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A Groomer Leaves and Takes All His Customers With Him. How Can a Shocked Business Owner Respond?

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Sadie waved goodbye to the last customer of the day, an older woman with a perfectly groomed Pomeranian. The dog’s coat looked soft and fluffy, and bounced with every step it took. Sadie smiled to herself. Billy, her groomer had done a great good job over the last few months turning the dog’s matted coat into show material. She locked the front door, and started cashing out.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LINDA LIEBRAND is a former marketing manager for a successful doggie spa and boutique who is now helping others promote their local pet businesses. She writes about pet biz marketing at mybrandbuddy.com and can be reached at linda@ mybrandbuddy.com

“Sadie, do you have a minute?” Sadie looked up and saw Billy wrapped up warm and ready to leave the shop. He’d pushed his hands deep into his pockets and he looked a little sheepish, standing there like a shy kid. “Sure, Billy, what’s up?” She took her glasses off, and put them down. “Thing is”, he started, but then his voice trailed off and he looked away. “I’m leaving,” he mumbled.

“But why? I thought you liked it here? The customers love you,” Sadie replied.

“I know, but,” he hesitated again for a moment, and then sped up, “I’m starting my own business and I’ve rented some space in the new pet shop in the mall. I’m sorry Sadie, but I’ve always wanted my own salon.” Sadie knew the feeling of wanting your own business very well, and although she felt sad to lose Billy, she hugged him and wished him the best of luck on his way out.

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A few weeks later Sadie ran into Janet, one of her regulars. Janet’s Yorkie, Ruby, squealed with delight when she saw Sadie, and Sadie couldn’t help but notice the dog’s tidy coat. She must have been groomed recently, she thought. I wonder who might have done it? “Nice to see you Janet. I haven’t seen you and Ruby in the shop for a while.” she said, and decided not to mention Ruby’s haircut.

“Yes it’s been a while. We went to see the lovely boy from your shop at the mall for Ruby’s haircut this time. He was as good with her at yours, so when he emailed me a coupon we decided to try out his new salon.”

“He emailed you?” Sadie asked, feeling the beginnings of suspicion stir in her stomach.

“Yes, he told me he was leaving last time I took Ruby to your shop and when he asked for my email address I didn’t think anything of it. I’m so sorry — I thought you knew?”

Sadie, didn’t reply. She rushed back to her shop and picked up her grooming calendar. After flicking through the pages it was clear that several of her regulars were late with their grooms, and none of them had made new appointments. They hadn’t all gone to Billy, had they?

She picked up her mobile phone and Googled Billy the dog barber. A flashy website popped up and she did a double-take. Was this some sort of a joke? From top to bottom, her entire shop menu with grooming treatments was copied almost word by word! Even the heart-shaped “mutt stamps” she had invented and always sprayed on all her groomed dogs was in there. Sadie couldn’t believe her eyes. Billy had seemed like such a nice kid. Had he just worked with her to steal clients and copy her business? Or did he not realize what he’d done? Sadie’s sighed and put her phone down, what was she going to do?

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The Big Questions

  • What can Sadie do right now about the awkward situation with Billy?
  • How can Sadie win back her clients?
  • How can Sally protect her business from this ever happening again?

 

Real Deal Responses: Expanded Online Version

Jim R. Eau Claire, WI

For client theft prevention we have our groomers sign a no solicitation of our private client list. We put a dollar value on each client that if they wish to purchase our list they must pay us for each client’s value. Family and friends agreed upon prior to the start of providing service are exempt on a written list. This gives you leverage in a court of law, whereas a non-compete does not.

Sylvia T.Adamsville, TN

I have been grooming 55 years and have been through this sabotage repeatedly. After investing time and money to train or bring a groomer’s work up to pro standards they have left to start their own business, and without conscience have tried to take customers with them. The wages paid here are better than they could hope to clear operating on their own. The shop has all the best equipment and products available for their use. They are always treated respectfully, their taxes are legally paid, they have benefits … and yet the desire to operate their own business prevails. The best advice I can offer is have new hires sign a no-compete contract and vigorously enforce it. Since generally they will also apply for unemployment benefits when leaving, let them know you will report they are self-employed not unemployed. And the best deterrent: Tell them you will report their status to the various governmental agencies so they can be tax-paying citizens, as are all legitimate businesses.

