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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.

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.

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.

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Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! Lunch & Learn webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Candace expanding on her June PETS+ column on preventing new hires and job candidates from “ghosting” you. Hint: Much of her advice will help you make better hires and keep happier employees.

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Real Deal

When a Video of a Day Care’s Staff Member Dragging a Dog Goes Viral, the Owners Are Left Wondering How to Regain Their Clients’ Trust

This is the case of the abusive employee.

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WHAT ARE WE GOING to do? This is a nightmare. How can we recover from this?” Tara said to her husband, Tony, with tears in her eyes. Together, they owned a new doggie day care, grooming and boarding facility. Hosting events, caring for pets in their community and growing their business in less than a year have been what Tara always dreamed of.

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

Filled with luxury pet products in the retail area, the best flooring for dogs to romp around on in the day care, Posh Paws even had temperature-controlled, filtered air in the boarding area, a security system and cameras their pet parent clients can access at any time to check in on their dogs. Tony wanted it to be the best in their area for anyone bringing their dogs for day care, boarding or grooming. It was an expensive endeavor, but worth it to him to cater and pamper the pets coming there.

In a popular pet parent group on social media in their area, a video surfaced from their own cameras of a newer employee violently grabbing a dog by the scruff of its neck, shoving it and dragging the dog out of the day care area.
Within minutes of the video posting, reactions of pet parents in the group ranged from calling for them to shut down, to violent actions against the employee, to notifying the media and saying they would never ever go to that business again.

Hundreds of comments and shares of the video made it go viral locally.

“I think we need to consult with our lawyers and a crisis management team,” Tony said. “We have taken necessary steps: firing Adam and responding on social media, being honest with the dog’s owners, providing veterinary care. … I don’t know what else we can do.”

“We can’t afford lawyers or a crisis management team,” Tara said. “I am beyond devastated. You know how hard I have worked toward this and how crushed I am that anyone we brought here and gave a job to would do anything like this. That dog didn’t deserve anything but love.”

Tony put his head down into his hands, sighed and said, “We have to be proactive. You know I am devastated too — I am heartbroken anyone in our facility that we trained and trusted would ever do this to any of our clients.They are like family to us, like our own dogs.”

The next day, Tara and Tony arrived to a dozen or so people outside of their building with signs and chanting loudly, “Animal abusers — shut them down, shut them down!”

As they walked inside Tara immediately burst into tears, then she ran into the bathroom.

Tony walked over to front desk, picked up the phone to call his business adviser. “Hi, yeah … no we are not OK. Did you see the — you can hear that? Protestors outside. I am not sure what to do. … OK, OK. Thank you.”

Knocking on the bathroom door, he said to Tara, “Ron is on his way over. We need him. I don’t care what the fee is. We can’t operate under these circumstances. We need help.”

Tara walked out and nodded to him, wiping tears away from her eyes and walked to the day care area to speak to a few of the employees who were already there.

Tony went over to the front desk and checked the voicemails. There were about 10 messages from boarding and grooming clients canceling. Checking their email and mobile app signup, another eight people canceled their appointments.

The Big Questions

  • What next steps should Tony and Tara take to try and recuperate from this?
  • How can bringing in a lawyer or crisis team help?
  • Besides firing the employee, what actions should be taken against their former employee?
Sarah E.
Lapeer, MI

What is most important is to be transparent with the current customers/public to show their sincerity, professionalism and that they have taken action. People can be understanding. So communicate that the employee’s action was done to protect other dogs — or that the employee violated standards of conduct and is no longer with the company, and immediate in-depth re-training will be conducted with the staff. Honesty and integrity are really the best course of action. This should be communicated via a letter on their website, social media and possibly an ad in the local paper. Also a personal phone call to the company’s current customers to prevent further business loss and to regain trust from those who canceled appointments.

