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The secret to retaining staff, as told by longtime employees and their bosses.

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What makes an employee stay with a pet business? We asked those who have been in their current jobs for more than four years — the national median tenure for retail and service workers is three — this very question. Not a single one mentioned pay or benefits. Loving pets and feeling valued were common reasons, as were working in a fun, family-like atmosphere and having a flexible schedule. Their employers chimed in with what traits these longtime employees have and shared which management efforts help keep them productive and happy. We hope you find inspiration and advice in their stories.

CLARE FLEISCHER

TEAM MEMBER, SAFETY MANAGER | AUGGIE’S DOGGIES PET SUPPLIES, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL

5 YEARS


Owner Audree Berg shares what she appreciates about Fleischer, “Her can-do spirit and ability to juggle several things at once. She’s incredibly personal and helpful to both staff and customers, and is a wonderful brand ambassador.”

WHY SHE STAYS: “I love to come to work because I love the peanut butter-filled pretzels. [Laugh] I like the interaction with the customers. I like the people.” — Clare Fleischer

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “Auggie’s Pet Supplies stays involved in the community, which makes this a fun environment. We provide generous pay. We do a lot of training, and we hire team members who will be supportive of each other. We also provide snacks to our staff.” — Audree Berg

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RETENTION TIP: Berg says, “As an owner, it’s important to show my team that I work hard. I would never ask them to do something I haven’t done or wouldn’t do. I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get dirty. I also give each member a different responsibility, and we have regular meetings to share ideas, learn about new products, and talk about what we can do to improve the Auggie’s experience for both staff and customers.”

 

QUINNELL FLANAGAN

OPERATIONS ASSISTANT | NATURE’S PET MARKET, SHERWOOD & WILSONVILLE, OR

6 YEARS


“I love her integrity, and her ability to work long hours with physical limitations,” owner Jennifer Flanagan says of her daughter, who lives and works with muscular dystrophy and spina bifida with tethered cord syndrome.

WHY SHE STAYS: “I feel such passion for the holistic pet world. I love giving my knowledge to people and helping them get the best food, toys, treats, supplies and service. Doing something I’m passionate about while also working for and supporting my family business gives me the best feeling. I love pets, our customers and my job!” — Quinell Flanagan

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HOW THEY KEEP HER: “I think we are awesome to work for because we create a healthy, comical workplace, and give bonuses based on performance. Quinnell is paid well above minimum wage for her work. She is a rock star!” — Jennifer Flanagan

RETENTION TIP: Jennifer says, “Keep an open door. Being transparent builds trust. I find that having conversations with employees about personal needs is important. Their personal life will affect their performance, so a gift card for gas or groceries is always appreciated. I take team members out to lunch or dinner as well. I love my people!”

 

DEAN ANDRESS

LEAD CUSTOMER SERVICE REP, DOG TRAINER | DOGS PAW, PARK RAPIDS, MN

10 YEARS


“I love his dependability. I know he will always show up and give his most positive attitude,” owner Deana Deitchler says.

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WHY HE STAYS: “Without a doubt, my daily motivation is fueled by a deep-seated passion for the dogs themselves. Despite the inevitable challenges, when you love your work, there’s NEVER a bad day. I’m truly blessed to be where I am, and do what I do.” — Dean Andress

HOW THEY KEEP HIM: “I value his opinion, and I listen to his recommendations and suggestions. When I implement changes based on his input, I give him HUGE credit. He is very motivated, and I acknowledge him with extra bonuses and verbal thanks.” — Deana Deitchler

RETENTION TIP: Deitchler says, “Have detailed job descriptions, detailed daily work duty expectations. Don’t leave anything unwritten. Train and retrain. Be professional and transparent. Don’t hire or keep people that don’t share your company’s values. Keep learning — knowledge is power. Learn and teach daily.”

 

GENIA DAVIS

STORE MANAGER | PITTSBORO PET SUPPLY, PITTSBORO, NC

5 YEARS


“Genia is loyal, patient and loves everything that I hate doing. She’s the queen of paperwork, receiving product, keeping customers happy, and is a doorkeeper of all the staff drama,” owner Kara Holland says.