Pam A. Cleveland, OH

This has happened to me several times. Sometime customers have stayed with me because they thought that it wasn’t ethical what the groomer did. I think that it is just the nature of the beast.

Dawn T. Vero Beach, FL

Sadie should approach Billy on a professional level to see why he did it. Also, to let him know it was unethical of him, but maybe they could work something out so maybe they both can be happy. She could run an awesome special for returning clients. To protect her business, she should have her business trademarked and sole proprietorship with legal documentation to protect it from anyone from stealing her designs/website and such from competitors and employees. Have the employees sign confidentiality agreements.

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Clayton B.Simsbury, CT

I would sue him. That is disgusting.

Patricia B.Charlottesville, VA

I actually had this happen to me, and I found out when five new grooming tables were delivered to my store instead of hers. She lied and said they were for “home use.” (She had one Boxer.) I took her to court for defamation of character and theft of corporate identity and property. And won. Now, I have the most lock-tight, non-compete contract that includes my clients, a 5-mile radius and all my corporate marketing materials and website are legally protected from copying. Even nice people put themselves first when it comes to a business that takes time and money to develop.

Paul L.
Webster, NY

Legally, I’m not sure Sadie can do anything about Billy taking her customers. Billy saw the opportunity and ran with it. I had an employee who offered to board a regular customer’s bird for him, a bird that regularly boarded with us. He did it one time felt bad about it, told me what she had done and I treated it as if she had stolen product from me. She was terminated.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

I always want to assume the best in people, but be prepared for the worst: Did he realize this was wrong or not? The results are the same: There is damage to Sadie’s business. There are legal means to stop the use of the website that Billy copied, the use of the stamp Sadie invented and a simple cease-and-desist letter might get the job done. Some states allow non-compete clauses for employees to prevent stealing trade secrets and client lists, so she should consult an attorney to prevent this from happening again. But to maintain her clients, she needs to remember that she trained Billy, she is the original groomer they liked, and by offering superior service and contacting them directly, she can salvage the relationship by offering bounce-back coupons and referral bonuses if the client refers a friend. Price is not the only thing she can offer; quality service and products and appreciation for their business go a long way.

Raymond P.Alamogordo, NM

Just recently I have found myself in a similar situation. I have an aquarium maintenance service. Recently, I fired an employee and who was doing 75 of my accounts. He ended up taking five of my accounts (mostly just family and friends) and is now also starting his own business. When he started he knew nothing about the business. I am curious to see how Sadie handles this.

Christine D.Harrisburg, NC

Sadie can meet with Billy or even set an appointment to drop by his shop to say “hello” and broach the conversation after seeing for herself. She can attempt to win back her customers by emailing them personally and offering welcome-back specials. Another option is to be honest and open about the situation and let clients just choose for themselves. She should require all employees sign a non-compete form as a part of her hiring packet and keep it on file. This will allow her to protect herself. It won’t stop someone from doing this, but it allows her recourse against the offender.

Kristina R.Falls Church, VA

Ouch! Sadie, you earned your stripes in reality with this fellow. It happens, and it happens a lot. I own a grooming spa and a dog-walking company. For the last 27 years, I have had my folks sign non-compete agreements, tried the lawyer act (where I would say if you do end up breaking the contract, I will have my lawyer contact you), and I even sent an email out to all my clients letting them know that should their groomer or pet sitter contact them about leaving, please let me know. But none of the attempts to stop someone from starting their own company worked. Here is the thing, (I believe) if a client loves the groomer who loves their dog and the dog loves them back … I don’t care if you offer free grooms for life (well, that may work), they will follow that groomer. It is about the bond.

Pennye J.
Washington, DC

She needs to have her attorney contact him and let him know they will file suit for copyright infringement on her website. She should then contact all of her customers and offer them a special coupon to return to her salon.

Bonnie B. Chicago IL

This happened to me. Thankfully my loyal clients stayed with me. The employee who left sent out letters to my clients that he opened up his own place and that he had worked for me. I had my lawyer send a letter to the former employee telling him if he didn’t stop recruiting my clients that we would sue. As for winning back her clients, Sadie can send them notices for discount washes, grooming, etc. If they are loyal they will come back.

