Tail Blazers Pets
For many pet owners our dogs and cats are intrinsically woven deep into a close-knit family fabric and because of that ingrained emotional attachment there is an immense level of passion and love for our four-legged friends. The single most crucial element to ensuring our pets have healthy, long lives begins with the food they eat.
The low-level quality of pet foods was never properly addressed until two people from western Canada came up with a sensational business plan that has since helped to revolutionize the availability of healthier eating for our dogs and cats, resulting in pet food products that are human-grade, nutrient-rich and species appropriate.
Brent Hauberg and Tamara Low founded Tail Blazers in 2000 and the success in providing healthy pet food options has been a robust ascent ever since. There are currently 18 franchise locations, including 11 in Alberta – seven of which are in Calgary, three in Edmonton and one in Red Deer. Ontario has five locations and there are two in British Columbia.
Hauberg’s own personal involvement within the industry morphed from his original career where he had been running four vitamin and nutrition stores for humans. On a personal level, Hauberg found himself in a serious relationship and the next thing he knew, a pet was being added to the household.
In humans, many health issues tend to arise from diet and so Hauberg started to closely examine what was being fed to dogs and cats and he was appalled by his findings. From there, he immediately took it upon himself to seek out better solutions and points out that the pet food industry has evolved incredibly over the past two decades.
“I began doing a lot of research on what kind of dog would be the best for our family and I couldn’t believe all the different health issues that the different breeds seemed to have,” remarks Hauberg.
The inaugural 800-square foot Tail Blazers store was opened in Calgary and it wasn’t long before Hauberg and Low began securing trusted alliances with various companies and making decisions on what they wanted to see happening in terms of both dry food and raw food. It marked the beginning for Tail Blazers’ ability to gain significant traction and essentially develop a new industry with the help of those companies that began producing the specialty-type foods that were being requested. By 2010 Hauberg and Low sold off the last of their corporate stores and are now focusing solely on the franchise business and helping the franchisees to grow their stores.
As the pet food industry grows and advances nationwide, Tail Blazers has made a firm commitment to continually improve the product offerings that are made available to the public, which includes environmental and ecological enhancements. All of Tail Blazers’ waste disposal bags are degradable and biodegradable and they also carry a number of non-toxic, ECO friendly recycled toys, bowls, shampoos, and bedding. Cat litters are all natural and biodegradable made of things like corn, wheat, pine or nutshells.
“We carry as many Canadian and Eco-Friendly product options that we can while maintaining the quality our customers have come to know and trust,” says Hauberg.
The health movement in pet food products has definitely been more of a west coast initiative to this point but greater traction is now being realized further to the east. In fact, Hauberg was shocked at the amount of opportunity for growth and the company has just begun to scratch the surface. With such an outstanding reputation cultivated in the west, the Tail Blazers Pets brand is well positioned to make strong inroads in Canada’s most populous province. Tail Blazers has established a significant presence in Ontario and in the process has found several different companies to partner with, which will enable a sustainably growing market.
“We really try and grow organically with finding the right people. I don’t have a sales team out there trying to sell. We do use social media and word of mouth. People come into our stores and see what we’re all about and some of them feel this is the type of work they’d like to be involved in,” notes Hauberg.
Success at any location essentially boils down to finding the right people to be franchisees. When Hauberg originally went to Ontario he was primarily focused on Ottawa because he thought it was a very similar-type city as Calgary. In the meantime, opportunity organically arose in another part of the province.
“I never found the right person that was willing to commit to opening up a store in Ottawa but the right person came along to open a store in Sudbury and she has been absolutely wonderful,” explains Hauberg. “We’ve kind of switched our model away from picking certain locations on the map but more where we were able to find the right people.”
Selecting the right person to be a franchisee at Tail Blazers Pets requires that they have business intelligence, but most notably a true passion for dogs and cats. From there, Hauberg and his team can provide an excellent support system to develop the store.
“If someone has shown an ability to learn in other aspects of their life I can teach a lot of the stuff around the nutritional aspect and the business aspect,” says Hauberg. “If you’ve got the passion for dogs and cats, that’s number one. Number two is really a focus on healthy eating and healthy lifestyle. If that’s a priority for you we’re definitely the right fit for a franchise.”
