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Our guide to apprehending bad fish, displaying more dog food than you have room for, triaging a sick bird, fixing a freezer, and most things in between

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WE RECENTLY ASKED members of the PETS+ Brain Squad to share standout skills. Their responses, rounded up here, impressed us! We learned a lot, and laughed out loud more than once. Guest stars also make an appearance — check out Lucky Dog host Brandon McMillan and Cat Canopy Rescue’s Shawn Sears — to offer their expertise on additional topics. To take part in future stories like these, join our Brain Squad at petsplusmag.com/brainsquad. We want your knowledge as part of the collective PETS+ readership!

1. HOW TO GET A CAT OUT OF A TREE

ShaWn Sears | Cat Canopy Rescue, Woodinville, WA

Arborist Shawn Sears co-founded Cat Canopy Rescue to help kitties who climb too high in western Washington. In other areas of the country, pet business owners can advise customers with stuck pets by passing along his tried and true tips:

  • Give the cat 24 hours to come down — “They need to climb down backwards. Some can figure it out.” Sears discourages setting out food as encouragement. It can attract other animals, which will make up in the tree seem safer than down on the ground.
  • Don’t call the fire department — “It’s rare that they will come out and help. Dispatch doesn’t generally respond to a cat stuck in a tree.”
  • Do call an arborist if the cat has climbed higher than 20 feet — These professional climbers can safely reach such heights and offer the best possible outcome.
  • DIY up to 20 feet — Most extension ladders measure between 18 and 25 feet, allowing for pet parents to safely climb and attempt a rescue at this height. Simply scoop up the cat if near the trunk. Use a pushbroom to nudge the cat toward you if farther along a branch. Pro tip: Wear rubber-palmed gardening gloves for grip and protection.

 

2. HOW TO FIRE A CLIENT

Kirstin Morrison | Six Figure Pet Business Academy

Difficult clients often cost more money than they bring into a business. Business coach Kristin Morrison recommends firing those who do.

“Letting  challenging  clients go frees up  your time, your energy and creates space to take on an ideal client. It’s worth it.”

Here’s how to have the dreaded but necessary conversation:

  1. It’s always best to “break up” over the phone, rather than in email or text, and start the conversation with honest appreciation.
  2. Be firm, but compassionate.
  3. Try to sound breezy and light, even when not feeling that way.
  4. Don’t blame.
  5. Keep the conversation brief.
  6. Be professional.
  7. Offer a positive affirmation about your experience with the client. Something like “I really enjoyed working with your pets” can be a truthful, simple way to end the call. (Leave out the part about the humans being challenging!) Leave people better than when you found them.

 

3. HOW TO PROTOTYPE A PET TOY

Spencer Williams | West Paw Design, Bozeman, MT

In his role as CEO of West Paw Design, Spencer Williams has created more than a few pet toys. He believes all products should solve a problem or enhance the relationship between a person and their dog or cat.

“If it’s doing one of those things, it’s going to be a great toy.”

Williams recommends that budding designers do the following:

  • Draw the toy and share it with as many people as possible to get feedback. Also consider how it would fit into a product line or retail brand.
  • Finalize design and 3-D-print the prototype — “3-D printing is really cost effective now and widely available. In Bozeman, MT, our public library has a 3-D printer.” If you don’t want to invest in and/or learn the required software, outsource to an expert.

 

4. HOW TO CREATE THEMED BACKDROPS FOR $10 OR LESS

Kris MinklE | The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

Marketing director Kris Minkle knows how to get maximum merchandising from minimal dollars. This sports-themed set began as part of a display she made for pet beds and other items.

A bed sheet from a discount store represents the sky. Minkle painted hundreds of dots on butcher paper to create the blurry stadium crowd. White tape and an inexpensive fleece serve as the football field, with PVC pipe and fittings making up the uprights.

“The display was a smashing success, and we sold out of our first order of beds. It probably cost less than $10 and took an afternoon to put together. I then recycled the painted background and used it as a photo backdrop for our grooming dogs!”

 

5. HOW TO TRIAGE A SICK BIRD

Sal Salafia | Exotic Pet Birds, Rochester, NY

Customers think of pet business owners as all-around animal experts. They regularly ask for information and advice — and for help during emergencies. Sal Salafia provided the latter on a recent Friday night.

“A client brought in a young budgie who was losing energy. With all of the avian vets in town closed, she turned to us out of fear that her bird would not make it through the weekend.”

Salafia raises a variety of birds and does so with regular veterinary guidance. His store has several incubators, so he placed the bird, named Ozzy, inside one to raise and maintain his temp.

“You do this because birds can lose energy critical to their survival when in a weakened state.”

Salafia then slowly fed Ozzy a mixture of Pedialyte and Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula through a syringe to ensure he didn’t dehydrate in the raised heat.

“I allowed him to rest for about an hour. Upon the second check-in, he was bouncing around with an unbelievable amount of energy and eating millet.”

For pet store owners who do not raise birds but do sell bird supplies, Salafia recommends being prepared for such a situation: Learn how to hand-feed birds and have available an incubator and an avian vet who will take an after-hours call.

 

6. HOW TO GET THE PRESS TO OPEN YOUR EMAILS

Nancy Hassel | American Pet Professionals

A positive mention of your business on TV or in a newspaper or magazine can give it a significant boost. But how do you get the press to even open the emails you send? Nail the subject line, Nancy Hassel says. That means grabbing their attention and getting right to the point. “Journalists are crushed for time and usually on deadline. Be respectful of that and think about what makes you open an email.”

Hassel wrote this one for APP client Harbor Pet: Media alert! North Fork Dock Diving Pet Expo & Fundraiser May 20-21, 2017. It resulted in 36 press mentions, including camera crews and reporters covering the event.

Hassel also advises not to use tactics like “Re:” when there was no initial contact. Your email may land in the trash — or worse, marked as spam.

 

7. HOW TO CREATE HANGING PRODUCT DISPLAYS

Laura LaCongo | Notorious D.O.G., Clarence, NY

When merchandising in her store, Laura LaCongo utilizes space up to the ceiling. This display features a variety of creatures, on land and in the sea.

“Fluff and Tuff fish hang from the ceiling as if they are swimming.”

