On the corner of Victoria Avenue and Osler Street just east of Regina’s downtown, there is a retail operation unlike any other in the country. Celebrating an amazing ten years, Metro Pet Market has been turning the pet store industry on its head since its doors opened in November 2007. The company got its start when co-owner Kurt Jensen had a cat needing veterinary attention some years ago. “I’d always had an interest in health—both human and animal—and I was dealing with my cat who was suffering from a urinary blockage,” says Jensen. “It’s a common problem in cats. I did some research, and I was shocked by what I learned about the conventional pet foods on the market, and the lack of knowledge and support for species-appropriate nutrition.” Jensen discovered that a species-appropriate diet would likely help his cat recover and ensure that his pets would thrive, not just survive—and that there was a gap in what was available easily to pet owners wanting something better for their animals. This realization came at a time when Jensen and his friend, Ross McNabb, were both struggling with what they wanted in their careers.
“We both had careers that looked great on paper,” says McNabb. “We made good money from stable employment, but it wasn’t fulfilling in a way that we wanted.” They realized that there was an opportunity for them in the pet care space, and set out to fill it. “Our idea was simple. We wanted to be a health food store for pets,” says Jensen. “It was not an easy sell.” McNabb and Jensen talked to many business people, advisors and financial institutions who doubted their idea or asked if they were going to sell pets, which was a common and lucrative practice a decade ago. “If we were going to do this right with the ethical ideals we have, selling pets was out of the question,” says McNabb. “We were going to be about pet health, not selling animals.”
Jensen and McNabb spent hours and hours finding the products that would meet their standards, often sourcing products from out of the country or direct buying. “Back then, many distributors were not offering what we were looking for,” says Jensen. In March 2007, massive pet food recalls began, shaking pet owners and the industry alike. Many well-known pet food brands were tainted with melamine, leading to thousands of reported deaths and serious illness in pets in North America. It was the first time many pet owners became aware of the ingredients in pet food and the questionable practices of multi-national pet food companies. “The pet food recall was a major incident for the industry and for owners,” says Jensen. “When we opened in November 2007, we realized quickly that pet owners were aware of the need for better quality food and were actively seeking it out.”
Within a month or so of opening their doors, Jensen and McNabb realized their idea was a good one. “The level of customer engagement we had told us that people want quality foods and supplies for their pets,” says Jensen. Since then, the company has opened a second location in Regina’s northwest and gained serious recognition in the industry they work in. “We didn’t know the reputation we were getting until we travelled to some trade shows and health conferences in the U.S. and internationally,” says McNabb. “We’d introduce ourselves to people and they would recognize Metro Pet Market right away. We were very oblivious to what we were doing to the retail pet care market—we were setting the bar and building brands in which other retailers would follow.”
It was 2012 when that impact became fully known to Jensen and McNabb. “We got a call from Geoff Bowers, the then-owner and head of New Zealand’s K9 Natural, one of the largest raw pet food manufacturers in the world,” says Jensen. “Geoff needed to know what we were doing in Regina that was so special.” As it turned out, Metro Pet Market was one of the company’s largest customers, and Bowers was curious to know why a small city like Regina was one of his company’s biggest markets. “He asked to come visit to see us, and we said sure,” said McNabb. Bowers stayed with Jensen, and spent several days in store taking it all in. “He even did a special evening talk for customers and local veterinarians,” says Jensen.
So, what is their secret? It’s the commitment to their customers and the end-users—the pets. They’re passionate and have lofty goals with a mission to change the world. Jensen and McNabb e want to engage, educate and inspire pet parents to do the best they can for their beloved family members. “We have very specific criteria about what can hit our shelves,” says Jensen. “We reject most products because we know what we’re willing to sell for pets and their well-being is our business. If it’s on our shelves, it’s because we know it’s a good thing.” Their exacting standards are the reason that the pet food industry knows Metro Pet Market, and Regina. Market size doesn’t matter. It’s about setting business priorities and sticking to them. “We started this business to give customers access to the best products for the wellbeing of their pets,” says Jensen. “10 years later, that passion hasn’t changed. When we started, we had no idea what our vision would give us. Luckily, it’s paid off for us, our customers and the pets.”