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New Year's Solutions

Avoid the post holiday blues with promotions to get cash-wielding customers through your doors in January.

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DOES THE POST-HOLIDAY prove challenging for your business? It doesn’t need to be.

“January can still be a really good month,” Pet Boss Nation’s Candace D’Agnolo says.

Store owners, don’t dwell on cold weather reducing foot traffic. Instead promote coats, boots and other winter gear.

“Those are higher ticket items compared to the majority of what you sell,” she points out.

Groomers, expect a bump from those looking to get in one last appointment before 2019 prices go into effect, which D’Agnolo recommends doing on February 1, with the announcement in December.

“That gives clients enough time to hear about it and not feel blindsided,” she explains.

Care providers, embrace the slow down. Pet parents returning and paying for holiday services in January will help offset any decrease in bookings.

“It’s the perfect month to give you our employees time off, to catch up on their lives,” D’Agnolo says.

Whatever your business, complete tasks pushed to the bottom of the to-do list throughout the year.

“While doing your inventory, deep clean and organize. Toss out what doesn’t matter and get files ready for your accountant,” she adds.

Need more ideas? Check out how PETS+ Brain Squad members make the most of the post holiday period.

Offer Freebies and Discounts

In addition to marking treats BOGO, Nancy Okun of Dogs and Cats in Port Charlotte, FL, gives customers something sweet or meaty for their pet.

“We offer a free frozen yogurt and biscuits. Even if the customer doesn’t bring their dog to the store, we will give them a doggy bag,” she says. “If a cat owner, they get a free can of cat food, just to try something new.”

Angela Pantalone combines freebies and discounts at Wag Central in Stratford, CT.

“January is when tons of bills are due, and cash flow is important,” Pantalone says. “We have scheduled discounts on daycare and grooming packages, freebie trials and spa services for our pup clientele to keep them coming in the door.”

Wag Central in Stratford, CT, offers freebies and discounts to keep cash flowing in January. PHOTO BY LISA GARCIA

Promote With the New Year

Humans adapt healthier habits in the new year, and so can pets. Stacy Busch of Busch Pet Products in Cape Girardeau, MO, offers the opportunity for exactly that as well as for savings.

“We do a trade in promotion called new year, new food,” Busch says. “If a customer or non-customer isn’t feeding anything from us, all they have to do is bring in a bag of their food and let us find something better. They will get 15 percent off the first bag and 10 percent off the next two bags if they stick with it for three months. We guarantee better coat and skin, more energy and overall improved health. We’ve gotten some lasting customers with the promo!”

Busch also has a “Least Wanted” ingredients poster created to help promote the event.

January promotions at Fur Baby Boutique in Milford, DE, also encourage positive changes for pets. Sherry Shupe says, “We focus on New Year’s goals and starting out the new year with a better diet, more exercise (daycare) and a spa makeover!”

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Deep Clean

Thanks to below zero temps in the Minneapolis area, business at Bubbly Paws dog washes slows in January. Keith and Patrycia Miller use the time to deep clean and freshen up their four locations.

“We pull out our drying channels and do a good cleaning behind them. Same with all of our back room shelves. Basically, it’s a great time to move things out into our public area, knowing that not many people will see the mess,” Miller says.

“We also power scrub all of the flooring (we do this about three times a year), but the one in January is always the best because you can really go to town with the scrubber and not worry about getting in people’s way or having our staff do it before/after store hours.”

Shutting a location down for maintenance projects, such as installing a new water heater, can happen in January without significant impact to the business.

“Our water had to be turned off for seven hours to change some plumbing around. When you are in the business of selling water, this is never a good thing. We just kept hoping the older water heater would make it through the holidays, and it did. Then we closed for a day to install the new one!”

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Give Bounce-Back Coupons

When customers spend $25 or more at Purrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, during November or December, Eric Mack gives them a coupon for $10 off in January or February.

“It helps bring some back, but it’s also a reward for those who are our top customers,“ he says.

Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos in San Antonio, TX, handed out $10 bounce-back coupons on Small Business Saturday in 2017, redeemable in January 2018.

“We had a ton of them come back to us, and customers loved them,” she says.

Red and pink toys and treats take over Miss Doolittle’s in January.

Celebrate the Next Holiday

Cory Giles of The General Store in Collinsville, IL, turns to wild bird seed and feeders to keep sales from dipping.

“Typically we have cold and snowy weather in January, which not only helps wild bird sales, but also provides the inspiration for topical social media posts,” Giles says. “Wild bird content is popular, and informative posts are even more popular.“

He shares videos on the store’s Facebook page that show off products and include tips for keeping wild visitors well fed. Giles posts about National Bird Day on January 5 and even Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21, as squirrel feeders and food also are available. He always keeps social media content fresh.

“For instance, instead of reusing the same post about the frequent feeder program our wild bird seed vendor offers, I periodically post about it in the context of updating how many free feeders we have given away so far.“

At Miss Doolittle‘s Pet Spa and Boutique in Pottsville, PA, Valentine’s Day decorations go up in mid-January. Missie Mattei merchandises themed treats, toys and accessories, and offers a deluxe grooming package with a champagne and strawberries theme.

“It really helps keep the flow going at a time when it usually slows down,“ she says.

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Take A Vacation

Stephanie Rossini of Giggy Bites Bakery & Marketplace in Chadds Ford, PA, seizes the slowdown as an opportunity to get away. “We plan our vacation for the first week of January because we have found good travel deals and it gives us the opportunity to recharge after the craziness of the fourth quarter in retail.”

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

Cover Stories

33 Brands That Independent Pet Pros Love (and Why)

PETS+ readers give a shout out to companies that go the extra mile in helping them sell.