LaCongo recommends staying within weight guidelines when using ceiling clips to hang products. For this display, she used clips suitable for up to 12 pounds.

8. HOW TO WIN OVER SCARED (OR SIMPLY ALOOF) PETS

Kelly Catlett | Waggs 2 Whiskers, Bagdad, KY

Not all pets connect quickly with a new sitter. When that happens, Kelly Catlett pulls from her bag of trust-building tricks.

She tosses treats into the crates of scared, barking pups. This serves as a distraction and allows her to open the door and move away. Catlett keeps a children’s book handy and reads aloud to draw in aloof kitties. She also finds that talking to pets as she goes about other business in the home works.

“That gives the pets a chance to get used to my movements, my sounds, my voice. Remember that we are on their turf. It’s their home, and they are always so protective of it. Even though I have already met them at our meet and greet, I’m still careful to not assume they remember me and have accepted me as their caregiver.”

 

9. HOW TO MARKET AND DEMO NEW PRODUCTS ON FACEBOOK LIVE

Cory Giles | The General Store, Collinsville, IL

Cory Giles has embraced Facebook Live as a way to promote products new to his store. Dozens of videos feature everything from dog treats and chews to cat toys and litter boxes. Items that require demonstration, such as a litter box, show best in video, he says.

“There are no tools that compare for pure product demo. Think about how much less effective a traditional text and picture post would be.”

Giles recommends the following when promoting a product on Facebook Live: State how it will solve a problem, and anticipate and address any objections. He also recommends using page insights to decide when to go live and for how long, based on previous viewer engagement. His pro tip: Check out the Switcher Go and Ripl apps for inserting graphics and video.

10. HOW TO GET TREE SAP OUT OF A DOG’S COAT

Jane Donley | Dog Beach Dog Wash, San Diego, CA

Dogs love to roll in anything stinky and/or sticky. In the case of tree sap, Jane Donley has a tried-and-true removal method.

“Out comes the spray bottle of De-Solv-it, an eco-friendly organic product containing a citrus solution safe for skin and hair.”

She sprays it on the dog’s coat, preferably dry, then waits a few minutes for it to penetrate the sap. Paper towels wipe the sap away, and then the dog gets shampooed and rinsed well.

 

11. GET MORE FOOD OPTIONS ON THE SALES FLOOR

Toni Shelaske says, “Stripe it.” Instead of stacking food from the same brand by protein, alternate proteins within the same stack. She says manufacturers have even begu n adding product info to bag bottoms for this very purpose.

“Striping allows us to offer customers a wider selection while saving space on the sales floor.”

 

12. HOW TO KEEP DOGS FROM PEEING AND POOPING ON THE EASTER BUNNY’S LAWN

Nancy Okun | Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

Nancy Okun learned a valuable lesson from last year’s Easter Bunny photo fundraiser: Do not use fake grass on the set.

“A little one pooped on the grass. Not to worry. It was hard enough to pick up with a poop bag. A fairly large dog peed on the grass. Soaked that up with paper towels, sprayed Fizzion and thought all was well. Nope.

“Within the next 40 minutes, and we book every five minutes for pictures, we spent more time cleaning up poop and pee than taking pix. By the end, we couldn’t get the grass clean. The smell was so strong we had to leave the room to catch our breath. The bunny had to toss his sneakers in the garbage along with the fake grass.”

Okun solved the problem in 2018 by swapping the fake grass for a sheet, keeping the Easter Bunny’s “lawn” from too closely resembling a doggie bathroom.

 

13. HOW TO HAVE A SALE

Candace D’Agnolo | Pet Boss Nation

The business coach regularly points out to clients that they own a store — not a museum! That means moving older inventory.

“Mark items older than three months 20 to 25 percent off, and items older than six months 35 to 50 percent off. Get an influx of shoppers twice with one sale by kicking it off on a Friday; on the following Thursday, take significant additional markdowns on stuff that’s older than six months. Refresh the displays as you go, ensuring they always look the best they can. Promoting the additional markdowns will bring shoppers back who love a deal.”

 

14. HOW TO BECOME THE GO-TO PET PRODUCT EXPERT FOR LOCAL TV

Rachel Phelps | PrestonSpeaks.com

When Preston the Westie became an internet-famous blogger, local TV stations began asking his human Rachel Phelps if they could appear in pet-centric segments.

“After a very painful first interview, where luckily the camera focused on how cute Preston was instead of his rambling mom, I knew I need to get help ASAP.”

Phelps joined Toastmasters, the nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

“My club meetings gave me a safe place among supportive people to practice speeches for events, conduct mock interviews, and even how to lead a press conference. I also received constructive feedback from other members and tips on how to improve.”

She recommends that all business owners join Toastmasters or a similar org.

“The way we are perceived is so important for first impressions. If we come across as confident when we speak, then people will take us more seriously and are more likely to work with us on projects or partnerships. Plus, the media loves to put people on camera who make a good impression and feel comfortable in front of the lens.”

 

15. HOW TO RECOGNIZE A NEW REVENUE STREAM

Robert H. Smith | Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, Selden, NY

Before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Jungle Bob’s offered exotics boarding as a courtesy to its customers. The natural disaster changed the store’s approach.

“We never lost power and suddenly had 65 extra cages of other people’s animals,” Robert H. Smith — aka Jungle Bob — says. “It was a major emergency, as people lost their homes during that storm.”

It didn’t feel right charging for the service, but the tip jar overflowed as customers began picking up their pets, some after weeks of boarding. That told Smith that they would pay for the service, especially after the store had showed such generosity in their time of need.

 

16. HOW TO DIY WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO DIY

Laura Amiton | The Filling Station Pet Supplies, Tigard, OR

When a power surge took out the lights in two of her store’s freezers, Laura Amiton decided to try a DIY repair with help from the manufacturer.

“They walked me through the first one. I took some pictures so I would make sure to re-attach several switch cords to the same places, and then I did the second one without their help.

“Honestly, I was sweating bullets because the person on the phone made it very clear that the replacement part would blow out if anything was hooked back up again in a wrong order.

“But, it worked out, and I truly did feel like I accomplished something that generally I would have hired out for. I’m sure it saved me the cost of a technician’s time, and if it were to happen again, I feel much more confident that I could fix it myself.”

