and when they are clean, driers are available to finish the process.

In addition to the dog wash, the rest of the store has other amenities and perks available in addition to their wide product selection. For example, they have a customer loyalty program, where you can get 3-5% percent back on your account. Some pet food manufacturers also offer frequent buyer cards for their brand,  a feature that’s only available at independent stores like Petsway. Also, if there is a pet or pet food you want that is not typically in stock, usually, it can be special ordered for you. While there is currently an informational website available, www.petsway.com , by the end of the year, it will have a shopping cart so that customers can purchase items to be sent to their home or picked up in the store. Naturally, shoppers are free to bring their pets inside the store with them.

To participate in the local Petsway experience, and fetch some goodies, just swim, fly, or slither to 32 Harvester Square, St. Peters, MO 63303, and don’t forget to bring your human parents. Store hours are Monday through Saturday 9:00am–8:00pm, and Sunday 10:00am-6:00pm. Good boy!

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