Drummond: Pet Food Express sees opportunity in Oakland

October 19, 2010

Tammerlin Drummond, Bay Area News Group

No businesses want to come to Oakland because of the crime.

How often do we hear that false statement repeated?

True, there are companies that wouldn't think of locating here because of their negative perceptions of the city. But there are many others who have been more than happy to take advantage of the business opportunities in Oakland.

We can add Pet Food Express to that growing list.

This weekend, the upscale pet supply company will move its corporate offices and warehouse from San Leandro to Oakland.

They're not going downtown, nor to Uptown, nor to regentrified North Oakland. No, Pet Food Express is setting up shop right here in deep East Oakland.

I was intrigued by the company's decision to move 3½ miles from its current location to a section of Oakland that is all too often a backdrop for violent crime. I asked Pet Food
Express President Michael Levy whether Oakland's reputation as a dangerous city gave him pause.

"We believe in making our own judgments and not going on what we hear," Levy said.

Levy is a former Oakland resident who now lives in Marin. He knows the city. Pet Food Express has three stores here -- in Montclair, Rockridge and North Oakland. Senior company officials visit all of their 35 Bay Area stores regularly.

Levy said Pet Food Express has had issues with crime in Oakland over the years. Just last weekend, there was a shooting near the Pet Food Express Store at 51st Street and Broadway. The police came and dealt with
it, and that was that.

But these incidents didn't make the company reduce its presence in Oakland. In fact, Pet Food Express has proceeded with a major expansion and investment in its Oakland operations.

Company officials chose the headquarters location on 85th Avenue because they wanted a "world-class warehouse." The 148,000-square-foot, newly renovated warehouse once housed a U.S. Postal Service distribution center.

Seventy-five employees will work out of the new facility. Employees will also come from store locations to get training about the company's products.

Pet Food Express had been looking to expand its corporate headquarters for a couple of years. The company has been blessed with strong growth. Unlike much of the rest of the retail industry, the pet products and services market is
booming. Revenues are expected to reach $57 billion in 2010 -- thanks to all those dog and cat lovers who'll spare no expense on their animals.

Pet Food Express has opened 10 stores in the past 18 months. By June, new stores will launch in Pleasanton, El Cerrito and San Francisco.

The company had outgrown its San Leandro offices and began searching the Bay Area for a new site. Another location in San Leandro, Oakland, Hayward, Union City, even Livermore were kicked around as possibilities. But none offered a facility with the
Oakland site's same potential for expansion. The new location is more than twice the size of the company's San Leandro headquarters. The new site is also close to BART and bus transportation, which is key because many of
its employees don't drive.

Since the site is also in the redevelopment area, the company is entitled to tax write-offs and other city incentives for new businesses.

Councilman Larry Reid helped cement the deal. The site falls within Reid's district. Reid introduced Pet Food Express representatives to city officials. The city has been aggressively identifying new businesses to come to Oakland.

"What it shows is that despite all of the pathologies of an urban city, you do have companies that see that there are tremendous opportunities for them to relocate their businesses here," Reid said. "People just need to come to Oakland and see that it isn't as
bad as it's portrayed to be."

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