Connect with us
mm

Published

on

ONE OF THE defining features of the American business model is a relentless impulse to add more: more bells, more whistles, more products, more services, more hours, more convenience, more everything! In our personal lives, it’s no different. We’ve been taught that if we want more money, achievement, energy, happiness, satisfaction, then we need to do more: work more, acquire more, add more to our bulging to-do lists.

But what if that’s wrong?

What if the answer to getting what we want isn’t addition at all, but subtraction? What if it turned out we didn’t even need “more” — that less is often simply the better option?

For many pet business owners, this has been one of the surprising lessons of the pandemic and its lingering effects: They have found they can get by with less. Often, they had to cut business hours, shed staff and streamline operations. And the result has been that they still make the same or even more money, only in a less stressful, less hurried way.

Advertisement

Paige Elder has found this to be true with a pandemic-related change that has stuck at her store, Buzz n’ B’s Pet Shop in Erie, PA.

“As COVID peaked, like many we reduced hours. When things started to loosen up, we took a middle step and opened for longer, but fewer hours than before. Now, we’re still open seven days a week, but we kept the shortened days,” she says, adding that she moved her managers to a schedule of four 10-hour days that gives them plenty of time before opening to care for the fish, reptiles, birds and small animals available at the store. “It eliminates the animal-care position, keeps the managers more involved in that aspect, and they love their new schedules.”

The idea that “less is more” most likely holds true in your own professional experience as well. Throw yourself at every opportunity, and you end up with not enough time or resources to take advantage of each at the level you’d like. The benefits of eliminating all but the essentials are clarity, focus and a business advantage.

Kim Sykes of K9 Manners & More in Broken Arrow, OK, takes this approach.

“With several full-service pet stores within a few miles, we decided to stop carrying food and concentrate on products that complement our core services of dog training, like treats, chews, harnesses and enrichment items like food-delivery toys,” she says. “This has helped to build relations with the locally owned pet store that now carries some of the products we no longer do. They now feel more comfortable referring training clients to us since we aren’t competing for the same dollars.”

But as fundamental as this idea of less is more is, it seems to be one of those things we need to keep learning — partly because we are wired to accumulate, hoard and add.

MRI scans show different parts of the brain light up when we consider addition and when we consider subtraction. According to Leidy Klotz, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Engineering Systems and Environment school and the author of Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, when confronted with a problem, we instinctively look to add something rather than take an element away. The idea of growth and enlargement, he says, is invariably viewed as positive, associated with progress, attainment and success. Eliminating something is rarely considered as the first option because humans tend to complicate things. But when we go in the opposite direction, the rewards can be sublime.

Matthew May, an innovation consultant who has worked with a range of companies from Toyota to Microsoft and the author of The Laws Of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything, says his message to corporate clients covers three key principles that can be applied in any organization: What isn’t there often trumps what is; the simplest rules create the most effective experience; and limiting information engages the imagination.

“(By subtracting), you can cut through the noise and confusion of a chaotic world so that even the most complex things make more sense. You can draw and direct attention to what matters most so that your products and services have more meaning for others. You can focus energy and make your strategy more effective,” he says.

If you’re looking for a theme for heading out of 2022 and into the new year, perhaps “less is more” could be it. Here we share ideas and thoughts from your fellow pet pros, industry consultants and our own reading to identify 18 areas where you could do a little less … but be so much more.

1. ENSURE YOU’RE CLIMBING
THE RIGHT MOUNTAIN

You may have heard of the Pareto Principle: the 80/20 rule that 20% of an activity produces 80% of the desired results In a business setting, it suggests you should aim to spend 80% of your time on the 20% of your activities responsible for delivering the bulk of your income. The hardest part of this advice is working out what not to do, because even deeply meaningful activities and productive work can be distractions and time sinks if they are not the work that matters. That’s the logic behind a suggestion attributed to Warren Buffett: First, write down your top 25 goals for business. Then identify the most important five, focus on them, and avoid the other 20 like the plague because they’re the seductive ones most likely to distract you, precisely because they do matter — they just don’t matter most. In your attempt to climb a mountain, you don’t want to spend your life upgrading your climbing gear only to reach the summit and realize you’d been scaling the wrong one.

green mountains

2. TO-DO OR NOT TO-DO

Either use an organizational system that stores all your to-do’s out of sight and out of mind (other than a tiny handful that you’re working on right now) or toss it altogether. In Secrets of Productive People, Mark Forster argues for the latter. Most people’s to-do lists are flights of fancy, nothing more than wish lists of everything they’d like to accomplish. And worse, they use them to avoid doing the important things. It’s still procrastination, he points out, to do a lot of pointless tasks just because it feels nice to cross them off the list, while the big, difficult thing — the one that matters — goes undone. Forster proposes a minimalist alternative: On a piece of paper, write down only the five most important tasks you can think of. Then do them in order, crossing them off as you go. (If you stop before completing one, add it again at the end.) Once the list is only two items long, add three more, to bring the total back to five. Then repeat. The point of this austere approach is that you’re regularly required to ask what really needs doing, since there are only five slots.

