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How to Retain Staff, Decide on Vendor Displays and Deal with Miffed Vendors

Old school still works.

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What’s better for marketing: email or social media?

Studies have shown that email is a stronger direct marketing tool than social media. Consider these numbers from OptinMonster based on research carried out between 2016 and 2018:

  • 91 percent of people check their email daily compared to 57 percent who check their Facebook account.
  • 77 percent of consumers say they prefer email for permission-based promotional messages compared to just 4 percent for Facebook.
  • 66 percent of email users have made a purchase as the result of a marketing message from email compared to 20 percent for Facebook.

The most telling statistic though has to do with control of your message: Email will typically reach more than 85 percent of the people you send it to, whereas Facebook’s organic reach has declined to about 1 to 6 percent, depending on your total number of followers.

Social media sites, in general, are more casual and can help build brand awareness, reach very specific customer segments and foster and create communities. Social media is also a great of way building your database of email addresses through contests and other activities that require audience participation. With social media generating leads but not necessarily more business, it’s thus important to combine both email and social media marketing efforts to get the maximum return.

We spend a lot of time training staff. How do we ensure we’re keeping them in a competitive environment like the current one?

A competitive salary is obviously important, but employee longevity is often more about other issues like the friendships people have at work, the opportunities to grow, the challenge and satisfaction they get from their career. And sometimes it’s about the benefits. One of the best ways to find out what an employee wants is “stay interviews,” held periodically. Specifically, say: “Please tell me why you like working here and what I can do better.” (Employment website Monster offers a list of “stay interview questions here: petsplusmag.com/2192.) As you gain experience as an employer, you’ll develop better instincts when it comes to hiring the kind of people who will stay. But it doesn’t hurt to be upfront. Tell job candidates, “This is a long-term position for the right person. If you don’t see yourself here in three years, please tell me.”

I carry two competing brands in a fairly narrow, raw-food category. Now one of them is implying I should drop the other slightly-less-popular brand or it will cut off supply. Is this legal?

With a few exceptions, yes, the law allows a miffed vendor to cut you off cold. “In general, companies in the U.S. are free to decide when to do business and when to stop doing business with another company,” says attorney Barbara Mandell of the law firm Dykema Gossett, which focuses on antitrust law.

Is there a rule of thumb on using vendor displays?

There are times, says display expert Larry Johnson, when it makes sense to use vendor-provided collateral, such as when customers ask for the line by name, or when the display has some feature or information you can’t recreate in your own setup. But more often than not, you won’t get the seamless fit that top-notch visual merchandising demands, says Johnson, listing mismatching colors, overbearing logos and “displays that are too big for the amount of business you expect them to generate” as some of the problems he’s seen in such situations. Good display is all about balance, focus and restraint, and an ad hoc approach will rarely work. “Sometimes free can end up being very costly,” Johnson says.

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I just caught an error in the bonuses we paid out to staff for the holiday period. It comes to over $1,000. Should I ask for the money back?

Nope. Eat the loss. Even if you could collect, the impact on morale and productivity would be a killer. Instead, you could explain what happened and that you plan to treat the payments as interest-free advances against next year’s bonuses. That way, you should eventually recover most of the overpayments without demanding staff find money that’s probably already spent.

How do you know an online review is sincere?

We’ll assume you’re asking because you suspect a rival is padding its Yelp page, not because you’d ever consider doing anything so unethical (and illegal in some states).

Based on Yelp’s own data-driven research, fake reviews tend to stand out because of the following:

  • The glowing testimonial belongs to a newly created account with no history of reviews.
  • There’s an overabundance of first-person pronouns or mentions of who the person was with (“my husband,” “my family”).
  • The review features strings of empty adjectives extolling the general unadulterated awesomeness of the store.
  • The reviewer goes overboard with detailed descriptions of product or service features.
  • There is the existence of terms and phrases that business owners, rather than shoppers, would likely use, such as “great customer service” or “their industry-leading prototype bridal display.”

Bottom line: It’s surprisingly difficult to fake sincerity.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 11 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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A Real-Life How-To on Putting a Shoplifter in Her Place

And how to deal with a sales person who can’t close a sale …

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I’ve got a person on staff who simply adores dogs, and she almost never fails to strike up a lengthy conversation with customers, but for the life of me, I can’t teach her how to close the sale! Help!