 

17. HOW TO STOP BLEEDING WHEN YOU CLIP A QUICK

Kristen Finley | La Bella Puppy Doos, San Antonio, TX

Quicks get clipped. It happens, and then blood begins to seep from the nail. Groomer Kristen Finley prepares for these inevitable — especially with black nails — accidents. She never clips wet nails, as the styptic powder that stops blood flow adheres only to dry nails, and she creates a calming atmosphere in her salon.

“If you are nervous, the dog will be nervous as well, so go slow and be calm when clipping nails.”

Nerves can lead to high blood pressure and stronger blood flow. Finley also cuts nails only during vet office hours in case a dog has an undiagnosed disorder that keeps blood from clotting as it should.

 

18. HOW TO BREAK UP A DOG FIGHT

Brandon McMillan, LUCKY DOG on CBS

Dog trainers and owners of daycare and boarding facilities know what to do when a fight breaks out. Because it happens less frequently in retail settings, store owners may be caught off-guard. Lucky Dog host Brandon McMillan shares this don’t and do.

5 Don’t try to grab the dogs by their collars — “The danger zone when a dog is fighting is right near the collar and above. Dogs don’t know what they’re biting if they go into full bite mode. I’ve seen people lose digits that way.”

5 Do make noise — “The best way to break up a fight is with a loud noise.” He recommends shaking pennies in a jar or using compressed air.

McMillan regularly employs noise during training to break a dog’s focus on unwanted behavior. He partnered with Petmate to make his own version of pennies in a jar, the Shake & Break Training Tool. Use one to break up a fight and ensure a sale.

 

19. HOW TO WRANGLE A MISBEHAVING DOG

Trish Elliott | Town & Country Pet Resort, Valley Springs, CA

Trish Elliot’s boarding facility sits in the middle of her 160-acre ranch, which also has sheep. Wrangling dogs who just want one more minute — or 10 — in the play yard doesn’t differ too much from moving livestock, she says.

Whether the dog just won’t listen, or hasn’t settled in and fears the unknown, Elliot starts by opening the gates to the play yard and their run. She then makes a big circle to approach the pup from behind.

“That small amount of pressure by approaching will cause them to move away, toward their run.”

It also helps to put a treat on their bed as a reward.

 

20. HOW TO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING OUT OF A CONTRACT

Rachel Diller | The Poodle Shop and Urban Sophisticats, Littleton, CO

Some salons hire groomers as employees. Others bring them on as contractors or simply rent them a booth. No matter the setup, Rachel Diller details it in writing. Among the factors she covers in a contract are who has responsibility for products, equipment, scheduling, pricing, insurance, client retention. Also: payment amount and who handles withholding taxes.

Diller also recommends a thorough set of salon guidelines.

“Clearly define the rules and policies. The space being offered to a worker is your space. You have every right to define how it is utilized and cared for.

 

21. HOW TO MAKE YOUR PET INSTAGRAM-FAMOUS

Hilary Sloan | Instagram.com/EllaBeanTheDog

Ella Bean — puppy mill rescue and lover of all things cashmere — has 113,000 followers on Instagram. How did she get so famous? Her human Hilary Sloan made it happen. Here’s how you can do the same:

  • Post clear, clean pictures.
  • Tell a story — “Ella chooses to cuddle up on a cashmere or faux-fur blanket above anything else in the house. She positions herself at the highest point in the room and looks down on everyone. Those quirks inform her luxury diva personality.”
  • Engage with the community — “As people come on your page and like and comment, it’s important to acknowledge that. It’s also important to acknowledge people who are creating content that you really like and respect. Ella’s account is so successful because we’re friends with so many people we’ve met on social media.”

 

22. HOW TO CATCH A BAD FISH

Mike Doan | Odyssey Pets, Dallas, TX

Overnight, a fish can turn into a cannibal that can evade capture. When that happens, Mike Doan reaches for his tiny tackle, then baits the hook with mysis (shrimp-like crustaceans), and drops it in.

“Because the bad fish is also the alpha, he’ll be the first to check out the new food dangling down. Once he takes the bait, tug on the line to set the hook and draw that bad boy out of the tank. Gently, with wet hands covered in StressGuard, remove the hook. With one end of a Q-tip, dab the puncture until dry. Then dip the other end in iodine or mercurochrome and cover the wound.”

Then find that bad boy a new home where he can live … alone.

 

 

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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Best Day Ever: Readers Share Their Most Memorable Days in the Business

A few responses even had us reaching for the tissues.

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Best day ever. It’s a phrase used often. But what if you had to pick just one? A day above all others in your pet business. Could you? We asked you to do exactly that in a recent Brain Squad survey. And you didn’t disappoint.

Your answers moved us, as they all revolved around helping the dogs, cats and other pets in your communities. A few responses even had us reaching for the tissues.

Like this one from Charlotte Petrey of You Lucky Dog in Houston, TX: “The day we flooded and saved all the dogs.”

Digging deeper, we learned that during the unexpected Memorial Day Flood of 2015, water rose to 2-1/2 feet inside this family-owned boarding facility. Overnight staff moved all 23 guests to safety in higher areas of the building, continuing in the dark after power went out. Pet parents and the community were so grateful that they contributed more than $25,000 via gofundme to help Petrey rebuild.

Now that most certainly counts as a best day ever. Read on for more.


“In January 2018, my then 9-year-old daughter was sitting with me in a snowstorm here in Connecticut with our chocolate Lab, Harley, and we were discussing sports we would like to participate in with our Lab in the spring. She said she couldn’t throw a Frisbee and wanted to try agility. Then she asked if she could do swimming with Harley.

So we researched sports involving dogs and swimming, and found dock diving! We soon learned that there were no dock-diving pools for dogs in our state. And a pet resort and spaw we own is on 6 acres with plenty of room to add a pool. And what’s a resort without a pool? Right?

From my daughter’s desire to spend time with our loving Lab, an idea was born, and we spent the winter designing, planning and ordering 13,000 square feet of artificial turf, pool, dock, etc. while learning all about the sport.

In June 2018, we opened Connecticut’s only Ultimate Air Dogs dock diving pool, a 45-foot saltwater pool at one of my resorts. I have added a 40-foot dock to it and offer the pool as a Dock Diving facility — with swimming lessons, hydrotherapy, daily swims for guests, private pool rentals and pool pawties. We recently had our first-ever competition weekend. Fox 61 News came to cover it. People couldn’t believe how beautiful the facility and location are, and compliments flowed all day.

