Q&A with Chuck Latham from H&C Animal Health June 18, 2020

Q&A with Chuck Latham from H&C Animal Health

What encouraged you to join the pet industry?

I started out selling animal products, namely for large animal, cattle and swine. I had two customers in Denver – one of which is no longer in business – and one customer in California (VSI), and in 1984 they all came to me and asked if I could get pet supplies because their feed stores were starting to want them. So, I went out and found some product, which were easier to sell than some of the large animal products that I had, so it was fun and enjoyable.

How does the overall pet industry compare today to when you joined?

When I first started, there was no big box, and no internet either. PetSmart started in 1986, and although Petco started 20 years prior in 1965 and had about 40 stores, they were actually more of a mail order catalog, which was a pretty big business back then. Petco—I think their catalog was called Animal Supply back then—their catalog was bigger than their stores at that time.

Also, you didn’t sell directly to retailers—everything had to go through distributors and so it was different. There were a lot of relationships at the distributor level of who bought from who, and I was the new, young guy on the block, so it took me a while to get relationships built.

So, today the world has just completely changed. First, you have the online retailers—the big growth drivers like Chewy and Amazon. And then you have big box retailers such as Petco and PetSmart that used to be the big guys, but it’s more of the internet driving growth, and the third is the independent retailer. You want the independent to be stronger and keep them as strong as you can, and I still see them as part of the growth of the industry. So, it is just different overall today—different in how you sell, and at one point everything was based on relationships. But with the internet, a lot of the time you don’t even talk to anybody—you do all the work and then you put it on the site and it’s done. It’s just different.

Which pet industry trends have caught your attention and how is H&C Animal Health addressing them?

I am from a veterinary family, so my background started out in the veterinary industry when I tried to get into veterinary school. What is interesting now, is how the internet has changed everything. Certain things you went and bought from your vet, and now you are looking to buy those same things over the counter. H&C has really taken a hold of that whether it be working with some of the big veterinary pharma companies to help bring their products to market, and we are developing some of our own products in conjunction with veterinary pharma to the over the counter market.

How is H&C Animal Health setting itself apart from competitors within the pet industry?

The biggest thing we focus on is science—we talk about science that cares. It’s really easy today, especially in supplements and certain products, to have someone make a supplement product for you. Our standard is that the supplement has to have proven intellectual property behind it, and we are typically trying to work with something that has been clinically proven, there is research behind it and there is sound science behind it. If we are doing it ourselves working with main veterinarians to help us develop the product, I think that’s where and why we are so different than everyone else. We won’t introduce a new joint product and slap a label on it without making sure it has been proven and has really good science and research behind it.

Who has been your biggest advocate and supporter?

First, I am always going to say my family. I have three daughters and a wife who have put up with me traveling and being gone. My kids can read a retail shelf probably as best as anybody because they would get dragged – whether we were on vacation or something – to go see what the greatest latest retailer is. I have one kid still in grad-school and the other two are in some form of retail businesses. In fact, we have one daughter living at home with us because she can’t go back to New York City right now.

Industry wise, there have been so many great people. Bill Lechtner used to be at Petco—he was a huge advocate and helped us get started. A guy by the name John Schuber, who is Chairman of VSI, was a huge advocate and helped get me into business. Today, there are customers—two of our biggest growth drivers that are going on right now are due to customers coming to us and asking us to be involved in something.

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