The philosophy of NorthPoint Pets and Co. is centered on transparency, science, respect and honesty. Considered the core, or pillars, of the endeavor, these values are embedded on a stable bedrock of research and medicine.
With owner and nutritionist Nicole Cammack at the helm, the store, located in Cheshire, Conn., does not follow the traditional retail path.
“We advocate for fresh food, of course, but the secret sauce is that we meet people where they are, with no judgment,” Cammack says.
To further these objectives, an eclectic staff comprises a range of professionals—for example, nurses, vet techs or physical therapists.
“It’s a diverse group, and that’s how we maintain that scientific-applicable approach,” she says. “It translates well to nutrition. It’s nice to have staff that understands.”
Cammack’s own love of all creatures was fostered at an early age.
“I have always loved animals,” she says. “I get that from my father, who was a police K9 officer.”
Cammack was also drawn to science and medicine. She served as one of the youngest paramedics in Connecticut before her career path shifted to clinical research for humans.
“I did drug development for things like diabetes and cancer, but hearing physicians saying nutrition didn’t matter was really frustrating to me,” she says.
Enter Taser, a pit bull mix adopted by Cammack. The six-month-old puppy suffered a host of conditions, and veterinarians were not hopeful about his life expectancy. When Taser’s vet recommended a special kibble, Cammack delved into her human health background to assist the youngster. So began a transition to the canine side of nutrition.
“It didn’t make sense to be feeding Taser a processed food, so I dove into the rabbit hole and found a raw diet,” she says. “I ended up going to the pet side, and the rest is history.”
Today, 13-year-old Taser is thriving.
Cammack’s journey to retail proprietor commenced in 2014. The original NorthPoint Pets was sited in 1,700 square feet of space.
“It was like an old laundromat—it was awful,” she says. “There was a couple of freezers in the back. It got to the point where we had no space for deliveries. We just outgrew it. I still have a lot of the same incredible staff, but we moved into a 6,500 square feet space in 2018, and business exploded. We grow about 30 percent every year.”
As Cammack’s quest for knowledge in the realm of pet nutrition evolved, she thirsted for more, earning a master’s degree in nutrition.
“I really couldn’t find a robust course in companion-animal nutrition, so I studied human nutrition,” she says. “I realized that raw food worked—it just made sense. Like humans, if you eat a healthy diet, you are going to be healthy.”
The rigorous, three-year course of study covered clinically based functional nutrition and biochemistry.
“Nutritionists from my corner really study biochemistry and the pathology of disease,” she adds. “It’s starting to translate into medicine and is actually called precision medicine. From there, I was able to identify the gaps in dogs, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Gathering this research and applying it to the range of issues seen in the dogs and cats coming into NorthPoint Pets proved pivotal to the growth of the venture.
“It just exploded to the point that we are now booking six months out for nutritional consultations,” Cammack says.
Cammack’s pursuit of proficiency didn’t stop there. Presently, the entrepreneur is enrolled in a doctorate studies program at University of Georgia’s Graduate School sponsored by Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute (CANWI), a nonprofit organization founded by Donna Raditic, DVM, DACVN, CVA, and Karen Becker, DVM.
“They are both incredible, passionate people who are heavily investing in research in ways that nobody else is,” Cammack says. “CANWI funds companion-animal nutritional research.”
As Cammack furthers her studies, the researcher is aided by a remarkable staff at home in Connecticut.
“My team is awesome,” she says. “They have really allowed me this opportunity. Their passion for what we do and for our reputation within the industry is as big as mine. So they knew this needed to happen—not just for me and NorthPoint, but for everyone.”
On the Same Page
At NorthPoint Pets, it’s all about collaboration, listening and landing on the same page. Reliance on staff members possessing wide-ranging expertise supports the overall credo of research and education as a way of life.
“You get a much more cohesive atmosphere by doing it this way,” Cammack says. “We have a lot of diverse personalities and backgrounds, but we ask, and allow, everyone to contribute.”
A mantra of equality furthers that aim, and when staff members are encouraged to advocate for customers, themselves and each other, autonomy blooms.
“When you’re young you always want to be at the top of the totem pole, but when I started to manage I realized it’s not a totalitarian environment,” Cammack says. “Nine-and-a-half times out of 10, my team has a better idea and I find myself just kind of steering a little bit or offering a different perspective.”
Cammack notes that customers with a particular pet health issue might be referred to a staff member possessing expertise in that area.
“It’s really just about a healing approach to the situation in front of you; there is no magic algorithm or recipe,” she says. “I tell people all the time that I don’t know everything, and in almost every consultation, I’m looking things up. That’s what a good research clinician does. When someone claims to have all the answers, that’s dangerous, in my opinion.”
The approach transcends sales goals.
“We just do what’s right, even if that means sending a customer to a local pharmacy, veterinarian or specialist that might be more helpful than we can be,” she adds. “I consider us an augment or supplement to veterinary medicine. That doesn’t always mean making a sale.”
This openness and honesty engenders consumer trust.
“That’s the reputation we have, and I wouldn’t run the store any other way,” Cammack says. “I feel like we do a lot of things that many retailers are told not to do.”