It was a dream come true to see my children participate as youth handlers in dock diving events that weekend. Watching my now 9- and 10-year-old daughters participate in a sport with their dog, on my property, while observing so many other competitors enjoying quality time with their families and dogs in such a fun sport, definitely qualified as a Best Day Ever.

Daycare and boarding guests enjoyed their stay, and veteran dock-diving competitors, who traveled to Connecticut from Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island for the event, were blown away by the beautiful facility and pool, welcoming staff, cleanliness of the place, smooth registration process and professional atmosphere. It was over 100 degrees, and the event went on without a bump or complaint. It is always a lot of work putting on events. And we do have many. But this was our first dock diving event. To see it come to fruition July 2019, after a child’s idea was offered in January 2018, is a dream come true and best day ever for me! — Krista Lofquist Wagging Tails, Wolcott, CT

“One Christmas, a little girl came in with $100 to spend on our favorite dog charity. She couldn’t have a dog, so her mom told her she could do this. We loaded her up and gave her all kinds of things. The warmth in this little girl’s heart was so overwhelming. All of us were crying of happiness. That’s a good day!” — Debbie Brookham, Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

“Best day ever was when I looked out onto my doggy day-care floor and realized that all 50-plus pup clients were not any of my family or friend’s dogs. My ‘field of dreams’ really had become a profitable biz without any help from my loved ones. Cool stuff!” — Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

“I had a client who brought her two Gordon Setters and one Miniature Poodle in for grooming regularly. The dogs were so tuned into the process and pickup. One night, the parking lot was full and the owner parked her big SUV in another spot. I checked the dogs out and helped her take them to the truck. Both big dogs jumped on the top of the car hood that was parked in their usual spot. I laughed so hard, but the mom was clearly mortified. Nobody saw. Just made the end of the day fantastic for me. I’ll never forget that day or the dogs.” — Rachel Diller, The Poodle Shop, Littleton, CO

“The best day ever was when I came to the conclusion that I had too many customers. For the last year, I have had to stop taking on new customers due to a full schedule. Just a few months ago, I ordered my second van to convert (should be on the road by end of the year) and am working on expanding!” — Amanda Bowman, Fairy Tails Mobile Grooming, Cherry Hill, NJ

“When a family had to move away and told me I was the one who changed their kid’s life — an autistic kid who no matter what they tried, nothing helped. When they came to my store, everything came together when they picked out a bird, realized not all dogs were bad, (we had a store Mastiff at the time) and life seemed better. I had no idea until they thanked me and told me how it has changed “Nick.” — Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

“When I hosted my first Backyard Luau for the dogs. Not only did each and every one of them wear leis, but they were all so calm and happy. I was such a proud ‘earth mother’ that day.” — Vanessa Cruz, Dawgs All Day, Brooklyn, NY

“We shut down our location to pamper over 40 shelter dogs, and the staff morale was so strong.” — Jessica Cooke, Yuppy Puppy, O’Fallon, MO

“We had a customer in tears. His daughter’s dog was failing and suffering from cancer. His daughter was still away at school, and this was the love of her life. He asked if we could recommend something that would help. After much discussion of the circumstances, we recommended Pet Releaf and Allprovide Gently Cooked. He followed our advice and came in with his daughter the following Saturday, and with “Root Beer” the Jack Russell Terrier. He was jumping around and full of life, and his daughter thanked us with a big hug. Root Beer lived for almost 9 more months and was comfortable and pain free. We were so thrilled to be able to offer this as an option.” — Christine McCoy, The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, North Royalton, OH

“Our best day ever was during one of our breed meetups. During Doodle Day, there were approximately 50 dogs and their owners in the store. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day and many of them hung out outside on the porch or in the parking lot. It was not only our best sales day, the general vibe in the store was happy, as people got to meet other owners. I saw many of them exchanging contact information. Connecting people through their pets always brings me joy.” — Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

“There are many ‘best day evers’ in the independent pet food retailer industry. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by the things that I love and motivate me for 34 years, not to mention the customers who share the same passions and interests. There are now second-generation customers who have parents who have shopped in the store for many years. I always remind myself to focus on those things when the occasional stressful situation arises.” — Jack Carey, Food For Pets, Manchester, NH

“Every Black Friday! We love the excitement of the shoppers. It’s truly the official kick-off to the holiday season.” Tammy Vasquez, Bark Life, Seminole, FL

“We are fortunate to be in Salem, MA, which gets very good tourist traffic most of the year, especially in October. It is so rewarding to hear from customers who visit the city yearly and make it a point to visit us, to both say hello and purchase our hand-made treats and cookies. With all the things to do and see, to know they make our shop a destination makes us feel very proud. Kimberly Barnes, New England Dog Biscuit, Salem, MA

“Probably receiving a pile of magazines with Mumsie and me on the front cover winning first place in PETS+ America’s Coolest Pet Store 2018!” Leel Michelle, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

“We just had our best sales day ever this July. It topped the previous best day ever by more than 12 percent! We discount our whole store by the same percentage as number of years old we are. This year it was 14 percent off since our store is 14 years old. We have VIP swag bags — customers can pre-order to guarantee their bag — and a prize wheel for when they spend certain amounts, and we host multiple nonprofits/rescues as well as demo reps with freebies. It’s a big festive atmosphere, and our customers love it! Next year we’ll have to come up with something else to make it even more special to celebrate 15 years! — Shane Somerville, Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA

“One of my best days ever was when after months of step-by-step encouragement (and courage building), one of the dogs in our workout program finally went across the balance beam on his own! The pet parents and the dog were both elated! I know that dog was happy because he kept circling around and doing it over and over again with ‘Look Mom, No Hands’ excitement! Everybody in the store came over to watch him run through the course like a kid in a candy store!” — Sue Hepner, Cool Dog Gear, Roslyn, PA

“I have adoptions most Saturdays, and the best day is when the shelter leaves empty-handed.” — Ron Keller, Captivating Canines, Westerville, OH

“The day our Boston store really lifted off/went into the black. We opened during the recession in 2010, and it took way longer to get up on its legs than I expected.” — Kathy Palmer, The Fish & Bone, Boston, MA