Jan G. Cary, IL

Never give your groomers your clients’ phone numbers or addresses — only first names. And be sure you always call your clients when their dog is ready to pick up. Make all your appointments yourself also. Maintain a relationship with your clients.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

A Pet Supply Warehouse Notices Items Going Missing from an End Cap. Is a Regular Customer to Blame?

This is the case of the end-cap shoplifters.

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CASEY OPENED HER PET retail warehouse called Casey’s Pet Supply about five years ago. After working with a distributor in the pet industry for a few years, she got the bug to open her own retail store. She wanted to offer only pet products, and at a lower price than other stores. The store is not fancy, but it is busy seven days a week in its greater New York City location.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

A staff of one full-time and six part-time employees help with workload, and the longer hours they are open. It was early on a Tuesday morning that a shipment came in before they opened, and Casey and her full-time employee Cameron were digging into it.

Her end caps changed to keep up with new trending product categories and tied in with each season. Casey was stocking an end cap, and this particular one has always been a pain point, as items tend to walk out the door.

“Cameron, can you get me the inventory list for this end cap?” she asked.

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Cameron walked over. “Here ya go. Are we missing items again?”

“I hope not, but it looks sparse today, and I feel like we just did this end cap. I guess we’ll find out soon,” Casey said with a sigh.

“Do you still think it is the Johnstons swiping our stuff?” Cameron asked.

“I have a hunch, but just can’t prove it. And since they are always here buying a lot of dog food and treats, I don’t know … but they seem to always be here at this end cap,” Casey said.

“Yeah, and they were in again the other day when you weren’t here,” Cameron said.

Even though Casey had cameras in the store, they had only a few, and not every square inch was covered. Casey tried to put inexpensive items on that end cap.

The Johnstons started coming into the store about a year ago with their adorable dog, Muffin. Muffin tends to distract employees because he is always a little uncontrollable, and one of his parents usually walks away to go shopping. They spend a decent amount a week on toys, treats and raw food, but they always pass by or stop at that specific end cap. Casey also noticed that they seem to come in when it is busier than normal, almost as if they time it perfectly.

As Casey did the inventory, and it was off by about $20 worth of products.

“Cameron, can you double-check my inventory here?” she asked.

Ten minutes later, Cameron confirmed it. “I found we are missing about $20 worth of products.”

“Every week, just in this spot!” Casey said. “That is really adding up fast. I think we need to have a team meeting with everyone again. We need to catch them in the act somehow. I mean, why spend $50 bucks a week, to steal these small items?

What goes through someone’s head?”

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She went on, “I don’t think it is just them, I can’t imagine they are the only ones swiping items here. Maybe we should just put signage here?” Casey sighed. “We can’t tell them to leave their dog at home can we? Ugh, I don’t know what to do!

Considering the amount of inventory we have here, I guess our losses could be worse, but this end cap and the shoplifting is infuriating!”

Cameron walked over. “OK breathe,” she said. “Let’s try to figure this out.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Casey do to try to end this shoplifting?
  • How should retailers handle approaching a customer they suspect of shoplifting?
  • And if that person is a regular customer?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Marjorie K.Greenfield, IN

Move one of the cameras to point at that end cap. Remove the small product and keep a couple very large items on that end cap all of the time so they cannot walk out with the product easily.

Kathryn M.
Richmond, MO

Remove products and make that end cap a place to put pet pictures. Deterring is the best option because it is most likely the easiest area to steal from in the store and will always be a problem.

Marvin S.
Grand Junction, CO

Put a camera on the end cap and then when the customers in question come in, look at the tape and see if they did take anything, or see if it was someone else.

Frank F.
Farmingdale, NJ

Have additional cameras targeting the suspected area. Only approach the suspect if you see solid evidence from the camera. Make a copy of the video. Dismiss the ex-customers from ever darkening your doorway again or you will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

Consider having an area where customers can leave their shopping bags and backpacks while they shop, send a staffer with the pet owner who is doing the shopping to be an extra set of hands. You can make the security look like customer service! But always remember you don’t know who is doing it, so keep your accusations to yourself until you have definitive proof. Then you can decide if there is action to take.