When it comes to adding new staff to the enterprise, several rounds of interviews take place in order to determine whether a potential new hire will make a good fit.
“We like to make sure they jibe with the team and are adaptable to our work-hard-play-hard mentality,” she says. “We pay well and offer benefits, so it’s like if we invest in you, we want to make sure you are going to invest in us.”
Once a new member is onboard, training is tailored to the individual.
“If someone is coming in with no knowledge of the pet industry or health care, they might start off with unloading and stocking and inventory, just to learn the products,” Cammack says. “From there, they learn raw food safety. Customer service is obviously huge.”
In this way, education is tiered, and new associates spend plenty of time shadowing senior staffers.
“We don’t give them the pressure of having to deal with customers right off the bat,” she says. “They learn to work through simple things, and, as they become more comfortable, we pile it on.”
Stellar Staffing, Stellar Knowledge
Ensuring that the store is well staffed is fundamental to providing the stellar customer service and education that NorthPoint Pets is known for.
“We have hundreds of people who walk through the door every day; that’s how busy we are,” she says. “But we have plenty of staff to be able to handle that.”
With this individualized approach, it’s not uncommon for associates to spend up to an hour with a customer, or even longer with a new pet owner. The research-based structure proves infectious, and as customers evolve, they often pursue their own inquiries.
While basic nutritional guidance takes place on the sales floor by the well-trained NorthPoint Pets team, advanced counseling is also available. Pet owners who might be overwhelmed in determining the best diet for their animal, particularly one with issues, can submit a questionnaire, allowing Cammack to assesses the situation.
“It’s expensive to do the advanced counseling, so if I look at their questions and think they don’t need me, they can counsel with our staff,” she says.
With the advanced offering, a pet owner with more specific issues or concerns might also be working with a veterinarian, and Cammack will collaborate with that professional.
“It might end up being similar to human issues,” she says. “For instance, a lot of children with gluten sensitivities require foods without any cross contamination, or it might be agricultural chemical issues, which are becoming more common for me to navigate.”
The business has joined forces with several local, forward-thinking veterinarians interested in nutrition and the pet industry.
“The ones that I enjoy working with the most are open minded and ask questions,” Cammack says. “These are great relationships because, in turn, I can expand my own knowledge. As my education has evolved, they are more and more willing to talk.”
The food mix at NorthPoint Pets runs the gamut.
“We carry a little bit of everything: raw, kibble, canned, grain free, grain inclusive,” Cammack says. “There’s been so much change in the industry with what customers or even veterinarians are told when selecting foods.”
Cammack notes that, at the end of the day, nutritional value is spotlighted.
“Not to say that ingredients or sourcing don’t matter—they do,” she says. “But these things don’t dictate the safety or define the nutritional value in a food.”
Further, Cammack notes that problems such as regulatory laws, import and storage, and other issues have an impact on these matters.
“It shows the sad state of the pet food industry in terms of helping people truly decide what’s best for their pets,” she says. “The more I learn, the more frustrating it becomes. We have really refined what we carry.”
Rotation of the product mix is a mainstay, and customers are adaptable to these changes. The result is the ability to navigate inventory difficulties or supply chain issues.
“We focus on whether a company is doing their due diligence in ensuring the safety and nutrition of a product,” Cammack says.
When bringing in a new food, inquiries form the backbone of the decision-making process.
“There are a number of questions that we ask, but the three main queries are: Do you do a final nutritional analysis on all of your finished products? Do you conduct a digestibility study on all of your formulations? Do you have a third party food safety certifications in place?” she says. “When a pet is relying on a particular product to provide nutrition, that’s a moral and ethical problem.”
Meeting customer needs is the final qualifier.
“We just help them to become a little bit better each time,” Cammack says. “It boils down to honesty; everybody wants to have all the answers, but at the end of the day we want the veterinary, medical and pet food community to work together.”
Even the most well-nourished pup savors a spa day, and the self-serve dog wash hits the spot for do-it-yourself pet owners with animals in need of a little pampering.
“Each tub sits in a private bay, so a dog that isn’t great around others can still come in,” Cammack says.
The sparkling-clean facility features two custom-designed tubs with easy-to-use steps. The service also presents a unique niche.
“Here in Connecticut, we do a boatload of police canine work, including bringing these dogs into the dog wash,” she says. “We do all the Connecticut State Police dogs. I love the program and what they do with those dogs and how they care for them.”
During the pandemic, with the bathing facility closed to the public for a time, furry officers still enjoyed a good scrub.
“It’s great community involvement and great for people to see these awesome animals being cared for,” Cammack says.
Navigating a Pandemic
When the pandemic shutdown occurred, NorthPoint Pets geared up for delivery services.
“We bought a Jeep and had it wrapped, the whole nine yards, but our customers did not and still do not want delivery,” Cammack says. “Our sales numbers were insane throughout COVID, but because we rotate products, they wanted to come in to see what we had.”
Curbside delivery, however, became a popular offering.
“Curbside was nuts and there was a line of cars all the time, and after that, we opened back up because we were just too busy,” she adds.
Online shopping is offered through several e-commerce platforms.
