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Readers give a shout out to companies that go the extra mile in helping them sell.

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WHO DO YOU LOVE? And why? No, we weren’t nosing around in your personal life with this question from a recent Brain Squad survey. Instead, we wanted to know which pet product companies go above and beyond for independent brick-and-mortar retailers — and how.

You answered! Some in great detail. A few even used heart emojis when discussing the topic in our PETS+ Community on Facebook.

We rounded up your favorites just in time for Global Pet Expo, March 20-22. Pack this issue, and be sure to visit these companies while there. Not attending? Go to the website included with each to learn more online.

One final note: This list does not include every company indies love, nor does it include every pro-indie effort by those included. Retailers, tell us about others via Brain Squad — sign up at petsplusmag.com/brainsquad if you are not already a member. Companies, help us get to know you better — email editor@petsplusmag.com.

Continuing Hemp Education

Every Tuesday, TREATIBLES founder and CEO Julianna Carella leads a training webinar for 10 retailer participants. To date, more than 500 have taken part, learning not just about the company’s hemp products but also about cannabinoid science and government regulations.

Alicia Towkaniuk, director of training for Kahoots Feed and Pet stores in Southern California, appreciates the opportunity to learn directly from Carella.

“She took the time herself to go over the basics of phytocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, ways that our customers’ dogs and cats can benefit from the cannabinoid spectrum and terpenes found in whole hemp oil, what goes into making quality hemp oil products and why Treatibles is a great option for our customers.

“[Carella] also taught us the proper verbiage to ensure we are sharing the most accurate information with our customers, and made sure we had the latest information on the legislation of hemp and hemp products. Team members have let me know they feel much more confident in answering customer questions about what hemp products are and how they can be beneficial.”

Jodi Ziskin, director of communications for Treatibles, shares additional resources available.

“We also support our retailers through our ambassadors and sales team, who regularly visit stores, provide in-store product demos, samples and more.”

treatibles.com

Support By Phone, Online & In Person

In addition to providing online training for retailers and in-store education for pet parents, PET RELEAF employees regularly jump on the phone to answer CBD questions.
Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL, calls her area manager, Reid Baker. She did so recently when a customer came in with a dog undergoing chemotherapy. He had lost his appetite, and his vet suggested CBD to stimulate it.

“The customer had many questions, some of which I couldn’t answer, so I got Reid on the phone. He was answering questions, the store got busy, and I had to give the phone to the customer so they could continue the conversation. It must have lasted at least 15 minutes. She was very impressed with Pet Releaf, and so was I.”

Such interactions are all in a day’s work for Baker, he says.

“This is exactly why I love independent retailers, like Nancy! Servicing them and their customer base allows us to have a stronger personal touch, helping them understand how our products can help pet companions is one of my favorite parts of the job.”

Baker also points out that Pet Releaf does not now or will not ever partner with big-box stores.

petreleaf.com

A Share of Online Sales

RAISED RIGHT PETS considers Adam Jacobson of Pet Pantry Warehouse in Connecticut and New York a partner in online as well as in-store sales. The Right Way Retail Alliance allows brick-and-mortar retailers that stock the company’s food to offer home delivery through its direct-to-consumer service. Each store receives a unique referral code and gets a percentage of purchases made with it online.

Jacobson sees the program as an extension of the customer service experience.

“For example, we have a customer who went to Florida for vacation, and her dog has a health issue that Raised Right’s food helps. Through the Right Way Retail Alliance, we were able to work with Raised Right to ship a box of food to her temporary address in Florida so that her dog could remain on her existing diet.” He adds, “Our customers have been extremely thankful for us going the extra mile to put their animal’s well-being first.”

Raised Right co-founder and CEO Braeden Ruud points out, “This is risk-free profit for retailers. Plus, the customer remains loyal to that retailer since the store continues to be part of the equation.”

raisedrightpets.com

Seasonal Offerings

In addition to releasing 20 new collar, harness and lead designs annually to encourage customers to buy several a year, UP COUNTRY offers free point-of-purchase signs and other branded materials, and polices its MAP policy to protect brick-and-mortar stores.

upcountryinc.com

DIY Microsites & Marketing

Where to buy” sections on product company websites typically include only the basics. FROMM FAMILY FOODS goes beyond that by offering each retail partner its own microsite that shows Fromm products sold, as well as a description of the store, its services, photos, videos and event listings.

“Retailers utilize an easy-to-use web portal to update their microsite, including adding events,” Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm, says.

The company also helps drive customers to such store events.

“The 2018 holiday season marked the second time we supported events with a special Buy 1, Get 2 Free printable coupon along with email marketing to consumers living near the event (utilizing our consumer email list). We supplied retailers with social media assets and a sign-up webpage to promote the offer with their consumers.”

frommfamily.com

Pet-Specialty Plus

PETCUREAN understands the role independent stores play in educating pet parents about nutrition.

“Shoppers are shifting their priorities to premium products, personalized customer experience and expert nutrition knowledge, giving brick-and-mortar retailers a leg up on the online competition,” says Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for the company. “Petcurean offers numerous opportunities for education, business planning, sales promotions and more, all exclusively available to our independent brick-and-mortar partners.”

Bill Greene, general manager and partner of Reber Ranch in Kent, WA, appreciates that Petcurean representatives not only work with employees of his stores, but also of his on-site service providers.

“Within our retail store, we have partnered with Petcurean because their food performs, and their line offers tremendous options when helping meet our customers’ needs.

“Additionally, they have partnered and supported our veterinary hospital and grooming salons with product training and tools, which really no one else is doing in pet specialty.”

petcurean.com

 

Exclusivity for Indies & More

When STELLA & CHEWY’S introduced its Raw Blend and Raw Coated kibbles in 2017, it did so only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, which continue to have that exclusivity.

“Customers who purchase Stella & Chewy’s shop at a higher frequency,” says Molly Mulcahy, vice president of brand marketing. “With exclusivity, stores do not split visits with online or big-box. We drove over $20 million incremental dollars in independent stores in 2018.”

Other pro-indie efforts include its Red Door Retailer program for retailers above a certain distribution level. The company uses geofencing to drive customers to member stores and prioritizes them for on-site demonstrations and samplings. Members can provide feedback as part of an advisory committee. Stella & Chewy’s also invites team members to join its Stella Squad, an online training program with games and prizes.

This adorable Fetch RI customer dressed up as Fluff & Tuff toy Marge the Cow for the store’s #iamfluff event.

stellaandchewys.com

Creative In-Store Campaigns

For Halloween 2018, pet toy company FLUFF & TUFF created the #iamfluff campaign. It offered stores social media materials and free toys for a costume contest. Johnna Devereaux of Fetch RI in Richmond, RI, was one of 50 retailers who took part. “Fetch RI was having a Halloween photo fundraiser for a local rescue organization, and we were able to promote the event in a unique way because of Fluff & Tuff’s generosity. We had pups come as Fluff & Tuff toys, and when people saw the images we posted online, quite a few came in to check out the line. This company is very supportive of its retailers and has always been willing to help us.”