WHY SHE STAYS: “I love a family-owned business because everyone feels like part of the family. I love knowing the customers by name and seeing how happy they get when we remember their pet’s name and what they feed.” — Genia Davis

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “Genia started out with us as a young high school kid.” After high school, “we offered her more hours, so she quit her other jobs and has stuck with us since. Her daily tasks are perfect for her personality, so she enjoys coming into work. We have increased her pay and benefits, but we treat her like family. She’s always invited to holiday dinners and has been to many of our major family events.” — Kara Holland

RETENTION TIP: Holland says, “Treat your staff members like family. Be interested in their personal lives and give them opportunities to do things they wouldn’t get to do in other careers. Take them with you to buying shows and make mini vacations out of them. Pick up coffee for them just because it’s Wednesday morning. Listen more than you talk and give them space when needed.”

 

MELQUIN HIDALGO

GROOMING MANAGER & TRAINER | BELLY RUBS N SUDS, ASHBURN, VA

7 YEARS


“Melquin is a true team player,” owner Teresa Hogge says. “He feels as invested in the success of all the other team members and company as I do.”

WHY HE STAYS: “I love dogs and enjoy working with them, most importantly. Plus, we have a great team that makes work so much fun.” — Melquin Hidalgo

HOW THEY KEEP HIM: “We compensate fairly and offer paid time off as well as regular bonuses. We try to buy lunch or breakfast several times a month, and ensure that each person has the tools they need to do their job. My biggest ‘must do’ is encouraging work/life balance. I encourage all of our team members to find family events, celebrations or just fun things to do and put in for time off to enjoy those special memories. I do not let someone go several months without asking them if they have anything fun planned in the near future.” — Teresa Hogge

RETENTION TIP: Hogge says, “Your team is doing great things in the name of your company each day. Recognize them and thank them for a job well done in front of their peers. A “Thank you!” or “Great job!” goes a very long way in morale. And if there is something that is a concern, that is to be discussed in private. Never embarrass a team member in front of other team members or clients.”

 

DEBORAH “DJ” GOODELL

THE EXPERT | FIREHOUSE PET SHOP, WENATCHEE WA

4 YEARS

“DJ has vast expertise, and her professional attitude brings an amazing level of credibility to the store,” owner Jennifer Larsen says. “She worked in animal control for the cities of Seattle, Edmonds and Bremerton for many years. She is a trained vet tech, and was the product manager for a world class dog publishing company.”

WHY SHE STAYS: She enjoys tremendously what she does and the people she works with; they have become like her family. She feels like her opinion matters and she is valued, Larsen says.

HOW THEY KEEP HER: Like with all of their employees, Larsen says they listen with respect and let her be part of the decision making, and they have fun with her.

 

AMANDA MARK

STORE MANAGER | ALL PET SUPPLIES, SPRINGFIELD, MO

17 YEARS

“I know that she will always make the right decision. I don’t have to micromanage her, and I completely trust her. She is dedicated, honest and hard working,” general manager Jan Guin says.

WHY SHE STAYS: “I appreciate working for people, not just a company, and I enjoy the store and its customers. I appreciate that I make a good wage and don’t have to travel or work 60-plus-hour weeks to earn it.” — Amanda Mark

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “She does get full benefits and generous pay, but more importantly, our company has very little turnover. We all feel like family. I have been here 29 years and started the pet products in our distribution company as well as manage these two stores. I value Amanda’s input in how to make our business better.” — Jan Guin

 

JAMIE STEGLE

LEAD SALES ASSOCIATE | DOG KRAZY, RICHMOND, VA

4 YEARS

Owner Nancy Guinn shares why she highly values Stegle, “Her passion. Jamie loves the company, she loves all the customers and their humans, and she wants to learn as much as possible to help make the lives of our customer’s pets better. I can go home and know that Jamie is going to treat my customers as well as I would treat them if not better. She and I fight over dogs all the time. For the record, they love me more than they love her!”

WHY SHE STAYS: “I gained a family, and I get great satisfaction in being in a place where I can make a difference in a dog’s life. My bosses’ passion is so inspiring.” — Jamie Stegle

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “Jamie found out her dog has cancer, and promised her a house with a yard while she was alive. So we found the perfect house,” Guinn says of the property she and her husband, Chris, bought to be a rental for Stegle. “She’s not just an employee, she’s family.”

Guinn adds, “We treat our employees as we would like to be treated. We try to make all our stores a fun place to work where they know their input means something. We provide a family atmosphere. We are there for our employees, and they are there for us. We do provide benefits for our full-time employees, and we have an hourly wage as well as a bonus structure. We have monthly training sessions and monthly competitions, where the winning store gets a store outing or team-building event.

