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21 Ideas Worth Keeping From 2021

From respecting the “pee zone” to creating a boss user manual, get inspired by these ideas to better manage your pet business.

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OUR STOCK IN trade at PETS+ is providing advice, preferably of the “actionable” kind, to help independent pet pros better run their businesses. In 2021, a not insignificant amount of our advice had to do with surviving and, as it turned out, thriving during the pandemic. But there were plenty of other areas we covered from store design, to managing employees to handling your finances. The value of a tip corresponds, of course, to the nature of any problems or challenges you may be facing. But the following ideas, which came from our readers, our columnists, our interactions with industry experts and our general business reading, struck us as likely to be particularly useful to just about anyone running a pet care business. So without, further ado, we present PETS+’s Best Tips of 2021:

Look Beyond Pet-Centric Groups on Social Media to Find Good Help

Delivery has become a necessary service during the pandemic, one that customers have come to appreciate and rely on. Finding qualified and professional drivers, though, can be a challenge. Richie Schwartz of Pets Photography Studio in Hempstead, NY, made this suggestion in the PETS+ Facebook Community: “Join a couple of local Uber/Lyft Facebook groups and advertise there. Most prefer delivery jobs to driving people, due to COVID-19. Don’t forget to check their driver rating, as it’s a good indication of their professionalism.”

Respect the Pee Zone

Keep items out of the “pee-zone” (12 inches from the ground and lower). Do that and you will have to write off less merchandise and avoid customer conflict, says Nancy Guinn of Dog Krazy in Virginia. Consider it like a “No Parking” sign. Obey the rule … or pay the price later. — “55 Things Every Pet Pro Should Know,” May 2021

Mental Issues are Real

It’s not just Olympic athletes who struggle with mental health issues. Pet workers can too. And they need acknowledgement. “I came from the corporate world but I didn’t anticipate the amount of mental health issues my team would have,” says Andy Wiltz of Woof’s Play & Stay in Merriam, KS, listing “depression, social anxiety, eating disorders or something else”. Indeed, he believes, such workers often attracted to working with dogs because the dogs don’t judge them and love them unconditionally. This isn’t a problem to deal with — but it’s something that needs to be acknowledged, says Wiltz. “If we learn how to support them through these things, they become more loyal to us and we build a stronger team.” And while it’s great to offer mental-health days or other benefits to address mental health challenges, it’s equally important that the culture of your business supports these initiatives and people feel comfortable taking advantage of them.

When Going the Extra Mile, Choose Your Traveling Companions Wisely

There are plenty of unreasonable people out there with no idea of the overheads involved in running a retail store or no consideration for your time. Save your energy for your good customers. Niki Libarios of Hawaii Doggie Bakery in Honolulu, HI, notes that when you have an unhappy or difficult customer, it’s easy to want to go overboard making them happy. Resist that urge. “Do your best to help them, of course, but there comes a point when you have to draw the line. The time you spend on a customer who isn’t the right fit for what you do is time taken away from customers who should be getting your full attention and energy,” says Libarios. — America’s Coolest

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Cat Grooming Can Be Lucrative, Too

The lower profile of cat-grooming means there is often less competition. And more demand. That results in a better pay-off. But to get started, you need to get certified. Rachel Diller, a trainer with the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, owns two grooming salons in Littleton, CO. She notes that her dog business, The Poodle Shop, took several years to reach 1,000 clients. In contrast, her cat business, Urban Sophisticats, hit that number in its first year. “We only operate two days a week. This will, hands down, be the most lucrative business for any trained/certified feline groomer,” she says. Diller notes that to do cat grooming well takes proper training. But once you have that knowledge and skill, other pet pros will be much more willing to recommend you. “We get almost 85 percent of our referrals from vet clinics,” she says. — Tipsheet

The Year the Supply Chain Bit Back

Traditionally, retailer error caused out-of-stock issues, but that has changed in the COVID-19 economy. It now occurs at the manufacturer and distributor level. Customers don’t care though –they just want their products, and a lack of availability will drive them to order online and shop local less. Adrian Archie, owner of petNmind Naturals in Coconut Creek, FL, recommends a three-pronged approach to deal with the issue, starting with clear and timely communication, keeping CRM current, and stocking one or two alternate brands, that have no inventory issues, and can be recommended as a substitute.