Debbie B.
Colorado Springs, CO

Cameras are an excellent suggestion, with an employee staying close by if they suspect a particular couple. We had a shoplifter and ended up putting up signs — “Smile, you’re on camera” — that actually seemed to cut down theft in the store.

Donald D.
Hamilton, MT

Place a camera to watch and record that end cap. Then you would have evidence of who did it, when they did it and how they did it. That would give you evidence of the crime, and the video would be admissible in court. If it is an employee, then you could fire him, and deduct your losses or take him to court and have him ordered to give you the amount of stolen property as well as your court fees. If it is a customer, then you have to weigh in your mind if it is worth losing the income and a future customer. You could also tell the customer that you have video proof of them stealing and that if it happens again you will press charges against them.

Jim C.
Three Locations in Michigan

Add a camera and stop guessing before taking any action. As it stands in this situation, to approach a customer or employee with unsubstantiated accusations is likely much more costly due to lost sales and goodwill, negative social media/reviews and/or the loss of a valuable employee than the losses incurred in this case, which are relatively small.

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Cecelia M.
Park Rapids, MN

I’ve found if I moved things around, especially one area of the store that didn’t have security cameras, this would usually take care of the problem. We love our customers, too, and don’t want to assume the problem is with just one customer.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

Casey should invest in a camera specifically on this end cap so there is proof of the person(s) shoplifting. It is a thin line retailers walk when they feel it is a regular customer shoplifting, so make the extra effort to make them feel important by helping them when they come into the store to shop, thanking them for their loyalty as well as introducing them to other customers, and having an employee stay with them as they continue to shop. If they pace by the end cap, become irritated or even try to insist on shopping by themselves, it is a red flag they may be guilty.

Eric M.
Columbus, NC

A camera pointed directly at the end cap. No notification of a new camera, nothing out of the normal. Just put the camera and wait. Then, forward to the police. We caught a regular customer stealing a $17 bottle of sardine anchovy oil. He denied it, threw a fit and left. I forwarded to the police. He ended up paying over $225 in fees and court costs.

Greg G.
Cody, WY

Move a camera to cover the area. You know it’s getting hit, so cover it. Put security camera sticker on end caps. I did, and it does catch suspicious people’s attention.

Angela P.
Stratford, CT

Luckily, I have not discovered a shoplifting problem at my store. However, I have the same frustration with the camera system that cannot see every angle of the business. It’s frustrating to have set up an expensive system that somehow misses a particular spot that you are trying to see. To me, it sounds like Casey is doing everything right … putting lower-priced items there, being cautious of a suspicious customer and letting her staff know to keep an eye out when this customer comes in. My suggestion is to redo the end cap. Maybe that is where the 50-ound bags of dog food should be located, or freebies should be placed there that might prompt a sale. And, as owners, we are always weighing the pros and cons of keeping/firing customers. I wouldn’t risk losing one without being absolutely certain that shoplifting had taken place.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

When a Client Enters the Wrong Door, a Scuffle Between Two Dogs Ensues. How Could the Facility Have Prevented It?

See how Brain Squad members responded to The Case of the Dog Bite.

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BAYROO DOG CARE & TRAINING CENTER is a successful dog day care, boarding and training facility located outside of Houston, TX. Well-established in the community and in business for a decade, it has been voted the best facility many times over by its local paper and it is the pride and joy of owners Miguel and Sienna Garcia. They have always gone above and beyond at their establishment to make sure each dog in their care is treated as if it was their own.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

At their facility they have a unique entry and exit area for dog training clients only. This way fearful, reactive or aggressive dogs can come into the facility for their one-on-one training and exit after a session without the stress of entering the busy main entrance of the doggie day care.

After hours one evening, a new client was there with his dog Cooper for private training. Cooper was on the dog aggressive side but was making great strides. As Cooper and his dad were in the lobby of the training area waiting, another owner came bursting in with her dog, Theo. Cooper reacted and they got into a minor scuffle. Theo’s mom was impatient while waiting to drop Theo off for boarding and went in the wrong entrance, even though she was instructed to ring the bell at the main entrance and wait.