RETENTION TIP: Guinn says, “Lead by example. Don’t assume that you know everything. Listen to your employees. They hear and see everything, and can give you valuable advice.”

 

KAREN HOWARD

TEAM MEMBER | COOL DOG GEAR, ROSLYN, PA

5 YEARS

“Karen steps up to the plate every time we ask,” owner Sue Hepner says of the retiree turned part-time employee. “Her life experiences have proven to be invaluable. Karen has great insight as it pertains to people and does all of our application reviews and initial interviews. Karen also is an indispensable member of our community outreach and event activities. Her energy and personality are off the charts. It’s amazing how she remembers customers from previous years who shop our events. She creates a special bond with the customers, as if they have been lifelong friends — offering outstanding customer service and product suggestions. Karen also spearheads our yearly inventory. She then compiles all the data, making it ready to hand straight to the accountant.”

WHY SHE STAYS: “They allow me to work a schedule that accommodates my lifestyle. As people and managers, Sue and Paula [Jaffe] are compassionate, good people with a passion for the business concept they have developed. They have built a work atmosphere that shows appreciation and respect for their employees, which encourages a dedication to them and their business.” — Karen Howard

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “We are a small business and offer no benefits, and the pay is average. We do, however, work around our life schedules. Just put it on the calendar, and we’ll make it work. Want to spend the week with the grandkids? No problem. Spending the winter in Florida? OK. When will you be home? Taking a vacation for two weeks? Have fun! We are a retired person’s dream job. A little extra pocket change and still able to enjoy life. It pays to be flexible.” — Sue Hepner

RETENTION TIP: Hepner says, “Be a good human being. Value your employees and their knowledge, and teach them new skills. Allow the employee to be creative. Ask for their opinion or suggestions, and work with them. Have the employee develop special events and give them ownership of the activity from start to finish. Be kind.”

 

CAROL HOLEY

STORE MANAGER | PADDYWACK, MILL CREEK, WA

4 YEARS

“Carol is a great person who really cares about others — fellow staff, customers and the pets we serve,” owner Shane Somerville says. “She is truly dedicated to providing a wonderful, happy environment for everyone, while still keeping employees on task and coaching them through the tough situations or in areas where they can grow.”

WHY SHE STAYS: “Coming to work is no longer just a job. When you work with people you consider family, have customers you consider friends and get to love on pets all day, all while making an income, you realize there aren’t many who have it better. I’m lucky to call Paddywack my job.” — Carol Holey

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “We even sold her our old car for next to nothing when we got a new one because she needed a more reliable vehicle — and then we just ended up telling her to not worry about payments and enjoy it as a bonus.” — Shane Somerville

Somerville adds, “I like to think our employees stay with us because they know that we truly care about them. We believe in offering fair pay, quality health insurance, a really good employee discount (5 percent over wholesale) and a set schedule, and we also do ‘little things’ like paid lunches, free food and products, quarterly stipends, etc. But more than that, we value them as people and friends, and want to make sure that they get a good work/life balance, and know that their feelings and opinions are valued.”

RETENTION TIP: Somerville says, “Empower them to have a voice, to have a stake in what you do and how you do it, and they will become more invested in the success of your business!”

 

JULIE McMULLEN

GENERAL MANAGER | BUBBLY PAWS, TWIN CITIES, MN

5 YEARS

“Julie goes above and beyond every day,” owner Keith Miller says. “We never worry about things not getting completed on time or the stores not running smoothly. She completely understands her role. Her work ethic is something I wish we could clone, and when there is an issue, customer or employee, she knows how my wife and I would want her to respond.”

WHY SHE STAYS: “The value that is placed on me. I am typically involved in business decisions, which makes me feel like a true part of the company. My role feels as one that makes a difference in the company, and because of that, I take pride in my work.” — Julie McMullen

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “We don’t micromanage. She does get paid pretty well with a bonus structure, and we have benefits (health, dental, 401K, paid time off), but honestly, I don’t think that is the reason she has stuck around. I think it’s because she really likes it, likes us and just enjoys doing a great job.” — Keith Miller

RETENTION TIP: Miller says, “One you find a great employee, work hard to keep them, but don’t go crazy. The minute you start going over the top is when they start expecting more. Sometimes small gestures go further. A few weeks ago, we were going through some staffing issues, and Julie was working a ton of extra hours and we could tell she was getting stressed. So we send her a Target gift card with a little note thanking her for her hard work. We don’t do it all the time, but know that little things like this can go a long way.”

