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Think Outside of the Big-Box: The Benefits of Shopping Small When Buying Pet Presents

12/02/2013 04:26 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2014

While I simply can't imagine leaving the warmth and comfort of my home and family to go shopping on Thanksgiving night, there is one new holiday spending trend I can get behind: Small Business Saturday.

The new kid on Black Friday's block is designed to give a boost to individual and family-owned brick-and-mortar businesses. As a seasoned entrepreneur intimately acquainted with the challenges of building a business, I'm all for supporting other pet industry entrepreneurs. And as a pet parent whose gift list for four-legged family is five miles long, sniffing out new businesses where I can blow my budget helps me avoid holiday shopping burnout.

Shopping small is not always easy, but when it comes to buying for pets, options abound. Almost every town has its own independently-owned pet boutique, sometimes just around the corner from their big-box counterparts. This holiday season, remember the benefits of spending locally:

New and novel
Big-box retailers may send holiday circulars, but you're more likely to find fun new pet products at the local pet store in town. Specialty boutiques often carry hard-to-find brands and offer a more unique selection of goods and goodies for your pet. Whether you're looking for a puzzle toy to help an older pet stay sharp or hoping to find a statement -- making outfit for an outsized personality, your local pet shop probably carries it -- in styles you won't find anywhere else.

Healthy choices
Many boutique pet stores specialize in high-quality food and treats that deliver better nutrition to your pets, including brands that use non-GMO ingredients, organic and whole food sources, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats and products free of corn, wheat or soy, which can aggravate food allergies in sensitive pets. Your local store may also have a bakery (or "barkery") section, featuring home-baked treats made by hometown artisans using human-grade ingredients. Many times specialty pet stores also stock healthier alternatives to rawhide chews, like beef tendons and yak milk bones (Wellington's new favorite), which break down much easier in the stomach and contain no bleach, lye or other chemicals. If you're looking to make healthier choices for your pet in the new year, your neighborhood pet store is a great place to start!

Connecting with the community
Because of the size of the store, and the likelihood of spotting other neighborhood regulars, shopping small can help you tap into the community of pet people in the town where you live. A few minutes of conversation with the clerk can help you find a dog walker you trust, a good local groomer or the number of a great vet in town. Conversation with your fellow consumers can lead to recommendations for a new product your dog or cat might like, a new buddy for dog park dates -- or maybe even a date of your own. Part of the fun of being a pet parent is the endless opportunities to socialize, so go out and chat up some other shoppers!

On a mission
One of the most rewarding things about shopping small is that many neighborhood stores have a mission to give back to animal shelters and rescues right in your own back yard. Between adoption events and donation drives, the impact on your community shelters from the efforts of local businesspeople is immediate -- no waiting around for corporate foundations to award annual grants. Some small shops even operate with a portion or all of their profits benefitting community organizations. When you shop at these stores, you can feel good knowing that not only will your money support a local business and the people who own it, but your dollars will help homeless dogs and cats in your neighborhood, too.

Take a break from braving the mobs at the mall and stop into a local store to check out the merchandise. Not only will you go home carrying sacks stuffed with healthy treats and enjoyable toys for your furry friends, but you'll direct some much-needed revenue to hard-working people who are contributing to the charm and character of your local community. And THAT'S a gift you can't put a price on.