All in the family

“In today’s business world there are fewer and fewer family-owned-and-operated manufacturing businesses, especially ones as unique as ours,” says Charlie Nelson, vice president of sales and part of the family that owns Tuffy’s Pet Food.

Tuffy’s, based in Perham, Minnesota, USA, is indeed unique, and not just because of its ownership. Its history and collaboration with other divisions of its parent company, KLN Enterprises, brings a distinctive knowledge to petfood manufacturing.

All this adds up to growth of over 30% a year. While that may not be unique in the dynamic pet food industry, it does make the case for-as Tuffy’s national sales manager, Jim Farrell, puts it-striving to “be who we are and keep within our niche.”
Family to family

The family emphasis is not just warm and fuzzy sentiment: it’s part of the company’s business strategy as a key differentiator from competitors. “We like to do business with family-owned distributors and retailers, and that’s how we set ourselves apart, “ says Farrell. “That’s what we like to be known for: as somebody big enough to have high quality petfood but also able to take care of independent retailers’ needs, ensure their profitability and keep that relationship.”

This strategy permeates the company’s supply chain. “What distinguishes the network of suppliers that provides our ingredients is that they by and large have been suppliers for many, many years,” Chuck Orvik says. “We’ve done business with the same suppliers who know us, who know what we expect of them and we’ve developed partnership relationships with many of them.” “Which kinds of lends itself to why we weren’t involved in the 2007 recalls,” Farrell adds. “We have a large marketing push with our brands that we know our sources.”

Nelson emphasizes the company’s commitment to the strategy: “We have absolutely no plans of not being a family-owned company, and that is a big question we get asked. With so much consolidation going on in this industry, people want to know and like to know that we’re going to be around, we’re going to continue to provide high-quality, ethical products, we’re going to continue to bring new items to the market that our retailers are asking for.”
Back hunting again

The family touch extends even to consumers. “They contact us all the time with questions and compliments about how great our products are,” says Paula Sucher, sales coordinator. “We’ve heard testimonials about old and tame dogs that are now back hunting again after eating our food.”

“We have a personalized customer service desk here, too,” she continues. “If someone has a question, they can pick up the phone and talk directly to a person. We don’t have any automated phones. People tell us all the time how nice it is to actually talk to a human being right away with a question or concern.”

Nelson chimes in, “If there are questions on ingredients, they’re answered directly by us. That’s why we’re growing and why I think we have more relationships; it’s doing these small things that we don’t have any plans of getting away from. We remind each other of the grassroots approach to growing this business.” If they stay on that path, he says, “We can continue to grow nicely, focus on our segment of the industry and keep moving forward.”