 

MOLLY SURIYA

TEAM MEMBER | FETCH RI, RICHMOND, RI

5 YEARS

“Molly prefers to be looked upon as an equal to the rest of the staff, even though she fills many managerial roles,” owner Johnna Devereaux says of her title. “She is a genuine person with phenomenal customer service skills. She possesses the ability to diffuse difficult situations quickly and is an asset to our team.”

WHY SHE STAYS: “I love the things we do that help the animals that visit us, whether it’s fitting a new harness so they can have a more pleasurable walk or bigger issues like helping an animal that has been ill and improving their quality of life. I get to work with great people, and every day is filled with something new I can learn. I appreciate that I am utilized in a role customized to my abilities and my comfort level, and that I can laugh every day while meeting cute dogs and cats.” — Molly Suriya

HOW THEY KEEP HER: “I value my employees and always make sure they know I appreciate them. Sometimes this manifests by verbal acknowledgement or by an impromptu pizza party, where as other times it’s a free gift for their dog or cat. I also empower my employees by educating them. This goes beyond the scope of products we carry and extends to skills they will be able to use in their future. I encourage laughter and camaraderie. We are a team, and every employee is an integral part of the experience of shopping at our store. They all matter, all have a voice and are all listened to.” — Johnna Devereaux

RETENTION TIP: Devereaux says, “Make employees feel like they are part of the team, implement their suggestions when you can and be grateful to those who care about your business enough to still be there with you.”

 

NICOLAS SANTIBANEZ

PURRRFECT BARK | COLUMBUS, NC

In his 15 years at family businesses Little Mountain Farm Supply then Purrrfect Bark, operations manager Nicolas Santibanez has never taken a sick day. That’s impressive!

WHY HE STAYS: He enjoys helping customers and operating the forklift. Owner Eric Mack adds, “His boss, my mom, Laura, is very good to him. She’s always done right by him, and he appreciates that.”

HOW THEY KEEP HIM: “He’s paid well, two to three weeks off a year, paid, and we give him free food for his pets.” — Eric Mack

RETENTION TIP: Mack says, “Keep them involved in decisions, at least take their opinion and thoughts. Throw them a birthday party sometime. Take ’em out to dinner every now and again. Be nice and respectful to them, as well. Even when you need to lay down the rules, do it the right way.”

 

6 More Ways to Retain Employees

Here are tips to keep staff happy from six business owners with staff whose tenure ranges from 4 to 17 years. Read more about those longtime staff members — and how their bosses keep them coming in with a smile every day.

RESPECT OPINIONS: “Keep them involved in decisions, at least take their opinion and thoughts. Throw them a birthday party sometime. Take ’em out to dinner every now and again. Be nice and respectful to them, as well. Even when you need to lay down the rules, do it the right way.” Eric Mack, Purrrfect Bark, Columbus, NC

SET EXAMPLES: “Lead by example. Don’t assume that you know everything. Listen to your employees. They hear and see everything, and can give you valuable advice.” Nancy Guinn, Dog Krazy, Richmond, VA

ALLOW CREATIVITY: “Be a good human being. Value your employees and their knowledge, and teach them new skills. Allow the employee to be creative. Ask for their opinion or suggestions, and work with them. Have the employee develop special events and give them ownership of the activity from start to finish. Be kind.” Sue Hepner, Cool Dog Gear, Roslyn, PA

EMPOWER: “Empower them to have a voice, to have a stake in what you do and how you do it, and they will become more invested in the success of your business!” Shane Somerville, Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA

DO LITTLE THINGS: “One you find a great employee, work hard to keep them, but don’t go crazy. The minute you start going over the top is when they start expecting more. Sometimes small gestures go further. A few weeks ago, [an employee] was working a ton of extra hours and we could tell she was getting stressed. So we send her a Target gift card with a little note thanking her for her hard work. We don’t do it all the time, but know that little things like this can go a long way.” Keith Miller, Bubbly Paws, Twin Cities, MN

BE GRATEFUL: “Make employees feel like they are part of the team, implement their suggestions when you can and be grateful to those who care about your business enough to still be there with you!” Johnna Devereaux, Fetch RI, Richmond, RI

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