Episode 141 – Nancy Hassel

Nancy Hassel

Nancy Hassel

A Public Relations specialist for the pet industry, Nancy works with pet companies in many aspects of PR, event planning, media relations and training for pet professionals. Nancy is a speaker at many pet industry conferences, a writer for the pet trade and consumer magazines, blogger, photographer, and was a TV producer for 10+ years. She was recently awarded the 2018 Women of Influence by Pet Age Magazine.

Nancy Hassel is the founder and President of American Pet Professionals, an award-winning business networking, educational and multimedia organization for the pet industry since 2009. Leading 125+ in-person educational networking events, seminars, fundraisers and online events for pet industry professionals including animal rescue organizations. American Pet Professionals’ dedication to bringing together pet professionals from all areas of the industry has always been their number 1 priority, and what APP was founded on.

Website: https://www.americanpetprofessionals.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmericanPetProfessionals/

“Welcome to the Animal Professionals podcasts, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free platform designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only place that automates local rides and transports. Now, on with our show!

 Hey, Nancy, Thanks for coming on today. Hey, Chris. Thanks so much for having me, happy to be here. Yeah, I’m really excited to have you and to hear, I mean, you’ve got such an interesting and fascinating background. So why don’t you start us off and tell us a little bit about you and how your journey took you to where you are now?  So I’ll try to make the longer story quick. But people always have said to me, “When did you start working in the pet industry?” And I usually say when I was 10. So, I got my first dog and I wanted to train the dog. And I had to go to the library, you know, the place with books, to find the only two dog training books that were around. And I ended up training my dog, and it was always fascinated with animals. Love animals, like a lot of people in the industry. But I went the regular career route, you know, went to college for communications, became a television producer, did that for 10 plus years and loved it. And then, unfortunately, 911. After that happened, we lost our jobs and I thought, How am I going to reinvent myself? And I had already been reading Pet Age Magazine for like a long time, doing research on the pet industry. Trying to figure out my way in, How am I gonna do? What do I want to do? Because most of us, as kids, we want to be vets or veterinarians because there weren’t many role models besides that that were in the industry when I was a kid. So I knew I didn’t want to do that. And just deciding, you know, working in television and always having fielding calls and emails from people that I worked with in the past, like Hey, I  just got a dog. What do I do? And noticing a disconnect between businesses. Here on Long Island in New York, where I live, you know, a lot of them are looking at each other as competition or maybe not liking each other. And I always thought that was kind of crazy because, you know, we’re in a very populated island. There’s a lot of dogs and pet parents and owners, all of that, and I just thought, Why are people not working better together?

 And fast forward to 2008, I was speaking at a regular entrepreneurial networking event and happened to be sitting next to the only veterinarian there, which was kind of ironic. And she had asked me, You know, is there any kind of pet professional networking group here on Long Island and I said, No, but, you know, it’s funny. You’re like the third person that asked me that. I’m like there’s a Veterinary Association and I was looking around the networking event, and I’m like, I can host one of these events. And we were also in the middle of the recession, right? 2008. And I ended up saying, you know what? I’m gonna put together a Facebook group, before they were what they are now. And it was originally called Long Island Pet Professional. It was hyperlocal because I have a PR background. I kind of skipped over that. I did PR for a couple of years with an organization. Got my PR degree quote unquote and was already doing PR for a while. So I sent out a press release and we had 55 people show up in the middle of February, in the middle of a recession, from three different states, from all over New York City. Long Island. It was crazy. My business phone was ringing off the hug, and it was just really kind of crazy. I called a friend and said, I need help. These people are coming. And what did I talk about at that event? How to get your pet business in the news? Because I have the PR background and many of those people that were at that very first event, are still members of what we are now, which is American Pet Professional. Rebranded in 2013 because I had a lot of people joining from outside of the New York area. So that was the process in and of itself.

