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As the president of the responsible pet industry’s legislative and regulatory trade association, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best retailers, groomers and entrepreneurs in the field. Large and small, they’re unified by a commitment to animal health and well-being and a focus on developing lasting relationships with the pets and pet owners they serve.

Competing with them would be challenging. But if I owned a pet business, I’d focus on the following:

Hold high standards for myself, my employees and others with whom I would partner with in my business — such as distributors and breeders. There are plenty of resources that the industry offers to help everyone to be expert partners in pet care. To name just a few: PIJAC has developed best management practices and standards of care for a variety of pet businesses. The Pet Industry Distributors Association offers employee training modules covering all types of companion animals through PetStorePro. And continuing education opportunities abound at industry trade shows like SuperZoo and the Global Pet Expo.

Play an active role in my community — and my government. Animal activists have radically changed the nature of the responsible pet industry; business owners can no longer just care for pets. Proactive engagement with the local Chamber of Commerce or participating in community events is critical to building relationships. The need to get to know my local elected officials — and political candidates — is equally important, as their actions can have significant and lasting effects on how I do (or don’t do) business.

Take a page from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared. Americans’ strong emotional attachments to our companions and our concern for the care they receive can turn against the pet trade. Whether it comes in the form of a campaign by a national activist organization or an online complaint from a customer, I’ll need to be ready to respond to criticism and even calls for action against me. When necessary, I’ll want to be able to quickly and clearly tell my store’s story. And I’ll want my employees, my colleagues and even my competitors to be able to share their positive perspectives on me and my business.

Empower my customers to be my strongest advocates. It’s hard to motivate people to take action. I’ll need to use all the channels at my disposal to turn my customers into champions so they can help to promote my business when times are good and especially when they are challenging.

And, of course, I’d join PIJAC to add my voice to those of the responsible pet industry who are working to promote pet ownership, foster environmental stewardship and ensure the availability of pets.
I may not have a clear vision of my pet business’s color scheme, layout, or product line, but I know exactly how I want it to look in the eyes of my customers, my community and my elected officials.

Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). PIJAC is the responsible pet industry’s advocacy and legislative voice. For more information, visit pijac.org.