Dawn T.
Windermere, Florida

Tony and Tara should contact the original dog’s owner, make sure that the dog is OK and they are OK. If not, provide assistance. Open up to the public about the incident after speaking with the dog’s owner(s). Let them know what actions, such as firing the employee, re-training of current employees and possibly another open house to re-introduce, show the dedication to the community and their pets. If not, then seek a crisis team and lawyer.

Kristina R.
Falls Church, VA

The power of social media is a wonderful yet deadly tool. Several years ago, I had a similar situation. I went LIVE and talked to social media. I told how we dealt with the employee and that he would never work in the pet industry again. We talked about how we vetted our staff and that some people can hide their true selves. We talked about transparency and coming in any time. We also talked about our reputation with each person who has used us and know who we are. They know our passion and dedication to the animals. I think it helped being up in front of the situation, answering questions and being honest.

Frank F.
Farmingdale, NJ

It is best that the message comes from the owners of the day care. The message should be simple: That this is not who we are and that we never have and never will tolerate that type of behavior. I would express that the employee involved has been terminated, and we are readdressing with our staff the protocols we expect to be followed in the handling of our clients’ family members. In lieu of a lawyer or a crisis team, I would instead opt to solicit the support of those customers still committed to our company’s mission and ask that they verbalize their support on various social media platforms. The idea is to put the incident behind you as soon as possible. I believe no other action should be taken against the employee other than immediate termination.

Paula G.
Muskego, WI

This will take a bit to recuperate from, but they can rebuild trust. One of the ways to rebuild the trust is to be open and honest. Explain that you fired the employee and are doing everything you can to make sure this former employee cannot do this again. If there are laws in the state against animal abuse, then I would charge him so he could never get a job in the pet industry again. Contact customers. Most will understand that this was an isolated case and that you have taken care of it. Most of the social media posts are probably not from customers. Remind customers that you want the best for their pets and that there are security cameras pet parent clients can access at any time to check in on their dogs.

Danny B.
Sarasota, FL

Do not hire your own employees unless they have a local track record of two years. Fire the idiot publicly.

Oshi S.
Conover, NC

I have worked with animals for over 20 years, and, truthfully, it takes a lot of patience. Not everyone is cut out to work with animals. That’s why it’s very important to screen your potential employees. I think it is important to be truthful with your clients about dog fights. It happens, and often it’s not easy to break it up. As for that employee, he should be reprimanded and questioned.

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

Word of a Massive Chain’s Intentions to Build Nearby Has the Local Pet Store Owners Worried

What should they do? Here are your thoughts.

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IN A SMALL BUT artsy rural community in Wisconsin, news of a big-box store potentially opening its doors in 2020, has been spreading like wildfire among local business owners. Currently, downtown has a Main Street dotted with retail stores, restaurants, a coffee shop, an art studio — and the only pet store and grooming location for many miles.

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

PawPaws has been in the town for about 15 years, and for the last four years Mike and Tom have owned the store. They were locals who moved out of town to pursue big-city careers, and after moving back home, they bought the store and the building. Now business-savvy pet parents, they knew they could make the local pet store even better. They kept the store aesthetic with the rural, artsy, small-town vibe while offering fantastic customer service.

“Tom, you know we have to fight this. I know our town is small, but this is going to kill our downtown, and we are going to lose customers,” Mike said, tossing aside a postcard announcing a Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss the big-box store. “It’s bad enough that locals are shopping online — you know I see those delivery boxes.”

“OK, you know this topic is super important to me, but we have to concentrate on the Groomathon that is happening this weekend,” Tom said as he was unpacking grooming supplies. The Groomathon was an event they did every six months to wash, groom and nail-trim the local municipal animal shelter pets to help them get adopted.

“Yes, but while we are unloading we need to discuss this so we can get the Chamber of Commerce fully involved,” Mike said. “You know they are not up to speed on these things, sadly.”

