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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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Here’s How You Can Modernize Your Marketing

The world has changed, so is your marketing.

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It’s a whole new world out there, especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. There are the big, obvious casualties in the advertising world — Yellow Pages and newspapers, for instance. Now, we market using websites, email and social media. But it’s how we use them that I believe is silly.

From observing pet business ads delivered via email, I notice most of them look like print ads that ran in newspapers.

Is there something wrong with that? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there is …

The medium is email. The name implies that it’s mail, delivered electronically. So instead of making it look like an ad, you might do better to make it look like mail!

Direct-mail tests continue to prove that a snail mail piece in letter form (versus a designed postcard or brochure) will outperform other formats. In head-to-head split-run tests with several of my clients each year, this rule holds up.

Correspondingly, email that looks like a letter tends to be more successful in producing responses in the forms of click-throughs, conversions and sales.

At least try the letter-looking approach in your email marketing: Conduct your own split-run test.

The other area where pet businesses are doing the same old things — just using new media — is in the aim of their ads.

Almost all pet businesses seem to be competing using the same offers to the same prospects for the same reasons with the same-looking ads. We’re all attacking prospects that are ready to buy today, tomorrow or at least this week, trying to get their dollars now.

Problem is, people — millennials in particular — aren’t buying that way anymore. They have changed, but your marketing hasn’t. People take more time to make decisions now. They do their research and they go through a process.

While all of your competition is frantically focusing on the last week or two of that process, the digital age has made it possible for you to get in early and market to these people in the tranquility of an uncluttered cyberspace and an unencumbered mind.

Use both traditional and digital media to drive “suspects” to a landing page instead of your store or even your website. On that page they’ll be able to sign up for a free something that will signal they’re now more than a suspect. They’re now a true prospect.

Before the competition gets to them, you have the chance to establish a relationship, render value, help them establish their own buying criteria that favors you and pre-empts the competition, invite them to make an initial purchase (converting them from prospect to customer) and ultimately get them to make the purchase from you … without ever seriously considering doing business with anyone else.

This takes planning and system development, but it recognizes the digital reality of the new world. It’s a new way of marketing, and while it may take a while to build the marketing program to exploit that reality, it will surely lead to new and higher profits when you do.

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Candace D'Agnolo

Eyes Open: Three Principles Learned While Traveling That You Can Apply to Your Business

Just a few of what traveling can teach you in business.

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Traveling to South Africa was one of the best things I’ve done with my time and money. I went with eight other women entrepreneurs, visiting local businesses that are making a big impact in their communities. While their products and services may have been different from pets, their business models and attitudes provided inspiration, no matter the industry.

CURATION. At Babylonstoren, we experienced farm-to-table dining and products. They grow everything they use in their hotel and restaurant right there on the property. From the meats, cheese and vegetables at dinner, to the bath soaps, shampoos and wine in the room, it’s all made on site. Because of seasonal changes in availability of the ingredients, the menu is always variable, consistently fresh and curated.
The takeaway: Are there local farmers, meat packers or treat makers who you can get involved with? Do you have a set of standards you measure your products by? How fresh are your goods? In retail, your entire shop should be averaging a turn of at least 4. We encourage our clients to have new merchandise every 90 days or more.

QUALITY. At Waterkloof Wine Estate, they produce “biodynamic” wines, which means they don’t put chemicals in their products and work to create a diverse, balanced ecosystem that generates health and vitality. Horses can be seen tilling the ground. Cows walk the vineyards to fertilize the soil. And if a wine doesn’t turn out to their standards, they just don’t use it. Their success comes not only from the great wine they produce, but from the quality they demand every step of the way.
The takeaway: Start caring about the “health” of your business from the inside out. Would taking better care of your team result in better customer service? Yes! Would ensuring your products are looking their best turn into more sales? You bet!

EXPERTISE. At Culture Club Cheese, we received a massive charcuterie platter served on a tree trunk slab. The owner of the shop shared with us all about the cheeses, where they came from and the history behind each. As our group asked questions, the shop owner shared further about discovering the cheese at the world’s largest cheese festival in Italy. This story kept many of us engaged and interested, while others listened and shopped for goodies to eat later.
The takeaway: Share more about the products you’re selling. Learn the stories behind the brands. Share reasons why you chose to bring it in and what your excitement was when you discovered it. This will help your customers connect to you and the products you represent.

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I really loved that all the places we discovered knew exactly who they were, what their vision was, and the fact they acted in alignment with each every day. Use expertise, quality and curation to build loyal customers, to convert more sales and to position yourself as an industry expert in your community.

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Shawna Schuh

Ask Away: Assign Tasks with the End Goal in Mind

How to ask them to do the actual task.

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There are many times when I hear from my clients these kinds of laments: “I should have said that differently.” Or: “Maybe I used the wrong words …”

When this happens, I’m delighted because that leader is becoming more aware that she has control over those words and how they may or may not land. However, sometimes it’s not the actual words; it’s the intent behind them that makes or breaks the situation.

Let’s dig deeper into this.

Here’s a standard miscommunication:

When you say, “Would you please do X task?” Your words, in your mind, may be clear and determined.

You are asking them actually to do the task, right?

That’s what you think.

In reality, it’s an inquiry with no clear intent of when it must be complete or even a determination of end result.

When I’m coaching clients, we take it down to the elements that will actually produce results.

First question: What do you want? And let’s go deeper than having the task done. Aren’t tasks the means to an end result? If you are spending a lot of time on “tasks,” you may have a checked-off to-do list and still not have the results you desire.

Ask yourself instead: “What will having this task done accomplish in regard to my big goal or highest priority?”

That question will shift your thinking to shift from “task doing” to “results producing.”

But what do you ask then if not, “Will you do X task?”

You have many choices. and all of them depend on the intent.

Intent one: Get a task completed. To do this, ask it as is with the addition of a timeframe: “Will you do X task by 3 p.m. today?” The specificity will help you both.

Intent two: Get a commitment to a result rather than a task. Say: “To further the goal of X, please provide me with a list of tasks and who is best to accomplish them inside our timeframe.”

This request will allow the other person to take leadership of the goal and either take on the tasks or find those abler to do so. Remember, of course, to include a timeframe.

Intent three: further action on your end goal. Ask a new question: “To make sure we reach X place, what do you think is the best plan or path to accomplish it?”

This will help them buy into the goal and give you new ideas.

As a leader, we usually know the goal and know the steps or actions to take. That doesn’t mean we should do those actions, nor that others know the goal.

When you shift your thinking like this, things in your world begin to improve. I see it all the time in my coaching clients. If you want the same results, the first step is to stop and think, “What is my intent?” and then the words will come easier.

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