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WHO DO YOU LOVE? And why? No, we weren’t nosing around in your personal life with this question from a recent Brain Squad survey. Instead, we wanted to know which pet product companies go above and beyond for independent brick-and-mortar retailers — and how.

You answered! Some in great detail. A few even used heart emojis when discussing the topic in our PETS+ Community on Facebook.

We rounded up your favorites just in time for Global Pet Expo, March 20-22. Pack this issue, and be sure to visit these companies while there. Not attending? Go to the website included with each to learn more online.

One final note: This list does not include every company indies love, nor does it include every pro-indie effort by those included. Retailers, tell us about others via Brain Squad — sign up at petsplusmag.com/brainsquad if you are not already a member. Companies, help us get to know you better — email editor@petsplusmag.com.

Continuing Hemp Education

Every Tuesday, TREATIBLES founder and CEO Julianna Carella leads a training webinar for 10 retailer participants. To date, more than 500 have taken part, learning not just about the company’s hemp products but also about cannabinoid science and government regulations.

Alicia Towkaniuk, director of training for Kahoots Feed and Pet stores in Southern California, appreciates the opportunity to learn directly from Carella.

“She took the time herself to go over the basics of phytocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, ways that our customers’ dogs and cats can benefit from the cannabinoid spectrum and terpenes found in whole hemp oil, what goes into making quality hemp oil products and why Treatibles is a great option for our customers.

“[Carella] also taught us the proper verbiage to ensure we are sharing the most accurate information with our customers, and made sure we had the latest information on the legislation of hemp and hemp products. Team members have let me know they feel much more confident in answering customer questions about what hemp products are and how they can be beneficial.”

Jodi Ziskin, director of communications for Treatibles, shares additional resources available.

“We also support our retailers through our ambassadors and sales team, who regularly visit stores, provide in-store product demos, samples and more.”

treatibles.com

Support By Phone, Online & In Person

In addition to providing online training for retailers and in-store education for pet parents, PET RELEAF employees regularly jump on the phone to answer CBD questions.
Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL, calls her area manager, Reid Baker. She did so recently when a customer came in with a dog undergoing chemotherapy. He had lost his appetite, and his vet suggested CBD to stimulate it.

“The customer had many questions, some of which I couldn’t answer, so I got Reid on the phone. He was answering questions, the store got busy, and I had to give the phone to the customer so they could continue the conversation. It must have lasted at least 15 minutes. She was very impressed with Pet Releaf, and so was I.”

Such interactions are all in a day’s work for Baker, he says.

“This is exactly why I love independent retailers, like Nancy! Servicing them and their customer base allows us to have a stronger personal touch, helping them understand how our products can help pet companions is one of my favorite parts of the job.”

Baker also points out that Pet Releaf does not now or will not ever partner with big-box stores.

petreleaf.com

A Share of Online Sales

RAISED RIGHT PETS considers Adam Jacobson of Pet Pantry Warehouse in Connecticut and New York a partner in online as well as in-store sales. The Right Way Retail Alliance allows brick-and-mortar retailers that stock the company’s food to offer home delivery through its direct-to-consumer service. Each store receives a unique referral code and gets a percentage of purchases made with it online.

Jacobson sees the program as an extension of the customer service experience.

“For example, we have a customer who went to Florida for vacation, and her dog has a health issue that Raised Right’s food helps. Through the Right Way Retail Alliance, we were able to work with Raised Right to ship a box of food to her temporary address in Florida so that her dog could remain on her existing diet.” He adds, “Our customers have been extremely thankful for us going the extra mile to put their animal’s well-being first.”

Raised Right co-founder and CEO Braeden Ruud points out, “This is risk-free profit for retailers. Plus, the customer remains loyal to that retailer since the store continues to be part of the equation.”

raisedrightpets.com

Seasonal Offerings

In addition to releasing 20 new collar, harness and lead designs annually to encourage customers to buy several a year, UP COUNTRY offers free point-of-purchase signs and other branded materials, and polices its MAP policy to protect brick-and-mortar stores.

upcountryinc.com

DIY Microsites & Marketing

Where to buy” sections on product company websites typically include only the basics. FROMM FAMILY FOODS goes beyond that by offering each retail partner its own microsite that shows Fromm products sold, as well as a description of the store, its services, photos, videos and event listings.

“Retailers utilize an easy-to-use web portal to update their microsite, including adding events,” Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm, says.

The company also helps drive customers to such store events.

“The 2018 holiday season marked the second time we supported events with a special Buy 1, Get 2 Free printable coupon along with email marketing to consumers living near the event (utilizing our consumer email list). We supplied retailers with social media assets and a sign-up webpage to promote the offer with their consumers.”

frommfamily.com

Pet-Specialty Plus

PETCUREAN understands the role independent stores play in educating pet parents about nutrition.

“Shoppers are shifting their priorities to premium products, personalized customer experience and expert nutrition knowledge, giving brick-and-mortar retailers a leg up on the online competition,” says Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for the company. “Petcurean offers numerous opportunities for education, business planning, sales promotions and more, all exclusively available to our independent brick-and-mortar partners.”

Bill Greene, general manager and partner of Reber Ranch in Kent, WA, appreciates that Petcurean representatives not only work with employees of his stores, but also of his on-site service providers.

“Within our retail store, we have partnered with Petcurean because their food performs, and their line offers tremendous options when helping meet our customers’ needs.

“Additionally, they have partnered and supported our veterinary hospital and grooming salons with product training and tools, which really no one else is doing in pet specialty.”

petcurean.com

 

Exclusivity for Indies & More

When STELLA & CHEWY’S introduced its Raw Blend and Raw Coated kibbles in 2017, it did so only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, which continue to have that exclusivity.