“Miguel, for the next round of pet first aid and CPR classes, I want to make sure that every one of our employees is present and taking the class,” Sienna said to him during their monthly planning meeting.

“Hon, yes, but most of our employees just took the class last year,” Miguel said. “They don’t need to be re-certified for another year.”

“Yes I know, but I don’t care,” she said. “I want them all in the class. It is always good to have a refresher, and after last week —”

“OK, I get it,” Miguel said. “But you know, we need to put that into the budget for this month. That is an extra seven people to take the class at $85 a pop for 20 people. That’s $1,700 total.”

“You know it is important and well worth it,” Sienna said. “Safety is our top priority, I can’t —”

“I know,” Miguel said with a look of concern, “I get it was a scary situation, but really Theo was not badly injured considering Cooper’s aggression history.”

“Theo handled it amazingly well. The situation could have been so much worse,” Sienna said. “No matter how many times we told Theo’s mom to buzz the main entrance after hours, we can’t control their human error. That door should have been locked.”

“Listen, our track record for safety for dogs here is amazing,” Miguel said. “This incident, along with one or two minor scuffles in the day care over the years is nothing compared to other places. And if Cooper and his dad were not coming here for training, he probably wouldn’t know what to do in that situation.”

The buzz of the office phone interrupted their conversation. Tara, the receptionist, said Theo’s mom was on the line. Sienna looked at Miguel, terrified.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

She nodded, and Miguel hit the speaker button.

The Big Questions

  • What plans and procedures should there be in place to deal with the client of a dog injured at their establishment?
  • What else should Sienna and Miguel do to ensure the safety of dogs coming and going at their facility?
  • Besides paying the vet bill, what else can they do to ensure their client’s dog is OK and to ward off any legal action?

Real Deal Responses

Eric M.
Columbus, NC

Why should the business be responsible for more? I’d be willing to bet the customer wasn’t paying attention or didn’t care about going in the wrong door. I see it all the time. I’m just not sure why we continue to blame the business or the organization for things that people do or cause by not paying attention or respecting signage that’s visible.

Debbie F.
Howell, MI

There should always be some procedure in place for handling an injured client or pet. I would have a keyless entry that training clients can punch in to enter to prevent others from entering the wrong door. When clients are registered to come in for day care/boarding or training, they have a checklist that staff will explain, and both will initial.

Stacy T.
Richfield, OH

The door should definitely be kept locked, and an employee should physically meet clients at the door to ensure safety. People tend not to read signs or warnings when in a hurry and only think about themselves. It sounds like the employees are well trained, and recertification before necessary would be a waste of money, but a meeting addressing this situation and the new protocol of a locked door should be planned. They should apologize to the client and gently remind her of the previous system and the new steps that are being taken to improve upon the safety of all.

Angela P.
Stratford, CT

Plans and procedures should include having a designated place to move the owner and dog away from the rest of the lobby where other owners are coming in. Assess the injuries, and call your facility veterinarian. It is good practice to be aligned with a veterinarian. This can help on costs and credibility. Liability paperwork written along with your attorney should be signed by all participants of your facility. At Wag Central we meet with any potential dog client prior to having them be part of our pack. The meeting, which we call a Personality Profile, really does bring to light what can happen in a social environment of dogs. Perhaps this would make the client who chose not to follow the entry protocol with her dog see how this could adversely affect staff and dogs in the facility. In dog training, the goal is to set up pups for success, and by not following protocol it brought about another pup’s failure.

Stacy B.
Cape Girardeau, MO

We have signs all over our day care that designate employee-only areas or that remind customers (gently) to keep their hands to themselves. You can find funny, unconventional ways to word them, but they need to be there. We also have a release/waiver form that we have every customer sign before a dog comes for day care or training. That reminds customers that we take safety very seriously, but we are not responsible for accidents. I look at it this way, if I took my child to day care and he skinned his knee, I wouldn’t sue the day care. All of our employees are trained in pet CPR/first aid, and we also work with each of them in behavior signs and signals. Being prepared with the trained staff is important.