“But isn’t it just a proposal within the town and not something that is set in stone?” Tom said. “I guess we will can really see if anyone else in the Chamber can get together with us to fight this.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Mike said excitedly. “They don’t carry all the same pet products or food we do, but it would be way too close for comfort after we have worked so hard the last few years here.”

The following week at their local Chamber meeting, Mike brought up the big-box store. “So who will help put together a petition to stop the mega-mart from landing in our backyard?”

A few grumbles and only a couple hands went up.

“Really, no one here is as worried about this as we are?” Mike said.

“It is going to add a lot of much-needed jobs in our county,” a tax preparation business owner chimed in. “So would it really be that bad?”

“What about our downtown? If that mega-mart comes in, a lot of people are just going to go there, and stop shopping at my boutique!” a gift shop owner said.

“I don’t know. It seems like it would add some convenience to our area, I don’t think it will affect our businesses in the way you both are worried about,” said a local bank owner, who was a big supporter of the project. “It will be about 10 minutes from the downtown.”

Mike sighed, looked at Tom, shaking his head, and said, “Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Mike and Tom do to show their other area business owners the potential negative impact the big-box store could have?
  • In addition to a petition, what other avenues should they look into to stop the box store from landing in their backyard?
  • How can they keep their business going strong if the big-box store gets approved?
Janet M
Rockledge, FL

We have big-box stores within a 5- to 7-mile radius. If Mike and Tom’s pet store offers high-end food, your customer will not be shopping for food there. You offer grooming services, which will help keep you going and have those customers coming back to you. Up your game and always be ahead of the curve. Offer items and services no box store can compare to. Customer service will be your best friend.

Nancy G.
Fredericksburg, VA

What other people are doing is none of your business. If you’re focusing on someone else’s business, your energy and time are taken away from your own. Focus on your business, and your business will thrive.

Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

I believe that their time and efforts would be better spent on how to make their business stronger and more appealing to their existing customer base. I am also a firm believer in the free market for everyone. Both big-box and e-commerce should have the same rights as I do to compete. It is ultimately to the benefit of the consumer that these choices are available. Unfortunately, some retailers think that they are entitled to calling certain products, territories or demographics as “theirs,” and feel they are also entitled to make a certain margin on those variables. In actuality, the only entitlement that any of us should demand is the right to try and succeed. It is always to the detriment of the consumer if we ever take the position that we are entitled to succeed. As business owners, we inherently must be willing to assume that risk of uncertainty every day. If I can’t be relevant enough to the consumer, then my company doesn’t deserve to exist in the marketplace. For those reasons, for the last 32 years I have said to big boxes, “Welcome … let’s go to war!”

Wendy M.
Moore, OK

Do what sets you apart best! Give personal customer service. Not only in-store, but on your website, fun emails, interactive Facebook posts, encouraging participation. Have a great and varied selection of products that people want, and need — especially those disposable items that make them come back for more. Send your customers’ animals birthday cards to come in for a treat and discount. Do monthly or quarterly events … fun things that people can bring their pets to. All of the personal touches that you can provide will make a big difference in bringing your customers back.

Joyce M.
Faribault, MN

My store was the only full-line pet store until 10 years ago. [A major pet chain] decided to come on the recommendation of our Chamber of Commerce. According to a reliable source, they were told Faribault didn’t have a pet store. The local newspaper wrote an article stating there would now be a place in town to get all your pet supplies without a trip to the Twin Cities. I asked the Chamber — that I was a member of — to please write an article alluding to the fact that there would be two places to shop with even more variety. They said they would and then conveniently forgot. I don’t think PawPaws can stop them from coming, but I think they will be OK if they have a good, loyal customer base.