“Customers who purchase Stella & Chewy’s shop at a higher frequency,” says Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing. “With exclusivity, stores do not split visits with online or big-box. We drove over $20 million incremental dollars in independent stores in 2018.”

Other pro-indie efforts include its Red Door Retailer program for retailers above a certain distribution level. The company uses geofencing to drive customers to member stores and prioritizes them for on-site demonstrations and samplings. Members can provide feedback as part of an advisory committee. Stella & Chewy’s also invites team members to join its Stella Squad, an online training program with games and prizes.

This adorable Fetch RI customer dressed up as Fluff & Tuff toy Marge the Cow for the store’s #iamfluff event.

stellaandchewys.com

Creative In-Store Campaigns

For Halloween 2018, pet toy company FLUFF & TUFF created the #iamfluff campaign. It offered stores social media materials and free toys for a costume contest. Johnna Devereaux of Fetch RI in Richmond, RI, was one of 50 retailers who took part. “Fetch RI was having a Halloween photo fundraiser for a local rescue organization, and we were able to promote the event in a unique way because of Fluff & Tuff’s generosity. We had pups come as Fluff & Tuff toys, and when people saw the images we posted online, quite a few came in to check out the line. This company is very supportive of its retailers and has always been willing to help us.”

The toy company regularly sponsors such efforts to increase foot traffic. “Everything we do circles back to providing meaningful offerings to help our independent retail partners,” says Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for Fluff & Tuff. “We understand the importance of keeping things fun and fresh, and work to develop interesting marketing content to engage our retailers and their customer base.” f

luffandtuff.com

Loyalty, Support & Transparency

Because ANSWERS PET FOOD sells only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, a true partnership exists. The company offers a frequent-buyer program, and its employees stand ready to provide sales and marketing support.

Eric Mack of Purrrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, can attest: “They love their retail stores and are protective of those who helped build the brand. They are always willing to help us build our customer base and keep them. They send people to us from social media, email and phone inquiries to their office. They help me with specials, ads, information and advice that only we can provide in our type of store.”

Answers also invited retailers such as Mack to tour its headquarters in 2018 and plans to expand access in 2019, in part with footage of its facilities filmed by Pet Fooled director Kohl Harrington. “We pride ourselves in being transparent,” says Answers creative brand strategist Coco Levitski.

answerspetfood.com

Incentives to Shop Indie

ZIWI has implemented several strategies over the past three years that direct potential customers to indies.

Marketing communications manager Sharon Durham lists them:

“A high-value coupon is included with the thousands of product samples we distribute each year, which can only be redeemed in retail stores. Our customer care team regularly directs consumers to our website’s store locator, and a link to it is provided on our social media sites. We’ve recently started using free product vouchers for giveaways and promotions, instead of shipping actual product.

“We do these things because we know that today’s customers value the personal service they get from independent retailers. When they receive one-on-one attention and talk with someone who is knowledgeable about our products, they are much more likely to become loyal, long-term customers.”

ziwipets.com

Drop-Ship Option

P.L.A.Y. offers easy online ordering, dedicated sales representatives, MAP policing and a wealth of marketing materials, but indies especially love its consideration of their square footage.

Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator at the company, explains:

“While the size of independent retail stores varies widely, many of them work with limited space, particularly when it comes to the bed category. In order to help these retailers compete with the big guys that can offer tons of bedding options, we offer a drop-ship option for special orders.

“Any of our retailers can offer our entire line of beds to their customers without having to physically stock them all. We recommend bringing some popular ones in to have on hand for sale and to show the quality and design in person, but then a customer can look through our showcase sheet and swatch book (provided to the retailer at no cost) to select the bed they want from the available patterns and sizes for each style.

Stores can display one of P.L.A.Y.’s Houndstooth Lounge Beds, and have on hand swatches of others.

“We’ll ship it direct to the store, or even directly to the customer for a small fee. This is another time when our short lead times can also really help our retailers. The retailer keeps the customer happy and local, and the customer gets what they want while supporting an independent retailer — it’s a win all around.”

petplay.com

Independent Exclusivity

RAWZ NATURAL PET FOOD sells only to independent pet retailers, and only those authorized independent retailers can sell its products online.

“We always encourage our consumers to shop locally whenever possible, but some of our consumers live in remote areas and depend on online shopping. It’s also the only way the small independent can compete with big e-commerce,” employee Amy Knox says. “Occasionally we find our products listed for sale on the big third-party sites, but we state on our website that we cannot guarantee the quality or safety of these products and always urge our consumers to refrain from purchasing our products through such avenues. We only place our guarantee on products purchased through authorized independent retailers.”
What the company does with its profits also proves attractive to indies.

“RAWZ donates 100 percent of its profits to service dog training and placement programs, as well as to traumatic brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs. It seems as though every day you hear of a high-quality, feel-good pet food brand being purchased by a large corporation, one that may not have the same standards of quality that the brand’s consumers are drawn to, and that’s concerning for both the retailer and the consumer. As a company that donates all of its profits, RAWZ is of no interest to these large corporations. We consider our 100-percent profit donation an insurance policy against third-party acquisitions.”

rawznaturalpetfood.com

Exclusive Raw Bar

VITAL ESSENTIALS offers only independent brick-and-mortar stores its VE Raw Bar, a merchandise display that holds 10 freeze-dried treats exclusive to indies.