“We also have many people that will order that way for in-store pickup,” Cammack notes. “That’s actually how we ship out a lot of our product to the law enforcement agencies throughout the country where I do nutrition work.”
Support of K9 law enforcement and their handlers is near and dear to Cammack’s heart, and NorthPoint Pets is involved in this effort in multiple ways.
“We work with the Connecticut State Police, feeding some of their dogs based case-by-case on medical needs to keep the dogs healthy, on the road and working,” she says.
Further afield, NorthPoint Pets contracts with many departments to implement feeding programs while working within the budgets of the particular agency.
“Some don’t have a budget and the handlers have to feed the dogs themselves,” Cammack says. “I’ve worked with some national government agencies, helping them to arrive at a portfolio of foods based on activity or whatever they have going on.”
In further assistance, Cammack has presented seminars and workshops to agencies across the country.
A Paw Up
Adoption days have recently been reinstated in-store, offering a paw up to pets searching for a forever home.
“They are always busy and really fun,” Cammack says.
Food donations to local rescues and shelters and other organizations is ongoing.
“There is a food pantry in town that we donate to, and during COVID we donated to people that were being laid off so they wouldn’t have to worry about pet food,” she says.
Contributions are often undertaken in cooperation with manufacturers and/or customers.
“We do both, but we try not to hammer our customers; however, we find that when we do ask, they are so generous,” she adds.
The needs of K9 law enforcement animals and their handlers is always at the forefront, and CSP K9 Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in Meridian, Conn., and dedicated to supporting K9 teams in myriad ways, is often a recipient of fundraising efforts.
“This is the premier police canine training facility in the country,” Cammack says.
A favorite campaign was a dinner held in-store to benefit the agency. Diners included police officers from around the state, customers, townsfolk and area politicians.
“We closed that night, and local restaurants donated the food,” she says. “We charged a donation fee for the invitation-only event.”
Getting the Word Out
Social media plays a strong role in connecting with customers. Efforts were previously handled by an external marketing group, but recently, much of the contact is being undertaken in-house.
“We have a social media marketing coordinator who collaborates with the external marketing group,” Cammack says.
In an effort to fill a void within the pet community, in 2020, Cammack founded Undogmatic, an independent media and research agency. Educational blogs authored by Cammack and other experts provide insight and transparency to both consumers and retailers.
“I’ve had some awesome contributors giving different perspectives, which is really important,” Cammack says. “The website is busy, reaching far beyond Connecticut throughout the country; there’s even European traction.
“So that’s been a fun, matter-of-fact way to put information out on a consumer level and to take that style and apply it to the scientific community,” she adds.
It’s A Retail Life
What is NorthPoint Pets & Co. best known for?
Nicole Cammack: Honesty, knowledge, nutrition and customer service.
What is the greatest challenge for the independent retailer today?
Cammack: Holding manufacturers accountable.
For the pet industry overall?
Cammack: Sifting through the BS and turning to science over marketing.
Are you watching any interesting trends?
Cammack: We are starting to see some shift in manufacturers coming to the “light side.” I’m hopeful that it helps to eliminate, or neutralize, some of the companies that might not be acting in good faith.
What do you see for the future?
Cammack: I would love to see NorthPoint Pets collaborate or team up with an integrative veterinarian onsite.
Honesty and Expertise
When Cooper found a forever home with Scott and Michelle Yaglowski, the rescued Labrador mix suffered intestinal issues.
“He had a lot of gut problems that we were trying to remedy with medications through our vet,” Scott Yaglowski says. “We were also doing our own research to figure out food changes that would make him healthier.”
During the course of this study, the couple found their way to NorthPoint Pets.
“As we explained Cooper’s problems to Nicci [owner Nicole Cammack], she was incredibly receptive and really took hold of it, giving us information and custom-tailoring a diet for him,” he says.
Under Cammack’s guidance, Cooper transitioned from kibble to a raw diet. The changes were remarkable.
“It was night and day,” Scott Yaglowski says. “His coat got fluffier and softer—even his tail got fluffier. It made such a difference.”
After witnessing Cooper’s transformation, the couple explored a similar diet for their other dog, Stella, a white shepherd mix. The picky eater had difficulty maintaining weight, but with the input provided by Cammack and the NorthPoint staff, Stella, too, transitioned to a raw diet.
“It drastically improved Stella’s health,” Scott Yaglowski says. “She gained a healthy weight and maintained it. At that point, we were hooked.”
Stella and Cooper have since passed, but today, Susie, a two-year-old shepherd-Labrador mix, and one-year-old Porter, a Labrador-Catahoula mix, are flourishing on the dietary recommendations of Cammack and the NorthPoint Pets team.
“Every employee is so knowledgeable and willing to help,” Scott Yaglowski says. “They do a lot of training in terms of the products.”
Further, the Yaglowskis appreciate that sales are not the sole focus at NorthPoint Pets.
“They want to do what’s best for you and your pet,” he says.
This honesty, transparency and friendly expertise keeps the couple coming back.
“NorthPoint Pets is just phenomenal; the amount of information provided, their love of animals and willingness to share is huge,” he says. “We will never shop anywhere else.”