Born and raised in Long Island, NY, Janet Monaco, Owner of Pet Pros, moved to Florida in 1994 to escape the cold winters of the Northeast. With 15 years’ experience in the import/export business, she discovered an opportunity in the wire and cable business that matched her skill set, interests and capabilities. She spent the next seven years as owner and operator of her own distributorship, which supplied most of the cable for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. By 1998, Monaco, in her own words, “got bored” and, like most entrepreneurs do, she went looking for her next opportunity.
“A friend came to me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about getting into the pet business?’,” Monaco said. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about it. She told me you could make a ton of money, which turned out to be a lie, but I was still interested and decided to give it a shot. I started off by working out of the Osceola Flea Market. I had a small booth where I sold collars, leashes and other pet products. Then I saw an ad for a pet store for sale in Rockledge. I called a friend of mine, who lived in Cocoa, to ask her about the store and the area. Turns out it was pretty well-known and the only store of its kind for miles. After doing my due diligence, I bought the store in 1999.”
The original owners of the pet store were retiring and looking to move onto something else. Even though Monaco didn’t have enough money to purchase the store, the owners were kind enough to allow her to set up an owner-financed payment arrangement. They also gave her some great insight and advice on how to run the business.
“The owner told me if we could average $10 per transaction, then we’d be doing well,” she said. “That was our goal back then.”
Despite not having any experience in the pet business – other than her short stint selling pet products at the flea market – Monaco did have plenty of customer service experience. She was also determined to learn everything she could about the pet industry. She read books, established relationships with manufacturing reps and over time, through hard work and smart advertising, she grew Pet Pros into a well-respected and highly-valued small business – as well as the first all-natural pet store in Brevard County.
“Along the way, I tried many different forms of advertising,” Monaco said. “Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way from some of them. I’ve given people money and they’ve disappeared on me. I also had a monthly newsletter, but that became too time-consuming. Through it all, the only thing that really worked – and continues to work – is Valpak. Through direct mail marketing, we’re able to reach a lot of people. We also include coupons with our ads, which helps to get people in the store.”
As you might expect, The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 hit Monaco’s business hard. The financial hardship eventually made its way into other parts of her life. She lost her home and had to turn in a vehicle, but she also learned some valuable lessons.
“It’s important to have alternate plans,” she said. “At one point I thought about selling the business, but found out through friends that selling a business is not all it’s cracked up to be. Instead, I focused on what I could control. I learned to sell things I knew I could sell, got rid of dead inventory and stayed focused on what kept people coming back. It was a tough time and if it wasn’t for my family supporting me, I wouldn’t still be here today.”
Around 2012, as the economy was recovering from The Great Recession, Monaco added grooming as an additional service. A woman that had a grooming salon in Melbourne was tired of paying high rent for her own space and reached out to Monaco about forming a partnership.
“The room she wanted to rent was our reptile room,” Monaco said. “However, it worked out great because we were in the process of getting out of that part of the pet business. It’s been a great addition to the retail store. We’ve since moved and we now have three separate rooms for grooming – the bathing room, the haircut spot and a drying room. Having the grooming portion also allowed us to be considered an essential business during the COVID lockdown.”
As a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Pet Pros, recipient of the 2018 Business of the Year Award by the City of Rockledge, recently added an online component to their retail operations. While the new revenue stream won’t position them to compete against the likes of Amazon and Chewy, according to Monaco, it’s an opportunity to capture some lost business.
“A lot of our customers are like family,” she said. “Most of them prefer to come in and see us in person. However, there are still some who prefer to safely shop online. We also offer curbside pickup and home-delivery six days a week.”
Looking ahead, Monaco, who values the relationships she’s built with her customers more than anything, is committed to Pet Pros for the long haul. She’s focused on building out her curbside service, online store and delivery options. As she shared, however, the future of her business is largely dependent on the economy and how people’s propensity to shop online has increased.
What advice does Monaco have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Love what you do and do what you love,” she said. “It’s so important. You’ve got to have a passion for what you do and it helps to have deep pockets and support from loved ones. Being your own boss is a lot harder than you think – especially in the world of retail. Your money is mostly tied up in your inventory. If you sell an item, you need to replace it with two more. Nevertheless, if given the choice, I’d do it all over again.”