Treat People Like Adults

Create policies for the many. Don’t create policies for the few. That allows you to design policies to bring out the best in people, not micromanage their every move or bind them in red tape. Yes, some people will try to take advantage of you sometimes but treat everybody like an adult. Make sure they understand what their responsibilities are and trust them to do the right thing – most people want that. Similarly, look to share the big-picture responsibilities and try to implement the ideas staff come up with. This affirms each person’s value to the company. “Listening to their ideas and implementing them. Even if it’s not perfect or the way I would do them, it’s important to honor them in that way sometimes,” says Kendra Conze of Health Mutt in Tampa, FL, “Company culture is big for us and a big component of our awesome employee retention and overall success.” Johnna Devereaux of Fetch RI in Richmond, RI, agrees. “I find it extremely valuable to ask my employees what their thoughts are on ideas that I have. It makes them feel like they are part of something bigger and that they matter. When people feel valued, the entire environment changes for the better.” — “Culture Club”, November 2021

Go Beyond Dogs and Cats

Want to extend your range beyond traditional pets? Ask your existing dog and cat customers if they have other pets at home, Shelly Nicastro of Essex Bird & Pet Supply in Essex, MA, recommends. If they do, offer to stock what they need to replenish supplies for all of their pets on the same schedule. For example, “Food, treats and bedding are the most-used items with small animals. If you carry just these three categories, you will do well.” And she points out, “If they have to go to another store for their small animals, you may be losing out on dog and cat supply sales as well.” — 20 Ways to Go Beyond Dogs and Cats, September 2021

Follow a Digital Sabbath

Feeling overwhelmed by the constant demands for your attention coming at you from your phone or computer? Try a “Digital Sabbath” to put some distance between you and social media. As the name suggests, it’s once a week and should involve the whole family. The key to stoking enthusiasm for the break is in presenting it properly, says Tiffany Shlain in her book 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week. In fact, she doesn’t call it a fast or detox, because of the negative connotations. “Don’t start by saying, ‘We’re all going to give up our phones.’ Start by having everyone write down a list of the things they’re always wishing they had more time for.” This is a way of giving yourself time to do those things, she says. Carol Will, the owner of Lola & Penelope’s in St. Louis, MO, says such breaks have worked really well for her: “Saturday is social media free. Not always successful, but Saturdays are my personal favorite days. I’m thinking of adding one more social media-free day to my calendar. Just keep my phone tucked away in the kitchen.”

Create a “Boss User Manual”

If you own a business, there’s a fairly good chance you’re an idiosyncratic individual, which can be great in bringing differentiation to the marketplace but also makes it a little difficult for new employees to get quickly up to speed to how things operate in your workplace. Ivar Kroghrud, the lead strategist at software firm QuestBack, thinks most businesses would run much more smoothly if bosses and even workers came with user manuals. The idea is that after some self-reflection and feedback from your spouse or oldest employees, you write down a guide that makes explicit how you like to work (“Leave me alone in the morning.” “I like bullet points in emails.” “I hate the sound of alerts on mobile phones.” “Workers who come to me with problems and no solutions deplete me …”) One page should be plenty, he says. “These people will one day work out all these things. Why not get them on the right page from day one?” Kroghrud told the New York Times. — Tipsheet

Find Better Solutions by Basking in the Problem

Planning season is upon us, so now is the time to start sowing the seeds of inspiration. This pre-brainstorming period is crucial to finding creative solutions, so don’t rush it, says Tina Selig, a Stanford business professor and author of Creativity Rules: Get Ideas Out Of Your Head And Into The World. Rather, let yourself bask in it 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. (Note that this applies to creative issues: For day-to-day problems, we often know what to do straight away, and what we call “deliberation” is actually just dithering.) — Tipsheet

Welcome New Employees with an Onboarding Program — and a Mystery Gift Box

Why? A good onboarding plan will allow new hires to understand how work is done in your company and quickly get up to speed. Thy mystery gift box will make them feel welcome while providing an insight into your store culture. On their first day, new hires at Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming in Wenatchee, WA, arrive to find a gift box on their desk. It sits there until the day’s training session ends, when they finally get to open it up and find inside their own fire hat, swag and gift items from the store. — America’s Finest

The Golden Hour and a Half

Research shows how you start the day has an enormous positive effect on productivity. To actually get things done in the morning, “Four Hour” productivity guru Tim Ferriss suggests having the first 90 minutes of your workday vary as little as possible. “I think that a routine is necessary to feel in control and non-reactive, which reduces anxiety. It therefore also makes you more productive.” — Tipsheet

