December 18, 2014

Center helps pet food firm find new markets

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Building on 26 years of success, a Southern Illinois pet food business is targeting new markets as far away as West Africa with the help of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Wade Graskewicz founded Hi-Standard Suppliers in Pinckneyville as a retail store in 1998, offering dog supplies and more. He began manufacturing the Hi-Standard dog food that same year, building the brand and the business from the ground up. Skyler Graskewicz, Wade’s son and the current president, said the business became so successful it was able to purchase one of its biggest competitors, Joy Pet Food, in 2011. 

Hi-Standard initially focused on marketing and sales throughout the United States, but eventually the family owned business decided to begin exporting to the international markets that were less flooded by dog food and manufacturing companies. 

“Getting your food in the door is the hardest part, but once you do, it grows very quickly because of the availability,” Skylar Graskewicz said. Thanks to help from an adviser with the SBDC’s International Trade Center, the company is working to grow its export business. 

“The SBDC has provided me with international market research and many other opportunities that would not be available without their help,” Graskewicz said, adding that he plans to continue working with the ITC/SBDC to increase the export business. 

In fast-growing foreign markets like Ghana, the company has seen sales increase as much as 10 percent per month, according to Graskewicz. He said a major reason for the significant growth and the company’s overall success is that the products are as good or better quality and at a lower price than those offered by the big name pet food brands. 

“The main thing about our products is that we offer the same quality big name companies such as Purina, Diamond and Blue Buffalo offer but because we are family owned and do not spend big money toward advertising and marketing, we do not require the large profit margins other companies do. This allows us to sell at a cheaper price and save our customers money,” Graskewicz said. 

In addition to focusing on expanding international sales, Hi-Standard is releasing a new product line later this month that is expected to boost domestic sales. Typically, sporting dogs and pet or companion dogs eat the same food, usually high in carbohydrates and grains.  The new product line does not include grains, resulting in a food less likely to cause hyperactivity in companion dogs, resulting in improved health for the animal.  He said this is in keeping with a national trend in the pet food industry to have foods that meet the specific nutrition needs of animals based on their lifestyles. 

Graskewicz anticipates increased supplies and sales for retail locations in the U.S. The ITC/SBDC is assisting Graskewicz again with financial analysis and marketing initiatives.    

Working in the family owned business is enjoyable for Graskewicz for many reasons, including that it allows him to work with two things he loves: family and dogs.  

“Ever since I was little, all I have known is dog food and pets, so it’s something I enjoy,” he said. “Anything related to dogs, we’re involved with and we enjoy what we do.” 

He is also proud to be part of something that his family has worked hard to build. 

“It’s fulfilling for me to be able to help my dad continue to grow his business. This is what he has put his whole life into creating.  I also hope to one day pass on the family business to my son,” he said. 

Graskewicz’s advice for other small business owners is too persevere, work hard every day, and exhibit a good work ethic as that will help reap the benefits. Seeking expert advice and assistance from the SBDC is important as well. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center, is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

For more information about the SBDC or the numerous services it provides to new and growing businesses, contact Robyn Laur Russell at or 618/536-2424.