Sheila Spitza, owner of Wet Nose in Geneva, IL, uses a similar system.

“There’s so much coming at me every day, so tasks end up in one of three buckets: Do It, Give It to a Trusted Teammate, and Ignore and Delete. I have to remember to be kind to myself and not feel pressured to be superwoman. It’s not healthy, and no one will ever know if most of what’s coming at me goes in the Ignore and Delete bucket,” she says. “I just focus on what matters the most to myself, my husband (and partner), my team and my clients. Everything else can go away.”

3. DO EVEN LESS

The Underachiever’s Manifesto doesn’t sound like the book you’d find on the shelves of the ambitious business owner looking to do great things. But it should be. Written by a doctor named Ray Bennett, it advocates a path to a superior kind of achievement based on the idea that you need to leave some slack in your life to take advantage of serendipity and its enormously complex web of interacting variables. On this point, he quotes Spanish underachiever Pablo Picasso: “You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two … In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.”

Paul Lewis, owner of The Green K9 in Mount Dora, FL, took this approach with his day-care capacity.

“In the past, we did not have a limit on the amount of day-care dogs in our facility. Or take reservations. Until one day we had 70-plus dogs, and it almost overwhelmed the staff. We decided to limit dogs on Fridays to 50 dogs. Reservations were then required to attend day care on Fridays. And 50 dogs seems to be the sweet spot. So we implemented the reservations and 50-dog capacity for every day. The staff couldn’t be happier, and the customers respected the decision and now happily make reservations.”

4. MORNING HOURS

A similar philosophy informs the book Two Awesome Hours by Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute. The book begins by rejecting the premise that it’s worth trying to squeeze value from every moment of every day. To get more out of machines or computers, it’s almost always best to run them for longer. But they can’t get tired; humans can. Instead, Davis proposes fighting hard to ringfence one two-hour period of distraction-free work each day, at a time of peak energy — during which you’ll probably get more meaningful stuff done than in two whole days at half-power. There is a corollary of this: Schedule admin for when you don’t have energy for focused work.

5. EFFICIENT VS. EFFECTIVE

There’s evidence to suggest that we need to daydream; perhaps we also need those moments of afternoon lassitude and aimless conversations in the backroom. Creative work, especially, depends on a kind of inefficiency. Breakthroughs depend on being stumped and feeling frustrated. In Creativity Rules: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and Into the World, Tina Selig, a Stanford business professor, urges you to bask in your problem for a while. If you go straight to the solution, you will likely end up thinking too narrowly, whereas if you frame wider, you can often come up with a creative answer. “Living in that problem space and falling in love with your problems is one of the most powerful ways to unlock really innovative solutions,” she says.

6. LET BAD THINGS HAPPEN

Many business owners and managers fall into the category known as over-functioners. Faced with a challenge, an employee who is not doing a task properly, or a request for help, they immediately jump in and do it themselves. It’s an approach that is not only tiring but reinforces the expectant or helpless behavior of customers and staff.

Don’t assume that because someone else wants something done, it needs doing, says law professor Elizabeth Emens in her book, The Art of Life Admin. Learn to use strategic delay (some things sort themselves out), and train employees and family to recognize when a version of “Google it yourself!” is the answer to their question. Such an approach means potentially letting small bad things happen and tolerating the resulting anxiety. To quote the psychologist Carin Rubenstein, over-functioners need a new motto: “Be less than you can be!”

7. DO NOTHING

“Doing nothing isn’t an option.” Oh, yes, it is. And it’s often the best one, says Jason Fried, the co-founder of software company Basecamp in his anti-“cult of work” manifesto, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. “‘Nothing’ should always be on the table,” Fried writes. “Change makes things worse all the time. It’s easier to f*ck up something that’s working well than it is to genuinely improve it. But we commonly delude ourselves into thinking that more time, more investment, more attention is always going to win. That’s why rather than jumping on every new idea right away, we make every idea wait a while. Generally a few weeks, at least. That’s just enough time either to forget about it completely or to realize you can’t stop thinking about it.

