Pet Food Experts opens distribution center in East Cocalico

By on July 15, 2015
An interior view of the new pet food distribution center in Cocalico.

Four years ago, the owner of Pet Food Experts thought he could grow his largely regional business by leasing warehouse space in Lancaster County.

Last month, President and CEO Michael Baker gave the Rhode Island company permanent roots here when he opened its own 195,000-square-foot facility. The East Cocalico Township distribution center will serve as the company’s base of operations for the nearly 4,000 independent pet stores it serves in the Mid-Atlantic and New York metro regions.

A celebration July 7 marked the grand opening of Pet Food Experts’ first custom designed building, with room to expand in its strategic location along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Baker, the fourth generation of his family to lead the business, called distribution work a thankless but critical part of the supply chain.

“We simply try to get the product to their door,” he said. “It’s a very physical job… But if we do our jobs right, our customers shouldn’t really notice.”

When competing against big box stores and online companies, said Director of Operations Chase Carter, quick and correct deliveries are critical. Many of Pet Food Experts’ clients receive their orders within 24 hours.

Carter said the new facility, 30 minutes north of the company’s former leased site on Greenfield Road, makes that process smoother and ensures drivers are home each night.

The building already gives off the aroma of dry Kibble when the doors open. Inside, brightly lit aisles accommodate more than 26,000 spots to stack pallets, an 8,800-square-foot freezer and dedicated space for items like leashes, toys, and treats.

Chief Financial Officer Jim Alden declined to disclose the cost of the new facility, which was designed by Glenn Frill of Professional Design and Construction in Landisville.

It includes security measures for food safety, 80-inch flat screens for employee training and a cache of unfilled cubicles. Those desks could one day accommodate more sales and marketing staff, while a preliminary plan to add another 58,000 square feet of dock space would allow for additional customers and brands.

“We’re hoping to create a bunch more jobs,” said Carter, who lost his job at Super-Dog Pet Food when that company shuttered its Leola facility in 2011.

He’s one of 10 core Super-Dog employees who helped get Pet Food Experts started on Greenfield Road and will closely oversee operations in East Cocalico. Baker noted that the company didn’t close for a single hour during the transition from one facility to the other.

Pet Food Experts is a catalog and online company, but relies largely on sales representatives who are in the field with independent pet store owners, several of whom took tours of the new facility during the grand opening.

The company has 350 employees nationwide, with 67 in Lancaster County. Carter said about 20 of those were added over the last three months

The company will maintain its Rhode Island headquarters and leases a building in Washington to serve West Coast customers.

Cheryl Irwin-Bass, vice president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, lauded the company’s move within the county.

“We consider it a win when a company locates their business here,” she said. “And when you continue to grow and expand, that’s an added bonus.”


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