“The display also includes a lighted sign that can be hung anywhere in the store or in the front window capturing shopper attention and interest,” marketing director Melissa Olson says. “The display is truly an interactive experience, giving retailers a competitive advantage. Best of all, most retailers report inventory turns ranging from 2.5 times to 4 times per month along with great profit margins.”

vitalessentialsraw.com

Super Imap

ANNAMAET PETFOODS may let online retailers sell its products, but a strict internet minimum advertised pricing policy requires them to price at about 10 percent higher than brick-and-mortar stores. Its IMAP policy excludes Annamaet from online promotions and coupons.
The company also provides support exclusive to indies, including a frequent-feeder program, customer coupons, and puppy packs to send home with new family members.

annamaet.com

Like Amazon, In A Good Way

RUFFWEAR offers the Latitude program. With it, brick-and-mortar retailers pay $99 for the year and get same-day free shipping with a minimum order of $100. The company also did away with pre-season ordering.

“Responding to challenges from retailers and the ‘right now’ mindset of customers, Ruffwear is encouraging smaller, more frequent orders. This helps retailers more accurately address customer needs and eliminates big spikes in production.

“It takes the risk off the retailer, so that they can order what they need, when they need it,” Susan Strible, director of marketing, says. “For example, if it’s a dry fall/winter, they aren’t stuck with a bunch of snow boots they ordered last January.”

Also a plus, the company’s store locator allows retailers to sync their inventory with the tool so customers can check product availability.

ruffwear.com

Marketing Materials Galore

PURA NATURALS PET understands that independent pet store owners wear many — in some cases, all of the — hats. With that in mind, it offers for easy download a variety of marketing materials: images for print and online use, logos, product data and educational documents, testimonials and digital catalogs. There are also blog posts, social media images and web banners available.

puranaturalspet.com

Stephanie Troxell and Tori Rosay (from left) of Dexter’s Deli in San Diego, CA, won the 2018 contest.

A Trip to Big Sky Country

In addition to providing free educational and marketing materials, policing minimum advertised pricing and offering a 100-percent guarantee on its products, WEST PAW welcomes input from its independent retail partners.

“We are always available to hear their concerns and/or suggestions about what they feel is working and what is not,” public relations lead Amy Schumann says. “We think we’re very approachable and fun, which makes retailers enjoy working with us.”

Each year, one indie in particular more than appreciates working with the company: the winner of its Make It Montana contest. West Paw randomly selects a retail partner to receive a five-day trip for two to Bozeman, MN, where they have five days to explore company headquarters and the state.

westpaw.com

CBD Consumer-Loyalty Program

HOLISTIC HOUND helps independent pet stores reward buyers of its CBD products. According to founder Heidi Hill, her company offers the only Buy 5, Get 1 Free national promotion through Astro Loyalty.

holistichound.com

Map Policing & More

While INCLOVER does sell its products online, the company provides protection for its brick-and-mortar retail partners.

Allie Sparrow, director of business growth for the company, explains: “InClover closely monitors our approved online sellers to be sure that they are adhering to our MAP policy and has limited sellers on Amazon to one exclusive partner so that we may maintain control on the platform. InClover does not and will not offer our supplements for sale on Chewy.com.”

She adds, “The education that we provide to our retail partners allows them to offer a service that the online retailers cannot.” In-store seminars are open to store employees and customers, plus area veterinarians.

inclover.com

Highest Fill Rate & Extensive Selection

JONES NATURAL CHEWS takes pride in its 99 percent complete order fill rate, one of the highest in the industry. Retailers get what they need, when they need it. The company also offers such a wide variety of products that stores can regularly encourage customers to try something new.

jonesnaturalchews.com

In-Store Tools & Free Exchanges

Sure, pet parents can order clothing for their dogs and cats online, but even the best sizing guides can fail. WOODROW WEAR helps brick-and-mortar stores compete by offering tools that ensure a perfect fit. Its Try-On Socks kit includes one of each size, with the size knitted onto the top.

“Customers can try the socks on their dog without opening the store’s inventory or making a mess on the floor or tearing the packaging,” company owner Lorraine Walston explains. “If the dog isn’t with the customer, they can stretch the sock and see how comfortable it is, how much it stretches, and how even though it doesn’t look like the right size, it actually does become the right size.”
Woodrow Wear also offers an inventory exchange program.

“[Retailers] don’t need to store what isn’t selling or keep seasonal items for a year. We exchange sizes and colors that aren’t moving for others that will. Our theory is that we’re both doing better if the indie is moving socks. These trades are done for free with a new order or for a small shipping fee if done alone.”

woodrowwear.com

MORE PET PRODUCT COMPANIES THAT INDIES LOVE

1PUPPY CAKE, maker of dessert mixes for dogs, gets high praise from Sue Hepner of Cool Dog Gear in Roslyn, PA. “Kelly [Costello] and her mom [Sandy] provide us with awesome customer service. I love that Kelly is a working owner — she always answers the phone when I call to place orders.” puppycake.com

2ECO DOG CARE PRODUCTS helps Treats on a Leash in Ames, IA, compete. Barb Morris says, “We wanted a truly natural grooming line, and this filled that void in our store. It’s a high-quality, unique product line that isn’t found in big boxes. That’s what sets us apart. Jane [Bond] offered an ISO and terms to get us started with their products. If we are running low, it’s just a quick email and we have more product headed our way! She also sent a tester so customers could see what the scent was like. When manufacturers go above and beyond to serve us, we can offer an even better shopping experience to our customers.” ecodogcare.com

3When hurricane Florence hit North Carolina last year, HEALTH EXTENSION PET CARE helped Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle get food to customers and neighbors alike. “Many of our residents lost their homes or were temporarily displaced due to storm damage. Most lost some or all of their possessions. The financial strain placed on these families has been very burdensome. I reached out to Health Extension and asked if the company would be able and willing to provide assistance to pet owners. They promptly sent us cases of 1-pound bags of dog food that we were able to give out to victims who may not have been able to afford quality dog food during that time.” healthextension.com

