Pet Valu franchisee Kayla Orleck expands her lifelong passion for pets, community, and family dynamics
By Stefanie Ucci
For many Canadians, their pets are just like family and receive abundant love, care, food, and supplies from their pet parents. Brands like Pet Valu help provide the support, knowledge, and products needed while raising a furry friend. Franchisee Kayla Orleck opened her New Hamburg, Ontario franchise in May 2020 after growing up with the Pet Valu brand in her family. As the owner of a beta fish and a housetrained Lionhead rabbit named Malibu, she explains her passion for Pet Valu.
All in the family
“I literally grew up in a Pet Valu store with my parents. Between the two of them, they have four locations they operate in eastern Ontario: two in Cobourg, one in Port Hope, and one out in Haliburton,” says Orleck. “I watched them build up their business and acquire these stores over 20-plus years, which was really impressive. And I grew up in them, they were my first job all through high school.” She adds that at a young age, she would help cover shifts when a staff member called in sick, learned how to cash customers out, and put away stock on delivery days.
After graduating university and launching her career in a different direction, Pet Valu remained part of Orleck’s life and that of her family until she was eventually drawn back when she worked in a corporate store in Brantford, Ontario for one year.
“It was that family dynamic and community involvement that really captured and intrigued me about Pet Valu,” explains Orleck. “There was an opportunity that came up and I couldn’t turn it down. I loved the atmosphere that I grew up in, and I had found all my other jobs I was pulling on those aspects and trying to bring them into anything I did.”
Franchises like Pet Valu help provide the support and knowledge needed while raising a furry friend. The specialty retailer provides a wide selection of pet food and supplies for owners of dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, birds, and small animals.
For more than 40 years, Pet Valu has helped devoted pet lovers give their pets the food, supplies, toys, and love they need to live happy and healthy lives. The specialty retailer provides a wide selection of pet food and products for owners of dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, birds, and small animals. With over 600 stores across Canada, the franchise has an abundance of trained animal care experts who help educate and assist customers every day.
A daily adventure
A typical day for Orleck “never ends” she says, as she’s in the store from open to close, noting that her location has limited operating hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. About an hour before opening, she’s up and ready to go, and keeps herself prepared for anything that may come her way. When she’s not on site, she has her staff text her to let her know the store is open and ready for customers.
Less than a year into business, Orleck says her daily routine has already changed. “Coming into this, what I thought it would be is completely different than what my routine ended up being and it’s different now that we’re a little bit more established.”
She points to the curbside pickup implementation in Ontario that changed the day-to-day operations of her Pet Valu franchise from when she first opened at the start of the pandemic. “We hadn’t done this before – while a lot of stores already had the opportunity to do curbside back in March, this was a whole new experience for us. I was very fortunate that when I did do my training before taking on this location, I got to do it in Kitchener, which was amazing. At that time, they were doing curbside, so I did get a bit of a feel of what’s a good flow for this, and then tried to convert that here. What that looks like in a typical day for our New Hamburg location is a little bit different.”
Orleck explains that the shining light of the pandemic is that Pet Valu enhanced their website to provide services to customers who can now pay online and pickup curbside. It was through this new procedure that Pet Valu adapted their online platform to become more user friendly to a wider range of customers. Pet Valu now offers several options for customers to make purchases using their e-commerce website, including click and collect, order online and deliver to your home, and customers can even order special items while in the store and have them shipped to their homes.
The highs and lows
As a new franchisee, Orleck says being a business owner is “challenging and exciting all at once. It’s quite a roller coaster.”
For her, building a team is something she hadn’t done before. She says that “the best part is figuring out what makes your business successful and really being able to home in on that. Business is always challenging and it’s great when you see really positive results and you can see success in the growth. But obviously the growth is also based out of your team, leadership, and watching how you can build up those kinds of things.”
Orleck adds that being able to set her own hours is a positive but “the day never stops, so whether or not you think you’ve given yourself a day off, you haven’t,” she says with a laugh.
The highlight in a typical day for Orleck is getting good feedback from customers, those who come back and express their satisfaction that a Pet Valu member provided help in raising their puppy or senior-aged dog, for example.
“We put an emphasis on having a lot of knowledge so we can really help guide our devoted pet parents to find the best products and solutions with whatever their issue may be. [Having] that compassion to really help them make their pet’s day better and a little bit more comfortable for them is definitely a huge highlight,” she adds. “Any time a pet walks through the door is also a highlight for us; I mean, who doesn’t love puppies!”
However, Orleck says that having her store closed to walk-in customers has created a challenge for her and altered Pet Valu’s emphasis on community involvement. Encouraging customers to participate in events, bring their pets in store, and help socialize their young puppies is put on hold until locations can open up again. “We know that safety comes first, so we are taking the required precautions and we all look forward to things getting back to normal.”
A passion for pets goes a long way
Orleck describes Pet Valu as community and engagement focused, with an emphasis on knowledge and professionalism, and a drive for business. “[They have] a great business plan, all the franchisees have a lot of input, and I think it’s really helped shape what Pet Valu is,” she explains. “A lot has changed for the good at Pet Valu, which is great.”
She advises prospective Pet Valu franchisees to do their research and have a passion for the business and a desire to grow, improve, be innovative, and willing to adapt. And have a love for pets, of course. “That’s really what your customers are looking for and if you can keep your customers and your team happy, your business will do well and soar.” She adds that Pet Valu has always had a very loyal client base because of the services and knowledge they provide, which is something that you won’t always get online.
As for her advice for new franchisees just starting out: “Make as many friends with other franchisees as you can; they are gold. The number of times I’ve had to call people, just to ask ‘Have you ever run into this before? What do I do?’ People who understand exactly what you’re in and what you’re going through is really important.”
Orleck adds, “Be willing to take on new things, and to let some things fail just to see you try at them. If you have that passion, it’ll definitely go a long way.”