SNOHOMISH, WASH. — Neda Khorami’s pet industry career started more than 35 years ago with a single customer and has since grown into a successful family-owned company. Today, Independent Pet Supply (IPS), the West Coast pet products distributor, distributes nearly 150 brands of pet products in the independent pet retail channel in an effort to provide customers with the best products available.

“We're constantly on the lookout for unique and forward-thinking products — items that can differentiate our retailers from larger, mainstream stores and online platforms,” she said.

In the following Q&A, Khorami shares how she went from owning a pet retail store to founding a pet product distribution business, and how overcoming professional adversity has made her a better businesswoman.


PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.

Khorami: Prior to founding Independent Pet Supply (IPS), I had the pleasure of owning and operating a pet food retail store — yep, I've walked the retail path. Managing that venture for about five years in Northern California was an absolute joy. When my husband and I relocated to Washington state, we decided to embark on a new adventure by opening a distribution company. Venturing into unfamiliar territory was both thrilling and daunting, but hey, we thrive on challenges and love a good risk — a touch of craziness included.

Fast forward nearly three decades and IPS is still going strong, growing with each passing day. As a family-owned business, it's just my husband and me, no external investors or stakeholders. It's been quite the journey. Back when I first stepped into this industry, female representation was scarce, but I'm delighted to see more women making their mark in the pet sector. My passion for this industry runs deep — it truly feels like home.


PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?

Khorami: Prior to my tenure in retail and the inception of IPS, my involvement in the pet industry stemmed purely from my love for animals. As I delved deeper into the field, I found immense fulfillment in contributing to the wellbeing of dogs and cats in any way possible. During our time operating a retail store, we encountered a revolutionary pet food line that stood out from the rest. Utilizing natural preservatives and incorporating real food ingredients like apples, potatoes, cottage cheese, alfalfa, and sprouts, this line garnered remarkable feedback from our customers. Witnessing tangible improvements in pets' health and appearance sparked a wave of positive stories and testimonials. Despite our modest 1,800 square-foot store, we consistently sold significant quantities of this exceptional product — nearly half a truckload per week. When the company's owner visited our store and expressed astonishment at our sales volume, we assured him that the product's quality spoke for itself. Through offering complimentary samples and educating consumers about its benefits, we fostered a loyal customer base.

Several years later, upon our relocation to Washington state, the owner of this esteemed company approached us with a proposition: to become distributors of their line in the Pacific Northwest. This collaboration marked the beginning of our expansion into distribution, fueled by our shared commitment to excellence and innovation. Since then, our partnership has flourished, driving our continued growth and success. The foundation of our company's values lies in prioritizing customer service and education.


PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?

Khorami: In our early days, one of the greatest challenges I faced was being both a woman and relatively young in the industry. It was disheartening to be relegated to the role of "the wife," especially when I was an equal partner in our business.

Over time, I've learned to brush off such instances. Developing resilience has been key to my professional growth, and each challenge has only strengthened my resolve. I truly believe that every hardship I've encountered has played a role in shaping the person I am today. These experiences have molded me into a resilient and determined businesswoman.

Empowering women is something I'm deeply passionate about. I find immense joy in supporting and mentoring other women, helping them navigate their own journeys. Having never had a mentor myself, regardless of gender, I am committed to being that guiding force for others, particularly women and young adults. If I can offer support, guidance or upliftment in any way, I embrace that opportunity wholeheartedly.


PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.

Khorami: After almost 30 years, I take immense pride in the resilience and continued growth of IPS. Despite being approached by larger distributors with offers to buy us out, we stand firm in our independence. Our financial stability speaks volumes about the strength of our business, and I couldn't be prouder of our accomplishments.


PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?

Khorami: In our role as distributors, we're constantly on the lookout for unique and forward-thinking products — items that can differentiate our retailers from larger, mainstream stores and online platforms. Building strong partnerships with our retailers has been instrumental, particularly with those who are open to sharing their insights and ideas. Through these collaborations, we gain invaluable knowledge about their preferences, customer feedback and emerging market trends.