The Secret Words to Make an Annual Review Productive

Employees generally hate reviews. Managers generally hate giving them. What to do? In his book, Culture Code: The Secrets Of Highly Successful Groups, Daniel Coyle recommends using these 19 words to bring out the best in the situation and deliver the feedback that will lead to a “dramatic improvement” in performance and effort. The words? “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” Why does it work? According to Coyle, it builds trust, signals belonging, and combines high standards with the assurance that people can reach those standards. — Tipsheet

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Can’t Decide? Use a Timer

Can’t make a decision? Use a timer, suggests Oliver Burkeman in his Guardian column on lifestyle optimization. For everyday matters, set it to allow yourself a few minutes for deliberation, and then when your time is up, make a decision. “Often, what we think of as deliberation is really hours of indecision, followed by a snap judgment,” he notes. “You were going to do so eventually anyway.” — Tipsheet

Reboot Your Phone Every Week

Here’s a new weekly habit for you: Turn your phone off and on at least once. That’s part of the National Security Agency’s recently released “best practices” guide for mobile device security. While it won’t stop a sophisticated hacker, it will make them work harder to maintain access and steal data from your phone. “This is all about imposing cost on these malicious actors,” Neal Ziring, technical director of the NSA’s cybersecurity directorate, told the Associated Press. The reason is that the latest malicious software typically targets your phone’s root file system. But the newest phones can detect and block such malware during a reboot. — Tipsheet

Beware Incentives

According to studies, the primary cause of most culture-change debacles is when companies attempt to influence behaviors by using rewards as their first motivational strategy. “Influence masters first ensure that vital behaviors are connected to intrinsic satisfaction. Next they line up social support and double check both of these areas are in place before they finally choose extrinsic rewards to motivate behavior,” says Kerry Patterson, co-author of “Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change”. He warns that if you don’t follow this careful order, you’re likely to be disappointed. — Culture Club, November 2021

Monthly Excitement

Monthly subscription “swag bags” are a great source of recurring income but to keep it interesting, it helps to mix them up. Sniffany’s Pet Boutique in Albany, OR, does that by introducing a new theme every month. July was Barkin Backyard BBQ with Stella & Chewy’s Wild Weenies, P.L.A.Y. Hot Diggity Dog and Corn plush toys, and a Vital Essentials Pig Ear, among other items. owner Angie Scavone customizes each bag (or box or bin) for the dog’s size, needs, and known likes and dislikes. — America’s Finest

Be Nice to Quitters

It’s no secret that staff turnover is currently high across just about all businesses. But that is no reason to treat departing workers the way you would an expired bottle of milk. On the contrary, handling them well has benefits for your business, HR magazine quotes Gail Gunderson of Ohio State University as saying. If you treat exiting workers with understanding and respect, they may decide to change their minds. They may also tell you the real reason they are leaving, which is important information if you suffer from high turnover. Parting on good terms potentially leaves the door open for them to return. And even if they don’t, they will have positive things to say, which could attract others. Finally, a cordial exit signals to remaining staff that you’re a decent boss who cares about his workers as people, which is good for morale. — Tipsheet

Tone Down the Job Description

There has been a trend in recent years to list available jobs using creative language, like describing a sales associate’s position as one for an “obsessed sales ninja,” but such language may actually deter some promising candidates, particularly anyone with outside obligations like children or elderly parents. According to a recent report in The Atlantic, most small business owners would be better advised to go with more technically precise job description and focus your creativity on selling the workplace: “We’re a pet-progressive pet business, in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, that wants to grow in tandem with our staff. If that sounds like the kind of place you’d like to work …” — Tipsheet

Get Ready for the Next Crisis

We seem to be putting the pandemic behind us, and the future is looking bright for your business. Start looking to build a reserve now if needed. The one inviable law of business is that trouble is nearly always around the corner, management guru Peter Drucker told Inc.com in one of his last interviews. “I saved more new enterprises than I can remember by simply telling the founder who showed me how beautifully things were going that now is the time to provide for your next financing. If you have six months to a year to provide for your next financing, you can be reasonably sure you’ll get it and at favorable terms.” — Tipsheet

Chris Burslem is the group managing editor of SmartWork Media.

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