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A Written Manual Helps Maintain Your Branding Throughout Your Business

Absence of this might be one of the reasons for a drop in a store’s sales.

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ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to guarantee that your employees maintain the look and feel of your store is a custom visual standards manual, or CVSM. Such a manual details how a store should look and how to keep it looking that way. A good manual allows room for change and teaches employees how to be creative while staying within the boundaries of the business’s image and brand.

Visual standards include everything that can be seen as you drive or walk up to, into and through a business. It includes: lighting, signage, flooring, surface materials, fixtures, merchandising, displays, focal areas, aisles, wrap desks, daily maintenance, safety standards, back room standards, washroom standards and office standards.

Each person has his or her own style of creativity. Some of those creative endeavors may not exactly be in keeping with your image. A standards manual clarifies your image and gives clear direction and boundaries to the various styles and quality of individual creativity and expression.

If a chain of pet stores (of any size) has an image that requires presentation standards, or you are recreating your image, a manual is one of the first steps to making this transition happen consistently.

How to develop a CVSM:

1. Assign this job to one or two people who have a clear understanding of your visual merchandising, fixtures, signage, store design direction, and overall brand and image. If you choose two people, consider one in marketing and one in operations. Or, hire someone from the outside with CVSM and pet store experience.

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2. Develop an outline for the manual. Add a chapter for each area of your store. You’ll be describing the fixtures in each area and how to merchandise each one. Add chapters on non-selling spaces, lighting, signage and safety.

3. Take a ton of photos. Before and after shots of merchandise presentation and displays are especially valuable and great teaching tools.

4. Determine what final format will work best for your employees and stores: a loose-leaf book, a bound printed manual, a webinar in several parts, or a training movie. In each case, you may consider a quiz after each section to make sure your employees actually looked at the CVSM. Flexibility for changes is important so plan that into your format.

5. Have company-wide meetings and introduce the manual either in a seminar or hand it out to each person. If it’s in digital format, give everyone the link, and let them know when they will be quizzed on the book. That’s pretty much the only way they’ll look at it all the way through.

Rather than just stating rules, explain why the rule exists and why it’s necessary. Pare down the information so it’s a good mix of photos and copy. People today are used to reading bullet points and listening to sound bites. Less is more, and a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The ultimate purpose of producing a CVSM is to have a standard that all employees are required to live up to on a daily basis. If one store is falling down in sales, one of the most easily observable issues may be the visual presentation.

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Consider a CVSM even if you have only one location. It will help your business stay attractive, neat, clean and welcoming. All this will reflect on your sales and service in a positive way.

Linda Cahan of Cahan & Company, is an internationally known retail design expert specializing in visual merchandising and store design. She helps stores look and feel better to sell more. Cahan consults, gives seminars worldwide, has written 10 custom visual standards manuals, three books on retail display and design and hundreds of B2B articles. She taught visual merchandising at Parsons School of Design in NYC and now teaches part-time at The Art Institute of Portland in Oregon.

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Control or Trust? The Two Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive

How do we put our trust in people we don’t know well?

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A MAN I RECENTLY met invited me to go for a cruise behind him on his 1,000-pound touring Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

This would be the first time I did something like this, and the trip was a big loop over to the Oregon coast over two-lane winding roads and through dense forests and gorgeous landscape.

In a car it’s great, and I thought on the back of a motorcycle it would be a wonderful adventure.

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This article is about the difference between control and trust, something that I grappled with the minute he zipped me into leather chaps, and a high-tech helmet we could converse through while riding. He instructed me about the perils of wiggling, sudden movements and keeping balanced.

I realized I had absolutely no control over this situation.

I was a passenger, extra weight on an already heavy bike, and I could pose a challenge that could end both of our lives.

Yes, I still got on.

When you are hiring someone or when you are taking on a new vendor or when you agree to advertise, how do you feel? Like you want to control the outcome, or that you will trust the process?

This is a great question to ask yourself. Believe me, I was asking myself this exact question a variety of times over the five hours we did the loop.

“Am I feeling anxious because I’m not driving this? Because I don’t have control of the bike?” My answer was: “That isn’t it. I don’t have control of planes, trains or autos I’m a passenger in.”

“Am I feeling anxious because I don’t trust this driver?” This I think is the key to a lot of what we do in business. How do we put our trust in people we don’t know well? How do we know that the new hire won’t steal, that the vendor will deliver or treat us fairly, or that the advertising will work?

The truth I realized as we sped around corners, leaning to the side with the wind whipping past us and the engine roaring was: We don’t. We don’t know, and so we have a choice. Trust and move forward, or distrust and keep doing your life and business as you have been.

I also asked myself whether I would have felt better, differently even, if I had been the one driving the Harley? If I had control of the bike? Would that have made me feel better or safer? My answer was no. I am not versed in that. I have never done it.

So if I want to experience more, have more, do more and live fully, I will have to trust others.

It’s the same in business. Those on my team, the people we hire for all those things we need, the places we advertise or things we decide to sponsor. We do it and I’m assuming you do it because if we don’t do it, we are not growing or risking or, maybe, we aren’t really living as fully as we could.