The toy company regularly sponsors such efforts to increase foot traffic. “Everything we do circles back to providing meaningful offerings to help our independent retail partners,” says Courtney Lawson Rush, director of sales and marketing for Fluff & Tuff. “We understand the importance of keeping things fun and fresh, and work to develop interesting marketing content to engage our retailers and their customer base.” f

luffandtuff.com

Loyalty, Support & Transparency

Because ANSWERS PET FOOD sells only through independent brick-and-mortar retailers, a true partnership exists. The company offers a frequent-buyer program, and its employees stand ready to provide sales and marketing support.

Eric Mack of Purrrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, can attest: “They love their retail stores and are protective of those who helped build the brand. They are always willing to help us build our customer base and keep them. They send people to us from social media, email and phone inquiries to their office. They help me with specials, ads, information and advice that only we can provide in our type of store.”

Answers also invited retailers such as Mack to tour its headquarters in 2018 and plans to expand access in 2019, in part with footage of its facilities filmed by Pet Fooled director Kohl Harrington. “We pride ourselves in being transparent,” says Answers creative brand strategist Coco Levitski.

answerspetfood.com

Incentives to Shop Indie

ZIWI has implemented several strategies over the past three years that direct potential customers to indies.

Marketing communications manager Sharon Durham lists them:

“A high-value coupon is included with the thousands of product samples we distribute each year, which can only be redeemed in retail stores. Our customer care team regularly directs consumers to our website’s store locator, and a link to it is provided on our social media sites. We’ve recently started using free product vouchers for giveaways and promotions, instead of shipping actual product.

“We do these things because we know that today’s customers value the personal service they get from independent retailers. When they receive one-on-one attention and talk with someone who is knowledgeable about our products, they are much more likely to become loyal, long-term customers.”

ziwipets.com

Drop-Ship Option

P.L.A.Y. offers easy online ordering, dedicated sales representatives, MAP policing and a wealth of marketing materials, but indies especially love its consideration of their square footage.

Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator at the company, explains:

“While the size of independent retail stores varies widely, many of them work with limited space, particularly when it comes to the bed category. In order to help these retailers compete with the big guys that can offer tons of bedding options, we offer a drop-ship option for special orders.

“Any of our retailers can offer our entire line of beds to their customers without having to physically stock them all. We recommend bringing some popular ones in to have on hand for sale and to show the quality and design in person, but then a customer can look through our showcase sheet and swatch book (provided to the retailer at no cost) to select the bed they want from the available patterns and sizes for each style.

Stores can display one of P.L.A.Y.’s Houndstooth Lounge Beds, and have on hand swatches of others.

“We’ll ship it direct to the store, or even directly to the customer for a small fee. This is another time when our short lead times can also really help our retailers. The retailer keeps the customer happy and local, and the customer gets what they want while supporting an independent retailer — it’s a win all around.”

petplay.com

Independent Exclusivity

RAWZ NATURAL PET FOOD sells only to independent pet retailers, and only those authorized independent retailers can sell its products online.

“We always encourage our consumers to shop locally whenever possible, but some of our consumers live in remote areas and depend on online shopping. It’s also the only way the small independent can compete with big e-commerce,” employee Amy Knox says. “Occasionally we find our products listed for sale on the big third-party sites, but we state on our website that we cannot guarantee the quality or safety of these products and always urge our consumers to refrain from purchasing our products through such avenues. We only place our guarantee on products purchased through authorized independent retailers.”
What the company does with its profits also proves attractive to indies.

“RAWZ donates 100 percent of its profits to service dog training and placement programs, as well as to traumatic brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs. It seems as though every day you hear of a high-quality, feel-good pet food brand being purchased by a large corporation, one that may not have the same standards of quality that the brand’s consumers are drawn to, and that’s concerning for both the retailer and the consumer. As a company that donates all of its profits, RAWZ is of no interest to these large corporations. We consider our 100-percent profit donation an insurance policy against third-party acquisitions.”

rawznaturalpetfood.com

Exclusive Raw Bar

VITAL ESSENTIALS offers only independent brick-and-mortar stores its VE Raw Bar, a merchandise display that holds 10 freeze-dried treats exclusive to indies.

“The display also includes a lighted sign that can be hung anywhere in the store or in the front window capturing shopper attention and interest,” marketing director Melissa Olson says. “The display is truly an interactive experience, giving retailers a competitive advantage. Best of all, most retailers report inventory turns ranging from 2.5 times to 4 times per month along with great profit margins.”

vitalessentialsraw.com

Super Imap

ANNAMAET PETFOODS may let online retailers sell its products, but a strict internet minimum advertised pricing policy requires them to price at about 10 percent higher than brick-and-mortar stores. Its IMAP policy excludes Annamaet from online promotions and coupons.
The company also provides support exclusive to indies, including a frequent-feeder program, customer coupons, and puppy packs to send home with new family members.

annamaet.com

Like Amazon, In A Good Way

RUFFWEAR offers the Latitude program. With it, brick-and-mortar retailers pay $99 for the year and get same-day free shipping with a minimum order of $100. The company also did away with pre-season ordering.

“Responding to challenges from retailers and the ‘right now’ mindset of customers, Ruffwear is encouraging smaller, more frequent orders. This helps retailers more accurately address customer needs and eliminates big spikes in production.

“It takes the risk off the retailer, so that they can order what they need, when they need it,” Susan Strible, director of marketing, says. “For example, if it’s a dry fall/winter, they aren’t stuck with a bunch of snow boots they ordered last January.”

Also a plus, the company’s store locator allows retailers to sync their inventory with the tool so customers can check product availability.

ruffwear.com

Marketing Materials Galore

PURA NATURALS PET understands that independent pet store owners wear many — in some cases, all of the — hats. With that in mind, it offers for easy download a variety of marketing materials: images for print and online use, logos, product data and educational documents, testimonials and digital catalogs. There are also blog posts, social media images and web banners available.

puranaturalspet.com

Stephanie Troxell and Tori Rosay (from left) of Dexter’s Deli in San Diego, CA, won the 2018 contest.

A Trip to Big Sky Country

In addition to providing free educational and marketing materials, policing minimum advertised pricing and offering a 100-percent guarantee on its products, WEST PAW welcomes input from its independent retail partners.

“We are always available to hear their concerns and/or suggestions about what they feel is working and what is not,” public relations lead Amy Schumann says. “We think we’re very approachable and fun, which makes retailers enjoy working with us.”

