Tuesday, 14 September 2021 13:29

FRF Member Spotlight: JJ Diaz on How His Cuban Roots Drive His Success in Retail & Pet Health Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 14, 2021
CONTACT: Amanda Bevis (202) 680-9262

Tallahassee, FL – During National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) is putting the spotlight on a family-owned retailer. In downtown Miami, Animal Crackers is not only taming the manes of dogs across all of South Florida, but making sure man's best friend is well-fed for a lifetime of belly rubs.

Meet Florida native, JJ Diaz. Diaz is the passionate owner and founder of Animal Crackers, a retail store offering healthy pet food and grooming services.  

Born and raised in Miami, Diaz spent most of his days outside as a kid, playing in the woods and catching lizards, frogs or any animal he could get his hands on. 

Though he grew up without having his own pet, it did not stop Diaz from picking up a dog the moment he moved off to college. While in Gainesville, Diaz adopted Jake, a rottweiler that had many health problems and not very long to live. 

For Diaz, failure was not an option. He traveled and met with a veterinarian that took a holistic approach. 

"By changing his diet and lifestyle, we were able to naturally, internally heal my dog," said Diaz. "It was kind of wicked to see." 

As a result, his one year left with Jake ended up being a lifelong friendship. For Diaz, the impact of this lifestyle change on the dog's health and wellness was not lost.

After Diaz graduated from the University of Florida, he entered the corporate world of Miami. But Diaz kept drumming up new business opportunities. He even entered and won business competitions, but none really seemed to pan out.

Diaz's enthusiasm for pet health and wellness remained steadfast. One day, he found himself driving up to 50 minutes away to ensure his dog received the food the nutritional supplements he needed to remain healthy. Then, in 2009, it was like a lightbulb turned on.

"I was out walking my dog, just thinking about life and all I had to do," recalled Diaz. 

That's when it hit him. Diaz could fulfill this need in his own community by offering a delivery service of these products. 

Within three months, Diaz had a website up and was delivering high-quality nutritious dog food to his neighbors. He immediately gained a supportive list of clientele and created an efficient distribution chain.

By 2011, Animals Crackers was a full-fledged retail storefront selling and delivering dog food and health supplements. Today, the retail shop offers a variety of grooming services and has an established and loyal customer base. 

The energetic and no-nonsense approach Diaz embodies, both personally and professionally, is due in part to his parents. 

"They are as Cuban as they come," Diaz said laughing. "My parents, they are polar opposites. My mother taught me how to hustle, and my father taught me to make sure I do things properly the first time." 

Diaz's mother was born in New York and raised in Cuba. In the 1960s, her family home in Cuba was taken away from them. They lost everything.

"She understood that at any point, no matter what you do, it could all end," explained Diaz. 

The experience she shared with him taught him to never take anything for granted and always share gratitude. 

"My parents instilled a drive within me to get things done and to work hard. But most importantly to remember that families come first. It is all about family."

For Diaz, his retail store is his tool to share his passion, to help educate and spread awareness on how to best treat and feed your furry friends. 

"A healthy lifestyle for your pet is the simplest form of love and care," he shared. 

And for many, pets are another member of the family. When COVID-19 hit, Diaz focused on how to care for pets that are family while keeping the store family together. 

He explained, "When COVID-19 hit, it destroyed us. But my first focus was how I am going to keep my crew together and keep everyone on board." 

Despite the uncertainty, the Animal Crackers retail team immediately sprung into action, offering curbside pick-up and capitalizing on their existing delivery service option. 

"Thankfully, we've been able to stay open and now are back to grooming up to 60 dogs a day," shared Diaz. "But that was not without growing together from the last year as a collective group. Through all our mistakes and successes, we still continue to come up with ways to better ourselves. We don't take anything for granted."

Diaz's passion to continually improve has played into his focus to help revitalize and encourage growth in the downtown Miami retail community. Through Diaz's grit and the hard work he and his partner continue to pour into Animal Crackers, growth has begun to occur. 

"I feel so blessed because I see people coming out and starting to really support the neighborhood community," he shared. "Our street is starting to look really good."

For JJ Diaz, at the end of the day, it is his wife, two children and the pet community he has built that makes him feel most proud. 

"For me, it has always been that level of bond with a dog," he explained. "When I come home from work and to my family, no matter how bad of a day, I know my pet is going to be stoked to hang with me."

Diaz is proud of his Hispanic roots, but he's also incredibly proud to be a part of the growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States and their contributions to the American economy.

"The way I see it, Henry Flagler made Miami a resort town, but Hispanics made Miami a regional center of the American economy, as well as a financial center for the Caribbean," said Diaz. "Hispanic business owners’ contributions to local, national and the global economy are only gaining momentum, and all while facing additional barriers, whether be it from cultural and language differences or bias."

In fact, over the past decade, Hispanic Americans are starting businesses faster than the rest of the startup population. According to JP Morgan Chase, Hispanic-owned businesses will make up nearly one-third of American businesses, a significant jump from 17% today. 

Animal Crackers is one of many retail businesses in Florida that you can support while you shop local and "Find It In Florida." Visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Instagram for more information. 

Last year, the Florida Retail Federation launched the "Find It In Florida" campaign to spread public awareness on the importance of shopping locally. When Floridian shoppers "Find It In Florida", they are helping to keep doors open, boost the local economy and support their communities. 

Florida's retailers have continued to take proactive measures during the pandemic to provide consumers with safe access to meet their shopping needs, including safely shopping in stores, curbside pickup and online ordering options.  

ABOUT THE FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION
The Florida Retail Federation is the statewide trade association representing retailers -- the businesses that sell directly to consumers. Florida retailers provide one out of every five jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually, and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida’s government each year.

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