“Having multiple customers come in and be so happy they were crying, based on proper nutritional guidance from my team. We had five customers in one day!” — Jennifer Flanagan, Nature’s Pet Market Sherwood, Sherwood, OR

“When my little Chihuahua, Cocomo Joe, went into the Burke & Herbert Bank, located in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, and helped me convince them that a dog bakery and boutique was just what Old Town needed. Cocomo Joe gave a few little looks with his Burberry shirt, and they were sold. Cocomo Joe was asked to sign the loan with me, and he eagerly did for a treat.” — Kristina Robertson, Barkley Square Pets, Falls Church, VA

COCOMO JOE

“The first day my pet facility opened for business and earned the first $5 bill in cash. I still have it taped in my check-in desk. — Tammi Bui, Wishbone Pet Care, Missouri City, TX

“Any day that I get a customer coming back to tell me that their dog or cat has changed drastically for the better simply because we suggested a different food, or suggested trying CBD for whatever ails them, is a fabulous day! Knowing that our experience and knowledge was able to help another pet parent find their way and change their fur baby’s life for an astounding better is always our best day! For us, it’s about community that drives us to do what we do, and of course, for the love of all fur kids out there in the world.” — Kimberly Gatto, The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV

“Any day that I have helped an animal and its person live their best life.” — Honor Blume, BowMeow Regency, Sheffield, MA

“Grand opening day is what stands out to me. The adrenaline, the positive vibes, meeting the community, seeing the team and how excited they were. And how even under extreme stress, we all made it through with smiles. (Nothing would scan, our POS didn’t sync with inventory and was a disaster!) — Jennifer Larsen, Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA

“Our best day ever in business was just before the Fourth of July this year, when people were out and about taking their dog to the dog park, then coming over to our shop next door to give a self-serve bath and buy treats. We were staffed up for it, and everyone was moving and grooving, keeping customers engaged and served all day long. We provided pizza for the staff as a thank you for their hard work that day. We made a few hundred more dollars than we normally make, but more importantly, made new and existing customers happy to do business with us.” — Charlsye Lewis, Metro Animals, Fort Worth, TX

“We’ve done a couple on-site fundraiser meet-and-greets with local rescues. The Greyhound rescue is my favorite group. They come in numbers and they shop, tell stories, encourage meeting the dogs and are generally great people to be around, and the rescued Greyhounds are amazing.” — Brett Foreman, Eupawria Holistic Pet Center, Owego, NY

“The day that we opened up our second location! Greatest thing ever knowing that you are doing well enough and helping enough people out and they are recommending people to you, that you then have the capability of opening up another location to make you reach even farther and help out even more people.” — Dylan Giampaolo, Woof Woof Pet Boutique & Biscuit Bar, New Bedford, MA

“Pretty much any day that I get to spend outdoors at a community event. I do a lot of event marketing, and I love setting up the booth early in the morning, talking to new, potential customers and playing with their dogs.” — Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

“The Saturday before Christmas. Everyone is in shopping mode, but in a pleasant, not ‘mall-crushing-crowd’ way. And it’s great to know that their pets are being treated just like family. You can almost imagine the puppy stockings hanging on the mantle and wrapped gifts under the trees. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the busiest revenue days of the year, either.” — Mark Vitt, Mutts & Co., Delaware, OH

“Every day is great, but nothing beats the day we opened and realized our dreams had come to fruition. Ten years going strong now with loyal staff and awesome customers.” — Rosi Ladouceur, Barrkhaven Pet Boutique And Spaw, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“The best days I have are when clients rave about our services or when we get any sort of recognition. For instance, winning the Best of the Best in pet care award for our county, which is a voting-based award.” — Ashley Cook,Viva La Pet, Dover, NJ

“We are fortunate to be in Salem, MA, which gets very good tourist traffic most of the year, especially in October. It is so rewarding to hear from customers who visit the city yearly and make it a point to visit us, to both say hello and purchase our hand-made treats and cookies. With all the things to do and see, to know they make our shop a destination makes us feel very proud. — Kimberly Barnes, New England Dog Biscuit, Salem, MA

“Probably receiving a pile of magazines with Mumsie and me on the front cover winning first place in PETS+ America’s Coolest Pet Store 2018!” — Leel Michelle, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

“When a client told me that a friend she had referred to me told her that they found someplace that was way cheaper. My client told her that [her dog] Daisy likes likes Corey. I’m not changing.” — Corey Heenan, Corey’s Canine Creations, Altamont, NY

“I feel every day is our best day in business, and every day stands on its own for different reasons!” — Johnna Devereaux, Fetch Ri, Richmond RI

“Every anniversary. Feels awesome to make it another year.” — Lisa Vella, South Bark Dog Wash, San Diego, CA

“My best day ever is when I ring a lot of sales, which is usually around the Christmas holiday season and everyone is generally happy!” — Laura Haupt, Bark & Meow Inc, Tarrytown, NY

“I could say the day Judi walked into the store and told me I needed her. But, the all-time best day ever was when Judi adopted Buddy and brought him to the store with his e-collar on to meet my dog Taylor. The two dogs became besties right away. Why not? Judi and I are! — Nancy Okun, Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

“I’d have to say the best for me was the day my husband was able to quit his job and join me full-time.” — Nancy Guinn, Dog Krazy, Fredericksburg, VA

“One day that stands out above others are our customer appreciation days. They are a lot of work, but we serve lunch — deep-fried cheese curds, ice cream — and offer store discounts, a discount dartboard customers can throw at to get a larger discount, free items and more! It is fun watching customers enjoy themselves, and all flock to the store. — Lisa Keppers, Sauk Centre Country Store, Sauk Centre, MN

“Most of the best days ever are when customers come in and treat us like family, and tell us happy and sad things that are happening in their lives. Because they consider us family, they want us to know. — Paula Gorman, Pet Supplies ‘N’ More, Muskego, WI

“Whenever we get to welcome families who rescue dogs is our best day ever.” — Asha Olivia, Hoby Dogy Pet Care, Boca Raton, FL

“The day I won second place in America’s Coolest Pet Stores” contest in 2017.” — Patricia Boden, Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA

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Cover Stories

The 27 Contrarian Rules of Business

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T o make a point about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried that, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book, Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as iconoclasts. We like to think of them as contrarians. These are the brave, sometimes downright odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 96 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 4 percent who said they were conformists. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian. We suspect the result reflects most pet pros considering themselves as independent operators, charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more conventional employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless. There’s no inherent benefit in being unconventional.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing the things the timeworn “best practice” way.

