Business

Denny's Pet World is a world unto itself

John Fleshman, left, began working at Denny’s Pet World when it opened in 1974 and bought the business from his brother in 1985. Fleshman is joined by Kelley Parsons, middle, who has worked for the business for over two decades, and Thomas Nelson, who has been the manager for the past 10 years. - Chad Coleman, Kirkland Reporter
John Fleshman, left, began working at Denny’s Pet World when it opened in 1974 and bought the business from his brother in 1985. Fleshman is joined by Kelley Parsons, middle, who has worked for the business for over two decades, and Thomas Nelson, who has been the manager for the past 10 years.
— image credit: Chad Coleman, Kirkland Reporter

Most people consider their dog or cat a part of the family. For employees and customers of Denny’s Pet World the business has become like family during its 37 years at Totem Lake Malls.

“Many of the customers feel like friends to us,” said Kelley Parsons, who has worked at the store for more than two decades. “It is a fun job.”

But the longevity of owner John Fleshman and his employees sets Denny’s apart from many other businesses in Kirkland.

“I think the No. 1 thing that sets us apart is our service, I hope,” said Fleshman, who has 20 employees, 12 of which have been with Denny’s for longer than a decade. “We have customers that come in and tell us they bought their dog here in the 1980s and we don’t even sell dogs any more. People come in here year after year. We have some loyal customers.”

The customers come back for the knowledgeable help they receive. The employees stay, in part, because most are full-time and have health and dental coverage.

“They take really good care of me so I try to do the same for them,” said Fleshman.

But the feeling of family comes from the top. Fleshman has worked at the store since he was 13 years old as his brother’s employee.

Dennis Fleshman, the original owner, was the first business person to sign a lease in the upper mall. When Dennis started the business it was located in a space that was just 1,400 square feet. Now the store occupies 17,000 square feet.

“Our office is about the size of the original store,” said John Fleshman, who purchased the business from his brother in 1985. “He had other interests. His previous wife wanted to open the pet store when he worked at Pay N’ Save.”

The longevity of the business even surprises the current owner.

“I had no intention of being here 37 years,” said Fleshman. “People always ask me why it is called Denny’s Pet World. The answer is that when I bought (the store) I was so broke that I didn’t have any money to change the sign. I am really proud that we have kept it in the family. I think it also means a lot to our customers.”

Parsons said that many customers know the employees by name.

“They know who we are,” said Parsons. “They love Jesse (Stash) in the fish room. The fish people come by just to shoot the breeze. People go where they can trust people and we try to provide that because it makes a huge difference.”

Fleshman said that they are able to compete with the big box stores by having a great selection and knowledge of their products. And the selection is very large for a privately-owned store. Denny’s has more than 1,000 species of fish and sells about 1.5 million pounds of dog food each year. It sells cats, reptiles and is full of supplies. Denny’s even has a pet parrot, which is not for sale, named Tiki. Kids from Evergreen Academy had recently been by to say hi to the large bird and left a thank you card for the tropical pet.

The owner said that aquatic sales have slowed with the economy, but overall the store has weathered the economic downturn.

“We have had growth in 36 of the 37 years we have been here,” Fleshman added.

Fleshman did open a second store in Redmond but after a store fire he was forced to close and did not reopen.

The state of the malls always leaves Fleshman and his employees wondering “what if.”

“It would be interesting to know what we could do if we had more businesses around us,” said Parsons.

Fleshman said that he has considered moving but that Denny’s Pet World could not go further than a couple miles for fear of losing its customer base. And for the employees of Denny’s, that would be like losing family.

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