Rachel D.
Littleton, CO

If they are coming, you cannot stop it. So, plan ahead. Isn’t it great to know you have choices and lead time to prepare? Big-box stores have lots of turnover, so now is the time to build up the best staff you can have. Create learning opportunities for knowledgeable staff, better incentives, staff values and teamwork.What do they offer to potential clients? Fast in/out, I think. So, have a way to notice those clients who want to be fast about it versus chatting away. They’re there, you and your staff just need to pay attention. Finally, perception is reality. I don’t share this often, just now, in this awesome magazine. If you believe and act as though you have abundance in business, you will. Clean store, happy clients, friendly and knowledgeable staff and never downtime. Plan events during the known slow time, and you’ll never feel lacking. Never have the ‘lack of’ attitude, and you’ll always win! Good luck. You’ve got this!

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

The Recipient of a Fundraiser Disputes the Sum Raised by a Business and Suggests the Non Profit Is Owed $500 More

Here are your thoughts.

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DYANNA WAS FINALIZING the figures of the recent Doggie Festival fundraiser she hosted for a nonprofit that works with their city’s shelter.

This was Dyanna’s first event held at her dog-training facility. The spring weather was perfect, as their event had both indoor and outdoor festivities. Outside, they hosted a hilarious Dachshund race and beginner’s agility tryout in the grassy area of her training center. Inside, there were vendors, training demos, a veterinarian providing dog health care tips, a pet portrait artist and adoptable dogs from the shelter.

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

Dyanna, her employees and trainers were thrilled with the success of the event. They had 200 people and dogs show up, and all of their vendors said they would be back for the next event.

They raised $2,000 for the nonprofit, which Dyanna knew would be put to good use for the dogs at the shelter. Her costs to promote the event, food and refreshments, rentals chairs and tables, supplies, paying her employees and trainers added up to just under $3,500. A few monetary sponsors and vendor fees helped offset that, and her total outlay ended up at $1,500.

“Even though our costs were a bit more, I know we already landed new clients and potential new clients from this one event. But what really makes me happy is that we raised so much for the rescue and shelter,” Dyanna said to her manager, Susan.

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Susan just finished double-checking the numbers, since they wanted to be accurate before writing the check.

“Keeping the cost at $10 per person really worked, raising $2,000 for the rescue,” Susan said. “I got the same figures you did.”

Susan handed Dyanna the calculator and paperwork. “I think it is safe to say we can contact Rosa and let her know she can come pick up the check for her org.”

“Remember, we want to take a picture of us handing it to her, so we can send to the local papers and pet bloggers that were here,” Dyanna said. “And since this was our first event, I think next year we can be even bigger and raise more for them!”

A few days later, Rosa stopped by to pick up the check, and they all took pictures. Rosa was very grateful and thanked them over and over in person.

About two weeks later, Dyanna was checking her email and yelled out: “Susan! You have to come in here and read this … I am … I am dumbfounded!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming! What is it?” Susan said, out of breath. She read the email, “Wait, let me see that!” She grabbed the laptop and read aloud:

“Dyanna, I wanted to thank you again so much for all you did for our organization and for the donation. I really don’t know how to say this, but according to your calculations you said 200 people were there, which is where you came up with the $2,000, but our volunteers counted that 250 people were there. Wouldn’t that then equal $2,500 for us? You said the door fee went to us, is that correct? Maybe we can all go over the expenses again together, I know you showed me the other day, but I didn’t get to really digest it all.

“Looking forward to your response. Rosa”

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“What? What is she talking about? I am at a loss for words!” Susan exclaimed as she shook her head at Dyanna, “The nerve!”

“How do I … What do I do? We worked so hard to make this a great event and gave them $2,000! I don’t even know how to … to respond to this,” Dyanna said, as her hands trembled.

The Big Questions

  • How should Dyanna respond to Rosa’s email?
  • What is the best way to handle a situation like this to keep both parties on friendly terms?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Karen C.Delavan, WI

We’ve done our share of fundraising, and one thing that is a must is to have procedures in place for all aspects of the event. I can see where it would be very easy for a head count to be off: Were staff and volunteers there who didn’t pay the door fee? Were there free tickets to the event that would increase the head count but not the total collected? Simple things like wristbands can help identify who paid and who didn’t. Having great communication between the host and the organization — before, during and after — is critical. To have a misunderstanding can tarnish the good intentions of the event and hurt the future of the relationship.

