We all have moments that change our lives forever. Heidi Neal immediately identifies one such moment as the day she visited a local animal shelter near her Rockland home in 2008 and met Fenway for the first time. She was instantly drawn to the eight-week-old half Lab, half shepherd puppy.
It was love at first sight.
Just two years later, Fenway would also usher in a whole new career for Heidi when they spied a local pet supply store for sale, on Rockland’s Main Street. The Loyal Biscuit Company store beckoned to Heidi, who was ready for a change after a successful 15-year banking career. Fenway seemed to have led her onto a new path.
“She is absolutely the reason we’re here,” Heidi said. “She absolutely changed my life, 100 percent.”
Heidi is a total believer in the bumper sticker that reads, “I didn’t rescue my dog. My dog rescued me.”
When she and her husband, Joel, purchased the store in January 2010, they changed the store logo to a silhouette of Fenway. Joel, who serves as the deputy police chief in Rockland, was equally in favor of this new direction. Heidi and Joel own four other dogs and a cat, and it was Joel who first inspired Heidi to get a dog of her own.
Sadly, Fenway passed away in May after 13 years. She is still mourned and much missed. For Heidi, the thought of this beloved and special dog can bring tears. But Fenway’s spirit continues to guide the Rockland store and the six additional Loyal Biscuit Company stores that have sprung up over the last 10 years. The stores are making a positive difference in many pets’ lives by helping their owners choose nutritious and healthy pet food for their dogs and cats.
“If I won’t feed it to my own animals, I won’t sell it,” said Heidi about the Loyal Biscuit Company’s core values.
Their approach has been successful and gained many loyal customers. The couple opened their second store in Belfast in June 2011. Heidi said that Joel urged her to expand. She met with a business counselor in Wiscasset at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), who helped her put together a sound business plan.
Heidi and Joel bought their third store in Camden shortly after opening Belfast. Waterville followed in 2014, Brewer in 2017, Hallowell in 2019, and the Bath store opened in April 2020. When asked if she plans to open any more stores in Maine, Heidi replied that she is not sure, but “Maybe,” if the right opportunity presents itself. “I don’t want to grow just to grow. I want to grow because we are ready for it.”
All of their stores, except Hallowell, have self-serve dog wash and grooming stations. And, says, Heidi, “We have increased our inventory and selection”—of healthy pet food, supplies, and pet toys.
Beyond offering these products in the stores, Heidi prides herself on having well-trained team members who enjoy their work and who are knowledgeable and service-oriented. All staff members at Loyal Biscuit Company stores must know the products they sell very well, so they can serve as consultants and help pet owners choose the right nutrition for their dogs and cats. The team receives many referrals from area veterinarians when pet owners need to seek nutrition solutions.
The staff is what really sets Loyal Biscuit Company apart from larger pet supply store chains, Heidi believes. When she hires new team members, Heidi emphasizes, “’One, you’ve got to be nice. Two, you also have to want to help people.’ Those are my biggest priorities and qualities that I look for in a person.”
Heidi said educating pet owners about the benefits of going with more nutritious pet food can be a significant challenge. Like many pet owners, Heidi said she too, previously, would just buy regular pet food at the local supermarket off the shelf, without ever looking at the list of ingredients.
What she finds is that most pet owners want to give their dogs and cats the best food available. Heidi relates to those who have gone through the process of realization: “Once you figure it out, you think ‘Why am I feeding this stuff to my dog that is loaded with chemicals?’”
The Loyal Biscuit Company sells many brands that offer more vegetables and meats without excessive carbs that come with most kibble-based dog food. One of the most common objections Heidi encounters is that pet owners don’t want to pay more for nutritious pet food. But once these owners realize that they will actually give their dogs a smaller portion of dog food each day and that the bags of healthier dog food will last longer, cost becomes a non-factor. The healthier foods are just not that much more expensive than traditional dog food.
Heidi said that obesity is one of the leading causes of illness in dogs, just as it is in humans. With more nutritious and leaner dog food, pet owners can help their animals lead longer and better lives.
Making changes like going with a new dog food with smaller portions and eliminating table scraps is easier said than done, Heidi acknowledges. “It’s hard not to fall victim to ‘those eyes,’” she said. But pet owners must use their will power and change bad habits, for the good of their pets’ long-term health.
All of the hard work done by Heidi and her team have garnered several awards, including Coolest Store in America in 2018 for Pets+ Magazine; Maine Retailer of the Year in 2017 from the Retail Association of Maine; and Best Maine Pet Store four times from Downeast Dog News.
“We have been very fortunate to be recognized for what we do,” Heidi said.
She is also pleased that she has maintained her strong Midcoast Maine roots. She was born and raised in Rockland, and she can see where she was born from her Rockland store office window. After earning a degree at Thomas College in Waterville, Heidi worked at Midcoast Federal Credit Union and Camden National Bank for 15 years. That experience taught her a great deal about running her own business and marketing it, but she still had a lot to learn when Fenway egged her on to buy the Loyal Biscuit Company.
When asked what she loves the most about her business, Heidi said it is how they are making a difference in helping pet owners have healthier and happier dogs and cats.
Whenever a customer returns to one of her stores after trying out a pet food solution, and they tell her that their dog or cat is doing so much better, Heidi feels satisfaction and pleasure, to have fulfilled the mission of the Loyal Biscuit Company.
“I really think we’ve had a huge impact,” Heidi said with pride.
To learn more about Loyal Biscuit Company, visit their web site at loyalbiscuit.com.