4KING’S CAGES and Paul Lewis of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, go way back, thanks to the company’s excellent customer service. “King’s was my go-to cage company when I opened almost 29 years ago. Every once in a while, a part may be missing for a cage, may be damaged from a shipper, or I’m looking for an odd part for an older cage. They always come through for me with the right answers to my questions, quick shipping and no questions asked.” kingscages.com

5A variety of reasons puts KLN FAMILY BRANDS/TUFFY’S PET FOODS first with Duane Poland of Bones-N-Scones in Palm Springs, CA: “Sells only to independents, is happy to provide samples and free small bags to increase sales. Works hard to protect margins and makes a great, mid-level product that most pets find appealing!” klnfamilybrands.com

6Social media support helps Keefer Dickerson, marketing and outreach manager for Nashville Pet Products in Nashville, TN, do his job. “PRIMAL sends out social media posts to use each month. These come already sized for Facebook and Instagram, and they look great.” primalpetfoods.com

7Brandon Click of Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets in Austin, TX, recommends PETOLOGY for several reasons. “When we evaluate a product line, the two most important aspects it can bring to our product mix are quality and strategy. Petology checks both of those boxes. Their product is superior to any other currently on the market. It’s sulfate-free, ethically produced, and cleans thoroughly while also providing the best shine of any shampoo and conditioner. Petology as a company is also good to do business with. They’ve kept their product exclusive to the independent pet specialty channel, and are strong partners to their retailers. Rather than put all of the sales onus on stores, they are always willing to help grow the line with promotions and other sales initiatives.” petology.net

8Debbie Brookham of Furry Friends Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO, picks NUTRISOURCE as one of her favorite companies. “Proactive in providing sales and on-site training for staff and clients. Provide free samples, which really has converted into sales.” nutrisourcepetfoods.com

9Regular in-store demos and discounts by FARMINA score points with Jan Hopper of Living Pawsitively in Lafayette, NJ. “Just yesterday I had their rep at my store handing out coupons and free cans of their new line of pet foods. Once most of the customers get a coupon, they purchase the food.” farmina.com

10Todd Ruppenthal of Happy Husky Bakery in Evanston, IL, appreciates how ZIGNATURE and FUSSIE CAT involve individual stores in promotions. “They listen to us and work with us to promote their foods in the way we know most often works best. They tailor their promotions for our business specifically, and it works for them — moved their lines from fifth best selling food to second — and us.” zignature.com, fussiecat.com

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Cover Stories

One-Minute Mentors

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Each of our america’s coolest stores contest winners has a mentor at its helm. These leaders advise and inspire their employees, and they do the same for fellow pet business owners through our interviews with them.

But who are their mentors?

We asked winners to tell us about a person, company, industry or previous career that has help guide them to where they are today.

 

MIKE DOAN

ODYSSEY PETS, DALLAS, TX

When Mike Doan opened Odyssey Pets with wife Sherry Redwine, he was sure to manage differently than he had been managed in the past.

“When I was young, I worked in a pet store and recall explaining to a customer all the features and details about a specific filter. I convinced him to purchase the more expensive one for quality assurance.

“Later that day, I overheard the owner of the store telling someone that I was a really good salesman and they should keep me on the floor up front, rather than in the back cleaning cages. It always bothered me that they never told me.

“I’ve realized since then that sales environments can be competitive. Competition on the sales floor can often breed contempt among the staff. This contempt does not foster a team environment. So now, when I see someone who expresses a certain quality, I make sure to tell them they are good at it in order to let them know they are valued, instead of just capitalizing on their skill and keeping them in the dark.

“A team that supports each other achieves a much higher level of success than one that has everyone in it for themselves.”

AIMEE GILBREATH

MICHELSON FOUND ANIMALS ADOPT & SHOP, CULVER CITY, CA

“I learned the ‘15-minute rule’ in my consulting job years ago. The concept is that if you have been struggling with something for 15 minutes without making any progress and you don’t have any idea what to do next, then it is time to ask for help. Too often we feel like we should be able to handle anything in our job role independently, and we get embarrassed at the idea of asking for help. The 15-minute rule keeps me from getting stuck in a loop of frustration and reminds me that I have a network of colleagues who would be happy to support me (as I would them).”

ROBERT H. SMITH

JUNGLE BOB’S REPTILE WORLD, SELDEN, NY

Before opening Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, Robert H. Smith founded and ran a company that sold and serviced computer systems for the banking industry.

“This arena required skilled workers with impeccable credentials. Surety bonds, background checks, and clean records and driver’s licenses were mandatory. Our employees handled large amounts of cash, servicing ATMs and teller machines behind the bank line. Honesty and integrity was in their DNA.

“I have applied these same principles to all who work here. Although we don’t require staff to be bonded and insured, we certainly aim high when hiring and demand that no one ever lies to a customer or even guesses! When asked a question they may not know the answer to, they are instructed to ask management. Animals’ lives are at stake, and a healthy animal is the goal to ensure a happy customer and a great pet experience.

“For me this is every bit as important as a pile of cash was back then. So the lessons learned years ago are applicable at Jungle Bob’s. Even in a business that sells snakes, tarantulas and cockroaches, you have to maintain your integrity to succeed in the long term.”

FRANK FRATTINI

THE HUNGRY PUPPY, FARMINGDALE, NJ

Frank Frattini credits his father, a former Marine, with instilling in him the importance of perseverance.

“As you can imagine, quitting or giving up is not part of our DNA. This proved especially valuable when we first went into the business back in the ’80s, when there were virtually no models of pet stores that did not sell pets. At the time, more than a few friends and family members thought I was more than a little ‘off’ for leaving a prestigious position as a bank official for a major money center bank to sell dog food.”

The trait also helped him develop the store’s popular delivery program.

