By Thomas Johnson
Opus One Inc.
617 W. Marine Corps Dr.
Anigua, GU 96932
Photos by Justin Green
On Nov. 15, Opus One Inc. celebrates its 25th year of business on Guam, reaching a milestone in its long-standing tenure as one of the island’s most established pet supply stores. The store, which is the exclusive distributor of Eukanuba and IAMS pet foods on Guam, has been involved in countless pet-related events and causes over the years, including sponsoring the annual Guam Animals In Need dog shows to help raise money for the shelter and find Guam’s stray animals good homes. Sandra E. Low, owner and president of Opus One, offers a closer look into the pet supplies industry.
How did you get started with Opus One?
It all started when I had just moved back to Guam from the states. I had a dog and the dog was being fed exclusively IAMS, but we couldn’t get it on Guam. Long story short, it started with me getting a few bags for my dog, and the company asked us, “Why don’t you distribute for us on Guam?” So I decided to go for it and buy a container of dog IAMS, and we started out selling dog food.
Now, in addition to selling food out of our store, we’re also a wholesale distributor of IAMS to other pet stores and veterinarian offices. We even supply the police K9 unit.
What trends in pet ownership have you seen over the past 25 years?
You definitely see trends, and the island’s pet preferences have shifted in a lot of interesting ways. In the beginning, it was all big dogs, a lot of Rottweilers and Dobermans. Then it shifted gears and became Pit Bulls. Then it was more family-oriented dogs like Labradors, then came the Jack Russell Terriers, and now it’s just full-blown little dogs. So we’ve had to adjust our stock accordingly because there are certain foods and products that are better for larger or smaller dogs. But what’s been really interesting is seeing how educated people are becoming in terms of the care and feeding of their pets.
What kinds of challenges do you face in this business?
Working against online retail is kind of a given on Guam because our small population makes us a bit limited in terms of choice. So the more obscure stuff people will order online, but for the most part, for the basic necessities we carry, our customers do come in.
But our greatest challenge, I think, is the high cost of doing business on Guam. In the states, I can get free weekly deliveries from my distributor. But here I have to pay for deliveries from the states to the West Coast and then have it shipped from the West Coast to here, and we get hit with a fuel surcharge that feels like it’s rising every minute. We take a pretty big hit from our power bill, as well, fuel prices are affecting everything, but I think these are all issues that every retailer and wholesaler on Guam has to face.
What kinds of items do you have in stock?
We carry mainly dog food, but over the years, we’ve run the gamut of carrying supplies for every pet from fish to turtles to birds and hamsters, and now we’re finding our niche again, which is dogs and cats. So we’ve come full circle. We do carry food — bird food, fish food and turtle food — but our core has come back to dogs and cats; no more aquariums or hamster playpens for us.
How has the industry changed?
I think the industry as a whole is competitive on Guam because we have more veterinarians and pet outlets here than we used to, so it really keeps us on our toes in terms of how we sell things and what we bring in. But overall, I think our industry here is pretty friendly. We all get along, we get recommendations from other places, and we recommend other places if we’re out of something.
Do you still enjoy the industry after all this time?
I’ve always said, pet people are special people, so our customers are awfully nice, and the lifespan of a customer is dependent on the lifespan of their animal. So because we’ve been here so long, we’re seeing customers whose pets have passed on and they’ve taken a break from pet ownership, and they’ll come back to get food for their next pet. And we’ll see customers who come in with their kids to buy their first bag of puppy food for their children’s pets. It’s been both humbling and rewarding to have been around to see that sequence of events unfold.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do your homework, especially market analysis. In our day, it was more a matter of trial and error, and my logic starting out was, “If the first container doesn’t sell, at least my dogs and my family’s dogs will be very well fed.” Obviously, that’s not applicable in most businesses.
Other than that, I would say have a good family support system before you start because the business has a tendency to consume your life. n