Q&A with Stacy Busch-Heisserer. Wife, business owner, mother, daughter. Published author. And all around dog and cat expert. Owner of Busch Pet Products, Deer Creek Doggie Day Care, and Howies Harvest, a pet food pantry.
Q: I know you grew up with parents in the world of professional show dogs dog and boarding. Did you always want to be in the same industry?
My parents have been in the pet industry for over 50 years…all my life, plus some! I traveled with them to dog shows and showed dogs myself, but I never entertained the idea of becoming a professional dog handler or anything like that. By the time I was in my early 20’s, I guess I had traveled so much with them that I craved some normalcy in my life, so I stepped away from that life.
I still worked at their boarding kennel when they needed me and all that, but my life was not immersed in dogs like it once was. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30’s that I felt like I wanted to get back into that “life.” I decided to start an online store for pet supplies, which was for all intents and purposes, a boutique…rhinestone collars, cute sweaters, hair bows. I wanted to incorporate USA-made items and contacted Victoria McDowell of Jackson, who made her own dog food. I started working for her and I traveled to stores in the St. Louis area, selling her products. Up there I met some great gals who asked me why I was online only. They encouraged me to open a retail store in Cape.
By that time, I was married and we were pregnant, so in my hormone-fueled mind, I thought I might be able to pull off a retail location! Four months before my son was born, Busch Pet Products opened in a 700 sq. ft. space near our local health food store. I was lucky…there was absolutely nothing like my store anywhere in town. We started with some small amounts of food and lots of fun toys, collar charms, treats, and clothing, but I quickly realized (as I had heard from my friends with stores in the Lou) that health food was the next big thing. I had seen their selections when I visited their stores and I was completely mesmerized by the variety of diets available – kibble, canned, frozen, raw – I was raised feeding dry dog food, so to see the variety of types and flavors was mind-blowing. As we gained a following, I saw the store morphing into more health food and less bling.
Within six months, we had completely outgrown 700 sq. ft., and when I heard there was a new strip mall being built on the north side of Cape, I knew that was the place to move too. The landlord finished my store first and we moved in to our current location almost one year to the day of moving in to our original location. We gained 800 sq. ft. of retail space and room for a self-service dog wash. The wash was something else my friends told me to open, and it’s been a success ever since. Where else can you wash your dog, use someone else’s tub, shampoo, towels and hair dryer, and leave all the mess behind?
As the store has grown, I would definitely say my staff and I are dog and cat nutrition and behavior experts. People come to us asking about food, treats, and toys, but they now also turn to us with questions about behavior and training. I want pet owners to think of us first when they have questions about food, because I have spent long hours researching ingredients and taking classes that have helped me teach pet owners how to better feed their pets. And since I’ve grown up immersed in a world of handling and training show dogs, I can help dog owners understand why their dogs do what they do.
Q: How did you start a magazine column, a doggie day care, and a pet food pantry? That is a lot of “starts”!
overnight) My staff and I kept hearing how things could be better. We started to brainstorm about what we would want to see in a good doggie daycare. Next thing you know, I was checking out the old Deer Creek Christian Academy building, only one mile from the store. We purchased that building and property in June 2014 and opened Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp in November 2015.
I’ve always felt a need to give back to the community in some way. I’ve been very fortunate with my businesses and wanted to find a way to give back above and beyond just donating money to the local animal shelter. There is a successful pet food bank in the St. Louis area, so I did some research on it. They are full-fledged non-profit and accept donations. They have a warehouse and employees. That seemed so overwhelming to me, so I contacted the SEMO Food Bank, and they were excited to partner with us. The director told me that they had no way of getting any pet food, but they were always being asked about it. She said that in many cases, families in need who utilized the food bank would get people food for their pets to eat. A pet is a beloved family member and wasn’t going to go hungry.
Howie’s Harvest was born in 2015. The pet food bank accepts monetary donations that are turned into pet food purchases. I also work with my pet food distributors to get damaged bags and in-kind donations for the food bank. We re-bag the food, put specific feeding instructions on the bag, and the SEMO Food Bank distributes dog and cat food at their mobile food pantries all over their southeast Missouri territory.
We hosted a mobile in our parking lot in the spring and it’s gratifying to see people accepting our food for their furry family members. They are so humble and so kind and so thankful. It was during that event that I knew we were doing the right thing in the way of helping others. If a family in need can feed their pet, they pet is less like to end up at a shelter, or worse, being turned loose to fend for himself.
Q: What have you learned through this entrepreneurship streak?
I’ve learned several things about myself since I opened the doors back in 2008:
– I don’t know as much about technology as I wish I did– Learning about technology is harder the older you get– Just because you are pregnant, don’t let that stop you from opening a business (lol!)– Stupidity (i.e. inexperience) might actually help you from freaking out– Renting is easy if you have a great landlord (I do) but it isn’t the best tax write-off; owning can be challenging, but the tax benefits help the new air conditioners, the new siding, the new fencing, the new AstroTurf…you get my drift?– Every “regular” job I ever had prepared me in one way or another for running my own business– Do what you loveI can’t imagine myself doing anything but working with animals. I just needed some time away from the years of immersion to realize how good it really is to come to work every day and pet dogs and help people.