The vast majority of the Tail Blazers Pets locations cater primarily to dogs and cats, but there are several that also provide health foods for the likes of birds, rabbits and guinea pigs.
In dealing with raw food or even dry canned food, Tail Blazers focuses on species-specific foods. Dogs and cats are very similar to their ancestors in terms of what their nutritional needs are and how their digestive systems operate. Bones and raw food – or the BARF diet – provides meat, bones organs and some vegetables but designed around the way animals would be eating in nature. The BARF diet is full of enzymes that allows for easier digestion. It is also contains natural trace minerals, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and much more.
“There is really no benefit to feeding a dry food diet other than convenience and cost. Kibble was created when meat was difficult to source, and that is no longer the case. Therefore we have a responsibility to our pets to improve their diets and provide them with the best we can,” says Hauberg.
Mother Nature created all living creatures in a certain way, and that includes what they eat. As much as humans think they can create something better, Hauberg believes it’s best to just give pets what they were designed to eat and many of their health issues would disappear.
The product line, while exclusive due to high quality standards, is something Hauberg is always looking to expand or improve upon whenever possible. It’s a constant evolution and for that reason it is important to always be at the front-end of the curve.
“What’s available today is phenomenal compared the past. A lot of the companies that had foods approved 18 years ago would not be considered for approval now because the standards have gotten so much higher,” he says.
Leading the way with innovative research and being cognizant of new products and deciphering between what is real versus a trend without any meaningful substance is essential to long-term success. The executive-level of expertise is something Hauberg believes separates Tail Blazers from the competition in that regard. As a consumer, Hauberg advises that the most important thing you can do is look past clever marketing and learn to properly read ingredient panels.
“We’re not interested in the fanciest buzzwords found on labels but then you realize there are only really a couple of granules of a certain ingredient in the product. For example, you may have a senior dog and the label says the ingredients include glucosamine, which is good for arthritis. But when you get down to reading the fine print and discovering how much glucosamine is actually in there, it may be five little granules, which is going to do absolutely nothing,” he says.
Tail Blazers is committed to being available to all franchisees on a 24/7 basis. There are also numerous educational YouTube videos that are distributed to a number of organizations. Information is a powerful tool and it’s something Hauberg wants all franchisees to make use of as a means of increasing knowledge, which in turn will be better for their stores.
“We have a network of different people here if franchisees have questions that are a little bit more complicated. We also have a veterinarian that we often will bat ideas and theories around. There is access through our phones, social media and our website,” he says.
“We just finished updating the app and it was recently approved by Apple,” Hauberg continues. “The app was previously only available on iPhones but it’s also now available on Android phones. We have an ingredient dictionary in the app so that no matter where a person is, they can look at the ingredients, and they are colour-coded. Anything in red is not something that should be in your pet’s food. Anything in yellow is okay and then there is green, which is the full-on endorsement. We try and have that education available to people all the time. It can be incredibly confusing when you’re reading the ingredients.”
Tail Blazers Gives Back
Each year Tail Blazers runs a corporate charitable event in support of pets. Sales from the stores on that particular day sees Tail Blazers donate 5% to the charity that the local store has picked in their particular region. For example, Sudbury will have a different charity that they want to donate towards as opposed to Etobicoke.
To support those pets that do not have forever homes, Tail Blazers holds annual events such as food drives while donating food to local charities in the Pound for Pound pet food drive. Tail Blazers donates thousands of pounds of food each year while various franchise locations host adoptions in store on a regular basis to promote rescue awareness.
“We also support local charity events with sponsorships, booth hosting, coupons, gift cards, gift certificates and goodie bags and help promote awareness of their events,” says Hauberg.
In looking ahead Hauberg hopes to see a growth of about five stores each year but putting specific numbers is a difficult thing to do because of so many variables, including finding the right person to run a franchise, emphasizing quality over quantity.
“I see us having somewhere between 25 and 30 stores by 2020,” concludes Hauberg. “It’s about building relationships with the franchisees. If we get 10 people coming in and they’re the right ones to open a store, we’ll find a way to make that happen. If it ends up being just one or two stores a year that we open, that’s perfectly fine by us as well.”