Give 'em health: Couple's pet food-people food combo store a hit with many species

Burlington business thrives in lucrative market

BURLINGTON, Ky. -- Freeze-dried turkey necks, rawhide alternatives and raw bison bones are just a few of the treats sold at Lulu's Pet Pantry in Northern Kentucky. 

But what's really unique about Michelle and Mathew Petrich's 3,000 square-foot store is that it's not just for dogs and cats -- it's for people too. 

Walk in the door, and on your left is Bluegrass Health Shop, which offers herbal tea, health supplements, eco-friendly cleaning products and other healthful products for people.

On your right is LuLu’s Pet Pantry, which offers healthful food and treats for pets. It’s named after LuLu, an eight-year old American bulldog that the Petriches rescued from a shelter.

The hybrid store has poised the couple to take advantage of two national trends: the increasing amounts of money Americans spend on their pets and the dollars they’re shelling out for health food and supplements for themselves.

Sales of pet foods in the United States are expected to grow from $23.2 billion in 2014 to about $28.2 billion by 2020. Global sales of healthy food products for people are estimated to reach $1 trillion this year.

LuLu stays in the store when it’s open, along with Mr. Buttersworth, a cat that LuLu seems to get along with nicely. (Mr. Buttersworth got his name in a contest the Petriches held on Facebook.)

The same employees work both the pet and people sides, and they check customers out at a counter set up between them.

It seems a unique concept, one that the Petriches dreamed up themselves, but it suits their lifestyle. They use natural pet products at home, Michelle said, as well as natural soaps and supplements for themselves, so why not offer both in one place?

Their dream has always been to own a pet-related shop. Mathew’s mother started the Montecito Pet Shop in Santa Barbara, Califoprnia, when he was a month old, and he grew up working in it. Michelle began working there at 15, met Mathew and fell in love.

Three years ago, they left California and moved to Erlanger, Kentucky. They had friends here, Michelle said, and they liked the green hills, the cheap cost of living and the fact that they could buy enough land to have farm animals.

There seemed to be a big gap in Northern Kentucky for a small store that could focus on the customer and on nutrition, Michelle said. “Most employees at the big chains know nothing about pet nutrition,” she added.

In February 2016, they opened their stores, choosing Burlington because they wanted to be part of a community, not just one of dozens of stores on Mall Road. They do a lot of business from people who want to buy their dogs a treat after walking them at nearby England Idlewild Park and Dog Park, Michele said.

They have built the business via word of mouth and by sponsoring and participating in local events -- for example, a Valentine’s Day pet photo fund-raiser for Lucky Tails Rescue Inc. in Florence, an animal rescue nonprofit.

LuLu’s has been the biggest moneymaker, accounting for about 75 percent of sales, versus 25 percent for Bluegrass. The store’s unusual pet treats, such as a rawhide alternative made from rice that’s fully digestible, have proven most popular, Michelle said.

She declined to disclose sales figures, but they have been robust enough to support four full-time workers, including Michelle and Mathew, plus two part-timers. They’re also good enough that the Petriches plan to open a second store, probably in Northern Kentucky. They hope to do so within the next 12 months, Michelle said.

The business “grew quicker than we expected, and that is great,” Michelle said.

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