“In addition, back in the ’80s, the concept of delivering dog food and supplies to people’s homes was, to say the least, a bit ahead of its time. It took a lot of perseverance to get people to embrace the concept. I like to think that we were Chewy before Chewy, the primary difference being that our model makes money.”

PATTIE BODEN

ANIMAL CONNECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Pattie Boden points to friend and mentor Shayne Jackson as the source of a most helpful bit of business advice. The owner of a successful masonry company, Jackson also has a working cattle ranch where he teaches horsemanship.

He told her to “Do less sooner … then do less than less.” She explains:

“Many people don’t give their business associates the opportunity to ‘try.’ We give them direction or a list of things to do, and then never allow them to fulfill those obligations without nagging or micromanaging.

“Make sure your directions are clear and consistent every single time, so there is no question about what is expected. If they need redirection, that’s fine, but get in and get out and go on with it.

“I have found that when I set people up to succeed and recognize a ‘try,’ that things fall into place almost seamlessly. Rewarding the slightest try isn’t like giving everyone a blue ribbon or saying good job just for showing up. It’s knowing that your people understand what you are asking and respect you enough to follow through to the best of their ability.”

ELLYN SUGA

SHOP DOG BOUTIQUE, SIOUX FALLS, SD

Ellyn Suga finds inspiration and guidance from Donald Miller, owner of StoryBrand, which helps businesses clarify their message.

“I attended a workshop with Miller in Nashville. He shows business owners how we’re simply here to help solve our customers’ problems. We must be able to empathize with them, but use our command and knowledge of the industry to show our authority.”

KEITH MILLER

BUBBLY PAWS, MINNEAPOLIS, MN

Before opening Bubbly Paws, Keith Miller worked in the radio industry for 10 years. It taught him to pay attention to the little details in order to provide great customer service.

“While working at a station in Minneapolis, Bob Guiney from THE BACHELOR was in town a few times. The first time, he made the effort to go around the room to get to know everyone and what they did. Three weeks later, he was back in town and came to the station, and started talking to me like he personally knew me!

“I work hard to get to know each customer who comes in, and really try to remember them the next time. Anyone can build a dog wash, but the one thing that really makes Bubbly Paws unique is the customer experience and how we try to treat everyone like an extended member of our family!”

TANIA ISENSTEIN

CAMP CANINE, NEW YORK, NY

Tania Isenstein spent 17 years as a lawyer for Goldman Sachs before switching gears to buy Camp Canine.

“The company focused heavily on its business principles,” she says. “The first one states: ‘Our clients’ interests always come first. Our experience shows that if we serve our clients well, our own success will follow.’ That principle expressed what I already believed going into the firm, but it also became a way of life for me. The leadership team here at Camp Canine and I ingrain this into every new employee and live it daily. As at Goldman Sachs, it has proven successful.”

LEEL MICHELLE

BOW WOW BEAUTY SHOPPE, SAN DIEGO, CA

Her many years in corporate fashion retail taught Leel Michelle to place a high value on her employees.

“They can make or break your day and your brand. Treat employees like family and be respectful of them and their time, and you’ll always have their respect. Working in corporate retail, we learn the importance of continuing education on how to be good managers, store merchandising, branding and customer service. These are all key ingredients to business success.”

TRACE MENCHACA

FLYING M FEED CO., HOUSTON, TX

Years at The Container Store taught Trace Menchaca that “in retail, everything matters. Your warehouse must be as perfect as the sales floor. Everything is done with intent and purpose. Everything is done a specific way. Creating an outstanding customer experience is critical. And creating an amazing culture for employees is crucial.”

DEBBIE BROOKHAM

FURRY FRIENDS INC., COLORADO SPRINGS, CO

Bob and Susan Negan of Whizbang Retailers help guide Debbie Brookham. They have taught her many lessons over the years.

“I think one of the most important was not to put a rule in place because of one bad customer. When you get burned in retail, and it happens to all of us, our defenses go up to make up store rules. The lesson is to stop and think how customer-friendly that might be for the rest of your good clients? Take a breath and re-think that strategy.”

PATRICK DONSTON

ABSOLUTELY FISH, CLIFTON, NJ

Patrick Donston subscribes to business author Jim Collins’ concept of Level 5 Leadership.

“I attended a conference and was profoundly inspired to become a Level 5 Leader. Ardent managers who instill passion in the workforce are the fuel for every good business. When you walk into a store that has this kind of passion, it’s palpable. As a customer, you definitely notice a difference. I learned the key to igniting our message is to communicate throughout the organization a clear understanding of what we are ultimately fighting for.

“Level 5 Leaders are built to make a difference. They are leaders of great purpose who act as stewards of the purpose. They bring their vision to life in meaningful ways to the marketplace. People follow them because of who they are and what they stand for.

“I’ve learned that simple concepts are better than convoluted solutions and ‘that people are not necessarily your most important asset, the right people are.’ I knew right then what I needed to work on in hopes of being a better leader and build a more meaningful organization.”

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You indies are all about experimentation. After all, no corporate overlord exists to dictate which products you sell or how you merchandise them. Or which processes you put in place. Or how you manage staff or market your brand. You have the freedom to be bold, to see for yourself what works and what does not. With that in mind, we asked the PETS+ Brain Squad to share experiments that have proven successful for their businesses. Try one, two or even all 20!

EXPERIMENT

Provide free 10-minute training session to daycare dog.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Lisa Cane, Wags Doggie Day Care and Training, Wenham, MA

HOW-TO: Choose team member to customize mini-training session for the dog. Work on sit or come, or address unwanted behavior. Repeat daily with different pups.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Helps new dogs integrate more quickly into pack. Impresses pet parents and encourages future visits. Gives staff opportunity to grow. “Hands-on practice is the best way for them to improve their dog handling and training skills,” Cane says. “We are professionals, and I want us to stand out from the increasingly crowded daycare market by offering added value to our customers.”