My challenge to you today is this: Who will you trust today? Maybe it’s simply trusting yourself enough to get on the bike and let things unfold as they will. Who knows, it might be one of the best things you’ve done in a while.

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Free Tools: Use These Apps and Services to Share Your News with the Local Media

All you need are the right tools.

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WHEN IS THE LAST TIME you hosted an event at your store and were able to share that news with your local newspaper or TV station? For many small pet business owners, the idea of reaching out to your local media sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you have the right tools.

The next time you have news you want to share, you and your team can use these tools to capture the attention of your local media at no cost.

MailChimp

An email distribution platform like MailChimp is great for both customer communication and for reaching the media. Upload the names and email addresses of your local journalists and TV stations (more about this in a moment) and send them an invite to the next event you’re hosting, or simply share your company news announcements so they know what’s going on at your store. MailChimp is free if your contact list is under 2,000 email addresses. You can schedule emails, and it provides analytics so you can see who is opening your emails.

Old Fashioned Research

To find the contact information for the journalist you want to reach, start by identifying the media outlets that cover news in your area. Visit each website and look for the “contact us” or “newsroom” page. These are typically found at the bottom of the website or on a side menu. For TV stations, look for the general news desk email address. For print, you’ll want to dig a little deeper. In addition to the newsroom email, look for people who write about business news, editors and even photographers.

Google Alerts

Another great way to find journalists in your area is by using Google Alerts. Once set up, Google Alerts will send you an email when a news article mentions one of your keywords. For example, set up a Google Alert for one of your biggest local competitors. You’ll receive an email any time they are mentioned in the news, and this will give you a good idea of which journalists and publications are writing about pet-focused local topics. Add them to your email list in MailChimp and send them news and information about events. Also, set up a Google Alert for your own business so you can stay on top of what the media is saying about you.

SimilarWeb.com

Knowing the audience size of the media you’re reaching out to is key. Make sure the publications you’re pitching have a large enough audience to make it worth your time. SimilarWeb.com is a free tool that our PR agency uses regularly. It allows us to learn the audience size of almost any newspaper, online outlet or blog. Any media you’re pitching should receive at least 5,000 website unique visitors per month.

Grammarly

The last thing you want to do is spell something wrong or use the incorrect form of “their” — yikes! Journalists and TV stations receive loads of emails a day, and they write for a living, so they’re looking for emails that communicate your points clearly and quickly. Download Grammarly, which will help you compose bold, clear, mistake-free emails.

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The Road to Cha-Ching! Upselling Your Customers Isn’t Salesy, It’s Great Customer Service

How could a retailer not upsell?

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SPEAKING AT GLOBAL PET EXPO earlier this year about luring customers into your store using old-school marketing techniques, I asked at the end, “Now that you’re successfully luring customers to your store, how many of you upsell to your customers?” In the audience of 90 people, four people raised their hands, and two of those were from the same store. I was a dumbfounded at the lack of response. How could a retailer not upsell?

So, over the next month, I did some secret-shopping to see how upselling and customer service were going in our industry.

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One pet store that failed big time was a small chain retail store that also has self-service dog-wash stations. I brought my dog there after a muddy walk in the woods, and I was greeted nicely by one employee — “Hi, here for a bath?” — while paying attention to my dog. “Yes,” peering back to see there was a Husky in the middle bath who the owner was bathing. As I walked to the back of the store, the employee said, “The tub on the right is out of order, but the one of the left works.” But the tub on the left was too low for me to bathe my dog without hurting my back.

So I went back up to the front and said, “I think I am going to come back,” as my dog was wagging and begging for attention. “Oh, OK … your dog is so cute. Can I take a picture of him?” After the picture was taken, and more treats were given to my dog, I said it again, “I think I will come back.” And after a few moments of the employees — all three, including the manager, making a fuss over my dog — I left.

They let me leave the store! There were no other customers in the store. They just lost the sale of the bath — and a dog toy that I always purchase after the bath.

The employees could have educated me about products to solve my muddy dog problem before I walked out the door. How? Simple question: “Can I show you something?” She could have led me over to the aisle where they have products to help clean my dog — bath wipes, sprays, dog towels, even car-seat covers — and explained them to me.

Instead, they were more interested in taking pictures of my dog than helping me (the customer) solve the problem I had (a muddy pup). They could have upsold me products I didn’t know I needed, thus having a better profit than if I just washed my dog … which I wasn’t able to do in the first place.

Fantastic customer service could have been:

  • Offering to call me when the tub was free.
  • Scheduling an appointment for me — even though there is a first-come, first-serve policy. (Make an exception!)
  • Telling me to come a few minutes before they opened, to ensure a tub.
  • Offering to wash the dog for me since the lower tub hurts my back.
  • Asking whether I wanted to pre-pay for the bath, to ensure I would actually come back and bathe my dog. (I haven’t been back since.)

Upselling doesn’t have to be salesy or make you feel uncomfortable, but rather using education to teach customers about the products in your store, which will naturally get them to purchase. We are experts in the industry and know what the products are — but the average pet parent is not that keen on everything we stock in our stores, what they do, how they can be used and so on. Customers leaving without a purchase is obviously not what we want. Providing education about a product, great customer service and informing them how products can be used is more likely to lead to the cha-ching of your cash register.

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