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Candace D'Agnolo

10 Ducks to Get in a Row Before You Fire Someone

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Growing a business eventually means hiring a team. For the most part, it’s easy to find and train great individuals who rarely cause drama. And then sometimes we have to deal with the ugly side of human resources … termination.

I have employed more than 150 people in the 15 years I’ve been in the pet business, yet still I found myself in a situation recently that I had never experienced. I uncovered something, which required me to immediately remove a longtime team member, who was one of our best.

These are the 10 strategies I had in place, ensuring this HR nightmare didn’t spiral out of control.

1

Know the HR laws for your state and utilize HR services and tools from your payroll company. Some providers like ADP, also have online courses, in-person training and an HR specialist for immediate access. This helps ensure you’re following the law and protecting yourself. 

2

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Fully understand your insurance policy. If a claim is brought against you, it’s critical to know how much coverage you have and what steps they require you to take. Agencies like the Business Insurers of the Carolinas specialize in the pet industry.

3

Hire an employment attorney from your state. Jackson Hewitt came recommended to me by my insurance agent and payroll provider because they specialize in small businesses. The law is typically in the favor of the employee, so having experienced counsel can help you make smart decisions. 

Document everything. A standard form to document disciplinary conversations with an employee is critical. Start with a “Counseling Record” form that explains whether the conversation with an employee is verbal, written or a final warning. Detail on the form what happened, how his actions impact the business and the improvement you need to see. This will be helpful if a wrongful termination suit is filed.

5

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Install high-quality, wired video cameras. This eliminates the “he said/she said” conflict that can happen between co-workers. Save it to a secure cloud folder. Never post any video on the internet and depending on the issue, let very few people see it. An impulse to defend your side of a story can cause more harm than good.

6

Always come from a place of integrity. Are there other people involved in the situation who need to be notified or included in the process? Do you need to explain a situation to a customer? It’s better for people to hear things from you. 

7

Keep things private, but have a witness. When speaking with employees about their performance, always keep it private from their co-workers, but include a supervisor when possible. He or she can play moderator to keep the meeting on point and can confirm facts should the need arise.

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Put facts before feelings. It’s human nature to judge, to feel hurt, to get angry when trust is broken, but no matter the issue, you must remind yourself to look at the facts when making decisions and when choosing what to say.

9

Keep it short and simple. During a termination, employees often veer off topic trying to defend themselves or keep their jobs. Stay focused by responding in this way: “We are discussing only your role in this situation. My decision is final. I will answer questions only about the end of your employment.”

10

Respect the rest of the team. When talking with employees about their co-worker’s termination, simply state that the employee is no longer working there. Put their mind at ease that their jobs are not in jeopardy and that the decision was in the best interest of customers and them. Remind them that for legal reasons, they should not communicate about the situation with the former employee. And let them know that your door is always open if they have questions.

Candace D’Agnolo owns successful pet business Dogaholics and offers business consulting at Pet Boss Nation. For help creating a customized 90-day plan to tackle all your business goals, download a free worksheet, at petbossnation.com/petsplus. Contact her at hello@petbossnation.com.


This article originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of PETS+. 

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PETS+ LIVE! WITH CANDACE D'AGNOLO

Webinar Replay: How to Keep That Holiday Momentum Rolling

Catch a replay of the recent PETS+ Live! webinar, in which host Candace D'Agnolo discusses how pet business owners can maintain their sales momentum after the holidays are finished. To see more PETS+ Live! webinars, visit https://petsplusmag.com/petspluslive.

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Candace D'Agnolo

Eyes Open: Three Principles Learned While Traveling That You Can Apply to Your Business

Just a few of what traveling can teach you in business.

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Traveling to South Africa was one of the best things I’ve done with my time and money. I went with eight other women entrepreneurs, visiting local businesses that are making a big impact in their communities. While their products and services may have been different from pets, their business models and attitudes provided inspiration, no matter the industry.

CURATION. At Babylonstoren, we experienced farm-to-table dining and products. They grow everything they use in their hotel and restaurant right there on the property. From the meats, cheese and vegetables at dinner, to the bath soaps, shampoos and wine in the room, it’s all made on site. Because of seasonal changes in availability of the ingredients, the menu is always variable, consistently fresh and curated.
The takeaway: Are there local farmers, meat packers or treat makers who you can get involved with? Do you have a set of standards you measure your products by? How fresh are your goods? In retail, your entire shop should be averaging a turn of at least 4. We encourage our clients to have new merchandise every 90 days or more.

QUALITY. At Waterkloof Wine Estate, they produce “biodynamic” wines, which means they don’t put chemicals in their products and work to create a diverse, balanced ecosystem that generates health and vitality. Horses can be seen tilling the ground. Cows walk the vineyards to fertilize the soil. And if a wine doesn’t turn out to their standards, they just don’t use it. Their success comes not only from the great wine they produce, but from the quality they demand every step of the way.
The takeaway: Start caring about the “health” of your business from the inside out. Would taking better care of your team result in better customer service? Yes! Would ensuring your products are looking their best turn into more sales? You bet!

EXPERTISE. At Culture Club Cheese, we received a massive charcuterie platter served on a tree trunk slab. The owner of the shop shared with us all about the cheeses, where they came from and the history behind each. As our group asked questions, the shop owner shared further about discovering the cheese at the world’s largest cheese festival in Italy. This story kept many of us engaged and interested, while others listened and shopped for goodies to eat later.
The takeaway: Share more about the products you’re selling. Learn the stories behind the brands. Share reasons why you chose to bring it in and what your excitement was when you discovered it. This will help your customers connect to you and the products you represent.

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I really loved that all the places we discovered knew exactly who they were, what their vision was, and the fact they acted in alignment with each every day. Use expertise, quality and curation to build loyal customers, to convert more sales and to position yourself as an industry expert in your community.

