Being a small business owner can be like going through a haunted house: Around every turn there are a number of terrifying things coming at you that you have no control over. Don’t fret! I’m here to share some ghosts of my retail past, so you can be prepared to tackle anything that otherwise would have scared the living daylights out of you.

A customer or employee gets injured

True Story: I had an employee have a seizure, and fall and hit his head.

How to handle: Get the person safe as quickly as possible. Is it best for him to lie there? Is he bleeding? Does he need medical attention? You may want to call for an ambulance or offer to take him to the nearest outpatient facility. If it’s a customer, be sure to get the person’s information including name and phone number, even take a picture of his ID. Follow up with an incident report for your records, and get witness testimonials if possible. Check in with him a day or two later, as a nice gesture. And then depending on the severity, you may want to notify your insurance company about the incident.

You get a scathing review

True Story: “They ruined my dog! They didn’t listen to me, obviously they are morons.”

How to handle: Do not take it personally. Before you jump on to respond in anger, take a moment and think about how you really want this to play out. Write out a few responses, get input from a less involved person, and post a response or call the customer within 24 hours. Address the customer’s concerns one by one, sticking strictly to the facts and offering solutions. Stay professional.

An employee is stealing from you

True Story: A four-year employee was caught taking money by refunding her debit card through our POS.

How to handle: Whether it’s reports from employees, witnessing something yourself or the drawers have been off, you need to address this cash or inventory shrinkage fast and with facts. Gather all your evidence and document everything. Notify the authorities if necessary. Meet with the employee, present your findings, and my recommendation is to terminate. Review your own processes and procedures to limit the risk of this happening again.

Loud, unhappy customer

True Story: Customer hurls an opened bag of treats at us because we won’t take them back.

How to handle: Breathe, realize this situation is not about you. Come from a place of wanting to help the customer regardless of what has happened. Hear him out without interruption. Repeat back to him what you hear to confirm you’re on the same page. Ask what he thinks is an appropriate solution. If a team member needs a higher authority to move to this step, encourage your staff to say, “I want to help find a solution. I’ll have our owner follow up with you.”

Competitor is opening nearby

True Story: Our shop was 200 feet from another boutique.

How to handle: It is completely natural to freak out. Your mind often goes to worst-case scenarios with that person stealing all of your customers. All you can control is what happens within your walls. You can try to get brand exclusivity and such, but instead of focusing on keeping your competitor out, focus on what makes you great, how you can push that success even further and what makes you truly unique. Play to your strengths, keep up your confidence and never talk bad about your competition. There’s plenty of business for everyone.

The approach for each of these is not to panic. Have a list of people you can call or count on in specific scenarios. Document details for records while they are fresh in your mind. When you have systems and processes in place for emergencies, it will make you more efficient, create less stress and may ultimately save you money.

Candace D’Agnolo owns successful pet business Dogaholics and offers business consulting at Pet Boss Nation. Get her checklist “10 Ways to Boss Your Business” at petbossnation.com/petsplus. Contact her directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article originally appeared in the October 2018 edition of PETS+.   

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