8. SAY NO

Saying “no” is one of the most important disciplines you can develop to ensure you stay focused on what’s important in your pursuit of a minimal (and sane) life. It helps to keep in mind that whenever you say “yes,” you’re also saying “no” to something else. As Greg McKeown points out in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, questions such as, “How can I fit everything I want to do into my schedule?” are fundamentally dishonest: They’re based on the false premise that trade-offs are avoidable. For the over-busy person, McKeown suggests his 90% Rule: When considering an option, ask yourself if it scores at least nine out of 10 on some relevant criterion? Another trick is to bring forward the obligation from the seemingly boundless future: If you were being asked to do it today, would the answer be yes or no?

9. ASK QUESTIONS

How do you know what to subtract? Ask someone, says innovation consultant May. Something like, “What’s the one or two things you’d love me to remove or eliminate or stop doing?” They’ll usually have a surprising number of suggestions, he says. Once you have answers, he recommends running quick tests under a system he labels “enlightened trial and error.”

10. ASK “EXTREME QUESTIONS”

Productivity blogger Tim Ferriss advocates taking this approach to an extreme as a “forcing function.” In his “17 Questions That Changed My Life” essay, he writes:

“The question I found most helpful was, ‘If I could only work two hours per week on my business, what would I do?’ Honestly speaking, it was more like, ‘Yes, I know it’s impossible, but if I had a gun to my head or contracted some horrible disease, and I had to limit work to two hours per week, what would I do to keep things afloat?’” Confronted with such a constraint, you may be surprised at the ideas that you or your team come up with.

Advertisement

11. LIMIT YOUR CAPACITY

The Jevons Paradox explains how traffic doesn’t improve even when you build a 24-lane highway. Make something more efficient, and more people will use it. Less obviously, the same rule applies to work: Prove you get things done quickly, and more will be asked of you.

Just because your problem is one of strained capacity, don’t assume increasing capacity is the answer. It may make more sense to reduce, or at least put a ceiling on, your capacity instead. Resolve to process email for a certain period each day, rather than trying to answer it all, and you’ll moderate the incoming flow. (Promptly answered email only ever spurs more email.) The same thing applies to customer expectations. Always respond to a customer within two hours, and that becomes the minimum a customer or business partner will tolerate. As the old chestnut goes, under promise and over deliver. Think a particular groom will take three hours? Tell the customer five and deliver in four. Their surprise and gratitude will be genuine.

12. MORE CONSTRAINTS

Working fewer days and hours is obviously great for families, friendships, hobbies and the human spirit. But the most interesting implication of recent research is that it appears to be good for productivity and work quality, too. The brain needs to rest to operate well. Meanwhile, fixed shorter hours provide a useful sense of constraint: Knowing you’ve got to squeeze everything into fewer days seems to improve efficiency overall. In 2016’s Deep Work, Cal Newport advocates this approach via “fixed-schedule productivity” — that is, setting certain periods for intense important work during a day, applying a short transition period or ritual to mark the end of the workday, and then completely stopping at a certain time.

13. FEWER WORKER BEES

The Peter Principle states that in hierarchies, people “rise to their level of incompetence.” Do your job well, and you’re rewarded with promotion until you reach a job you’re less good at, where you remain. The result is that over time, a business’s overall talent levels will gradually deteriorate. GE’s Jack Welch’s answer to this was to regularly prune the bottom 10% of his employees on the basis that subpar performers drag down an organization. It’s harsh, but if you maintain high standards, you may find you need fewer workers.

You may also find you need fewer workers not because of their performance but because of your scheduling. Angela Pantalone of Wag Central in Stratford, CT, discovered this after her daughter Ellie shared what she learned from taking a college course on running a business efficiently.

“We did a study of each half hour of a day: when the phone rings the most, when most texts come in, when tours should be done, etc. She made adjustments to the staffing schedule to become more efficient and not over-staff. Some of the usual five-hour shifts are now four and a half, and some of the sup port staff come in a little bit earlier/ later,” she explains. “When I ran the first payroll after her streamlining, I was shocked that it was thousands less than usual. Every little bit does add up!”

14. FEWER RULES

Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be more procedures and standards, more exactingly enforced. But the resulting experience for customers is often infuriating as they are met by staff members who refuse to be flexible. And employees themselves feel increased anxiety from the increased oversight.

Manager Christina Cummings found this to be the case at The Wild Pet stores in Charleston, SC.

“So many of the processes and procedures we’ve built up are now working against us. They take up more employee time (costing the company) and suck the life out of our day-to-day work to the point that they are no longer helpful or productive. We’ve been willing to completely scrap our processes where necessary and start from scratch with a simplified version based on the bare necessities of what really needs to happen. We’ve eliminated about half of our opening and closing procedures, which had become bogged with extraneous and tedious little chores. An interesting thing has resulted: Everyone is happier to come into work, we’re all a lot less stressed, and we actually have more time to do what all that those processes were designed to help us do — take care of the stores and the people who come into them.”

