Critter Jungle - Kelvin & Jeff Stanke
Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you guys got started
My first five years of life was on a farm south of Ottawa. It was there that I began my love of animals of all sizes. We had cows, a family dog, a farm cat (which followed me around the farm), among the chickens and ducks we raised each year. I have always loved nature and the wildlife that comes with it, using my photography to capture the marvels and magic of Mother Nature. We grew up in a household which always had some form of pet, including hamsters, fish, cats, and a dog we adopted from the humane society, along with cattle and horses in a hobby farm we had at the time.
Our father brought the retail bug into our lives after owning a paint and wallpaper shop in the Hampton Park Plaza where our original store is still located. I was 12 years old when I started working in my father’s store and learned the valuable retail lessons that made my father so successful and helped his business endure over 50 years. The key to his success was old fashioned customer service that was personal, knowledgeable, and committed to solving customers problems. I witnessed multiple generations of loyal clients patronizing my father’s business over the years. Our two stores model the same success and loyalty from our wonderful customers, many of whom have become dear friends.
My brother and I opened our Hampton Park Plaza location in 1986 after I completed the two year Retail Management program at Algonquin College. It was in this program that I created and ran a pet store as part of an assignment after shadowing a pet store in the city for two weeks. Initially I had planned on opening and running another paint and wallpaper store after college, but my heart was not in it. After taking some time to decide, I realized the Hampton Park community did not have any pet stores in the areas and we jumped at the opportunity. Looking back, I realize that my love for nature and animals made opening a pet store a natural and predestined choice for both my brother and I.
Our first store was 1200 square feet in size and we outgrew it after 10 years, moving into 2800 square feet, which provided more space to spread our wings. Nine years later we expanded into our current 4500 square feet which we recently renovated.
You’re a pet supply store, but also support a local cat rescue. Why is that important to you?
Years ago, when we sold puppies and kittens, we realized that some of the breeders they came from were not very reputable. We have always been concerned with humane practices and always visited the places we acquired our animals from. These breeders had to meet our strict standards of care, breeding, husbandry, and general love for animals. However, not everyone carried those same standards so we gradually moved away from buying and reselling puppies, kittens, parrots, rabbits, and guinea pigs, and became passionate about supporting animal rescue, providing these wonderful animals a second lease on life. We did not want to contribute, by selling these pets who at times are given up, to the growing population of pets in rescue and shelters. Our two stores provide space and care for kittens, rabbits, and guinea pigs, when available, and we organize events throughout the year to help raise awareness and funds for many rescues for pets of all kind.
You’re a family owned business - What’s it like working with your brother and other family members?
I love working with my wife, children, my brother, and my nephew. This family feel is the essence of our business. Our customers, our wonderful staff, and the people we deal with behind the scenes all are like family to us, enriching our lives in so many ways, sharing the joys and the heartbreaks that life offers. We do have our moments where we can get underneath each other’s skin, but isn’t that what family’s about?
30+ years as a family-owned and run business and you recently underwent new renovations – Congratulations! Where do you see Critter Jungle heading in the next few years?
We hope to expand our Orleans location, as we have outgrown the current 2100 square feet, and I hope that we can continue to offer our personal service and unique array of products to other parts of Ottawa in the future.
What advice would you have for someone starting their own business?
Create a plan and review it regularly. It helps minimize the stress of the unknown and organize the many components that are involved in owning and running a business. Focus on what your strengths are, and pay others to take care of an area you’re less strong at, such as bookkeeping etc..Try to create some balance in your business and personal life. Your business will not thrive if your personal life suffers, and vice versa. Nip issues in the bud when you recognize them, don’t let things fester, as they won’t go away and will distract you from growing your business. Hire the right people and interview regularly so you have a pool of potential candidates, in case you need more staff to support future growth. Regular interviewing also helps you identify what “your” typical employee looks like.
What are some of the events you hold at the store?
Both stores hold dog washes during the summer months to help raise funds and awareness for local rescues. June 8th of this year our Carling location is holding its first Petfest, where we will have several rescues running events within the event to raise much needed funds. Orleans will also be hosting its own Petfest in October. We have Santa pics, and have had a monstrous garage sale to benefit rescue. We regularly donate food, supplies, and collect liquor empties to support local rescues.
Cats or dogs - or reptiles?
In terms of preferences, we have a love for all animals and most of the staff have multiple kinds of pets - so it’s hard to choose!
In store, however, we don’t sell dogs or cats, as we prefer to support local rescues. We often recommend a number of rescue organizations for new pet owners looking to adopt and even provide space for rescue kittens in both of our stores to help them find their new forever homes.
We do sell reptiles in our Carling store (Orleans in the future), with passionate reptile experts offering the best of care and husbandry to the animals and expert advice to our customers. This ensure the well-being of these pets when they go to their new homes and equips the owners with tools to care for their pet. We’re always available for questions and future advice, of course, and look forward to hearing about how the animals have adjusted to their new home!
Favourite Pet name to date?
Goliath, a 3 pound chihuahua. Small in stature, big in personality.
Do you have any pets of your own?
We are owned by 4 rescue pugs, a standard poodle, a 16 1/2 year old Ragdoll cat, a pond full of fish and other wildlife, two ball pythons, and a leopard gecko. Over the years we have had as many as 12 rats, 6 guinea pigs, 2 horses, and 9 chickens - all of which our four daughters have enjoyed fully over the years. We have learned so much about how to help our customers and their pets from the many lessons our pets have offered us. I also have recognized how having animals around help make us better human beings and how to live more fully and in the moment, which animals do so well.
My brother Jeff had a wonderful rescue dog named Pedro who was very attached to him, but recently succumbed to kidney disease. His sons have cats, dogs, reptiles, and salt water fish.
Favourite local Ottawa restaurant?
Occo Kitchen in Orleans has become a favourite with a farm to table local concept. In the same mall as our Carling store, Misto’s Italian Fine Emporium is a favourite for us and our staff, offering the best in Italian food.