Each year, one indie in particular more than appreciates working with the company: the winner of its Make It Montana contest. West Paw randomly selects a retail partner to receive a five-day trip for two to Bozeman, MN, where they have five days to explore company headquarters and the state.

westpaw.com

CBD Consumer-Loyalty Program

HOLISTIC HOUND helps independent pet stores reward buyers of its CBD products. According to founder Heidi Hill, her company offers the only Buy 5, Get 1 Free national promotion through Astro Loyalty.

holistichound.com

Map Policing & More

While INCLOVER does sell its products online, the company provides protection for its brick-and-mortar retail partners.

Allie Sparrow, director of business growth for the company, explains: “InClover closely monitors our approved online sellers to be sure that they are adhering to our MAP policy and has limited sellers on Amazon to one exclusive partner so that we may maintain control on the platform. InClover does not and will not offer our supplements for sale on Chewy.com.”

She adds, “The education that we provide to our retail partners allows them to offer a service that the online retailers cannot.” In-store seminars are open to store employees and customers, plus area veterinarians.

inclover.com

Highest Fill Rate & Extensive Selection

JONES NATURAL CHEWS takes pride in its 99 percent complete order fill rate, one of the highest in the industry. Retailers get what they need, when they need it. The company also offers such a wide variety of products that stores can regularly encourage customers to try something new.

jonesnaturalchews.com

In-Store Tools & Free Exchanges

Sure, pet parents can order clothing for their dogs and cats online, but even the best sizing guides can fail. WOODROW WEAR helps brick-and-mortar stores compete by offering tools that ensure a perfect fit. Its Try-On Socks kit includes one of each size, with the size knitted onto the top.

“Customers can try the socks on their dog without opening the store’s inventory or making a mess on the floor or tearing the packaging,” company owner Lorraine Walston explains. “If the dog isn’t with the customer, they can stretch the sock and see how comfortable it is, how much it stretches, and how even though it doesn’t look like the right size, it actually does become the right size.”
Woodrow Wear also offers an inventory exchange program.

“[Retailers] don’t need to store what isn’t selling or keep seasonal items for a year. We exchange sizes and colors that aren’t moving for others that will. Our theory is that we’re both doing better if the indie is moving socks. These trades are done for free with a new order or for a small shipping fee if done alone.”

woodrowwear.com

MORE PET PRODUCT COMPANIES THAT INDIES LOVE

1PUPPY CAKE, maker of dessert mixes for dogs, gets high praise from Sue Hepner of Cool Dog Gear in Roslyn, PA. “Kelly [Costello] and her mom [Sandy] provide us with awesome customer service. I love that Kelly is a working owner — she always answers the phone when I call to place orders.” puppycake.com

2ECO DOG CARE PRODUCTS helps Treats on a Leash in Ames, IA, compete. Barb Morris says, “We wanted a truly natural grooming line, and this filled that void in our store. It’s a high-quality, unique product line that isn’t found in big boxes. That’s what sets us apart. Jane [Bond] offered an ISO and terms to get us started with their products. If we are running low, it’s just a quick email and we have more product headed our way! She also sent a tester so customers could see what the scent was like. When manufacturers go above and beyond to serve us, we can offer an even better shopping experience to our customers.” ecodogcare.com

3When hurricane Florence hit North Carolina last year, HEALTH EXTENSION PET CARE helped Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle get food to customers and neighbors alike. “Many of our residents lost their homes or were temporarily displaced due to storm damage. Most lost some or all of their possessions. The financial strain placed on these families has been very burdensome. I reached out to Health Extension and asked if the company would be able and willing to provide assistance to pet owners. They promptly sent us cases of 1-pound bags of dog food that we were able to give out to victims who may not have been able to afford quality dog food during that time.” healthextension.com

4KING’S CAGES and Paul Lewis of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, go way back, thanks to the company’s excellent customer service. “King’s was my go-to cage company when I opened almost 29 years ago. Every once in a while, a part may be missing for a cage, may be damaged from a shipper, or I’m looking for an odd part for an older cage. They always come through for me with the right answers to my questions, quick shipping and no questions asked.” kingscages.com

5A variety of reasons puts KLN FAMILY BRANDS/TUFFY’S PET FOODS first with Duane Poland of Bones-N-Scones in Palm Springs, CA: “Sells only to independents, is happy to provide samples and free small bags to increase sales. Works hard to protect margins and makes a great, mid-level product that most pets find appealing!” klnfamilybrands.com

6Social media support helps Keefer Dickerson, marketing and outreach manager for Nashville Pet Products in Nashville, TN, do his job. “PRIMAL sends out social media posts to use each month. These come already sized for Facebook and Instagram, and they look great.” primalpetfoods.com

7Brandon Click of Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets in Austin, TX, recommends PETOLOGY for several reasons. “When we evaluate a product line, the two most important aspects it can bring to our product mix are quality and strategy. Petology checks both of those boxes. Their product is superior to any other currently on the market. It’s sulfate-free, ethically produced, and cleans thoroughly while also providing the best shine of any shampoo and conditioner. Petology as a company is also good to do business with. They’ve kept their product exclusive to the independent pet specialty channel, and are strong partners to their retailers. Rather than put all of the sales onus on stores, they are always willing to help grow the line with promotions and other sales initiatives.” petology.net

8Debbie Brookham of Furry Friends Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO, picks NUTRISOURCE as one of her favorite companies. “Proactive in providing sales and on-site training for staff and clients. Provide free samples, which really has converted into sales.” nutrisourcepetfoods.com

9Regular in-store demos and discounts by FARMINA score points with Jan Hopper of Living Pawsitively in Lafayette, NJ. “Just yesterday I had their rep at my store handing out coupons and free cans of their new line of pet foods. Once most of the customers get a coupon, they purchase the food.” farmina.com

10Todd Ruppenthal of Happy Husky Bakery in Evanston, IL, appreciates how ZIGNATURE and FUSSIE CAT involve individual stores in promotions. “They listen to us and work with us to promote their foods in the way we know most often works best. They tailor their promotions for our business specifically, and it works for them — moved their lines from fifth best selling food to second — and us.” zignature.com, fussiecat.com

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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Close the Gap Between Knowing & Doing

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There’s a chance you’ve stood here before: pledging to yourself that this year things will be different. You’ll implement those best practices you’ve read in business books or heard at trade show seminars. You’ll get your inventory into shape, bring your marketing up to date and fire up your staff. Come the end of 2020, you’ll be sitting atop a thriving business that will not only ensure your financial future but showcase your business acumen. Only, the odds suggest it’s not going to happen. Research suggests you’ve got about a 30 percent chance of succeeding in implementing such change. It’s more likely that in 365 days you’ll find yourself about where you are now, doing things much the same way as you always have. Let’s change that, shall we?

The inability of most businesses to implement change effectively — even when they know what needs to be done — is one of the more curious and frustrating aspects of business management. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, two Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, famously coined the term “the knowing-doing gap” to encapsulate the divergence between what managers do and what corporate best practices and management science say they should do.

The knowing-doing gap afflicts businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. And despite increasing awareness of the issue, companies are getting no better at closing it.

Behind the seductive lure of “New Year, New You, New Business” often lies a misunderstanding: the idea that what we require, in order finally to change, is one last push of effort or willpower.

The assumption is that your business is like a heavy rock poised on a hill above the Valley of Productivity, Profitability and Success. All you need is a concerted push to get the thing rolling. But the real reason that transformation is hard — as Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey make clear in their book Immunity to Change — is that people and organizations have powerful “competing commitments” or reasons not to change.

To blame lack of effort to explain why your staff is unwilling to implement your new sales practices, to chase new markets, or embrace new technology, is to neglect the fact that those habits are what underpin their feelings of competence or distract them from issues they’d rather not address. As with the rock, there are countervailing forces that keep it stuck, beyond the mere absence of an impetus to move.

To be sure, change is hard. It’s difficult to get other people, meaning your staff, to do what you want. It’s often as tough to get yourself to follow through on a commitment you’ve made on Dec. 31. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Hollywood movies are often about change and redemption, and often the trigger is a rousing speech by a dying uncle, wounded comrade, aging sports star.

In the real world, influencing people’s behaviors requires a lot more than words.

You need to make what is often perceived as undesirable desirable; you need to harness team spirit; you need to offer rewards and make it structurally easy for the person to carry out the changes through routines and skills training.

You need to hold people accountable to the new ways on a day-to-day basis, and you need to be prepared to pivot and change approaches when something is not working.

Finally, you need to be ready to communicate your message over and over again.

In the pages that follow, we will provide a few tips and ideas to set you in motion on your year of change. There’s a good chance you will know many of them. That’s the thing about the knowing-doing gap. The secret is to invest in as many as possible, celebrate any progress that you make and keep moving forward.

18 tips on closing the knowing-doing gap

1. Get Buy-In

To succeed, a change strategy must at least in part be shaped by the people who will execute it. They are the ones doing the work, implementing the rules, so they need to be involved from the beginning. Moreover, they are best positioned to codify experience into usable rules, which they can phrase in a language that resonates for them. (Creating such in-house terminology is often one of the first steps in building a successful company culture.) And besides, they may actually have some good ideas to share. “Often the best strategies don’t come from the top of the organization. The frontline can be a well of ideas. New ideas pop up from the pressure of trying to solve a problem for the customer,” says Robert Simons, author of Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution.

2. Play Planning Poker

One of the main drivers of resistance to a change program is when staff don’t feel they have been heard or the amount of additional work they may be asked to do is not acknowledged. A fun way to show you’re interested in your employees’ perspectives is Planning Poker. It goes like this: Each staff member gets a set of numbered cards, and the manager describes the new task or role they will be asked to do under Program Revamp. The employees then choose the numbered card that represents the amount of effort that they believe will be required to achieve the outcome. As the cards are revealed — some with high values, others with lower values — it quickly becomes apparent who’s not on the same page. “Planning Poker sparks productive discussion and speeds up clarification of what’s expected,” says Dave Bailey, a business coach and tech entrepreneur.

3. Be a Little Less Positive

Positive thinking has its place, especially when it comes to conceiving goals, but when it comes to achieving them, it can actually be a hindrance, says Gabriele Oettigen, a New York University psychology professor who has been studying the effects of positive thinking for over 20 years. “When people only think about a positive future, they’ve already attained this future in their minds, so they have little motivation to actually act on it,” Oettigen recently told The Atlantic. In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, she recommends a procedure called mental contrasting — that is, examine the barriers that stand in the way of us actually attaining that goal and map out detailed strategies to deal with them. “Visualizing the desired future and then imagining the obstacles can actually help us be more successful than positive thinking alone,” she says.

4. Be Outright Negative

Postmortems are useful, but even better is if you can take action before the “patient” — your dear project dies. Hence the increasing popularity of pre-mortems. The process is simple: “Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that it’s already over. You’re screwed. Everything went as badly as you could have feared. Now: Why? Asking the question this way, explains the psychologist Gary Klein, who came up with the concept, has an almost magical effect. It removes the pressure from those who are worried about seeming disloyal by voicing concerns; indeed, it turns things into a competition to find ever more convincing reasons for failure. “It’s a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s-advocate thinking without encountering resistance,” Klein says. According to Klein, suggesting that using prospective hindsight can improve people’s ability to predict the reasons for future outcomes by 30 percent. At the very least it should help you come up with a good contingency plan.

5. Try a Brainwriting Session

Traditional brainstorming sessions have a rather spotty record. This is because only one person can speak at any one time, and it is easy for some personalities — and their ideas — to dominate, so few good ideas are actually generated. A new study suggests something called “asynchronous brainwriting,” whereby participants rotate between eight-minute individual writing sessions and three-minute group sessions to read over each other’s ideas. The researchers from the University of Texas found that participants thought of an idea every two minutes on average, a much higher rate than more traditional brainstorming sessions.

6. Skin in the Game

There’s another reason you want to involve your staff: When people feel the ideas were partly theirs, they have skin in the game and feel accountable for the plan’s success. It wasn’t just the boss’s idea. “People do not change their minds through being told, however open and inclusive the communication may be. It is an oft-forgotten feature of human nature that if you want to influence someone, a good start is to show they have influenced you. If you are open to others, others tend to be open to you. Influence comes through interaction,” write Alison Reynolds and David Lewis in What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being a Better Leader.

7. Aim, Fire, Do

The traditional top-down approach to business strategy has been “Plan-then-Do”: The organization would invest heavily in creating a detailed plan that specified roles for all employees based on how the market was expected to react. Should the plan falter, employees would invariably be faulted for failing to execute, leading to demands the plan be followed even more closely with ever greater micromanaging. The results were rarely pretty. The problem, of course, is that no Gantt chart survives contact with reality. An alternative approach popularized by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their bestseller In Search of Excellence was a “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy. This agile, test-and-learn approach, which has become the standard in Silicon Valley, is better suited to today’s volatile environment. Instead of thinking of strategy as a linear process, consider it as inherently iterative — a loop instead of a line in which the situation is constantly reassessed: Plan do, assess, replan-redo. “Success requires identifying the next few steps along a broadly defined strategic path and then learning and refining as you go. This approach makes execution easier and increases the odds of delivering great results,” says Michael Mankins a Bain & Co. partner and coauthor of Time, Talent, Energy: Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power.

8. Identify your WIGs

To win any war, you need to pick the right battles. In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney, Jim Huling and Sean Covey call these targets “WIGs,” short for Wildly Important Goals. A WIG can make all the difference, but will require you to commit a disproportionate amount of energy to it. “In determining your WIG, don’t ask ‘What’s most important?’ Instead, begin by asking ‘If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?’” they write.
The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large your organization. “Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process. Saying yes to too many things is the telltale sign of a poor planning process,” the investor Fred Wilson recently told a recent INC founder conference.
The final benefit of a WIG is clarity. According to some studies, only 15 percent of employees at corporations actually know their organization’s most important goals — either because there are no goals or they have too many goals. A WIG will ensure everyone is clear on what critical activities provide the greatest leverage to achieving that goal.

9. A WIG is not a BHAG

One of the standard invocations of business planning is to set “big hairy audacious goals,” also known as BHAGs, that will be achieved sometime in your lifetime. But there’s probably no easier way to sabotage your efforts to get something done than to think of it as a “long-term” goal, which implies it’s going to be tricky and time-consuming. Yes, set big, ambitious goals. Just be sure to add deadlines for the small concrete steps that will get you there. In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Robert Maurer suggests taking almost absurdly tiny steps, day after day. It enables you, in Maurer’s words, to “tiptoe past fear”: Our brain, it seems, is fooled when we tell it we’re embarking only on something minuscule, and it stops putting up resistance. By making your steps too small to fail, you and your staff can make those initial, small changes on which to build a new way of working and doing business.

10. Be Clear about Everyone’s Role and Place

Gary Neilson, a consultant with Strategy&, which over the last decade has surveyed more than 1,000 companies for a strategy study, says failures can almost always be fixed by ensuring that employees fully understand what they are responsible for and who makes which decisions — and then giving them the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities. With these two building blocks in place, structural and motivational elements will follow.

11. Don’t Substitute Talk for Action

Many corporate teams spend so much time creating strategies and setting goals, they don’t actually implement anything. Systems can help. One popular system goes by the name “No Zero Days”: The idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, toward some important project.

12. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

People play differently when keeping score. “Great teams know, at every moment, whether or not they’re winning. They must know, otherwise, they don’t know what they have to do to win the game, say McChesney, Huling and Covey in 4 Disciplines. The four characteristics of a well-designed scoreboard are that it be simple, easily visible by everyone, show lead and lag measures, and allow employees to tell within five seconds whether they’re winning or losing, they say.

13. Six-Week Sprints

This “agile planning” should be viewed as a series of box sprints with the objective of moving forward, testing the waters, learning, and refining the strategy based on the results, says Bailey, who recommends six-week stretches. Business consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, authors of the 12-Week Year, recommend a longer period, as the title of their book suggests. The exact number isn’t important just so long as the stretch is long enough to allow your team to make significant progress on a key front, yet short enough to stay focused. The problem with thinking of life in annualized 365-day units is that a year’s too big to get your head around, Moran and Lennington argue, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future.

14. Praise More

Many managers act as if praise is a finite resource. It’s not, and lack of recognition is usually the No. 1 complaint among staff.

15. Use Fear Judiciously

Few industries are being “disrupted” as drastically as the retail industry. Andy Grove, the former Intel chairman, liked to say that fear — fear of the competitor, fear of failure — was essential to fueling a desire to win in the marketplace. But fear is often counterproductive. Stanford’s Pfeffer and Sutton suggest that managers who try to lead through fear cause paralysis more often than action. And trying to motivate yourself with fear is like screaming at a child, “Do something, dammit!” You’ll either freeze up or act in an impetuous way that makes things worse.

16. Take Care of the High and the Low

Humans typically don’t like change. And the two groups most resistant tend to be the lower performers and — surprisingly — high performers, says Neilson. The low performers because they fear they will struggle and the high performers because they have found a way to succeed in the existing system, so they tend to see the problem as other people needing to get it together and be effective. As a result, change seems like unnecessary overhead that is liable to get in the way of their actual work.
“Before you try to introduce any kind of performance management to a team, the first step is to bring in standards, support, and accountability. Once you have that, you can clearly communicate where people need to develop, give low performers the help they need, set them up to be successful, and if it still doesn’t work out … let them go. This is not an easy process, but it is a relatively straightforward,” Neilson writes in Results: Keep What’s Good, Fix What’s Wrong, and Unlock Great Performance.
For high performers, it will be hard, but it will be extremely effective, so take the time, he counsels. Hone your explanations on them, hear them out and work to earn their trust. They usually wield outsize influence in the workplace. Once you have their support, other employees will quickly get on board.

17. Deal with Dissent

5 It’s possible, and even likely, that some of your frontline employees will voice objections to your strategy. They may think the leaders have chosen the wrong approach or have decided to play in the wrong space. If this happens, listen carefully and sincerely. “Every failed strategy had people on the frontline who expressed concerns,” says Simons. It’s a manager’s job to allow bad news to bubble up to the top of the organization. Simons urges, though, that once those concerns have been heard and dealt with, then people need to fall in line with the agreed strategy regardless of their opinion. For those who seem determined to play the game of “Yes, but” (offer a solution, and they’ll find a reason to reject it), the right response is to refuse to play along, because their real motive is to prove the situation is irresolvable. Break the cycle by agreeing sympathetically. Or ask: “What do you plan to do about it?” says the entrepreneur Trevor Blake in his book Three Simple Steps.

18. There Is No Finish Line

Lurking behind most schemes for transformation is the unspoken notion that change is something you achieve, once and for all. But it doesn’t work that way because a day when everything is “sorted out” never arrives. If you continuously stare at the gap between where you are and where you think we should be, you’ll exist in a space of debilitating discouragement. Instead, observe and appreciate how far you’ve come. Sure, you aren’t where you want to be, but you aren’t where you were, either. “Treat strategy as evergreen. The best companies see strategy less as a plan and more as a direction and agenda of decisions, says Michael Mankins in a paper titled “5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap” in the Harvard Business Review. Focus on getting better, rather than being good. and before too long, you might find that you’re actually pretty great. Not only does this encourage you to focus on developing and acquiring new skills, it allows you to take difficulties in your stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

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The Customer Is Not Always Right

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Bottom line: The customer is not always right. And in addition to being wrong, customers also can be unreasonable, unethical or outright offensive — with some checking multiple boxes. We asked you to share stories of when a customer was wrong at your pet business. In some cases, you offered a refund or return even when not warranted to save your sanity and time. In others, you held fast to protect your profits and team. No matter the outcome, you all made it clear that a blanket “The customer is always right” policy does not apply to indies and certainly not in 2019. Take that, coiner of the phrase, Harry Gordon Selfridge!

LIKE THE PUP. THE PET PARENT? NOT SO MUCH

We had a client with a dog who was fearful and extremely matted for grooming. We used every technique to get out the mats and not hurt the dog or stress her further. Didn’t work. We had to shave her short but fluffy. We did ask Mom first. However, Mom saw the dog on camera playing in the yard and came in pre-angry. In short, I explained it was a case of humanity over vanity, but she was still angry. Said she would never groom with us again. My response: “Please feel free to do whatever you feel is best for you and your pup. My main concern is the happiness of your dog.” She has brought her dog back three times, but I will only let her board or day care. It would be nice if she never came back, but we do like the pup. — Hope Garlick, Little Paws of Hope, Westbury, NY

SMH

A customer returned half a bottle of flea spray, saying it made his dog throw up after he sprayed him in the face. — Ron Keller, Captivating Canines, Westerville, OH

NO SHAME IN THIS CUSTOMER’S GAME

Years ago, we had a customer who bought a small bag of dog food and brought back the bag about two-thirds empty within 10 days or so, saying the dog wouldn’t eat the food. After the fourth or fifth time, we refused to accept the bag. She claimed the manufacturer stated on the bag: “If not satisfied, return bag to store where purchased for a refund or another bag of food.” She said she was going to call the company. And she did.

About a week later, she came into the store with a coupon for a free bag of food from the manufacturer. I honored the coupon and called the manufacturer. I found out the customer told the company I flat out refused to take back the bag of food, but never said anything about the numerous other returned bags. I did have a very nice conversation with the manufacturer to set things straight.

Wouldn’t you know, that customer came back trying to return the bag of food again. I had a talk with her and told her it appeared there was no way we could satisfy her or her dog and it was best if she didn’t shop in the store anymore. As she was leaving, she said she was going to tell all her friends not to shop at the store. I said, “Thank you.” We’ve since changed return policies. — Nancy Okun, Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

OR THIS ONE’S

Just recently, a customer received a free bag and argued with my staff because she wanted a bag that was not the one redeemed. She called us names and made a scene, even left and returned to yell at us again. I called the police. I can’t fix crazy! — Jennifer Flanagan, Nature’s Pet Market Sherwood, Sherwood, OR

IT CAME FROM A PET BOUTIQUE

A client recently ordered a dog birthday cake. After the weekend was over, she called complaining that she ordered this cake for her pet and human guests, and the human guests did not appreciate it. It was shaped like a dog bone. After repeatedly trying to reason with her as to why a dog cake is not the same as a human cake, I just refunded her money. Sometimes the refund is worth the valuable time I would have to spend on stupidity. Leel Michelle, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

TAKE YOUR RACISM ELSEWHERE

It amazes me over the years that people are still racist and very unkind. One pet owner was picking up her Poodle at our grooming salon from one of our fantastic groomers, who was both Hispanic and African American. She said she wasn’t comfortable with that particular staff member working on her dog … even though the fur of the dog was similar to the groomer’s hair (!) so she should be familiar with how to groom it. Needless to say, I was floored. Her Standard Poodle was black. I asked her if she thought it would be fair, reasonable or kind if I told her and all owners of black dogs that they were not allowed in my building or that we weren’t comfortable working on them, just because of their fur color. She threw money at me and walked out. So, I guess I made my point. — Krista Lofquist, Wagging Tails, Wolcott, CT

WHAT DOES DCM STAND FOR AGAIN?

This didn’t happen to me, but a vendor rep told me he was in a store shortly after the FDA’s list of foods [named in reported dilated cardiomyopathy cases] was released. A customer came in to return the dog food she bought. She was angry that the store would sell her a food with DCM in it. (Eyes roll.) — Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

FLEAS COST EXTRA

We had a client who had two Westies. The first time she came in to get them groomed, we called her within 15 minutes to let her know that her dogs had fleas and would be getting a flea bath. About a month later, she came in again, same thing. This time she did not believe us and wanted proof, to send her photos. She said we must put fleas on dogs to get the extra fee, and she was not paying. We told her that is our policy, and when she came to pick up, she paid and pushed everything off our counter onto the floor and told us we were scamming her, and she would never be back. Bye! — Jessica Cooke, Yuppy Puppy, O’Fallon, MO

CHECK YOUR CALL LOG BEFORE YELPING

I scored a negative Yelp review from a customer who said we don’t answer our phones. She called at noon on a Sunday of a three-day holiday weekend. We were closed the entire weekend. The last time she called, we returned her voicemail eight minutes later. I looked at her other Yelp reviews and saw she had left a similar complaint at another dog day care and at an animal shelter on the same day! So I replied publicly to her Yelp review, pointing this out. She deleted the Yelp reviews on all three businesses and sheepishly apologized to the other dog day-care owner (never to me). Will I see her again? I doubt it! — Katherine Ostiguy, Crossbones, Providence, RI

HE WOULD NEVER!

We had a customer return a Kong, saying it was defective because it had “fallen apart at the seams.” Upon inspection, it was clear that it had been chewed up. When I pointed this out, she was adamant that her 4-month-old puppy was a good boy and would never destroy anything because he knew it would hurt her feelings. Normally, we have a very liberal return policy, but this was one time I could not bring myself to accept the product back. Did it cost me a customer? No doubt. But is she someone I wanted to keep as a customer? Not really because I knew she would be an ongoing issue. Unlike her perfect puppy, I was willing to risk hurting her feelings. — Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

STALKING? REALLY?

We had a customer come in right at closing time. My person in charge and clerk both asked if she needed help with anything as we were closing up, and she said no and kept shopping. She ended up angry that she felt rushed and claimed they were stalking her. The customer ended up yelling at our staff member and threatening a lawsuit. We politely disagreed with how it went down, and it never went anywhere. Just quietly went away. We were shocked it never went to a bad review, or anything, but we were glad. — Jennifer Larsen, Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA

MAYBE DON’T LEAVE THE HARNESS ON?

I had a customer who purchased a 2 Hounds Design Freedom Harness. His son left the harness on the dog, and the dog chewed it. The customer came back to my store with the chewed harness and asked what I could do for him. I told him about their repair warranty. He said he needed it right away, so I agreed to give him a courtesy discount on another harness, with the thought he would send the other one back to 2 Hounds Design for repairs. Or at least take it to the local shoemaker for repairs.

The customer came back a month or so later with another chewed harness. This time, he wanted me to take the harness back and give him a new one for free. When I told him no and offered him another courtesy discount, he flipped out, cussing and fussing as loud as he could. I didn’t have to say anything else because several customers came to my rescue and put the guy in his place. I’m not sorry to lose that guy’s business! — Sue Hepner, Cool Dog Gear, Roslyn, PA

LESSON LEARNED

We had a customer tell us that we told them a toy was guaranteed when it was not. They, of course, came in at the busiest time of day and made a stink, raising their voice and trying to make us look bad. Even when the customer is wrong, you still have to think that maybe, just maybe, something was interpreted incorrectly or misunderstood. I ended up taking the toy and replacing it with a toy by the same maker that wasn’t a big mover, and she walked out satisfied. The lesson learned from this was that my staff and I need to be very clear with our words and to make certain customers understand what we are saying. So we have used this situation to practice how we speak about various products. — Johnna Devereaux, Fetch RI, Richmond, RI

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Big-Box Busters

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PetSmart. Petco. Target. Sam’s Club. Walmart. Costco. Heck, let’s even throw Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and grocery store chains into the mix of big-box stores that compete for pet parents’ dollars.

But as you prove on a daily basis, bigger does not always mean better. As small-business owners, you offer more personalized customer service, including a deeper knowledge of the pet products and services you sell. You are invested in your communities. And you quickly adapt in an ever-changing industry.

All of this allows you to stay competitive.

But if you are having trouble in this area, or you want to find different ways to beat big-box stores, we invite you to find inspiration from your fellow indies.

EMBRACE BEING SMALL

1 Bark on Mulford in Rockford, IL, measures just under 1,000 square feet, and that suits Kaye Busse-Kleber just fine. The size of the store keeps customers where she can see them — and they can see her.

With that in mind, Busse-Kleber shares the story a pet parent told her about shopping at a big-box store.

“She was at [a big-box pet retailer] looking for a collar, had to track down an employee to ask the price. He had no idea and asked what section it came from. She had to show him, and then he told her the price, but said it looked used. She put it back and came to see us.”

Customers never have to search for Busse-Kleber or a member of her team. Nor do they feel like they are not valued.

“We have a smaller selection of collars, but she came in telling me about the lack of customer service and that her experience with them ‘not caring if they sold something’ would keep her from going back.”

Limiting staff to just herself and two part-timers allows for a personal connection also not found at big-box stores.

“I can guarantee, that employee didn’t ask about her dogs. The customer has only been in my store twice, and I already know she has two dogs: a Rat Terrier named Theodore and a Jack Russell Terrier named Angel.”

Another way Busse-Kleber touts the benefits of shopping small are by bragging about unique items on social media with the hashtag #YouCantFindThisAtTarget.

Toni Shelaske of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, PA, also uses her store’s small size as a selling point.

“We convey it in as much of our advertising and social media as possible. Small Business Saturday is our second-highest volume day of the year. We ask our vendors for support and offer a basket raffle, and we debut new holiday items and discounts on most of our products. Food and beverages for humans — our customers really enjoy the day!”

Support other small businesses

2Woof Woof Pet Boutique & Biscuit Bar in New Bedford, MA, and Bristol, RI, gives shelf space to several local small businesses. Among them, Dylan Giampaolo says, are “Quincy & Co. We have a seamstress that handmakes all of our bandanas and bowties for different seasons and sports teams. She also makes leashes and collars. Matisse Jeans is a cat toy handmade from recycled jeans that have a custom catnip blend from Cape Cod, and 100 percent of the proceeds ben- efit Bristol Animal Shelter.
“We truly are a small business trying to carve out a place for ourselves, and we believe in supporting other small businesses!”

Tout locally owned & operated

3 Toni Shelaske of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, PA, spends as much time as she possibly can on the sales floor working with customers.
“I want people to know that I am the owner and that I greatly appreciate their business,” she says. “So the funny thing that has happened because of that is that customers come in asking for me and say ‘I know Toni.’ When it was time for me to have my own personal Instagram page, my employees decided @IKnowToni had to be my handle.”

EARn IN (EXCLAMATION) POINTS WITH IN-depth knOWLEDGE

4Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, was more than prepared when a customer emailed her about canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).“I sent her a fairly long response with some info, attached the document I wrote for our customers (including an FAQ and links to resources from vets) and talked about the different options she could check out. She wrote back very quickly and said, ‘Shane, This is why we love you!!!!! Thank you so much!!!!’”

SURPRISE WITH PERSONAL SHOPPING

5 Annabell Bivens orders for The Dog Store in Alexandria, VA, with specific customers in mind.

“We have an all-black Basset Labrador (Bassador), and he rocks his clothes, but his parents wanted something super visible since they spend a lot of time in the mountains at their cabin. So, in addition to the regular colors of the new line of RC Pets Polaris sweater, we ordered him the red sweater in his size and showed them the photos of the reflective stitching. They were so excited! (His color is red). I mentioned it to them when I ordered it, and it came in about four months later. They even asked when they saw winter stuff coming out because they remembered our conversation.”

Such personal shopping does not happen when big boxes do their ordering.

TAKE PRICE-MATCHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

6How does Fetch RI compete on price with the big-box stores? Johnna Devereaux does not advertise price-matching, but she does it when possible and sees the practice as an opportunity on multiple fronts. She shares what happens when a regular customer alerts her to lower prices elsewhere:

“First, it allows me to look at the specific item and provide a lower price to this customer, who is clearly showing loyalty by bringing this to our attention. Second, it allows me to reach out to my brand rep and discuss how I can buy better at a discount, which then allows me to reduce the price of those items for all of my customers. I do advertise that to my customers, letting them know that we pass on the savings to them from our purchase bargaining, and so they now have a lower price! Win-win!”

The Store at Paws ’N Effect in Hamden, CT, also price-matches, but Sandy House simply makes the adjustment.

“We price-compare about every six to eight weeks by both physically going into the stores and then checking online, if they sell that way as well. If I find a local brick-and-mortar store is selling something for less than us, I check what our wholesale price is, and then I make the adjustment before a customer asks.”

DIVERSIFY COMMUNITY SUPPORT

7 The national pet stores in Delavan, WI, donate to local animal-welfare organizations, but Karen Conell of The Bark Market in Delvan, WI, sees the importance of investing in her community as a whole.

“We support many local not-for-profits, such as a therapeutic riding program, school for the handicapped, vocational school for adults with disabilities, wildlife rehab center, child advocacy center, playground for children with disabilities, and multiple animal rescues and shelters. We are local, and our customers are involved and reach out to us often.”

While altruistic, these efforts create positive word of mouth, giving her an advantage against big-box competitors.

“We don’t do it for recognition, but it happens and we are grateful!”

PROVIDE FREEBIES

8 When converting customers to frozen raw — still an excellent way to compete with big-box stores — Conell of The Bark Market makes it hard to resist.