Such an approach allows for policies to bring out the best in staff, not micromanage their every move or bind them in red tape.

15. FEWER CUSTOMERS

It is not only employees that need regular evaluation and subtraction, but also your customers. Be willing to fire those who are a drain on your resources, says Anthony K. Tjan. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, he recommends regularly subtracting the least valuable 5% of your custome base. “It is a fallacy that you need to keep a your customers because many of the sma customers will become large ones,” he say recommending you look at your data to se if that has really occurred. What you ar more likely to find, he argues, is a stubborn ly consistent 5% of your customers who bu in small volumes and require higher maintenance as a cohort than other groups. “Yo want to give the most time, energy and service to those who will provide the greatest long-term reward and loyalty.” Ferriss concurs but goes further, suggesting you find a way to put the bulk of your ordinary customers on autopilot with simple terms and standardized order processes and then focus on “deepening relationships (and increasing order sizes) with your highest-profit, lowest-headache customers.

Nicole Boldt of Nicole’s Pampered Paws in Waterloo, IA, has a simple way of putting this idea into practice.

“I don’t groom any dogs who don’t stay on an eight-week or less schedule. Most of the dogs are used to grooming or are slowly getting better since they have to come in on a regular schedule,” she says.

16. MINIMAL SALES

The conventional wisdom says a good sales pitch is built on three main points, based on the thought that the customers can’t keep more than three ideas in their head at one time. Tjan says to strip your story down to one core idea. “A simple story that repeats a consistent theme is better than a truckload of documents and demos. Subtract and seduce around a single idea,” he says.

17. LESS CHOICE IS BETTER

Many retailers and service providers believe the more choice, the better. But studies show that too many options can overwhelm the shopper and freeze decision-making. As NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway noted recently in his “No Mercy / No Malice” column, “Consumers want less choice, but instead confidence in the (fewer) choices presented to them.” Limit the choices a customer has to make, and you will restore some of the joy of shopping (and improve your conversion rate). Start by eliminating products from your category selection that are too similar, keeping performance in mind.

“I’ve realized that if a treat comes in eight flavors, I do not need all eight. I just need the flavor/protein source that sells best in my shop,” Kerrie Beck of Cody’s Creations in Medway, MA, says.

Katherine Ostiguy of Crossbones in Providence, RI, finds that offering less choice also speeds up the selling process.

“We shifted from offering three different group class packages to just two. Fewer options to explain over the phone, fewer choices for the client, less clutter on the website,” she says. “As a company, we’re moving away from ‘good, better, best’ to just ‘better, best’ as options. We’re better than ‘good!’”

Advertisement

Consider limiting the number of vendors you buy from, as well. With fewer suppliers to work with, you can establish true partnerships based on ensuring both parties do well. Dog Krazy stores in Virginia saw the benefits of this after a recent audit of their inventory.

“We took any items that were C sellers — A being the best, B moderate and C rarely sells — and clearanced them out,” Nancy Guinn says. “After one month of clearance sales, any remaining C items were donated to a local rescue. I had one vendor buy it all back, even products from other brands, in the amount of $16,000 and give us new product to fill the space from the items donated.”

18. FEWER MEETINGS

Meetings have a bad rap as a time trap — and often it’s justified. They proceed at the pace of either the slowest participant or the need of the manager to hold centerstage. According to studies, executives find at least half of all meetings unproductive. Perhaps, then, you can strive for fewer and better. The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: Is it a “status report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled via email or the bulletin board in the backroom. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings whose value lies in the coming together of minds, such as a well-run brainstorming session.

LAST FEW WORDS

Simplifying your life, subtracting the extraneous or finding the elegant solution to a problem are difficult and at times dispiriting because they imply that no, you can’t have it all, you can’t do everything you want in life or in business. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s liberating, says Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. Knowing you can’t possibly get everything done spares you the anxiety of trying to figure out how you could. To spend time or effort on anything is, by definition, to choose not to spend that time or effort on an infinite number of alternatives. Declining to do something that seems worthwhile is a reaffirmation that doing the best job for your current customer matters more.

Advertisement

FEATURED VIDEO

NASC Media Spotlight

At first it was just an idea: Animal supplements needed the same quality control that human-grade supplements receive. But that was enough to start a movement and an organization —the National Animal Supplement Council — that would be dedicated to establishing a comprehensive path forward for the animal supplements industry. In this Media Spotlight interview, NASC’s president, Bill Bookout, talks to PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita about the industry today: Where it’s headed, what’s the latest focus and why it’s vital to gain the involvement of independent pet product retailers.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular