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20 Top Pet-Business Tips of 2020

Bad times produce good art. And probably good business ideas as well.

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THEY SAY BAD times produce good art. It also seems to produce good business advice. Following are some of the best tips from the pages of PETS+ and our daily bulletins in 2020, a year that wasn’t merely bad – it was awful. We hope you find the following ideas correspondingly awesome and they help you navigate these challenging times.

Show You’re Human

In 2020, there are some jobs – teacher, judge, romance-novel writer – that could probably be handled in large part by computers or machines but which people have shown they want a human touch. To the list you could add pet pros. Wags to Whiskers, a pet store in Plainfield, IL, appreciates this, holding regular “meet our team members” promotions. “Each week, I introduce a new team member and their favorite things so our clients can get to know them a bit better and see the person behind the interaction they have each time they come in.’ explains owner Janelle Pitula. “Relationship worker” can sound like cheesy corporate speak, but it’s what humans will increasingly value in a business. — Tip sheet

In a Crisis, Calibration Is Key

Sven Smit, a McKinsey senior partner, says the key thing to do when a complex, changing event like a downturn hits is to stay calibrated and keep an eye on the long term. “To date, there’s no recession — even the big ones — that has lasted longer than one or two years. So good times will come. In the recession, the response is, you go crazy. Cut, cut, cut. But don’t forget that the actions you take toward the future in the recession are as important as the actions that you take to respond to the unique event that will take place. Holding that calibration is very difficult. Profit margins of companies are not that big. So in a recession, it will look very ugly very quickly. Ugly makes you respond with ugly, while the beauty is ahead, or the prosperity is ahead.” — “The Recession is Here,” April 2020

Round Up

Want a way for your customers to leave your business feeling they’ve done some good for a few cents? Take your lead from Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis, MN, and offer a register round-up. “Customers can round up to the nearest dollar, with the difference going to a (different local rescue every month),” explains manager Megan Trombley. “It has been really helping the animals in our community.” — Tip sheet

Get Creative At Home

Here’s a neat rule to get the most out of your work day (for people in a position to pull it off, meaning business owners): Do creative work at home and boring work, where you may need some compulsion, at the office. According to a report in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, researchers found that when it came to creative tasks people were 11 to 20 percent more productive outside the lab. For rote and repetitive tasks, however, they were 6 to 10 percent less productive when not in a formal work environment. — Tip sheet

In Tough Times, Go for Small Wins

The organizational theorist Karl Weick showed in his classic article “Small Wins” that when an obstacle is framed as too big, too complex, or too difficult, people get overwhelmed and freeze in their tracks. Yet when the same challenge is broken down into less daunting components, people proceed with confidence to overcome it. As you lead your team through a stressful period, aim to give them a flurry of little things they can check off as they make their way through their work. It dramatically lowers people’s collective anxiety, enhances their collective energy, and gives them confidence that the hard tasks, too, can be handled. — Tip sheet

Keeping It Cool

A conversation or negotiation getting out control? Refocus on agreement, says Joseph Grenny in an article in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW. “When people feel threatened, they tend to focus exclusively on areas of disagreement. It’s remarkable to see parties who agree on 90 percent of an issue obsess over and even magnify the 10 percent they disagree about. You can profoundly change the tone of a conversation by stopping this pathological divisiveness and saying something like, “Can I pause for a moment and point out what we both agree on?” Then deliberately, slowly and sincerely you can enumerate common interests, beliefs or histories. — Tip sheet

Dare to Suck

Here’s a perfect theme for a weekly video meeting with your staff: Dare To Suck. The idea, courtesy of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, is that every member of that band would have to come to the meeting and present an idea that they thought was probably terrible. “And nine times out of ten, the idea is actually terrible,” Tyler told a MasterClass. “But one time out of 10, you get ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ or ‘Love in an Elevator.’” The brilliance of the idea is that it takes the fear out of the creative process. — Tip sheet

Don’t Ever Correct a Customer’s Mispronunciation. If They Want to Say Rock-Why-Ler, Dash-Hound or Chore-Zie (For the Cat), Let Them Do So Uninterrupted

Why? Because it would make them feel “patronized” and your chances of making a sale will plummet.
How? Repeat the word later in the sales conversation and see if they pick up the correct pronunciation. If they do, great. If not. Who cares? (And besides, it’s often contentious territory — some dictionaries offer different pronunciations).
SOURCE: Pets+ Daily Tip, (from Apple’s customer service manual), March, 2020

Always Pined For a Big-Door Glass-Front Freezer But Just Haven’t Been Able to Get Past the Sticker Price? Keep an Eye on the Kmarts in Your Region

Why? “Kmarts are closing down and selling fixtures,” says Mark Young of All For the Pet in Severna Park, MD. He just bought a two-door glass-front freezer made by True for $650. Once he added in wheels, plus moving and electrical costs, the investment totaled $1,500, still a fraction of the $6,800 that a new model runs.
How? The old business saying that it never hurts to ask still rings true.
SOURCE: PETS+, Daily Tip

Learn to Embrace Flinging Manure

Why? Once you choose to work with animals you will have to do tasks that can be viewed as either unpleasant or as acts of love. Life and work go better when you opt for the latter option.
How? It helps to remember that this lifestyle was your choice and to focus on the positives – such as the help you are providing the animals. Make it a test of your efficiency and even the most tedious tasks become bearable.
Source: SHAWNA SCHUH, Daily Tip, February 2020

Get in the Habit of Asking Your Employees What Modest Investment Could Make Their Work Lives Better

Why? To get more productive, happier workers.
How? Each year, John and Lindsay Webb, the owners of Just for Paws, a grooming salon in St. Charles, IL, ask their staff to create a workplace wish list. This resulted in one team member asking for boards behind the reception desk to better track forms and messages. Another employee wanted walkie-talkies to improve communication between the grooming and retail sides. “We eventually upgraded to a phone system with intercoms, which was even more efficient, but we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for her initial request,” says Lindsay.
Source: Pets+, Daily Tip, October, 2020

Place Some Specially Selected Merchandise Near the Poop Bag Display

Why? To encourage impulse buying of other, pricier items.
How? The sweet spot for such purchases depends on your typical pet business it’s likely to be around the $20-$25. If you’re not sure, experiment.
Source: Pets+, Daily Tip, August 2020

Brand Reps Can Be Your Secret Weapon

Why? They want you to succeed and can help in a surprising number of ways.
How? Talk with your manufacturers’ reps about how they might be able to support you with their resources. Karen Dilbert of The French Dog in Rockwood, PA, did just that and it turned out better than expected. “My hardworking brand reps have been one of the best things I accidentally discovered,” she says. “We share on Instagram and reach a combined network of well over 100,000 followers. For a company in business one year, I have been very pleased with the results of this advertising.”
Source: PETS+, Aug 5, 2020

Get Familiar with Business Incentives. Government Aid May Be Available to Help You Get Your Venture Off the Ground, to Get You Through a Trying Time or Just to Get Your Side Wall Painted

Why? We know, you’re an island, proudly independent and your own boss … but in this big, mean world it helps to have friends and allies. The government knows how important small business is to the economy and there are many ways it tries to help.
How? Bob Marshall got his start in the pet business, thanks to a program by the city of Hartford in Connecticut to subsidize retail businesses in empty storefronts. Sure enough a fierce winter storm nearly knocked his store, Naturally Dogs and Cats, out of operation in its first year but that merely underscores how important it is to leverage whatever assistance is available. The challenges facing small business people are huge. Explore what help is out there, be it a subsidy for a new awning to loans through the SBA.
Source: PETS+ Daily Tip, July 2020

Set Up a Pet Toy Testing Area

Why? Not only do dogs love it but it will help you determine their play style and chew strength.
How? The coronavirus situation may not allow you to do this immediately but when things improve set aside some space. “We had examples of all the toys we sell in baskets, and dogs could play with them,” says Laura Gangloff, co-owner of Riverfront Pets in Wilmington, DE.
Source: Pets+, Daily Tip, June, 2020

Pets Add Color to Everyone’s Life, But It Often Pays to Tone Down the Hues Inside Your Store

Why? Packaging for pet food and especially dog products tends to be very bright, often in strong primal colors so more sedate walls “allow the products to stand out tell their story,” says Jamee Yocum-Pittman, owner or BARK in Jacksonsville, FL.
How? To be sure, go for a bold accent color, but for the walls and even the ceiling, something understated like a gray or bone color will work better.
Source: Pets+ Daily Tip, June 2020

When Looking for Dog Walkers, Make the Animal Sciences Department at Your Local University Your First Stop

Why? Animal science students “tend to do better with the training and socializing elements of the role,” says Laura Gangloff, co-owner of Riverfront Pets in Wilmington, DE. Such employees are also usually quick to notice unhealthy coat or stools, or a limp, which can allow you to provide a more holistic and better service.
How? Get to know the teachers and tutors and the local online job markets where students seek jobs. For animal lovers, dog-walking is clearly a superior job to flipping burgers.
Source: Pets+, Daily Tip, June, 2020

Aim, Fire, Do

The traditional top-down approach to business strategy has been “Plan-then-Do”: The organization would invest heavily in creating a detailed plan that specified roles for all employees based on how the market was expected to react. Should the plan falter, employees would invariably be faulted for failing to execute, leading to demands that the plan be followed even more closely with ever greater micromanaging. The results were rarely pretty. An alternative approach popularized by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their bestseller In Search of Excellence was a “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy. This agile, test-and-learn approach, which has become the standard in Silicon Valley, is better suited to today’s volatile environment. Instead of thinking of strategy as a linear process, consider it as inherently iterative — a loop instead of a line, in which the situation is constantly reassessed: Plan, do, assess, replan-redo. “Success requires identifying the next few steps along a broadly defined strategic path and then learning and refining as you go. This approach makes execution easier and increases the odds of delivering great results,” says Michael Mankins, co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. — “Ch-ch-change!” lead story from January 2020

Invoke Coach Wooden

The best coaches don’t give pep talks. They often listen more than they talk, and when they do talk, they make highly specific adjustments. One study of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden noted that he rarely spoke more than 20 seconds at a time, but during the 1974-5 season delivered more than 2,400 acts of teaching. He would model the right way to do it, go through the wrong way, and then remodel the right way again. Business managers should similarly overinvest in strategies that help increase ability as opposed to motivation. Focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills — it could be when to pause in a presentation, how many features to stress, phone manner tips. Break tasks into distinct actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. — “Ch-ch-change!” lead story from January 2020

There Is No Finish Line

Lurking behind most schemes for transformation is the unspoken notion that change is something you achieve, once and for all. But it doesn’t work that way because a day when everything is “sorted out” never arrives. If you continuously stare at the gap between where you are and where you think we should be, you’ll exist in a space of debilitating discouragement. Instead, observe and appreciate how far you’ve come. Sure, you aren’t where you want to be, but you aren’t where you were, either. “Treat strategy as evergreen. The best companies see strategy less as a plan and more as a direction and agenda of decisions,” says Michael Mankins in a paper titled “5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap” in the Harvard Business Review. Focus on getting better rather than being good, and before too long, you might find that you’re actually pretty great. Not only does this encourage you to focus on developing and acquiring new skills, it allows you to take difficulties in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination. — “Ch-ch-change!” lead story from January 2020

Chris Burslem is the group managing editor of SmartWork Media.

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