Amazing Pet Expos has seen record attendee numbers already this year, but not without some unforeseen and unusual challenges.
St. Louis, MO – For Amazing Pet Expos, 2017 started out like every other year since the company’s launch in 2009. Record attendance numbers were achieved at Pet Expos held in California, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and combined with consistently strong annual attendance in Texas, Florida and Denver, highlighting a continued enthusiasm for the company’s annual events. In the Pacific Northwest, a new, exciting concept known as a “Pet Con” was successfully introduced, combining the Seattle and Tacoma pet region. The company also launched its first show in Kansas City, Missouri, building on the continued success of their longest running show, the St. Louis Pet Expo. But after producing over 170 Amazing Pet Expos since 2009, the company experienced some unique and unexpected challenges.
Despite a strong three quarters of event production and successful new concepts being introduced, an extreme employee issue, as well as a record setting active hurricane season created significant and unexpected hiccups. After nearly a decade of producing Pet Expos nationwide, and quarter after quarter of rapid growth, Amazing Pet Expos made some important personnel changes. “Our size and scope had basically outgrown the abilities of our longtime bookkeeper, “said Sheila Rilenge, Amazing Pet Expos CEO. “ Balancing contracts for over 30 venues and decorators, plus catering, travel and other items is a big job, plus at any given time we have over 1000 registered exhibitors, so we were hurting on the administrative side of our operation”. To remedy this, Amazing Pet Expos brought in a “heavy hitter”, a CPA with thirty years’ experience working for much larger organizations. “On paper it looked like the answer”, says Rilenge. “The reality was far from it.”
After several months on the job, it was discovered by company management that their “heavy hitting CPA” was very unstable, showing concerning signs of extreme religious beliefs, as well as, severe homophobic behavior and rhetoric. This behavior caused concerns with management because the Amazing Pet Expos team includes several members of the LGBTQ community and diversity has always been a goal of the company. The concerns of behavior and rhetoric then became criminal actions against the company with the intent to destroy the company. “Acting on hatred and some degree of fanaticism, she (the CPA) started destroying records, canceling contracts, delaying payments and really just sabotaging us” Rilenge continued. “In her mind, she was doing God’s will or some variation of that. But it really made the things she was hired to fix that much worse. We of course discovered all of this and fired her, but she continued to harass our staff, and we were eventually forced to file criminal charges and obtain restraining orders. But even today we still receive hateful texts. And of course the damage she had done resulted in our being forced to reschedule or cancel three events. After producing 178 consecutive Amazing Pet Expos, this was entirely new ground for all of us.” To make matters more difficult, the threat and relative unpredictability of a once in a lifetime storm, Hurricane Irma forced the rescheduling of the Virginia Beach Pet Expo, one of the more popular locales of the year. Despite the storm not having a direct hit in Virginia, the Governor issued a State of Emergency in preparation and encouraged residents to anticipate and plan for any impending storm. That event was announced as being moved to the spring of 2018.
For all of the trouble, there have still been numerous positives. “The ugliness aside, the Pet Expos themselves have been super this year. Adoptions and attendance are up, our national partnerships with State Farm and Red Roof Inn have been tremendous for all parties, and our Pet Con concept, which features more interactive entertainment like lure coursing, dock diving and even wave pools have been well received. For 2018, several of our events will be transforming to the Pet Con format’ says Rilenge.
As to the challenges, Rilenge takes an optimistic approach. “It has been difficult on our entire staff, especially those that have been discriminated against, but it has made us a stronger team, and our exhibitors, even for the shows we had to cancel or reschedule, have stood by us. I think having nine years of top-notch events, you earn some level of trust, and if anything our exhibitors and vendors have been incredibly supportive. No one likes discrimination in any form, whether its pit bulls or people. We never thought that we would experience its ugliness. But our devotion is to pets, our attendees and our exhibitors.”