Robin Neil is celebrating her sweet 16 – that is to say, 16 sweet years of owning and operating her own business.
Neil and her husband moved to the North Island 22 years ago, and before opening her Port McNeill pet supplies store, she worked at the Shoe Inn – a store that sold shoes, giftware, and pet supplies.
“When they retired, they closed the business down and they sold this whole mall, so I was out of a job,” said Neil.
She decided to open her own business after seeing a “Do you want to start your own business” ad through Community Futures.
“I had a slew of my own animals and nowhere to buy good pet food,” said Neil. “Having worked in kind of a pet store before, I knew I loved it, and I thought ‘I’m going to jump right into this’, and I’ve never looked back.”
Neil said her first year in business was nerve-wracking, but her saving grace was being located right next to the veterinarian.
“People were coming in and saying ‘you don’t have much stock in here’, so I was panicking thinking I had to fill my store as fast as I can – now 16 years later I’m having problems finding places to put stuff in here,” laughed Neil.
Neil has a wide customer base from all over the North Island, ranging from Port McNeill to Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula, Zeballos, Gold River, and even as far as Bella Bella or River’s Inlet.
“I have customers that used to live here and come back for vacation and stuff and do a whole bunch of shopping here,” said Neil, adding that she is proud to feature Candian and BC made treats.
She loves animals and has a cat and two Chihuahuas named Hank and Micky that she often brings to the store. She even admitted to having a better memory for her customers’ dogs’ names than their own.
“I get myself in trouble sometimes because people come in and I call them by their dogs names,” she said with a laugh.
Robin’s Pet Supplies provides a wide selection of supplies for all pets, but you won’t find a wide selection of pets to purchase.
“I don’t like impulse sales of pets,” explained Neil. “I will special order a pet in sometimes, but we try to re-home, so if someone needs to give up their pet for any reason, they can come in and ask for our help here.”
She does have fish and a little budgie in the store that she’s nicknamed “Angry bird” because he resembles the popular characters in Angry Birds.
Neil said her business hasn’t changed much over the years, mainly because she is still small and close to all of her customers, but she has learned a lot as time has passed on by. “I’ve learned a lot about pets and nutrition, all aspects of looking after a pet, and have been able to relay that on to my customers.”
One thing Neil is certain about is she wouldn’t want to do anything else for a living.
“I love doing this,” she said. “I love being on the North Island – I think the people are great, the pets are great, and I don’t know if I have another 16 years left in me, but I’m going to try.”