Elaine R.
San Diego, CA

There should be a lock on the door, so people have to ring a bell for entry. Upon entry there should be a “catch cage.” This prevents animals from running in or out open doors. If a dog is injured, there should be a vet recommendation. The facility should offer to pay for bills associated with injury due to their facility. Follow-up calls should be made to the vet and owner next morning. Do not wait for the customer to call you. Comp all services on their bill. Apologize, apologize, apologize.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Continue Reading

Real Deal

A Regular Customer of Snowy Paws Is Also One Who Returns Her Purchases Regularly. What’s a Store Owner to Do?

Read the case of the frequent returner.

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SWEEPING THE DUSTING of powdery snow away from the storefront and putting down pet-safe salt, Taylor was looking forward to the Winterfest Weekend in the beautiful mountain resort town where Snowy Paws is located.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

During the bustling ski season, the store is quite busy from November through April, and this weekend was one of the busiest in February. The boutique caters to both high-end clientele who come into town to ski, with touristy, kitschy items and regular pet supplies for local year-round residents. To cater to all clientele can be a challenge.

As Taylor sprinkled the salt, one of her top costumers was walking her year-old Golden Doodle across the street and waved, “Hi Taylor! We’ll be in later today!”

“Looking forward to seeing you both!” Taylor replied, waving back. “I have some new treats for Oliver to try!”

Sharon smiled, waved and continued her walk. Taylor went into the shop to open up and said to Kurt her store assistant, “Sharon just said she will be in later,” smirking to him. “I wonder what she is going to try to return today. Actually, can you look up and see what she did purchase the last time she was in?”

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“Sure,” Kurt said walking over to the computer that was also the register. “She just bought dog food, so I don’t think she will be bringing that back,” he chuckled. “Although, nothing would surprise me with her.”

As the day went on, Taylor forgot about Sharon and Oliver, until the jingle of the front door rang as the door opened. Turning to see it was Sharon and Oliver rushing in from the snow, Taylor noticed Sharon had a Snowy Paws store bag in hand.

Smiling at them and grabbing some treats, Taylor walked over and said, “How are you both doing today? Ready for this weekend?”

“Well, almost. We have friends and family coming in tonight — and wanted to make sure I got here before the festivities begin!” Sharon said, smiling. “So you know how much I loved this dog harness when I got it for Ollie, but it seems to be fraying a bit.”

Taylor examined the harness, seeing that Oliver had clearly chewed on it. “Hmm, do you remember when you bought this?”

“Well I am not sure exactly, but probably within the last month.”

“OK, let’s check to see if we can pull up when you purchased it,” Taylor said, looking at the computer. “It looks like you purchased this about 8 months ago …. I am not sure if the manufacturer will take it back after all these months and replace it —”

“Well you know I am in here weekly,” Sharon said. “I am sure you can do something for me. Perhaps another, better harness would work for Oliver?”

Taylor spotted Kurt over Sharon’s shoulder making a face.

Sharon was a local well-to-do resident who was a frequent shopper, but she was also someone who was always bringing product back to return long past Snowy Paw’s return policy.

Taylor would normally take a product back that wasn’t so obviously chewed up by the dog, but this was really damaged. “Well, it does look like Oliver may have gotten a hold of this harness and damaged it,” she said.

Sharon looked at her blankly and then down to Oliver and said, “You didn’t do that did you? The harness must not be high quality. What do you think, Ollie?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Taylor handle a frequent customer who seemingly takes advantage of what she spends versus adhere to the store’s return policy?
  • What kind of return policy can Taylor put into place and be better about enforcing at her store?
  • Is it even viable to have a return policy in this day and age competing with online e-commerce sites?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Elvis J.
San Rafael, CA

This customer is what my friend calls a “taker.” Takers do not realize what they are doing because they can’t see beyond there own actions. As a store owner, it is difficult to tell them what they are doing is wrong, because the taker will not understand. Each time they try to return something you have to evaluate whether you want this customer to continue buying from you. If they are returning 80 percent of what they are purchasing, it would be smart to “shut off the spigot,” so to speak. Having strong policies about returns is an option, but generally most manufacturers have a no-questions-asked return policy, so a store owner should pass that along. At my store, we take all returns. All dog and cat food is guaranteed, and we extend that to all merch. And a good way to prevent abuse of a liberal, no-questions return policy is to encourage with a very strong voice that an exchange for more merchandise is really more beneficial for all parties involved.

