Karl Keller turned selling supplies into
a multi-store pet operation
by Kris Ann Hegle
SBJ Contributing Writer
When Karl Keller was 11, he started raising guppies in a 10-gallon aquarium in the basement of his family's house in Springfield. Then a friend told him how he could sell the guppies and make a little extra money. Keller sold the fish, but instead of spending the money, he used the profits to buy more guppies.
From those meager beginnings, Keller went on to found General Petco Inc. and six Pet Warehouse Inc. stores. Today, as the president and chief executive officer of both companies, he still practices that reinvestment philosophy.
"By the time I was 16, I knew what I wanted to do," Keller said. "It's given me a tremendous advantage. Early on, I had some dreams. I'm still working on some of those dreams."
Keller began working to make those dreams a reality back in 1955, when he opened Karl's Aquarium. Karl's, which was both a wholesale and retail outlet, sold tropical and exotic fish, as well as the supplies needed to raise and care for them.
In response to the demand from his customers, Keller started expanding the line of animal supplies he carried. Karl's Aquarium evolved into Karl's Aquarium and Pet Supply, and then into Pet Warehouse Inc.
It was during this period that Keller decided to split his wholesale and retail operations. He formed General Petco, which has since been renamed General Pet Inc.
General Pet Inc. sells pet supplies to farm and feed stores, individual pet shops and chain stores in an 11-state area, according to Keller. General Pet Inc. also provides all the inventory for five Pet Warehouse Inc. stores in Springfield and for one store in Joplin.
"Having multiple locations in Springfield takes the store to our customers," Keller said. "They don't have to drive as far, and it's helped us compete against superstores like PetsMart, which only has one location."
According to Keller, each Pet Warehouse Inc. store stocks more than 10,000 items, and animal lovers can find everything from books to training aids for their pet. The stores also sell a wide variety of animals, including reptiles, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits and of course fish.
An avid fish hobbyist, Keller said he's always on the lookout to add new and exciting varieties of fish to his existing selection.
"We're still frequently asked about fish problems," Keller said. "We employ a fisheries biologist, and there's at least one knowledgeable person at each store who can answer customers' questions."
While running a pet store is rewarding and fun, it takes a lot of work to tend and care for all the animals, according to Keller. Consequently, he relies heavily on his employees.
"The company is our associates," Keller said. "They have the talent and ability to get the job done, and we try to give them an opportunity to grow. I'm glad to see customers coming in the door, but I'm equally glad to see our associates come through the door. I think business owners tend to forget that sometimes. They put all their emphasis on the customers and forget about the associates."
To recruit and retain good employees, Pet Warehouse Inc. and General Pet Inc. offer full-time employees a complete benefits package that includes health, dental and life insurance and profit sharing, according to Keller. He also looks for ways to advance career-minded workers. As a result, Keller said, four out of 10 original employees still work at one of his businesses.
Currently, 75 associates work for the Pet Warehouse Inc., and 100 more employees work for General Pet Inc., according to Keller. Those numbers may change in the not-so-distant future, however. Keller said he is looking to add several new Pet Warehouse Inc. stores in the coming months.
"Every store will be better than the last," Keller said. "And they'll be staffed by helpful, knowledgeable people."
& General Pet:
"Treat people the way you would want to be treated yourself."
Year founded: 1955
Address and phone number:
Pet Warehouse Inc., 1669 E. St. Louis St., 831-7386;
General Pet Inc., 219 N. Kentwood, 865-8776.
Owner: General Pet Inc. and
Pet Warehouse Inc.
Fish were Keller's start in business, and they still hold interest for him and his company, which is now greatly expanded.
Karl Keller is top dog at the companies he began as Karl's Aquarium in 1955. [[In-content Ad]]
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