EXPERIMENT

Create a Facebook Live series.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Jeff Jensen and Matt Braselton, Four Muddy Paws, St. Louis, MO

HOW-TO: Decide on topic and repeat weekly or monthly. The co-owners do “In the Kitchen With Four Muddy Paws,” which features interviews with brand partners about their food and general pet nutrition.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: The setting, their home kitchen, personalizes the business. Facebook Live videos have better organic reach than regular. Series promotes higher-quality products. Jensen says, “Our ‘In the Kitchen’ videos have helped to share more about why moving toward a more natural diet is important and various ways [customers] can incorporate products for a nutritional boost, even if they’re not quite ready to change their diet.”

EXPERIMENT

Thank employees and customers for their support.

LEAD SCIENTIST: James Henline, Asheville Pet Supply, Asheville, NC
HOW-TO: Hand out gift cards and praise during staff meeting. Thank customers via video on social media.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Higher employee morale. “I gave each staff member a $10 gift card to a local coffee shop. I emphasized their importance to the success of our business, as they are the ones who handle our customers every day. After the meeting, I actually had employees in tears because I said that I cared about them. I’ve had some volunteer to come in when the store was extra-busy or ask if I needed them to stay late to help out. They were just really happy to know that someone recognized the work that they were putting in and appreciated them.” Increased sales. “I posted [the video] on Thanksgiving day, and we had our biggest Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ever. Since then, our daily sales have increased and the store is noticeably busier. I still have people coming in and telling me how much they appreciated what I said and for us being here for them.”

EXPERIMENT

Group chat with staff.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Missie Mattei, Miss Doolittles Pet Spa & Boutique, Pottsville, PA

HOW-TO: Send need-to-knows and praise. Encourage the same from employees, as well as messages just for fun.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved communication and employee morale. Mattei says of their Facebook group chats, “At work, we are often too busy, or work different schedules, to share important or uplifting messages. This is an easy way to pass info. We’ve had a couple of people who came from difficult work environments, and this has helped us be inclusive, admit our faults, congratulate our achievements, share ideas, and find humor in each other. Everyone seems to like the easy interchanges, but if they don’t want to take part, that’s OK too.”

EXPERIMENT

Discount daycare rate for grooming clients.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Marcia E. Cram, Just Fur Pets, Springfield, VA
HOW-TO: Offer as add-on or part of package.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increases revenue and client satisfaction. “Pet parents like that their dogs get to romp with their fur friends,” Cram says.

EXPERIMENT

Create to-do list and script for grooming check-in procedure.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Nanci Sien, Pampered Paws, Owings, MD

HOW-TO: Document every step taken during check-in, from greeting client and getting pet information to providing a pick-up estimate and asking if there are any questions. Write talking points for groomers that cover the steps.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved client satisfaction and retention, and increased add-on sales. “Clients have told us they felt more comfortable leaving their pets with us after getting to know the groomer at check-in and having their concerns addressed,” Sien says. “Talking to the client about their pet in-depth allows our groomers to upsell add-on services by telling the client how these services can solve specific issues. Being specific about everything that will be done during the groom as well as giving projected pick-up times have prevented misunderstandings and increased customer satisfaction.”

EXPERIMENT

Designate a sports jersey day of the week.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Diane Marcin, Benny’s Pet Depot, Mechanicsburg, PA

HOW-TO: Pick day and encourage employees to wear sports jerseys.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts employee morale and creates fun atmosphere for staff and customers alike. Marcin says, “The customers love it! When a customer walks in wearing the same team as you are, the conversations begin about the game last week or the upcoming one. Every now and then you get a high-five.”

EXPERIMENT

Get a liquor license.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Carol Will, Lola & Penelope’s, Clayton, MO

HOW-TO: Contact state alcohol beverage control agency. Licenses vary by whether selling, serving or both, and whether wine and beer or also hard liquor. Will advises, “If you go for it, call and talk to the leadership in your city before you submit your application. Explain your vision, and ask about any concerns. I had to present to the board of aldermen for approval. It went well since they knew the city supported our plan.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Further differentiates your store from other retailers. Supports pet-related breweries and wineries. Among others, Lola & Penelope’s carries local craft beers Urban Chestnut Brewing Company’s Underdog and 2nd Shift Brewing’s Cat Spit Stout.

EXPERIMENT

Promote big events with a radio ad campaign.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

HOW-TO: Poll your staff and customers on which stations they listen to. Tune into top three, noting personalities, music and commercials. If your business would be a good fit, and you would play them in your store, contact each station. Ask about audience to determine if demographics match your customer base. Learn their ad creation process. “The radio station will take care of writing the ad copy, and producing the spot to your satisfaction,” Dickerson says. Negotiate, he adds. “Radio rates can be flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts or add-ons.” Choose the best offer.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts visibility and sales. Nashville Pet Products ran two radio campaigns in 2018. Ads for Customer Appreciation Day helped increase sales by 52 percent over previous year’s event. Ads for the annual holiday sale brought in 25 percent increase year over year.

EXPERIMENT

Give welcome boxes to new grooming customers.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kris Minkle, The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

HOW-TO: Ask food, treat and grooming product manufacturers to provide samples and coupons that can be regular items for box. Add to it samples specific to client, such as a sensitive-formula shampoo for pet with skin issues, as well as low-cost items: a roll of poop bags or a small toy. Include nutritional and grooming literature, plus menu of services. Place in box branded with your logo. Minkle says, “If we have time, we also take a photo of their freshly groomed dog and include that as well.” Cost: around $3.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improves customer satisfaction. “We noticed a distinct rise in new customers leaving feedback, once we started the boxes. It seems like people are much more likely to give feedback online or ratings if they’ve gotten something for free.” Increases sales and improves customer retention. “A woman with a Standard Poodle named Timber came in a few days after she had her dog groomed, and she wanted to try the foods included in the box, saying Timber ‘loved them.’ She has turned into a very regular food and grooming customer.”