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Mary Beth K.
Kennebunkport, ME

It sounds like Taylor and her staff are already accustomed to stroking this customer’s ego, so Taylor should start out by thanking Sharon for being such a loyal customer and let her know how much she values her business, enjoys her visits with her and Oliver, etc. Then Taylor needs to remind Sharon all puppies, no matter how cute and well behaved, will chew given the opportunity. If the harness is 8 months old, chances are Oliver needs a “big boy” harness anyway and Taylor should suggest a more size-appropriate option, and maybe some new chew toys. Perhaps Taylor could offer up a new toy for Oliver to “test” and ask Sharon to give her feedback, reinforcing Sharon’s importance and value (i.e., her ego).

Greg F.
Scottsdale, AZ

I would politely remind Sharon of the return policy but offer her a good discount on a replacement harness. She will probably accept that offer as she knows what really happened. You need to take care of your good customers, while trying not to break the bank. Service with a smile. Remember that a satisfied customer will only tell three or four others about the experience, while a dissatisfied customer will tell two to four times as many people about their poor experience. Play the odds and send them away happy.

Jim L.
PembroKe, MA

Tell Sharon that it’s obvious that the dog has chewed the halter and that is no fault of the manufacturer. You can offer her a 10 percent discount, or a number of your choosing, to console her on her new purchase.

Carla C.
Upland, CA

The store should exchange the harness. Her business is worth more than the wholesale price of a harness.

CJ
Tom’s River, NJ

Swallow the loss. But be sure to say that the return value should be in exchange and not cash, plus that you are doing a favor by allowing it. Last, smile and give her a charm or some other inexpensive but really nice product for free. I promise the returns will stop. For more information, read Influence by Robert Cialdini for social/group dynamic tricks to contain bad behaviors in humans. I used Influence to grow my business, which was purchased in bankruptcy four years ago, from about 25 clients per month to over 150.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

We try to prevent returns in the first place. We give out food and treat samples, we have toy demos, and we fit dogs for harnesses and coats, boots, costumes like Nordstrom’s shoe department. Good service can prevent some returns. If your customer returns everything she buys, how valuable is she? The time you spend with her is time you are not spending with someone else. But does she bring in business, friends, family, neighbors, etc.? Where will she shop, if not with you? Be nice and polite, but you can say no with a smile and hopefully not lose her forever.

Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

Take it back … no questions asked! 100 percent guaranteed! And thank her for letting you know. Yes, return policies are necessary, mostly to give our customers a guideline as well as to provide our sales team with an additional tool to demonstrate to our customers that we are willing to break the rules for them, either “this one time” or “since they are such a good customer.”

Audree B.
Fort Lauderdale, FL

You could have been talking about my customer. Our return policy is clearly printed at the register and on the receipts. However, we do make exceptions depending on the situation. In this case, if the harness is being returned due to a manufacturer’s defect, we’d take it back. Or if they manufacturer had a policy that they’d replace a chewed harness. If it’s being returned just do to normal wear and tear, we’d have to enforce the policy. We explain that our vendor restricts our ability to submit returns after 90 days (or what ever time frame we state on our return policy). We have done this, but we do explain that we’re itty bitty and try really hard to keep our prices fair.

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Stacy D.
Providence, RI

Have a 30-day return policy for everyone. If she can’t enforce it, say it is a state policy. The store isn’t making money if a customer returns everything they buy.

Danielle F.
Datyon, OH

As the owner of a retail business, every once in a while you’ve just had enough. We can do the math and understand the lifetime value of a customer. But when the customer’s value goes negative, it’s time to fire them. First, don’t fire the customer in the heat of the moment. It’s not the way you should do business. If you find yourself in that place, take a deep breath, and finish the transaction in front of you. Acknowledge that you’re angry. In the calm moments decide if the lifetime value is worth what you’re going through. Next, make a decision if the negative feedback is worth the hassle of having that person as a customer. Once you’ve made the decision to let them go, happily send them to your competitor. The next time the customer comes in, have a calm conversation. Explain that your ultimate goal is to make them happy and hand them off to a competitor. There is no reason to make an unfriendly return policy based on one bad customer.

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