We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, sometimes more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous.
Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you (and your business) best.

The customer is not always right.

1 It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixo and Nicholas Toman in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities.

2 One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem.

3 Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: It’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. That means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: If you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses.

4 In a series of bestselling books, consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: It’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. The weakness-plugger is the employee who goes on courses to become less awful at public speaking, when she’d be better off in a job that calls on her written skills. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Think small.

5 In his 1994 book Built to Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.”
The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done.

This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. Jerry Seinfeld’s writing technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated. Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules.

6 Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Don’t believe in long work.

7 Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this “the trap of long work.”

Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does. Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case — in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”
The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue is by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Give away your time.

8 Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time and better able to tick things off their to-do,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA , and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard, told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity: Erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over … and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts.

9 On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions.

But there aare upsides to all this: Introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of go-getters.

“Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market.

10 Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra.

Yet if innovation was a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind.

The upsides of unoriginality are clear: Imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and if they’re clever enough, can incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product.
In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says.

Run annoying ads … often.

11 There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: The more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.
Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of.

According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?”

Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell.

“These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings.

12 Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.”

There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.”

A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, rather than reading it or discussing it over email, whereas in fact, only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: Is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper.

That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs.

13 Swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff — even customers — know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14 Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One, recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.”

Don’t ask for the sale.

15 The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway.

In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground recently, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-yourself” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer.

But according to Inc. magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way.”

16 Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service.

17 Ask independent pet stores what is their point of competitive advantage, and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.”

“If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every request might be crucial for preserving sanity.

Ask customers for favors.

18 The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: We can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“What’d you think of that new food topper?”).

Don’t be so professional.

19 We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent.

The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Be an underachiever.

20 A related idea: try to do less, and you might find you get more done. There are two reasons for this: 1) the planning fallacy, which describes a psychological weakness that nearly always results in humans underestimating how long something will take to do, and 2) our nature as rhythmic creatures; we need rest to perform at our best. Running around in what appears to be a hyper-productive whirl looks impressive, but it’s usually self-defeating. You tire yourself out, resulting in work that needs to be done over, or in little getting done the following day. Or you neglect so many other duties that you’re forced to take an extra admin day to catch up. Ironically, the more time you give yourself to do individual tasks, the more things on your to-do list you actually get accomplished, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time coach and author of THE 3 SECRETS TO EFFECTIVE TIME INVESTMENT: ACHIEVE MORE SUCCESS WITH LESS STRESS. It was an approach Pablo Picasso, who got a bit done in his life, endorsed: “You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two … In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.”

Lighten up when it comes to business.

21 The Protestant work ethic, as every first-year humanities student knows, is what made western capitalism so “great”. When it comes to amassing wealth, what could be more perfect than hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy? But the implicit logic of the Protestant work ethic — if it’s hurting, it must be working — all makes for a rather dour workplace. And there’s much evidence to support the idea it’s not even effective. There is much to say that levity supports a better workplace — it encourages people to take risks and come up with more imaginative ideas. Moreover, happy staff are more productive, healthier and less likely to leave.

Dump the detailed business plan.

22 Too much business advice starts with “take the 20,000 foot view,” with clearly established objectives and milestones. But there are four problems with this counsel:

  1. The future doesn’t play along. The first casualty in the heat of market battle is the plan.
  2. Compare it with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book GOAL-FREE LIVING makes the case that you can have some kind of direction without obsessing about the specific destination. “Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,” he says. “While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful possibilities.”
  3. It contrasts with what actually works. Overwhelmingly the approach of successful U.S. entrepreneurs, according to University of Virginia business scholar Saras Sarasvathy, is to give short shrift to long-range business plans and scorn market research. Instead, they go for quick wins — a few sales, then a few more. Ready, aim, fire!
  4. The biggest things — the partners we marry, the careers we end up pursuing — are often the result of happenstance. For guidance, consider the line attributed to the scholar Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

To be sure, it is necessary to do some planning. Even a bad plan gives you a mechanism for a feedback loop, experimentation and revision. Just don’t spend hundreds of hours trying to account for eventualities that will more than likely never come to fruition.

Nice guys finish last … and first.

23 Dog-eat-dog world? While you might assume someone who spends their time helping others has a hard time climbing to the top of the ladder of professional success, people who prioritize others’ interests tend to be some of the most successful in the world, according to studies done by Wharton professor Adam Grant and which were used as the basis of his book GIVE AND TAKE. “Takers” (people who consistently place their own needs before others) and “matchers” (people who reciprocate good deeds but keep the balance even) occupy the middle of the ladder, and the bottom is populated, again, by “givers,” Grant found. “Rather than blindly giving time and energy to anyone, a successful giver will adjust their reciprocity style to avoid becoming a doormat. When confronted with a taker, they become matchers, maintaining their integrity. In a group, however, givers give more, and do so publicly, helping to establish a norm of giving within their community.”

Big decision? Toss a coin.

24 Bad decisions are generally the result of a lack of information, which is what makes many business choices so agonizing. As Princeton psychology professor Tania Lombrozo, a regular on National Public Radio, notes, if no single option clearly stands out — if they’re roughly equally appealing and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research — then your decision doesn’t much matter. You could just flip a coin. When a decision turns out to have been bad, remind yourself that you truly couldn’t have known. Your agonized decision-making process may have made it feel like you were weighing the pros and cons, a task you should have performed better, but really you were taking a stab in the dark.

Sometimes bad things just need to happen.

25 As THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK author Tim Ferriss has written, it’s worth learning to “let small bad things happen,” so that big good things eventually come to pass. There are many situations in which you need to act fast if you want to avoid a negative outcome. But if that negative outcome doesn’t matter much, avoiding it might not be the best use of your time. This viewpoint reflects a line by the economist Thomas Sowell about business and life in general: “There are no solutions; there are only tradeoffs.” You’ll never solve all your problems. So which ones are worth putting up with, in order to solve the others? The new technology you want to buy might be really good, but it’s also very expensive. Or it’s really easy to use, but it doesn’t do everything you want it to do. Or the software does what we need it to do, but the way it does it is really convoluted. These are all trade-offs. The perfect solution doesn’t exist, but acknowledging that you are making trade- offs will help you make decisions and keep a project or plan moving.