Wendy T.Moore, OK

My first thought was that if it was a gated event, then the count would have been correct. Maybe the volunteers over-counted if they were just counting the crowd? And if that is the amount collected, then there shouldn’t be a question. If I were to respond, I think I would kindly review the numbers, stating that according to our records, these are the numbers from the event, this is how much was collected, and this is the reason why the check amount was what it was. Absolutely do not get defensive, but be factual and state what a pleasure it was to work with them.

Krista L.Wolcott & West Hartford, CT

I had a similar experience too! Couldn’t believe that the nonprofit would look a gift horse in the mouth! I was exhausted from the work and the expense to have it, but proud and excited for the positive response. Giving back to the community is a necessity for any successful business. From their point of view, I think that they have every right to ask for validation. But there are plenty out there that need the help and would be appreciative of ANY amount raised. Not all nonprofits are the same! To prove integrity and correct any errors, be transparent and cross-reference their info with yours. What their people said may not be the correct count. Was it per dog? Per person? There’s a difference that they may not be clear on. Keep record of all attendees, (proof of vaccines were required) then share that list with the person to confirm the amount. Show them your expenses too! Don’t let it keep you from future fundraising efforts.

Alan F.Sag Harbor, NY

Don’t answer from a defensive position. If you become adversarial, you might end up undoing the good and might even have a negative light on the event and in the community. Double-check how you did your count, then ask to meet with them to reconcile the counts. Do not get into any discussions by email, text or phone. I don’t know how well you know the shelter, but I would ask around to see if anything like this ever happened before. In 15 years of doing events like this, the shelters never questioned what we raised.

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Janice A.Bakersfield, CA

If this is how the organization operates, I would think twice about doing another fundraiser for them.

James W.West Palm Beach, FL

Dyanna and Susan should go over the figures once more with fresh eyes and make sure there isn’t something they overlooked. Assuming that everything again checks out, reply to Rosa: “Rosa, What a great event! We met our goals and successfully collected a $10 door fee from 200 people, totaling $2,000. Dyanna.” That is all I would say. The goal is to deescalate the situation and wrap this up ASAP. There are many worthy nonprofits. Depending on how Rosa answers and how Dyanna and Susan feel about her asking for additional funds (assuming they didn’t make a mistake), they may want to assist a different nonprofit the following year. I would move on.

Kimberly B.Salem, MA

First, take a day to cool off, so there is no emotional content to the response. Then, send the email acknowledging Rosa’s concerns, but also being direct in that her numbers were 200, and not 250. Follow that with a sentence reviewing how happy she was to sponsor the event and raise the money for such a great cause, and looks forward to doing it again. Finally, the email should end by requesting a meeting, so Dyanna can present her data to Rosa. This would help to ensure friendly terms continue. Too many emails back and forth can lead to misunderstandings. At the end of the meeting, they may agree to disagree at the final number and develop joint plans on how to best work jointly in the future to ensure this disagreement does not happen again.

Christine D.Dedham, MA

The only true count on the day comes from when the visitors were checked in initially. You had that “count”. Any “volunteers” sent by the shelter would have been too busy “volunteering” to carefully count each person only once. They also did not know how many “volunteers” (who should not be counted) you had on site to work this event, too.

Perhaps they also counted the vendors. It is a sad tribute to our times that people look to find fault with things and then think they can “email” something that sends a knife through your heart. I feel your pain in having to deal with this person.

Even recounting to this person all of the above will not totally make her happy.

Good luck to you from someone who thought she had seen it all after 40 plus years in my own pet related business. I love my business but occasionally something happens that just makes me sad. Your experience is one of those times.

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