Serial Entrepreneur Doug Stone Rescues Beloved Mom-and-Pop Pet Food Store In Nanuet

Business Features Living People
RCBJ-Audible (Listen For Free)
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Stone Will Resurrect Pet Nutrition As ‘The Family Pet’ With 21st-Century Practices

By Tina Traster

You could say Doug Stone, who has engineered a career listening to hunches, follows his nose.

His latest foray is The Family Pet, an indie-owned pet store slated to open late May, which will resurrect the shuttered Pet Nutrition on Route 59 in Nanuet with an infusion of cash and 21st-century marketing.

How, some might ask, did a former restaurateur and internet entrepreneur sniff out this latest career turn? The answer is through profound disappointment he felt when he learned Pet Nutrition, his go-to for his two pooches, was at the end of its leash.

“I went there about six weeks ago and found out it was closing,” said Stone, a Piermont resident whose pizza joint DVine Pie shut down during the pandemic. “The shelves were 90 percent empty. I felt a pang of panic. Where will I get dog food – I don’t want to shop at Petco?”

Stone said he felt a “visceral feeling of loss” for a store he’s relied on for his bull mastiff, “who eats a lot,” and a smaller hound/half Jack Russell terrier, both rescues. He said right there and then, he felt driven to do some rescuing himself.

“Petco and big boxes are antithetical to everything I believe in,” said Stone, “It’s so important to support a local family business. I think many people would rather spend money at a store that pays for a neighbor’s kid to go to college than to pay for a CEO of a corporation to buy a third home or a second Ferrari.”

Pet Nutrition, owned by Martin Fazio, has competed alongside big boxes on Route 59 for four decades. The field is even more competitive with online sellers like Chewy.

“Marty had had enough,” said Peter Sherlock, the former manager who will join Stone in his new venture. “When Doug came in during the last week that we were in business, most of the stock was liquidated. Marty was just ready to retire, He’d had enough.”

Fazio hadn’t made a big push to sell the business, but Stone negotiated the sale of whatever was left – shelving, displays, carts. The former owner did not have a website, a customer mailing list, point-of-sale. “The two registers were the totality of his technology,” said Stone. “Marty was running it like it was 1975.”

Sherlock said Stone has progressive ideas to bring the business forward.

“He has a unique outsider’s view for things that can be done with social media and an online presence,” said Sherlock. “I don’t think we had realized how important the store was until we saw an outpouring of support.”

What Stone did “inherit” was a business that had built customer relations and good will for decades. When he announced on Facebook that he’d stepped in to continue a family-owned pet store, the response on pages like Rockland County Dog Parents was overwhelming.

He signed a five-year lease for The Family Pet.

“If all I had to do was drive down the street to find another family-owned pet store, that would have been that,” said Stone. “But there aren’t any. There are no other choices in Rockland County. This just didn’t sit well. It reeked of opportunity.”

Stone says he also plans to re-hire two or three of the store’s former staff.

But his greatest challenge will be to perk up the business with marketing, loyalty programs, and free Rockland County delivery.

Turning 63, Stone could have begun to wind down and think about margaritas and fishing. But he says that’s not in his DNA. Stone recently sold two niche internet sites, ForWhiskeyLovers and ForTequilaLovers, which combined content and e-commerce.

“I got enough to pay down some debt, buy a motorcycle, and start this business,” he said, referring to The Family Pet.

The man with the keen sense of opportunity has been in the technology space on the sales side since the early 1980s, when he started his career in video and post-production. He has worked with teams of programmers, designers, and engineers. Starwood Hotels hired him to do interactive marketing.

The business for liquor aficionados started back in the early internet days when MySpace “was the big kid on the block” and before Facebook dominated the social network space. Stone snapped up 250 specialty URLs, including the Whiskey and Tequila sites he built out. But the online businesses required offsite engineering when it came to recruiting and managing a network of retailers that did fulfillment for the sales.

Stone said he built the sites through curation.

“Everyone knows Jack Daniels,” he said. “But nobody knew a brand of Maine, Wiggly Bridge (craft distillery in Maine). There’s a value proposition when you bring something unknown to the market.”

Stone plans to do the same with The Family Pet – there will be some inventory overlap with the major chains and e-commerce sites. But the store will also carry smaller brands that aren’t readily available on the mainstream market. The newly minted pet store owner believes mom-and-pop can compete with big boxes, particularly through customer service. He plans to bring in a pet groomer, animal training classes, and health-related pet care sessions. He also intends to collaborate more closely with pet rescues and to forge relationships with local veterinarians who can offer vaccines and other medical services at the store.

“We are smaller, leaner, we don’t have venture capitalists,” Stone added.

When his internet businesses morphed from what started as a hobby, Stone got restless and sought out his next challenge. DVine Pie opened in early 2018 and lasted less than three years. He saw a hole in the Piermont restaurant scene: nowhere to go with a family for an affordable, casual meal. The restaurant gained attention – not only for its great pizzas and innovative sustainable food – but for Valentine-shaped pies and tastings and its hip social media driven image. Still, the pandemic, along with not enough outdoor seating, left Stone and his partner Joe Printz, each with a six-figure loss, he said.

“You don’t start a business if you’re not prepared to lose money,” said Stone, “Starting a business is a risk.”

The entrepreneur admits he didn’t undertake mounds of research for the new store – he was led by his gut.

“If somebody had told me two months ago, I’d be opening a pet food store, I’d say they were crazy,” said Stone. But the entrepreneur lives by the same unfettered motto uttered by Mr. Bigweld, the animated character played by Mel Brooks in the 2005 film Robots.

“See a need, fill a need,” he said. It’s that simple.