 And now we’ve been in business for 11 years, and we hosted 125 plus networking events. Now I travel over the country. Constantly getting new members, providing education, you know, content on a regular basis. So it has really been an amazing, fun, wild ride. So all of the people that thought they were competition are now working together. And that’s what I absolutely love to say. You know, dog trainers, maybe who thought, I don’t like the way they train. They’re like, Oh, we’re actually really similar. Yeah, you are. Animal Rescues that, you know, are now not just because of me, but just because they met. You know, I was all about we and not me in our organization. And it is really fun to see businesses not using competition, working together. Having that community before social media is what it is now. It’s really a fun thing to see. I absolutely love to see people working together.

Yeah. What an interesting turn of events for you, right? So, having lost your job, I mean, you were a TV producer, like you said, you were in PR, and you went all right, I’m gonna do something completely different. And you found that and it’s still supported your passion. Yeah, I definitely did. Took a couple of years to figure that out, you know. I did actually try a few different things in the pet industry cause I always thought I wanted to own a retail store, So I worked in a friend’s retail store for a summer, and I loved it. I was like I thought, I wanted to open a doggie daycare. I did a ton of research. I went to all the doggie daycares in New York City. The few at the time that were on Long Island. I was like, hum, I don’t know, 6 am? I don’t know if I want to do that. I did pet sitting for 10 years, on and off, and then I used to teach responsible dog ownership classes, and that was during the recession as well. A program that I created, taught in a few different towns. It was free for the people to come and the class was sponsored, so I was paid to do it. But there were no dogs in the class. It was just teaching pet parents how to be a better pet owner, how to understand the laws in their town. And then also we had veterinarians and dog trainers in the classes as well, to take over other areas, that I might not be an expert in. And we put it over 2500 people in person, over five years, and that was really a lot of fun. I actually do miss the classes because every once in a while I think, I would like to start them, but they were a ton of work to do and promote. And you know all of that. I did all of that on my own, in addition to running Long Island Pet Professional. And then also doing PR for clients. So kind of a crazy few years there. 

Yeah, sounds like it. So now tell me more. What does American Pet Professionals, what have you guys evolved to now? So, like, we started picking our new members from outside of New York, a year and 1/2 into our business. We were still Long Island Pet Professionals, and people would email or call and say, we want to be part of your organization because nobody was really doing just overall, the pet industry. Most organizations have a new focus in that like they’re a dog training organization or they’re a pet product manufacturing organization. And I always thought, Well, everybody really should be working together and learning from each other and being able to refer to each other and recommend each other. And, you know, the dog sitter, the or dog walker is gonna have to refer to the dog food or the dog trainer or what pet store to go to. And then the pet store should be referring to their local veterinarian and specialists and all that. I’m like, everybody should be working together and that’s kind of how I always looked at it. And our mission to that is still the same today, whether we have members in Hawaii, which we do, to people here in New York. So all across the country. So we host a lot of online educational events now. Webinars. We have speakers that are specific for what somebody is looking for. I always ask my members, What do you guys wanna learn? What do you want to know? I also have a schedule for the year of stuff that we’re working on. I also make sure that we’re staying trending as to what’s happening in the industry. I like to say people are working full time with their pet store, but I’m working full time in the industry to make sure I’m staying connected. Knowing the right people, meeting the right people, being able to, you know, introduce and recommend, refer our members to the other people that might help their business.

 And, you know, I do that full time now, 100% of the time. I don’t have any other . Where everything is going on. Where I used to do PR. I used to write for a bunch of magazines. Now it’s just American Pet Professionals. It’s been really an amazing last couple of years, just really focusing on that and bringing in some amazing experts and providing content. We also have in-person networking events as well. Not as many of these to have, but we’re working on doing more and more of that coming up.