Live the contrarian life.

26 Asked how to live a contrarian life, the investor and blogger Fred Wilson suggested the following list:

  • Use an Android phone.
  • Go where no one else does (he’s a venture capitalist in New York, not Silicon Valley).
  • Take the job nobody else wants.
  • Figure out how to get out of the echo chamber to think differently. (Meet and befriend artists, engineers, people who think different.)

The first three points all seem examples of “confirmation bias” and rather suspect business advice (but that’s contrarian thinking for you).

The last one is important, though. Our pattern-seeking brains send us off on old paths, which is why social media sites like Facebook or even Amazon Books that reinforce such behavior and tastes are so dangerous. To be a contrarian, it’s vital to expose yourself more often to serendipity, or even, specifically, to the people, things and ideas you don’t think you’ll like. The Zen version of this pursuit for a fresh understanding is “beginner’s mind.” As the priest Shunryu Suzuki puts it: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Accept some losses.

27 The “sunk cost bias” — which says that once you’ve invested cash in something, it feels wasteful to stop doing so — is conventional business management. But it has applications beyond steeling yourself to get rid of underperforming inventory, staff or a location. Consider the customer whose repair is already three days late. It’s the holiday season, more orders are piling in … that customer is not going to say nice things about you anyway; might as well make sure new orders get out on time.

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Cover Stories

Power Couples

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Talk about relationship goals. These 13 couples set the bar high for living and working together. They each have found the best way to manage their marriage and their pet business, achieving success without sacrificing one for the other.

And for good measure, we’ve thrown one more power couple into this issue. Turn to the Cool Store feature on page 56 to discover why Mark and Deborah Vitt of Mutts & Co. in Ohio call the secret to their success “splitting the Ps.”

If you share a business with your significant other, we hope these examples and bits of advice resonate with you — or encourage you to consider a different approach in a particularly challenging area.

Or, if you’re contemplating such a merger, we wish you well! And expect us to ask for your own words of wisdom when we revisit this topic in the future.

Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA
Jennifer Larsen / CO-OWNER
Allen Larsen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 14

In their previous careers, Jennifer and Allen worked long hours and rarely saw each other. They opened Firehouse Pet Shop in 2014 to remedy that. The amount of time Jennifer and Allen now spend together benefits their marriage and their business, the latter through their husband-and-wife presence in the store and community.

“We admittedly can flirt a bit and get caught, but it’s nothing inappropriate, and our employees usually laugh. They say it’s funny how we argue about trying to help each other,” she says, adding, “We are in a small town, and local business owners laugh that we hold hands on our way to lunch and that we take a lunch date every day. As if working together all day isn’t enough. We are making up for lost time!”

Relationship Advice: Let work seep into your personal life, Jennifer recommends. “We enjoy brainstorming and find that some of our best ideas come when we are out and away from work, or on a long car ride when we can start diving into discussions.”

Dog Krazy, 5 Stores in Virginia
Nancy Guinn / PRESIDENT
Chris Guinn / VICE PRESIDENT
Years Married: 12

Nancy opened her first Dog Krazy store in 2006, mere months before she met Chris. He helped part-time at first and joined full-time in 2015.

“I handle all the products, employees, bakery and social media,” Nancy says. “Chris handles all the accounting, and he does everything and anything the stores need. He has the book smarts, and I have the common sense. We complement each other perfectly.”

She made their business relationship as official as their personal one earlier this year.

“Dog Krazy had always been 100 percent owned by me. For his 40th birthday, I had a cake made that said ‘Happy 49.’ When he asked why, I told him I was signing over 49 percent of the company to him.

“That was tough for me,” Nancy admits, “but he deserves it. He has worked just as hard as I have to keep Dog Krazy going and growing.”

Relationship Advice: Be grateful. Nancy says, “It’s hard 10 percent of the time and wonderful 90 percent, but when you get to spend every moment with the person you have chosen to spend your life with, and you are doing what you love, you have to remember how lucky you are. Most people answer to a boss. We answer to each other.”

Cool Dog Gear, North Wales & Langhorne, PA
Paula Jaffe / CO-OWNER
Sue Hepner / CO-OWNER
Years Partnered/Married: 16

Paula and Sue each have their own store to run. That said, they lead Cool Dog Gear as a business together, with Paula focusing on community building and the books, and Sue putting her 40 years of retail experience to work.

“We have different perspectives and are always bouncing things off of each other. It’s a good mix,” Paula says.

Relationship Advice: Don’t compete with each other, Paula offers. “We each have our areas of expertise and respect that. That’s what makes everything work.”

Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO
Debbie Brookham / CEO
Terry Brookham / COO
Years Married: 46

Debbie and Terry’s skill sets complement each other. She spends time on marketing, merchandising, purchasing and hiring. He focuses on finances, warehousing and delivery.

“Terry is a great balance for me,” Debbie says, adding that his dislike of new technology frees to her do all social media for the store, which has been open for 17 years.

Relationship Advice: Define your individual roles and write them down. Debbie explains, “Just like a job description, we were clear in who was handling what. That will save you a lot of arguments.”

Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food, Park Rapids, MN
Cecelia Michaels / OWNER
Randy Michaels / “FACE OF THE STORE”
Years Married: 9

Cecelia launched Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food in 2016. She did it all, with help from a part-timer. When Randy retired from Delta last year, he joined the business and took over “face of the store” duties, allowing her to focus on operations.

“Randy had never worked retail,” Cecelia says, “and this has been one of the most rewarding positions he’s ever had. He’d never realized how much fun it would be to hear stories from other folks about their fur babies.”

Relationship Advice: Make time for others and your spouse away from work. Cecelia shares, “I find time to go to lunch with friends, even took a short vacation with my sister while Randy took care of the business. Spending time at home with our dog, Holly, and cat, Bunny, brings us contentment. His workshop makes him happy, and my kitchen gives me joy. Our kayaks are weekend fun, and the Harley takes us places we’ve never gone before.”