EXPERIMENT

Get up two hours before leaving for work to practice self-care.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

HOW-TO: Set your alarm and don’t hit snooze. Megyese says, “I have been getting up earlier and investing that quiet morning time in myself by reading, meditating and journaling.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Start day with clarity and calm, be less reactive at work. “In the past, if events did not unfold the way I had planned for them to, I would work myself into a mental frenzy and somehow convince myself that all my planning was futile because I would always be at the mercy of circumstances I could not control,” she says, offering this example:

“Our town’s Christmas parade was cancelled because of a severe storm. Our store is located on the parade route. It is historically one of our strongest sales days of the year. The call to cancel was made just two hours before the event, so I already had extra staff on hand as well as increased inventory.

“Rather than getting upset, I chose to see it as something that would become a future conversation starter. While my morning routine did not change the negative economic impact the storm caused, I was able to see that there was nothing I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. Instead of fretting about what I could not control, I decided a rainy day with more than enough staff would be the perfect time to take an afternoon off and spend it having fun with my granddaughter.”

EXPERIMENT

Move from item-pricing to peg- and shelf-pricing.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Duane Poland, Bones-n-Scones of Palm Springs, Palm Springs, CA

HOW-TO: Instead of placing price tags on each item, create peg and shelf tags for pricing.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Speeds up restocking, as products can go from box to shelf. Provides clarity. Poland says, “Many of our customers simply didn’t look at the back of the package.” Boosts sales. “We have also seen an extra bump in sales of our treats we have priced up front, as there is no longer a ‘mystery’ as to the price!” Saves time. “I believe things can always be better, easier and faster. Any time saved, no matter how small, can really add up and frees staff to better serve our customers and companion animals!

EXPERIMENT

Touch things only once.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kara Holland, Pittsboro Pet Supply, Pittsboro, NC

HOW-TO: Apply this direction to any task you can. Holland explains, “I teach this to our staff members the first day they start working at our store. Instead of handing pamphlets from sales reps to me, ask where they go and always place them there. It saves them from moving it multiple times.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: “Touching things once saves us so much time and empowers our staff to make decisions on their own. The same issue or same item shouldn’t have to be reviewed over and over again, unless it is an item that deserves to be!”

EXPERIMENT

Let calls go to voicemail when grooming pets.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Rachel Malmfeldt, Pampered Pups Grooming, Joliet, IL

HOW-TO: Record voicemail message that lets customers know you have a dog on the table and will return their call in a set amount of time. Instruct employees to not interrupt their work to take calls.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Reduces stress and increases safety. “ This has created a more relaxed atmosphere for the groomers and pets,” Malmfeldt says.

EXPERIMENT

Have new employees shadow a top salesperson.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Terri Ellen, Nature’s Pet Market, Salem, OR

HOW-TO: Schedule so that new employees can observe during their first two weeks. Pair them with top team members.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: New team members learn best practices on the job, while those they shadow grow as leaders. Increased sales, higher employee retention. “New employees can quickly learn to run a register and check out customers, but the foods and nutrition for pets are quite a bit more difficult or complicated,” Ellen says. For example, she adds, “It’s wonderful when an employee is standing there listening to me help that customer solve an itchy dog’s problems.”

EXPERIMENT

Delegate ordering to a proven manager.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

HOW-TO: Choose a manager who knows the store and its customers well, then give him trial-run order. Lewis shares, “Sometimes staff have a different perspective on what our customers like and don’t like. I don’t talk to everyone who comes through the door, and sometimes customers are more comfortable talking with the staff.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time, freshens stock and empowers the manager. “It has led to bringing in new products I’d never try myself,” he says, that ended up being a hit with customers.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce stress by watching less TV news.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Julie Husa, D Best Pet Sitting, Dallas, TX

HOW-TO: Subscribe to your local newspaper. Watch only one local news show daily or pick from online highlights. Avoid 24-hour news channels.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Turning off bickering politicians and pundits helps keep cortisol production in check and leads to a healthier self, at home and work.

EXPERIMENT

Find out if there’s an app for that.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Debbie Brookham, Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

HOW-TO: Visit app store of choice to see what tools could improve a specific business process. Or just explore store to see what’s new and could help. Download to evaluate, then ask employees to do the same before purchasing or implementing app.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time and money, improves workflow and communication. Brookham uses Trello for all of the above. “Trello is a great communication tool for us. It is separated in ‘boards’ so you can easily label a column a different name, such as ‘Customer Requests.’ When I order product, I’m able to go to one location. The team member includes the client’s name and contact info, along with their initials and date. I can see to order it, and then when it comes in we go back to Trello, contact the customer and write any additional notes. Once the special order is picked up, we delete the note from the Trello board. With so many shifting gears in a small business, it’s best to stay focused and organized.”

EXPERIMENT

Create employee bonding opportunities outside of work.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Caitlin Jones, Nooga Paws, Chattanooga, TN

HOW-TO: With employee input, plan outing. Encourage non-work talk. Pick up the tab. Jones took her 12 employees to dinner and a haunted house in October.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved teamwork. “Getting to know each other on a deeper level helps us work together during our shifts,” she says.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce daycare rates on traditionally slow days.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

HOW-TO: Determine which day, or days, of week, have significantly lower bookings and how much you can afford to discount and still be profitable.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increased bookings. Pantalone discounts daycare from $38 to $30 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and has doubled her bookings on those days. “What a fun pat on the back that has been!” she says.

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