 And what I found really interesting just in looking at your organization is just the different types of clients that you’re serving. Tell us a little bit more about how diverse it is? Yeah, very diverse. My favorite thing is when somebody joins and they have created an entirely new area of the industry or niche or something that nobody else is doing, because I’m like, that’s amazing. How did you come up with that idea? You know, then they tell me their back story. So, yeah, we have people from every area of the industry, at this point. We have veterinarians. We have animal rescue organizations. We have nonprofit organizations, doing different things. You know, we have pet-friendly nonprofit organizations trying to help make the world more pet friendly. We have a lady in Florida, We have a lady in Ohio. They’re different organizations, but they’re both doing similar things.  We have dog trainers, pet sitters, pet retailers. We have a lot of pet product manufacturers now. Pet photographers, you name it. And honestly, we have a drop-down when people join, of all the different categories. And it used to be it, like 20 and I think now it’s like almost 60. And I can as a category. So somebody is like, our category is not there. I’m like, OK, hold on, let’s figure it out. What do you do? You can have a new category. Yeah, it’s really quite amazing.

 And, you know, people come to the pet industry from so many different backgrounds. We’re seeing more and more people that are younger now, like out of college, right out of the bat or starting their own thing, in their twenties, which is really kind of amazing to see. But there’s also, you probably know, this is a lot of people that come into the industry, maybe they had a corporate career and their passion was always to, you know, make dog dresses or their passion was always to be a dog trainer or whatever it is. And they come into the industry, you know, after being in another industry and maybe not knowing how to start a business Or how do you write a grant for animal rescue organizations? Or any of those things. And we facilitate education on that all the time. That’s all we do. Interesting. Yeah, that’s what I was going to say is, what do your members tell you that they want to know more about? And then, obviously, it’s gone beyond PR now, hasn’t it? I’ll still talk about PR on and off, and I have a PR course that I put together. So once I stopped doing it, I was like, Here’s the course. If anybody wants it, it’s going to give you the four steps to get your own PR. And it’s not an easy job. If you follow it, you’re gonna get yourself PR. We’ve had some successful students getting some amazing PR, like one of our students, who is also a member. She got herself on a TV show, by just taking the course. I’m like, wow, that makes me so happy. But yeah, definitely involved.

So last year I was steering away from social media marketing, for the most part, because I was kind of burned out from talking about it. So we did a lot of things that people weren’t really talking about in the industry. Like how to find a distributor, how to get an investor. What is the best investor who invests, you know, in a bunch of different categories, but also in the pet industry? When you’re ready to sell your business, from a top person who does it in the industry. You know the psychology of your customer like we have a lot of really amazing content. That is pretty much for the most part, evergreen. So if anybody joins, then they can have access to that. And then at the end of the year, I always put out a survey. What do you guys wanna learn? Just to see where everybody’s at. And of course, this year they were like marketing and social media. And I was like, all right. I’ll give you what you want. But you know what, they were very clear about the stuff they want when it wasn’t that either. So I think changing it up is important.

 So we’ve already done a couple of Instagram things. I’m a big Linked In fanatic. You know, education on that, like all kinds of things. And we have more coming up in that way. And all of our content, like sometimes we’ll have a pet sitter specific content, like we had Kristen Morrison on recently, giving information, answering questions for our pet sitting members. So we’ve divided some of that up as well. But there’s also an overarching category somebody can learn from. So even if you’re not a pet sitter, you’re still going to get really amazing business. It’s even if you’re not an animal rescue person, you’re gonna learn from, you know, what’s happening at that animal rescue, from that expert. Yeah, and I do feel like there’s a lot of lessons that are really not industry-specific. There’s a lot of learning that happens right across them. Yeah, and that kind of why I’ve always kept it that way. One year I had a dog training conference. We have like, 50 people. I don’t know if you know Andrea Arden, but she was one of our speakers and one of our members.    kind of started the same time. They have different aesthetics as far as dog training goes, and it was really, really interesting to see. The people there and the questions that were being answered. And now, because my members will call, can’t you just do something on dog trainers? I was like, Okay, so I did it, you know. So I’m always like, Hey, what do you guys wanna learn? I’m always happy to, you know, bring something new and get their feedback and move forward. I was saying earlier that I would have a lot of ideas and it’s a little bit exhausting. So it’s always good to hear other people’s feedback. And  I’ll also say, tell me what you don’t like, and I basically begged them for the feedback all the time because that helps our organization grow, when it helps their businesses and their animal rescues overall. 