“We have manufacturers who encourage us to give away a free small bag to get them started,” she says. “Let’s just say folks are stunned by the free offerings and the gentle shove in a new direction.”

Freebies can also be fun activities to draw in customers. Sue Hepner hosts a variety of events at Cool Dog Gear in Roslyn, PA.

“We just had a Winter Fashion Show: Dogs on the Cat Walk. We used customers’ dogs as our models. These awesome dogs strutted their stuff in front of the crowds, highlighting all of our winter fashions while their people modeled our human line of gifts and clothing. We also offer free pet and family picture-taking opportunities with our fall and winter backdrops. And for the first time we will be having storytime for kids. Our first story will be all about teaching children about dog safety and, of course, we’ll have a special visit from our mascot Cool Dog — always a crowd favorite!”

And Southern Barker in Lexington and Louisville, KY, has begun hosting breed meetups in its stores.

“We do get a sales boost during our meetups,” says Leslie Stewart. “They are socializing, but also shopping because they are right in the middle of the store, so they can’t help but look around! We also offer 10 percent off during the meetup. Our first meetup was for Doodles, and we had over 30 dogs!”

Finally, be sure to take advantage of manufacturer loyalty programs not available to big-box stores.

HUMBLE BRAG ON SOCIAL MEDIA

9 Big-box stores don’t share customer pet pics on social media, at least not on a regular basis or from a local store’s page. Independents do, and Bubbly Paws stores in the Minneapolis, MN, area takes it a step further.

Keith Miller says, “We regram posts from many of our customers on Instagram. Social media is the best way to brag without looking like we are bragging. We just post happy customer pictures or quotes from reviews.”

OPT FOR THIRD-PARTY SAFETY TRAINING

10 Big-box stores have in-house training programs for their groomers. Third-party training and testing can provide a competitive advantage for independent salons. Knotty Dog in Chelsea, AL, staff go through PetTech First Aid and CPR training. BowMeow Regency in Sheffield, MA, is an American Kennel Club S.A.F.E. (Safety, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) Certified Salon, and grooming staff are AKC S.A.F.E.-certified groomers. Both salons tout their status.

pARTNER WITH VETERINARIANS

11 With more and more big box locations offering veterinary services, it only makes sense to consider doing the same. Mike Murray has created multiple partnerships for Bonnie’s Barkery in Phoenix, AZ.

“We partner with a holistic vet to do a monthly anesthesia-free teeth-cleaning clinic, in conjunction with dental hygienists,” he says, sharing that the store gets a percentage of fees. “We also created an office in our last remodel that our vet partners utilize to see patients.”

And after the Food and Drug Administration released its report on canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and related foods, Murray invited a holistic vet to give a seminar on the topic.

“It went very well!” Murray says. “We had 30-plus customers attend. It was very interactive, with lots of questions asked and answered.

“Most who attended had a much better understanding of the potential risks of their dog getting DCM and learned ways to mitigate that potential risk.”

Some customers did ask about changing foods, Murray says, “but a lot of the discussion was around using toppers that can provide additional nutrients and taurine to the pet’s diet,” resulting in new regular sales of the products.

Mark Vitt has also created such partnerships for his six Mutts & Co. stores in Ohio.

“We have a mobile vaccination clinic, coordinated by a local vet office, at our stores every other Friday to provide low cost vaccination and wellness checks.”

TAKE A RISK ON UNIQUE, HIGH-END PRODUCTS

12 “You find unique products in our store,” says Connie Roller of The Feed Bag Pet Supply in Grafton, WI. “Department stores and big-box pet stores all have the same old, same old.”

Roller says her staff works hard at trade shows, looking for unique, fun or even quirky products.

“We are willing to gamble with slightly more high-end products because although our customers can squeeze a nickel to death, they won’t hesitate on a $195 ortho dog bed that matches their décor perfectly,” she says.

“We also have some handcrafted wood products like pet steps and diners, along with handcrafted cat trees that we drive a few hours to pick up. These are definitely on the higher-end of retail, but they actually look and feel more like furniture than what you can get at [big-box stores].”

The store carries most of these higher-end products year-round, but, Roller says, “we sell more during the holidays because people can justify splurging when they can call it a gift.”

The Hermitage, TN, location of Nashville Pet Products is a former convenience store and doesn’t try to hide it.

DON’T DO COOKIE-CUTTER WHEN DESIGNING YOUR STORE(S)

13 Nashville Pet Products has six stores. While signage provides brand consistency, each location has a different look and layout — partly because of commercial space availability, but also by design. Perhaps the most unusual is the Hermitage, TN, location, which is a former convenience store.

“We keep each store unique to avoid a cookie-cutter, big-box feel,” Keefer Dickerson says.

This advice also applies to stores with one location: Don’t try to look like a mini-big box.

Danielle Wilson of Bath & Biscuits in Granville, OH, explains.

“I had a vision in my head of how I wanted my store and salon to look. I didn’t want to look cookie-cutter. I wanted to decorate with vintage items and displays, to have real hardwood floors and inviting rooms to explore. I had been watching for my building to become available for a while and jumped on it as soon as I saw the ‘for rent’ sign.”

TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE EXTENDED FAMILY

14 Customers at The Wagging Tail in Las Vegas, NV, get asked about their pets, but Kimberly Gatto also asks about the people.

“With our loyal repeat customers, we get to know them and their family. When their two-legged kids come in with them, we engage the kids (How was school? What did you learn? How’s the team going? etc.). If customers have brought up issues, we try our best to remember and ask how it is going (How’s your mom doing after her surgery? How’s the job hunt going? How was the Stones concert you saw last week?).

Gatto is not afraid to tell folks that she doesn’t think of them as customers, but as an extension of her family.

“We care about their entire family (human and animal). We mourn when they mourn. We feel joy when they feel joy. It’s all about community. Being a part of a community and being totally vested in it.”

Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL, shares that sentiment.

“One customer shared that she doesn’t have the best home situation, so when she comes into the store, we give her a big hug and let her know how great it is to see her. She talks. We listen. She leaves feeling better. It’s not about selling dog food.”

Nor is it all about selling with Charlsye Lewis of Metro Animals in Fort Worth, TX. Among the many practices at her store are “introducing them and their kids to our shop macaws, Baby and Blueberry; genuinely complimenting something about their dogs; and offering the Southern hospitality of greeting them when they come in, and as they leave.”

And Jack Carey of Food for Pets in Manchester, NH, has gone so far as to loan his car and money, in a sense, to customers.

“A few years ago, a customer locked her keys in her car. She had a second set at home, so I let her borrow my vehicle to go home and get the spare set. We’ve had a few cases of customers forgetting their credit card at work or home, and we tell them to take the product with them and call us with the credit card info. We appreciate our customers’ trust and want to return the favor.”

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