Fit for a Pit - Artful Animal
Heather of Fit for a Pit and I met online several years ago, bonding through our mutual interest in pit bulls, animal sheltering and rescue, dog training, and art and music. Her online store is an amazing labor of love that rounds up everything a pet parent in-the-know would want for their dog. In thinking about talking to people who live nurturing, unique lives, I thought of Heather immediately.
Q : What is your background and how did you come upon starting Fit for a Pit?
A : In 2008, my husband and I were looking into adopting a dog and I noticed that our local shelter’s website had these abysmal photos of available pets, blurry images of scared looking animals, like mugshots! You could barely make out the black dogs, all silhouette. So, I went over there with my camera and started taking cute adoption pictures and walking dogs. Next thing you know, I was updating websites, helping adopters find dogs, doing dog to dog intros, making a Facebook page, refereeing playgroups, teaching leash manners, helping rescues pull dogs, hosting events for the rescues, and so on and is forth.
I had always been fascinated by dog products. Our Rotties had clothes, so many toys, beds. But while I was at the shelter, I bought more products than ever before, trying them out on dogs, handing down to adopters & fosters. Around the same time, I started this dog walking and socialization group on Meetup with a friend. Everyone knew I was totally obsessed with dog products so they would ask me what to buy, I’d tell them and they’d be happy. Repeat. I started to get the feeling that a lot of people might be looking for help finding good stuff for their stocky dogs (aka pit bulls), so I decided to put this curated collection of products online and see what would happen. That is Fit for a Pit.
Q : Have your operations changed since COVID-19 in any way?
A : Not much has changed in my daily ops except for some extra cleaning and I‘ve cut way down on post office trips. I’m not purchasing nearly as much stock right now, since I’m still not really sure what’s happening, how this will all pan out. Sales will probably slow as companies continue to furlough and lay off employees.
Q : Are your customers buying differently?
A : Because the bulk of my orders are apparel-related, business is always much slower for me during spring and summer. But I have seen a decline since this time last year for sure. Customers are buying normal warmer weather items like rain ponchos and t-shirts, but I have seen a lot more harness and flirt pole orders than usual. That means people are doing things with their dogs more than ever before and that makes me happy!
Q : Has it been difficult to keep things in stock?
A: As I’m sure you’ve read, the meat industry has been weird since the pandemic because of workers testing positive and so many in manufacturing not wanting to risk working so closely with others. I’ve seen panic-buying shortages locally, but I don’t think we’ll see the ripple effect of the plant closures and labor shortages for a while. Like months. That’s going to affect our pets’ food and I don’t think people are putting the pieces together in their heads. Even the meat meal that is used in kibble will be harder to source and what is able to be produced may be a lot more expensive. It seems prudent right now for every pet guardian to have a plan A, B, and C to fall back on if your animals’ food is temporarily unavailable, or the price becomes prohibitive.
The pet industry seems ok for now. Every time I place an order, it seems that more items are lower in quantity or out of stock but for now, this can be chalked up to all the big box retailers panic-buying. Recently, one of the biggest distributors of pet products in the U.S. hiked their delivery surcharge 6x higher than normal and doubled the minimum order requirement. This was a pretty flagrant move that cut out most of their smallest customers. We can’t afford to order $1000 of merchandise at a time, so I closed my account with them. It sucks and I’ve been talking with a lot of their other customers (they mistakenly forgot to BCC the email list, so we all have each others’ email addresses now!) Everyone is pretty disgusted and a lot of them closed their accounts. The effect of that will also be felt by consumers because that supplier had exclusive stocking rights for certain brands and lines of food & treats. So when you shift to another supplier, you lose the ability to stock certain brands. Sorry for this long story!! but to my knowledge, no one is really discussing it and it’s really important, it affects all of us.
Q : What are some of your #1 best sellers? If there is a why to be answered along with the item name please elaborate. What do you wish was more popular/think should be more popular?
A : Phew! Ok back to the fun stuff! I sell a lot of hoodies and tees, people love the slogan ones that Dpcted Apparel makes for us (I will Cuddle You So Hard, Pit Bulls Cuddle Better). Since the pandemic started, I’ve seen a spike in orders for Freedom No Pull Harnesses and flirt poles, which, like I said makes me so happy! I think people are maybe walking and exercising their dogs?
I would like to see more people buying training treats! I have some great ones that are hard to find in stores. If I was moving more treats, I might imagine more people are working on training exercises during the pandemic. That would make me so happy!
Q : Since you moved to North Carolina, I've been really curious to ask why you decided to move there from Texas and to ask you to tell me about your house/building. From your IG feed it looks like you've been able to create a beautiful oasis and I'm so envious! The fence/wall around your yard is some serious sh*t!
A : Haha thanks! My mom is from Gastonia, NC, so we spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house there. I kind of grew up 1/2 Southern 1/2 Yankee (Philly). When I got married a million years ago, my husband started coming to NC with me and loved it, too. So when his boss offered him a job in NC, we jumped at the chance. We were tired of picking bullets out of our roof shingles, paying $7k in property taxes, worrying about our dogs being attacked by all the off-leash dogs in our neighborhood.
The town we live in, you can drive from one end to the other in like 9 minutes. People are genuinely nice. Cost of living is low. We found a c.1905 warehouse “downtown” for about 1/6 of what our 1950s ranch house in Dallas cost, fixed it up, and will probably be fixing it up for a loooong time. The Fit for a Pit stock room and office is on the second floor. Couple of bedrooms. My regional supplier delivers, and the post office is 4 blocks away, so it’s an ideal place for the Fit HQ. It’s peaceful and private and we love it!
Q : What do you enjoy most about working for yourself?
A : I have total creative freedom. I can reinvent the store, change things up without having to run my ideas by anyone. I can try and fail. Obviously, I also love being able to work with three canine office assistants by my side.
Q : What gives you the most joy in having dogs as a part of your family?
A : I guess the laughter is the best part. Every dog I’ve ever lived with has been a comedian! They're masters of absurdity. The oxytocin high is pretty great too. I also love the automatic community of dog lovers. We move every few years and tapping into the local dog community always enables me to hit the ground running in an unfamiliar place.
Thanks to Heather for talking with me! You can follow her, her dogs, and Fit for a Pit through her website, Instagram, or Facebook. Her online store donates a minimum of 15% of profits to rescues, advocacy groups, and other non-profits that promote the human-canine bond.