How have you seen things change over the years, in terms of what people are focused on and how well they’re working together? The changes are really dynamic. I feel like even just in the last five years, there has been so much change. When you think about it, from 2008, when I first had the idea like, Let me do this, to now, I feel like that was 100 years ago. But also yes, the same time I was, people are definitely working better together for sure. Absolutely. I mean, there’s always going to be that a little bit of competition. I just felt recently a global, So I had to stand out from your competition. But really, it was a play on words because I was like, You are really your own competitions. Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing and not think and stick your head in the sand, but don’t get consumed by it. Figure out what you can do to offer better services, better this, better that, to stand out. And, you know, we actually had a pretty full room and a lot of questions. And as far as, you know, other changes. I mean, obviously the industry is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I mean, we were just told up in 2019, it’s 95.7 billion in the US. But that is mind-blowing. Yeah, and the industry is growing, you know, you think you know everybody in the industry, you are doing it for a long time and you meet people, new people, everyday people coming into the industry. Maybe, people that have been around for a while, they’re just doing amazing things. Sometimes people have more publicity or a light turned on what they’re doing because maybe they got a TV show or whatever it is. But you probably never heard of that person before. So it’s really a fun industry to work in. I think when it comes down to it, we are also passionate about animals and you know, my dog has been on stage with me a few times speaking. So what other industries can you think of that your dog, my rescue dog, right, who’s been on stage with me. And he’s very vocal. So he’s been at a few conferences where he’s just chewing on a treat or whatever. Or waggling along as he realizes that there’s a few 100 people in the audience and I’m like, Oh, please don’t start making noises. But it’s really a lot of fun.

 I think, you know,  another way our industry has grown is the amount of conferences and the amount of education we put together, a pet industry events calendar, kind of a gift to the industry. I’ve been doing that since late 2012. Just to let everybody know what all the pediments are happening, and it used to be about 30, and this year we’re over seven a day for 2020. So and every time we think we have a complete yeah, every time I think we have a complete list, you know, we find out about new events that are happening. So myself and my team members, I’m like, Alright, guys, there’s more events, we need to update that list. So you want to try to stay abreast of everything that’s happening. And these are, you know, bigger events, educational events. Some of the events we don’t list are like, you know, individual distributor events, stuff like that. But conferences, education, it’s all there. So it’s really interesting to see how that has grown, and that is not slowing down at all. 

Yeah, so where do you see this going? What’s next for American Pet Professionals? You know, we’re constantly growing our membership, and we have only certain days that there’s open enrollment, throughout the year, because we want to focus all of our attention on our members when we’re not, you know, having an open enrollment and welcoming new members, it makes it a little bit easier to stay super hyper-focused. One of the things that we’re planning for 2020 is more events around the country. So that is in the works for dates when those will be announced. We’ve had events outside of New York and a bunch of different states, but we want to do that on a more regular basis because we realize not everybody can get to an event and not, you know, a global pet expo, so. Or one of the animal rescue conferences, not everybody could get there. So we want to be able to bring those events to people and, you know, easier said than done, because it is a lot of logistical information. I usually work with my own members and say, If you’re in a location and you want to get involved, we’ll, co-host it together and we’ll go from there. That’s basically that part of it. And then just the constant, always providing information on always helping pet businesses. My favorite thing to see is when somebody learns something and they apply it to their business or to their animal rescue, and it has helped their business. It has helped them obtain more business or meet that right person. You know, it shouldn’t be that difficult. I worked in TV back in the day and it was cutthroat. You know. Hey, can I get this contact? Maybe get an internship in college and nobody wanted to give you any information. So I love introducing people and helping, you know, Why should it be that hard? That’s basically how I look at it. No, I definitely agree that it does seem like things have changed and it is still hard, even with as many tools as we have. Sometimes I think people are just, they’re not sure where to begin. And it sounds like you’ve got lots of ideas like you said, and you’re more than willing to be the networker and introduce them to somebody else who can help. Yeah.

