Soon after he moved to Michigan a few years ago, Victor Baeten knew he wanted to transition from the corporate side of Pet Supplies Plus into owning a franchised store. He felt it would offer the flexibility to make a difference in the community he served.

After a planned move back to his home state, the Green Bay native said Fitchburg has been a perfect fit, both personally and for the store.

“My kids go to school here, I live and work here, and now we want to be a bigger part of the community,” he said. “I love it.”

And since opening, his store has continued to grow in both the services and supplies it can offer its “neighbors.”

“It’s fun to go to work, I opened the store with my father-in-law (Ahmed Gipril), and I want to keep it a family-owned store that focuses on community needs,” Baeten said. “The goal is to stay smaller, because we’re not a warehouse, we’re a neighborhood pet store that’s part of the community.”

Pet Supplies Plus opened its first store in Michigan in 1988 and has since expanded to over 385 franchised and corporate stores in 29 states across the country, according to their website. Most stores offer pet grooming services, as well as supplies for pet dental and ear care, flea treatments, nail clipping and other general care supplies like food and toys.

All of these are offered at the Fitchburg store, at 2928 Hardrock Road, ranging from economically friendly to high-end specialty brands. From critter care to cat and dog supplies, store team leader Amanda Cummings says the store continues to rotate its stock based on community feedback and by keeping in touch with what other stores in the area supply.

The store is also able to special order supplies for individual customers, and the ability to be flexible with what supplies are offered is one of the many reasons Baeten said he enjoys owning a franchised store.

Within the last few weeks, the store also introduced a pet grooming service in addition to the “self-serve” pet wash for dogs.

With a picture of a puppy that dedicates her love for dogs on her name badge, Cummings said that seeing those dogs is one of the best parts of the day.

“We all know within seconds when a dog comes in because everyone gets very excited,” she said with a laugh.

Preparations for opening the Fitchburg store began long before the December grand opening.

“It’s so amazing to see how we’ve progressed from the beginning, and seeing all of the new and repeat neighbors noticing that we take those extra steps to make sure we have what they need,” Cummings told the Star.

Local touch

One of the ways the store focuses on the community is through its partnerships with local charities and animal rescue groups.

Baeten said his store only hosts rescue animals that come from area organizations, something he said is unlike some big box retailers and other pet stores. Not even all Pet Supplies Plus stores offer adoptable pets, but Fitchburg’s offers reptiles, fish, cats and smaller critters like guinea pigs, mice and sometimes hedgehogs.

Angel’s Wish Pet Adoption and Resource Center, Fisher Valley Felines Inc. and Adopt Me are some of the groups that partner with Baeten and Cummings to house adoptable pets, but those organizations also offer educational classes and social events at the store.

The cats stay in the store for only two weeks before returning back to their main shelter, and are then rotated out with other adoptable cats.

“Volunteers come to play with them every day, but we don’t want the animals to stay in the smaller cage for too long,” Cummings explained.

The three partnering nonprofits hold weekly and biweekly programs at the store to let children and families play with the animals that are up for adoption. Madison Area Herpetological Society sometimes visits, and students from Stoner Prairie Elementary School visited a few months ago to learn about boa constrictors and other snakes and reptiles.

Those educational programs are important to Baeten, and something he and Cummings said they’re working to expand.

“It makes a difference to be able to cater to what the community needs; we’re a smaller store, but I think you’ll find that our scope of offerings is anything but,” he said.

Contact Amber Levenhagen at amber.levenhagen@wcinet.com.