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Candace D'Agnolo

With a Little Planning, You Can Get That Annual Inventory Done in a Day

You will never know it’s importance to your health as a retailer unless you do it.

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THE FIRST TIME I DID inventory for my store, we printed out the 400-page inventory list, put it into binders and whipped out the highlighters. My mom and little brother helped me look for items on the pages. But there was lots of merchandise on those pages that wasn’t physically there, so hunting for it all took us a very long time … one week, in fact. I don’t think we actually finished because I got so frustrated. What was I thinking? Fortunately, I can laugh about it now. And since then, our inventory process became so well-oiled, we got it down to 12 hours.

I know you dread the thought of closing your store for even one day to count animal parts and check expiration dates on all 30-pound bags of dog food, but having an annual inventory — heck, even quarterly spot checks — is of utmost importance to your health as a retailer. Here are some reasons why and how to tackle your inventory, so you never have the same experience as I did so many years ago.

The Benefits of a Physical Inventory

Inventory is your biggest asset, so ensuring its accuracy in your point-of-sale system is critical. Use your POS to help you make smart buying decisions. When the inventory data is off, it results in wasting money, missing sales opportunities, covering up theft issues and so much more. Knowing exactly how much inventory you have on hand is one of the smartest things you can do for your business.

When you have accurate inventory counts, it enables you to have the right balance of inventory. You can catch overstocked slow-sellers and restock on best-sellers quickly. When a POS doesn’t have accurate information, you’re purchasing off of gut instinct, or you’re physically counting merchandise every time … wasting exactly that: time.

Conducting Your Store’s Annual Inventory

The beginning of the new year is the perfect time to conduct your store’s inventory. For tax purposes, you need to report the total inventory on hand at the close of business on Dec. 31. So, executing an inventory on Jan. 1 or soon after is ideal. But if that’s not feasible, just deduct any receiving on or after the first from your inventory total, add back in the inventory you sold after the first, and you’ll have your Dec. 31 number.

As you prepare for physical counting, notify customers that your store will be closed, and get all employees committed to helping. Use barcode scanners, laptops or other technology to speed up the process. Even legal notepads will work for writing things down. Start by counting everything you physically see, working your way, section by section, through the store. This is what you’ll load into your POS. You do not need to print out an encyclopedia of your store’s inventory. All POS systems will show you the discrepancies list once you load the new numbers. At that point you can go searching for missing stock.

Extra Steps

Take this time to look at expiration dates, quality of packaging, consistent pricing and other issues. Remove items from displays, pull the displays out and clean the area. It’s the perfect opportunity to spruce up. Use large boxes or bins to sort items into categories, like expired, missing price, unknown item.

This is going to be a long day, so sprinkle in some fun! Have meals delivered, and healthy snacks and beverages on hand for the team. Listen to music by letting each person play DJ. Rotate each hour or so to keep it interesting.

Spending this little extra time on the dreaded annual inventory day will actually save you money and time in the end.

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Candace D'Agnolo

Customer Service vs. Customer-Friendly: Knowing the Difference Could Be the Key to Your Success

There’s a big difference, and knowing it may be your key to success.

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IF I ASKED YOU what sets you apart from your competition, would you say “great customer service”? I bet you would. But if I asked you if your policies, hours and experience were in turn “customer-friendly,” could you respond with the same enthusiasm?

I know you’re thankful for every customer who walks through your door. You offer them amazing customer service, no doubt. But does your customer think your return policy, for example, shows you’re grateful to have them as a customer? Do they feel forced into too many rules? Do signs in your store say, “If they pee on it, you pay for it”?
How would your business change if you looked at it through the lens of being thankful for your customers? Here are strategies to show customers you’re thankful during each phase of contact.

Show Thankfulness at First Point of Contact

Are you open when your customers need you to be? If your pet parents are working 9-to-5 jobs, are you open at least a couple later evenings and/or weekends? And when they arrive at your store, first impressions are everything! You want an inviting entry, free from cluttered signs that could detract from their experience or convey a negative tone from the start. Ensure that when customers walk in the door, their experience is rewarding. Are employees greeting every customer in a unique and genuine way?

Show Gratitude During the Experience

The second phase for your customers is the shopping experience. If you were shopping for clothes or food for a party, you would want to try things on and sample the goods to ensure you will be pleased with your purchases. When it comes to your store, do you allow pets to try things on? Why not? If not, do you have a sizing chart for types of dogs and weights to help your customers choose the correct size? Do your employees know how to make the proper recommendations? Do you offer treat samples? You can easily open a bag to allow a customer’s pet to try a treat, then if they don’t purchase it you can use it for future samples.

Show Them How Much You Trust Them

The third phase happens at the register. Are your return policies customer-friendly? Are they clear and simple like … “Your Satisfaction is Our No. 1 Priority,” or is your receipt filled with rules? Customers are busy. As much as they may wish to get back to your store in the 14 days your policy allows for, life happens, and a return very well could be put on the back burner. The same goes with the returning of used, opened or defective merchandise. Think not only about what is a reasonable expectation for these scenarios, but what will make your customers happy at the end of each transaction?
Having a customer-centered shopping experience is the key to increasing return customers. Become comfortable with releasing the worry of customers taking advantage of policies. Don’t be afraid to let go of the rules! When you do, it releases the friction and tension for employees and customers alike when bringing up the dreaded returns or damaged goods.

It’s the time of year that we’re all hyper-focused on being thankful for what we have, but according to scientists, feeling thankful year-round will boost your well-being, improving your chances for success, and in turn, I believe your sales will increase as a result. An easy place to start is to be thankful for your customers, showing them through their experience with you.

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