Then we will be rolling out something in the next couple of months that is gonna help anybody that is brand new to the industry because they don’t know where to begin. And I get a lot of questions. I actually had a business consultation with someone the other day, like the very, very beginning stages. And, you know, I was like, OK, these are the people you need to talk to. Don’t go with that. That guy’s just gonna take your money and run, but not that industry related. But what do you do, telling me what it was, I was like, No, no, no, you don’t want to do that. And you know the other thing I would say to anybody starting in business or you’re starting an animal rescue, you know, you’re not gonna be an overnight success. Even though we have a huge industry and the numbers are amazing. You have to put the work and time in and effort in and you know, that is something that if that scares you, maybe being an entrepreneur, is not for you. But that’s something that excites you. To really get in on the ground and go start-up beginning. And I think anybody can do it. Anybody can have an amazing idea, but you are gonna have to work hard at it, regardless, if you’re running a nonprofit, if you’re running a brand new business coming up with an idea, it does take time and don’t let that deter you. Like I said before, we’re 11 years in, I feel like we just started. My feelings have also been at this for a long time. Yeah, the joke is always overnight. success takes about 7 to 10 years. Exactly. It seems to people like it’s so easy, you just did a couple of things, obviously, it’s easy and now look at you. But it’s really a lot of hard work and dedication. 

So I’m curious what have you learned about yourself throughout this process? I mean, since you started and pivoted until your journey here? I mean a few things, I guess,  I always was entrepreneurial minded. Even when I worked full time on TV and I love love, loved it. I always thought, what can I do? You know, it was always reading business up and listening now, and they’ll listen to a lot of business podcasts, reading business magazines and books. So when I was younger, I didn’t think that. I thought of business in a different light. And you know, now it can’t stop thinking about it. I’m always looking and reading and paying attention of what’s happening, even outside of the industry. I go to conferences that are even outside of the industry, just to make sure I know what’s happening, outside of the industry. Because if you’re still focused on one thing, you’re not gonna grow. And then also finding my voice. You know, I think a lot of bad events, and I’m a very down to earth person, which sounds ridiculous. But I like, say, you know, when I walk my dog, I have to pick up his poop. So if that’s what you think keeps you grounded, and your feet on the ground, level headed, you know, I don’t know what it is. But I definitely found my voice and I’m still finding my voice and had to navigate certain things that had a knock it dragged into things. I don’t let that happen, and I really kind of was always like that. But now I definitely don’t let it happen. If there’s any kind of drama going on, I stay out of it. I’m like, This is not how I do things. This is how we do things. I want to help you guys. You know, that kind of thing. So I think those are a few things that I’ve noticed as I’ve grown over the years, in the industry. That’s really cool. 

This has been really exciting talking to you today, Nancy. And of course, we’ll tell people to go to AmericanPetProfessionals.com, where they can learn more, see your events and all those other kinds of things. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up? First, I want to say thank you for having me on. But I want to say thank you for what you’re doing because I’m so impressed with what you’re doing with Doobert and Animal Rescues and everything that’s going on there. Anybody listening and they haven’t checked you out, definitely go check you out. And we need to talk afterwards more because I know I want to connect you with a lot of animal rescues and people that are working in the industry and that part of the industry because I think you’re doing amazing things. But again, thank you so much for having me on. Well, thank you, Nancy. I appreciate the kind words and it was great to talk to you, and I’m sure we’ll keep in touch. Sounds good, Chris. 

Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform and don’t forget to leave us a review so we can help even more animals. Also, don’t forget to sign up with Doobert.com to join the tens of thousands of Dooberteers across the country and around the world, helping animals and the organizations working to save them.”

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