When we attend industry trade shows like the Global Pet Expo or SUPERZOO, our primary objective is to source products that align with the specific needs and desires of our retailers. We prioritize their requirements, always keeping their best interests at the forefront of our decision-making process.

Currently, we're noticing a growing interest in treats crafted from unconventional ingredients such as crickets and other insects, alongside a demand for interactive toys and natural treats. Our product selection is carefully selected, with a steadfast commitment to quality and integrity. We steer clear of items like rawhide and shampoos containing synthetic ingredients in adherence with our high standards.

Over the years, our customers have come to trust our thorough approach to product selection. They understand that when we introduce a new item, it has undergone meticulous research and evaluation. This trust not only instills confidence in our customers but also contributes significantly to the success of our business.


PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?

Khorami: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the growing interest in vegan pet foods lately. It’s been an eye-opening experience as I delve into whether these diets are suitable for our furry friends. While there’s a noticeable demand for vegan options and some brands are eager for us to stock their products, we’re proceeding with caution. We believe it’s important to thoroughly research the long-term effects on pets before fully embracing this trend.

On the toy front, interactive toys have gained significant popularity. I see the impact firsthand with my own dog, who absolutely adores them. These toys, especially ones that involve puzzles or dispensing treats, are fantastic for stimulating mental activity and engagement. It's no wonder they're in high demand.

When it comes to treats, we've noticed a rising interest in single-ingredient options. We're inclined to offer treats with minimal processing and fillers, prioritizing products that provide wholesome nutrition. Our focus remains on sourcing treats that align with our commitment to quality and simplicity.


PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?

Khorami: From an external standpoint, the pet industry may appear modest in size. However, when acquaintances visit our warehouse and see all the pet foods and supplies, they’re often astounded by its magnitude. The misconception that we merely handle a few bags here and there quickly dissipates as they witness the orchestration of pallets and the dispatching of truckloads of products.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Khorami: Persistence is key. While it's natural to feel overwhelmed at times, it's important not to give up. The pet industry is vast and constantly evolving, offering endless opportunities for learning and growth. While we do have some furry friends around the office, our primary focus is on customer service and maintaining strong relationships with vendors.

Despite the challenges, the pet industry is undeniably enjoyable, dynamic, and full of potential. Over the past three decades, I've witnessed remarkable progress and evolution within the industry. Each decade brings new trends and innovations, highlighting just how far we've come.

To anyone entering the industry, my advice is simple: seize every opportunity to learn. With the wealth of information available online today, there's no shortage of resources to expand your knowledge. Whether it's through company websites or industry publications, soak up as much information as possible. This knowledge not only empowers you to better serve your customers but also enables you to educate them effectively, fostering stronger relationships and driving success.

Khorami's French bulldog, Harley.

Khorami's motorcycle-riding, aptly named French bulldog, Harley.

| Source: Neda Khorami

PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them.

Khorami: Before I became a dog owner, I identified as a cat person. However, my perspective has shifted, and I now proudly consider myself both a cat and a dog person. I have developed a deep love for both species.

Currently, I share my life with a delightful French bulldog named Harley. She accompanies me to work every day, making her an integral part of our daily routine. The inspiration behind her name stems from her distinctive sounds, reminiscent of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a nod to my husband and my shared passion for riding. Harley has become much more than just a pet; she's like our child, and we completely adore her.


PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?

Khorami: As women, it's essential that we stand united and support one another. We should be each other's champions, offering encouragement, guidance, and celebration of achievements. This support should extend not only in public, but also in our private interactions.

While I am passionate about empowering and mentoring younger women entering the industry, I also recognize the importance of supporting and uplifting women who have been part of the industry for many years. It's through this collective support and collaboration that we can foster a community of strength, resilience and success for women in all stages of their careers.

Neda Khorami established Independent Pet Supply (IPS) in 1992 alongside her husband, following their relocation from Northern California to Washington state. With over 30 years of invaluable experience in the pet industry, Khorami is dedicated to empowering brands and retailers to thrive within the independent pet channel. She continues to lead the way as a woman in the distribution channel, demonstrating her unwavering courage, resilience, and innovative spirit as she envisions the future of the pet industry

Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.