Nature’s Pet Market, Sherwood & Wilsonville, OR
Jenny Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Matt Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Jenny wears the operations hat, while Matt dons the controller cap. Owners of the Sherwood store since 2013 and Wilsonville since 2015, they don’t even try to keep their work and personal lives separate because they love what they do so much.

He says, “Most of our vacations involve work, in one way or another, and we often join industry reps and include employees in our free time. We travel the country to industry trade shows together, but try to take a few days for ourselves while we’re there. The pet industry is so much fun, that I don’t think we’d have it any other way!”

Relationship Advice: Jenny offers, “I find that keeping focus on your own department is extremely helpful. I have had to step away from even discussing some duties and learn to let go and not micromanage and keep in mind that my husband has my best interests in mind.”

Lucky Dogs, Skaneateles, NY
Amy Schiek / CO-OWNER
Patrick Schiek / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 23

Amy opened Lucky Dogs in 2008, and Patrick joined her last fall after retiring from his sales executive role with a medical supplies company. She continues at the helm as mistress of all things pet, while he uses his analytical and operational skills to help move the business forward. They work together at the store four days a week, and that presence benefits the Lucky Dogs brand.

Amy says, “People see our love and affection for each other, and our love of all pets, and this feeds off onto them in a very personal and enjoyable way.”

Relationship Advice: Amy recommends, “At a certain point in the day, shut off the business conversation. Spend time with yourselves and your own pets.”

Woofs & Waves, Sioux Falls, SD
Mark Olesen / CO-OWNER
Nicole Olesen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 18

Mark and Nicole met 20 years ago while working at a pet store — he even proposed there! It was only natural for them to one day open their own. Mark works full-time at Woofs & Waves, specializing at aquatics. She works full-time as a nurse, but also handles the store’s accounting and staffing, and helps with marketing.

Relationship Advice: Schedule smartly, Nicole says. “The No. 1 thing that’s kept our relationship strong is that we both have our own alone time. We each have days off when the other is working, so we both get some time for ourselves. We still have plenty of time together, but we don’t both work at the store together all day, every day.”

Pet$Aver Healthy Pet Superstore, Rochester, NY
Russ Herman / CEO
Brenda Herman / PRESIDENT
Years Married: 37

Russ and Brenda founded their pet store 25 years ago. He oversees business operations. In addition to acting as president, she assists with marketing and bookkeeping. The chain of command does present a challenge for their personal relationship, but one they more than overcome.

“It’s much harder being business partners because one spouse has to oversee the other. At home, it’s more of an equal footing,” Russ says, adding, “Through it all, we’ve managed to not let it come between us. We always see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that time will heal all things. We know that by sticking together, we’ll get through it.”

Relationship Advice: Russ recommends going on vacation together. “It’s important for Brenda and myself to see this beautiful country of ours. Taking time off helps to recharge your energy. It’s great to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

Exotic Pet Birds Inc., Webster, NY
Sal Salafia / CO-OWNER
Jamie Salafia / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 16

Sal and Jamie have been together for 25 years, 18 of those as business partners. They worked in real estate and property management — and continue to — long before the couple opened their bird store. He handles purchasing, facility management and their breeding program. She manages the staff and finances.

“We really try to run certain aspects of the business separately and trust each other,” Jamie says about their key to success as a couple and in business.

Relationship Advice: Sal agrees and recommends never contradicting each other. “The staff knows that when one of us is there, they have the highest-level manager on scene and don’t have to worry about second-guessing of a decision made, as we always honor what each other decides.”

Pawsitive Karma, Castro Valley, CA
Marilyn Texter / CO-OWNER
Robin Keim / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 25

How have Marilyn and Robin found 13 years of success with their store and grooming salon? They don’t work together. They split up the six business days evenly. Marilyn does lead retail efforts, and Robin helms the salon.

Marilyn says, “Robin is very methodical, and I am more social, so it makes sense. I totally do not want to do all the yucky things like grinding nails or squeezing anal glands, and Robin does not like having to cover the front, doing several things at once in front of people.”

Relationship Advice: Determine before starting the business, which is more important, your relationship or your job? Write it down and figure out how to maintain that goal,” Marilyn says.

The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV
Kimberly Gatto / CO-OWNER
Mario Gatto / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Kimberly manages their store full-time, while Mario pitches in part-time when not serving as a high school principal. They have each carved out their areas of expertise.
She says, “Mario’s strengths are definitely working with numbers and getting the best deals from our sales reps and at shows. My strengths are merchandising and customer service. I treat people as I would want to be treated, therefore I think of our customers as an extension of our family.”

Relationship Advice: Kimberly recommends taking a parental approach when disagreements arise in the business by “listening to each other, equally compromising and always keeping in the back of your mind that you both want the business to succeed. It’s treating the business just like it’s one of your kids.”

Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA
Shane Somerville  / CO-OWNER
Adam Felker  / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 10

Shane Somerville and Adam Felker share the secrets to their success as married co-owners of Paddywack.

Shane says, “I think the biggest reason we have a successful partnership in-store is that we each have our own strengths and skill sets that help keep us from stepping on each other’s toes too much!”

She explains, “While I do some of the more ‘fun’ orders, like for collars, gifts and decorative bowls, he does much of the weekly ordering for food, treats and basic supplies. I like to think my strengths are with customer care and more ‘front of house’ type duties, so I tend to work the floor more, work on new staff training and do all of the social media work.”

Adam agrees and adds, “Shane is much more of a people-person and is a rockstar on the sales floor dealing with customers, whereas I see myself as stronger in administrative, quantitative and technical matters. Additionally, she ends up being the one that our staff goes to with emotional concerns, whereas I’m the one they come to for advice on the best way to achieve a particular operational task.”

Relationship Advice: Get away. The couple recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a 10-day kid-free, work-free vacation. Shane says, “It was really helpful in recharging our batteries and allowing us to spend time as a couple, rather than just as parents or business partners. If you can go someplace and shut off the work emails, I highly recommend it!” Adam says vacations also help them avoid overlap between the personal and professional parts of their lives. “That allows us to disable work email, withdraw from the store and absorb ourselves in something unrelated to work. Of course, it helps that we have a strong management team to run things back at the store in our absence!”

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