Earthwise Pet opened a month ago in a corner spot of the Parkaire Landing Shopping Center near the intersection of Lower Roswell and Johnson Ferry roads, near the East Cobb library and a Kroger.
The pet-supply store will have a grand opening Saturday with complimentary self-washing of dogs and nail-clippings by professional groomers. All retail items will be 10 percent off.
Susana Rodriguez, 36, who has lived off the Marietta Square since 2006, said becoming the owner, operator and manager was a little hard to believe.
“Once it all happened and the doors were open, it was a little scary,” Rodriguez said.
By running a 2,000-square-foot store that specializes in natural alternative products for animals, Rodriguez said she takes seriously the responsibility of improving the quality of life for pets and their owners.
Earthwise Pet is a franchise based in Portland, Ore., that started in 2005 and has expanded to 27 stores nationwide. The majority of the stores outside the Northeast are found in South Carolina and Florida.
For the past 18 months, Earthwise Pet has focused on expanding to the Southeast, said corporate representative Mac Rabb, who was at the east Cobb store Thursday.
A warm welcome
Rodriguez, who is originally from Puerto Rico and works as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, said she searched over six months for possible storefronts in the metro Atlanta area, including Sandy Springs.
The east Cobb location was an old Italian restaurant.
“It needed a lot of work,” Rodriguez said.
For the past month, nearby residents and area business owners have dropped by the new store with welcoming treats, including a teddy bear, chocolates, potted flowers and gift baskets.
“We love our store, and so many wonderful people have welcomed us to the community,” Rodriguez said. “We are enjoying every single day we are here.”
She said people have also offered help with marketing, networking and tips for a good online presence.
“In Starbucks, people are talking about us,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t expect that.”
A family-run business
Rodriguez’s husband, Erik, is the main investor in the franchise He serves in the Army, and is stationed in North Africa. He also served a recent deployment to Afghanistan.
Rodriguez said running a franchise is something her husband has talked about since the couple first met in Orlando 14 years ago.
At one point, they considered buying a Subway sandwich shop, “but nothing really spoke to him,” Rodriguez said.
Most important was finding a business Rodriguez and her mother, Maria Gonzalez, 58, who lives with her daughter in downtown Marietta, could be proud of.
After a lot of research, the family decided on Earthwise Pet two years ago. The total upfront investment to open a franchise runs between $106,500 and $318,500, according to npmfranchise.com.
Rodriguez is a vegan who recycles, composts and gardens in the backyard of her town home.
“We are very into the earth and nature,” Rodriguez said.
Gonzalez said the family is pleased and grateful to be helping customers improve their lives.
“We have always been very health conscious and that can translate to a pet,” Gonzalez said. “Everybody wants their pet to thrive.”
For the grand opening, Rodriguez’s sister, Diana, flew in from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. If the first store goes well, Rodriguez said the family might expand to install two more stores in Georgia and even one in Florida for her sister to run.
Rabb said there is wide variety in the kind of people who open franchises with Earthwise Pet, but each small-business owner has a passion to help a pet suffering from a condition or an owner needing nutritional knowledge.
“It is something they can feel good about,” Rabb said.
Near the cash register are cards for local dog trainers, photographers, pet acupuncturists and chiropractors.
Specialized treats and baths
The average Earthwise Pet customer is a woman between 30 and 55 years old who wants to put extra effort into the health of a pet, Rabb said.
The chain promotes its products as naturally preserved with 100 percent fresh ingredients. Most foods contain only real meat, with no flavoring or additives.
“We are very particular about what we sell in our store,” Rabb said. “All of our meats are free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones.”
In the back of the east Cobb store are two coolers with packaged raw chicken, beef, rabbit and duck dinners.
“A lot of the food has grains and filler they don’t need,” Rodriguez said.
For the past year and half, Rodriguez has fed her two cats, Sally and Nitzu, raw food.
“It was a process,” Rodriguez said.
Rows of shelves are packed with dry-food options, including combinations such as pork and applesauce, duck and sweet potato or lamb and rice. There are dog treats made from blueberries, apples and bananas.
Rodriguez said she has been educated by representatives from food companies. For instance, she recently learned pet food that is chicken-free is best because commercially produced chicken is the leading cause of allergies in dogs.
Besides a staff of trained groomers, the small space also offers two self-washing stations for $15 a visit, with a “bath master” that mixes the soap and water at just the right temperature.
The stations are equipped with all-natural gentle shampoos and conditioners, grooming tools, ear cleaners and air dryers.