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Customer-focused products, services drive Hudson’s new Chuck & Don’s

Store Manager Julie Kittilson and District Manager John Imholte show off the Chuck & Don’s dog-biscuit buffet, where customers’ pooches can sample an array of treats. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

Chuck & Don’s sells quality pet food and products at more than 20 stores in Minnesota and Colorado, but don’t use the C-word around the first one in Wisconsin.

“We are not a chain,” says Julie Kittilson, manager of the new Chuck & Don’s at 2312 Crestview Drive in Hudson. “We’re local. We’re part of this community.

“For one thing, Chuck comes in all the time. He lives just across the river in White Bear Lake. That’s where our corporate headquarters is. That’s where Bob is too. He’s also been in here.”

She’s referring to Chuck Anderson, who started the company in 24 years ago in Eagan, Minn., with longtime friend and fellow dog training and showing enthusiast Don Tauer. Bob, meanwhile, is Bob Hartzell, Chuck & Don’s president and CEO.

So this is no arm’s-length, one-size-fits-all, management-by-corporate-dictate clone store in Hudson, says District Manager John Imholte.

Chain stores set the table and menu from afar and expect local customers to be satisfied, he notes. Chuck & Don’s is different.

“That’s the key –- to be part of the community,” Imholte explains. “That’s what separates us from the big-box stores. That and the knowledge of our team members, our customer service and our willingness to find the products that our local customers are looking for.”

The Hudson store even has a 375-square-foot meeting room –- called “Abby’s Pet Place” after one of Hartzell’s beloved dogs, whose life was extended by expert diet management –- that’s devoted solely to pet-related, Hudson-focused community events.

Abby’s Pet Place isn’t stashed in the back of the store either. It’s right up front, with picnic tables, extra seating, a computer/TV and floor-to-ceiling windows that bring passers-by and customers close to the action inside.

Chuck & Don’s reserves the space for free, subject to insurance and other basic requirements. The Hudson store is one of only three in the organization with an Abbey’s Pet Place.

“Any club or organization can use it,” Kittilson says. “We really try to tailor it to the community we serve.”

Pet-rescue, adoption and advocacy groups are frequent users for events and meetings. So are veterinarians and other experts for health-and-wellness presentations and training sessions.

Service and convenience

A lot of research went into the decision to open the Hudson store, Kittilson and Imholte note, and it all led to the same conclusion: People here love their pets; they’re also well aware of Chuck & Don’s reputation for selection, expertise, flexibility and helpfulness.

“This is a great pet community,” Kittilson says. “People are just thrilled that we’re here.”

Adds Imholte:”Every day we’ve been here, we’ve had people asking us, ‘Are you open yet? Are you open yet?’ … A lot of people come in and say, ‘This is great. I can go to County Market for my groceries, then to Chicone’s and then to Chuck & Don’s for my pet food.’”

County Market and Chicone’s Liquor Mart are located right next to Chuck & Don’s, which opened Aug. 7. A grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 13.

The staff is community-grown too, and by the time they start, they’ve had more than two months of training on everything from food allergies and behavior problems to special health conditions and customer-driven service.

“They’re very well-trained and very knowledgeable. We’ll find and order special products, and we have discounts and rewards programs,” Imholte says. “We’re not vets, so if an animal is sick or something, we refer them to a veterinarian. We work with a lot of local vets and a lot of other local organizations.”

Another Chuck & Don’s first at the Hudson store: self-wash stations where customers can spruce up their best friends on their own. Animals are always welcome.

“We love meeting people’s pets,” says Kittilson. “That’s a favorite thing for us.”

Adds Imholte: “One customer just came in and said she wanted her dog to see the store –- not the customer, the dog. We highly encourage people to bring their pets in and just have them enjoy it here.”

As the new store grows, Hudson’s Chuck & Don’s will be able to tailor its food and products even more closely to the local clientele’s tastes, Imholte says. Another community-building feature is the company’s seasonal newsletter, “Barkin’ Mews.”

“We want people to have healthy and happy pets,” Kittilson says. “I was an accountant for 15 years, but I’ve always been passionate about pets –- I have three of my own. So this is just a great fit for all of us.”

For more information, drop by, call (715) 338-3535 or check out the Chuck & Don’s website:

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

(715) 808-8286