Tips From The Top: One On One With Chris Rowland

I spoke to Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Chris: I went to university to become a veterinarian. However, I quickly realized my love for animals couldn’t change the fact I was terrible at chemistry. In the summers, I interned at General Motors and was hired on right after college. Ultimately, I knew it wasn’t something I was passionate about, and it was clear I was drawn to the culture of retail more than the pace of the auto industry. I took a hefty pay cut to become an assistant store manager at a discount retail store. Thirty years later, I’d say it worked out. 

Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Chris: I got here by taking my second backward career move and pay cut. After eight years as a district manager, I left discount retail and started as an assistant manager of a PetSmart store in Canada. That decision was motivated by the way I felt toward the leadership at the time. During the interview with the former regional vice president, we immediately hit it off, and that was more important to my development than the money or the initial role I would accept. 

I was quickly promoted and got back on track, but I took a step backward because it felt right – a good fit personally and professionally. From there, I worked my way up to president of PetSmart Canada and VP of U.S. operations & services and eventually became CEO of Pet Supplies Plus.

My biggest failure was throwing everything into my work and missing out on quality time with my family and kids. Now, my mantra is “When you’re at the office, give it 100 percent, and when you’re at home, give your family 100 percent.” When you’re not fully present at work, you’re cheating your career and employer. The same goes for when you’re at home and still working. You would’ve been better off staying an extra hour at the office then being distracted at home – not producing your best work and not being present for your family. I’ve established boundaries, and I’m committed to the work-life balance for the sake of my family and myself. 

When I’m at work, unless it’s an emergency, my family knows to let me be. They also know when I’m with them, they have my full attention, and work mode is shut off.

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned applicable to franchisors and franchisees?

Chris: I tell people to stay in their own lane and know where they will make the biggest impact. We know a locally-owned and operated franchisee who is committed to connecting with the neighbors at the store level is powerful. As a corporate entity, I will never be able to deliver that local experience and in-store culture better than the franchisee who is living and breathing for their investment’s success and seeing the difference it makes on the neighbors’ faces every day. 

I’ve also learned our tagline, Minus the Hassle, extends to our franchise owners as well. This entails  taking care of all the back-office duties, including: IT support, reliable data, merchandising, marketing, supply chain, promotions, pricing, and managing their social media. Our franchisees have all the benefits of a large, national organization, but they need to trust and verify as the franchisor, we are doing what we do best. We have top-of-the-line processes and services built for our franchisees so they can focus on what matters most – building local connections, neighbor engagement and execution of the business model. We want our franchisees bringing the in-store experience alive, not trying to be arm-chair quarterbacks to what we do on their behalf. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to business executives and entrepreneurs on growing and scaling a business?


  1. You have to fail if you want to win. Fail small and win big. Implement a test, pilot and roll strategy to minimize the impact of your losses. No one gets it right every time, but entrepreneurship comes with risk. 
  2. While everyone needs talented team members, it’s equally important to ensure they are placed in the right role they were wired to be successful in. You want to place people on the right seat on the bus based on their talent, personality and skill level. 
  3. Build an infectious platform for success you can rally your team around. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Chris: All quality leaders are not afraid to be decisive. It’s also important to flex your leadership position when necessary. If you always micromanage, you will disempower the people. Yet, leaders have to be in the weeds enough to know when someone isn’t doing his or her best work. They have to be able to identify it and have a coaching conversation with the individual to get them back to doing good work. I trust and verify. I trust my team, but once in a while, I’ll check in to make sure they are delivering at the performance level they are being paid to deliver. Once you see for yourself they have a sound strategy, you move on because there is always something else that needs your attention. 

Leaders also need to know the different impacts motivating and aspiring their team can have. Aspiring is telling people where the company can be and/or setting goals. Motivating can take multiple forms through positive acknowledgement or having a tough conversation. 

All leaders need to have the ability to look inward and not at how their team can improve. Leaders need to be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments to their leadership style. Who you are will always stick with you, but you do have the choice to constantly be working on opportunities to be better. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to leaders on building, managing and leading teams and organizations?


  1. Everyone is led differently, so you need to have a flexible leadership style. You need to connect with your team members to understand how you can motivate them as individuals. 
  2. It’s lonely at the top, but at the end of the day, you make the tough decisions. 
  3. Everyone needs to have a balance in life, and you get the best out of your team when they aren’t drained. You want them to have energy for themselves and their families. You want them excited to come in the office and bring new ideas to the table, but they can’t do that if they’re running on empty or unable to recharge once they are at home. 

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Chris: To be effective, you have to be authentic. You have to embrace who you are. You cannot be someone you are not. I never understood why people in leadership roles would try to mold people into someone they were never meant to be. They should ask, “How do I make you a better version of you – not a worse version of me.” People should want to be surrounded by a diverse group of people who think differently than them. 

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Chris: Always try to have a positive influence on people’s lives. From the people who work for you, peers, your family and/or strangers. I’ve instilled in the lives of my kids and my next-door neighbors to let the little things go – especially the things that are out of your control. There is always something to be grateful for. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Chris: I’m into sport cars and motorcycles. I like competitive fast sports. I’ve also flipped around 12-15 houses in the last 10 years on nights and weekends. A lot of my job is making phone calls, checking emails and reading reports, so when I come home, I’m very hands on. I do everything from plumbing, drywall, electrical, design and construction work. I never pay people do anything I can do myself around the house. It allows me to stay physically active, clear my mind from work and challenge myself to develop new skillsets that bring immediate gratification when the job is complete. I come from a very handy family, so working with your hands is expected.  

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Chris: Most people don’t appreciate how good they have it until things become worse. However, that doesn’t mean you should settle or stop finding ways to improve your life. Consistently be thinking, “What can I do to enhance my life?” 

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