Pet professionals are a diverse bunch. Some enter the industry after formal training within a particular field, such as veterinary or grooming. Others arrive after a beloved animal inspires a career change. This latter group often brings with them experience that assists in running a successful pet business. With that in mind, we asked readers to share what they did for a living before and how it informs what they do today. The answers were varied! NFL player, teacher, radio producer and pastry chef are among the former jobs. Read on to learn more about — and from — your peers within the profession.
STORY BY PAMELA MITCHELL
PetNmind, Coconut Creek, FL
What do football and medical devices have in common? They both prepared Archie to open a pet-supply store.
“I played football for a large part of my life, including professionally in the CFL and NFL. I was chosen as captain on many of those teams, and I significantly developed leadership skills during that period of my life. After football, I began a career in medical device sales and later moved into medical device brand management. During that decade, I was able to further develop leadership skills, but most importantly I honed my business acumen.”
He offers this advice to those entering the pet industry after working in others.
“Actively lean on past career and life experiences, even if the experiences don’t necessarily connect with what you have chosen to do now. Our paths in life are unique for a reason, and the skills developed during that time do translate and benefit in the present, even if the career description has changed.”
Pittsboro Pet Supply, Pittsboro, NC
A former high school teacher, Holland understands well the importance of providing information in various ways.
“We don’t all learn from reading a textbook or listening to a teacher, so I find unique ways to teach our customers about products through merchandising. We celebrate pet hydration month in June and July, so we display fountains running and pictures of our own pets drinking from fountains in our home. We let people touch the moving water, see the filters and ask questions. We teach them verbally and let them experience the fountain, which always results in heightened curiosity or a sale.”
And Holland still teaches high school students: They are her favorite hires.
“They are willing to learn, and you could possibly have them for three years! It’s so fun watching them grow into young men and women. If you train them right, they can be your best salespeople, and they love telling everyone about their job since it’s so fun.”
Wishbone Pet Care, Missouri City, TX
A former graphic designer, Bui developed the brand and creates all marketing materials for her pet boutique, salon, and daycare and boarding facility.
“When designing for my brand, I want bright and cheerful color. Something that will stand out and catch attention,” she says, adding this advice, “Keep your brand materials consistent across logo, brand colors, fonts, uniforms, store front wall color, etc.”
Woofs & Waves, Sioux Falls, SD
Olesen doesn’t have a former career that informs owning a pet business — she has a current one! In addition to running their store with husband Mark, she works full-time as a nurse.
“I love the variety of what I do in a week! It keeps me excited for both jobs.”
The ability to delegate serves her at the hospital and the store.
“In nursing, you need to use your resources! There’s just not enough time to do it all, and you work much more efficiently when you delegate to others. I’m not at our store all the time, but that doesn’t mean the work stops. I delegate our social media to one of our team members. Ordering is done by another. Most of our new team-member training is done by another. When we are planning special events or promotions, everyone plays key parts to make it all come together!”
BARK ’N’ CAT, NORTH ADAMS, MA
As a social worker, Abel excelled at communicating with and earning the trust of humans in need. She continues to do so at her pet-supply store.
“I’ve focused solely on forming relationships with customers and finding products and services for their pets.”
Abel also puts her resource linkage experience to use.
“I’m on the board of Humane Society and a resource to the community about programs they provide.”
Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA
Before opening her store, Boden owned a full-service marketing agency that served the likes of NASCAR and Krispy Kreme. The same presentation skills she used to land such clients now help her sell holistic pet products.
Boden prefers to pitch benefits before stating price.
“A price-point discussion is a very closed-ended conversation. There is so much more to ‘What does it cost?’ when there are diet and health benefits involved. Presenting the benefits first almost guarantees a sale. And the customer feels like you not only listened, you helped solve a problem and gave them information that made them feel confident they are making the right purchase.”
Dogwalking.ie, Dublin, Ireland
After 30 years in public relations, Byrne decided to combine her love of pets and hiking as a professional dog walker. She brought with her many applicable skills, including the ability to market her business through appreciation.
“A couple of times a year, I drop in cakes or ice cream or chocolate to vets and groomers who refer business and who allow me to display my business cards on their premises. Referrals from vets are my best source of business.”
Space Coast Pet Services, Rockledge, FL
Haynes has a professional background that immediately inspires trust. After all, if defense contractors relied on her to keep sensitive information secure, traveling pet parents can count on her to care for their animals and homes.
She offers this advice to fellow pet sitters:
“Be aware of your surroundings and treat your clients’ homes as you would your own. Take the extra time to double-check that all windows and doors are locked. Trust your gut and communicate any concerns with your client immediately. As we say in the OPSEC (operations security) community, ‘If you see something, say something!’”
Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO
Brookham’s previous roles in the human medical field — radiologic technologist, urgent care facilities director, supplies and equipment sales manager — now help her recognize disease symptoms in dogs who come into her pet boutique and salon.
When she does, “I suggest they go to their vet, and then we can work on nutrition. It is super rewarding to see these dogs come back in with a better prognosis.”
Brookham adds, “It’s amazing the journey you go on and find yourself in a position you never imagined. However, all the things you learned along the way seem to mesh into exactly what you need.”
Wag Central, Stratford, CT
As a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, Pantalone made every student feel special so they could reach their full potential. She does the same at her multipurpose pet facility and encourages others in the industry to follow her lead.
“Find ways to make your staff feel special so they know they are valued and an important part of your team. Show owners that their dogs are special through the services you provide. Making suggestions and recommendations is often welcome since owners treat their pets just like their own children.”
MATTHEW MOOREFIELD & MICHAEL MORRIS
Yarn & Bone Pet Supply Co., Camden and Rehoboth Beach, DE
Moorefield worked in customer service at Macy’s for 16 years, and co-owner Morris currently juggles a position in food service management with time at the stores. What have these work experiences taught them?
“The importance of customer interaction, from a simple hello to telling them to have a great day (even if they don’t purchase anything). Stopping all tasks when a customer is present, staying focused on them in case they have a question or need anything,” Morris says.
The Bark Market, Delavan, WI
Conell has been working with animals since high school, getting her first job at a pet-supply store. She went on to earn a degree in animal sciences, work at a racehorse breeding and training facility, and later as a veterinary technician. It all prepared her to succeed as a pet business owner.
“Having a love for animals helps, but without the merchandising, management or people skills, struggles — and, perhaps, failure — will result. Even with great skills there are hurdles! A full tool box to draw from makes those hurdles easier to clear.”
Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA
Among the many hats Michelle has worn are manager of the flagship Ann Taylor in New York City and district manager of face painters, hair wrappers, and caricature and portrait artists for the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Seaworld. She filled and managed 200 park positions alone each summer!
“Speaking in front of a large audience, recruiting staff, interviewing and hiring have all been helpful for business ownership.”
Michelle and her husband also renovate and flip houses in their spare time. This allows for DIY repairs at her pet boutique and bakery.
“I’m very handy with multiple saws and drills!”
Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting, Chicago, IL
In her previous role with Teach for America, Rohan learned the value of professional development.
“I was lead by some of the most brilliant minds. They were inspirational managers who willingly passed on their best practices for designing strategy to overcome most work-related challenges.”
She has carried this desire to improve through to her pet care business and advises:
“Invest in your professional development and seek out a program like FetchFind.com to build your understanding of how to work humanely with all animals. Seek out your mentors’ and peers’ must-read books and devour them, join industry associations, and become followers of animal behaviorists and ethnologists.”
The Dog Store by Your Dog’s Best Friend, Alexandria, VA
Pastry chef. Accountant. Dog groomer. All of these roles help Bivens excel as a pet store manager. The baking skills make her popular with both two-legged and four-legged customers.
“Homemade treats for events are the best! But you can’t sell them without a license usually so we just give them away. People love seeing you cared enough to put effort in, instead of just opening a box of ordered treats."
Waggs 2 Whiskers, Bagdad, KY
During her 19 years with a metals distribution company, Catlett multitasked like a pro, creating and managing procedures, leading a team, and providing excellent customer service. She sees the latter as the most important skill carried over into her current career as a pet care and services provider.
Catlett advises, “Always be nice and create a relationship that will benefit you and the customer in the future, from the very beginning. Be you! Allow your personality to shine through and get to know them and their situation. Creating that bond with pet parents is huge.”
J & M Aquatics & Pet Center, Grand Junction, CO
Schaffer worked at a grocery store while attending college. Not only did he learn how to merchandise, but his responsibility for ordering all canned goods without a point-of-sale system gave him “the skills to keep enough stock, prevent running out of items and make sure there was not a huge back stock.” This helped keep his aquatics store properly stocked in the early days, before it got a POS system.
Bubbly Paws and Pampered Pooch Playground, Twin Cities, MN
As a radio producer, Miller got to hang with the likes of Usher and Sarah McLachlan as part of his job. He also learned valuable skills that help him best promote his pet businesses.
“You need to make sure you over-deliver anytime a member of the media reaches out, and make sure to not overly promote your brand. We do monthly segments on the NBC station here, and we never wear our business logo or talk about our business. There is a quick graphic that says ‘Bubbly Paws’ on the bottom of the screen, but the minute you start self-promotion, they will cut it out. Quick, short responses work best, and you need to make the media person be the star of the segment.”
NATURE’S PET MARKET & SUNNY PAWS GROOMING, SALEM, OR
Spending 10 years in Apple sales and marketing has greatly influenced how Ellen runs her pet business.
“‘Changing the world, one computer at a time’ years later has become ‘changing the health of our pets, one dog and cat at a time.’”
She advises, “You have to have a vision. It’s your road map to where you want to go. Then wave your flag everywhere so ‘they’ can follow you — your customers, your employees and your vendors.”
Ellen also manages her staff in Apple style: “Empowered on the front line, included in decision-making, keeping relationships healthy, respected and trusted.”
Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN
Twenty-plus years in entertainment marketing and promotions taught Dickerson the value of an experience. He applies it at local events as marketing and outreach manager for five stores.
“For a big event last year, we built a doggie ball pit in our 10-by-10 booth. It was a huge hit, and we had people lining up to let their dogs play! People were excited to come to our booth for the experience we offered, and it gave us an opportunity to talk to them about their pets, where they shop, and to tell them about our stores and products. Unlike most of the other vendors at the event, we weren’t trying to sell them something. Instead, we offered a fun experience, and then told them the story of why our stores are awesome!”
Dickerson also kept social media in mind when setting up the booth and ball pit.
“Everyone wanted a photo of their beautiful pup surrounded by shiny, brightly colored balls. I made sure our events banner was positioned at the bottom of the booth’s back wall, so that our name and logo were visible in every photo of the ball pit.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of PETS+.