“Failure to close is most often a combination of lack of basic skill and fear of being too forward, or pushy,” says Kate Peterson of retail consultancy Performance Concepts. Be aware, she says, that you can’t effectively teach closing as a separate and disassociated thing. If your team member is good at engaging the customer in conversation, focus on teaching her how to make emotional connections between what the customer wants and what the merchandise provides and to listen for signals that indicate it’s time to close. When it comes to more expensive items or services, remind her that most customers are often looking for permission to pull the trigger. “Providing good service means giving it to them by asking for the sale,” says Peterson. There are also situations, when your salespeople will be grateful to be “let off the hook” with a particularly chatty customer via a personal intervention from the boss, meaning you.

What if I see a customer go to steal an item and then put it back?

Ain’t much you can do, says Rick Segel, author of Retail for Dummies. “The police don’t arrest people for contemplating shoplifting.” Make it obvious this person has caught your attention and hope they don’t come back. The staff at Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, had just such a situation recently, reports owner Shane Somerville: “We had a customer quickly put on one of our hoodies for sale, then put her coat on over it and pretended like it was hers. Luckily, our team realized it was our merchandise and made like she was buying it because it’s such a great sweatshirt! She realized she was busted and immediately acted like she was just trying it on but ‘decided not to buy it’ and quickly left.”

One of the questions I always get, and always hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to diffuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look the customer in the eye, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal, they’ll trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, how could a customer trust you to take care of one of the most important “possessions” in their life?

My brother, who is the oldest, assumed leadership of the business, but I don’t feel he pulls his weight. What should I do?

The icky truth is you’re going to have to confront your brother. Leaving such matters to fester only makes them worse and imperils the business. Call a meeting with your brother and consider using the DESC conflict-resolution method:

  • Describe: Outline the problem. Be careful to avoid using judgmental language.
  • Express: Let him know your concerns of what will happen if things don’t change.
  • Specify. Tell your brother what you’d like him to do to make things better. Be as specific as possible. Example: “It’s important you’re here on Saturdays …”
  • Consequences: Cite the consequences that will occur when the behavior is changed — a better-run store, more profit for everyone.

Through all this, remember to really listen to your brother’s side of things and stay clear of the question of who’s right and wrong.

I know I should be focused on my business, but I get an almost warped glee out of competing fiercely with the unethical mill-puppy-selling schmuck up the road. There’s nothing wrong with having such an enemy, is there?

Indeed, there’s plenty of psychological research that testifies to the fact that humans partly enjoy having enemies. They clarify the world for us and bolster our sense of righteousness. So sure, why not channel this sometimes less-than-admirable truth to good ends? And it’s certainly easier to keep an eye on what your rivals are up to in the internet era. The only thing we’d say is that you don’t lose sight of who your real enemy is. Is it the guy so bad at business he’s cutting legal corners, or is it an online retailer, or something else — like your own complacency, inertia, or fear of change — that poses an existential threat to your business? Enjoy your day-to-day skirmishes with the schmuck up the road, use it to motivate yourself, but channel your energies into evolving and growing your business.

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ROI for Events? What’s That K on a Lightbulb? Your Questions Answered

Manage your own expectations on your ROI.

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I have several events planned for this summer. What should I expect as a return on the investment?

The answer is not as simple as a number, as hosting an event for your pet business can result in multiple ROIs, depending on what your intent is, notes Nancy Hassel of American Pet Professionals. “If you’re intent is to get more people to learn about your business with marketing and promoting it, planning that promotion at least three months ahead of your event is key. If you throw together an event at the last minute, it can still be successful, but you have to manage your own expectations on your ROI.” Allocating marketing and promoting expenses for hosting events should be included in your yearly advertising/marketing budget, she says. “This way you know how much money and time you want to spend, planning, promoting and hosting an event — and can then measure your ROI better. If you decide to host the same event quarterly or yearly, you can measure your ROI after each event. Getting PR from each event is icing on the cake, as now your local media knows about your pet business and more than likely will contact you again in the future for stories.”

We have a small store that is growing quite nicely. In fact, juggling rosters to avoid paying overtime is increasingly becoming an issue. Can we just move several employees to salaried positions? No more messy rosters. No more overtime. Right?

Likely very wrong. This is a strategy that “has been used so often to avoid paying rightful overtime, that it is written into the law through the Fair Labor Standards Act,” says Scott Clark, a lawyer and founder of the HTC Group. Yes, there are salaried positions for which there are exemptions from overtime rules, but they tend to be true management roles that require a college degree or technical training. They must also pay more than a minimum of $455 per week, and the salary must be the same every week (so if your employee wants time off \you still have to pay his full weekly salary — no more docking wages for hours not worked). If it seems that the government is uncharacteristically protective of lower-income workers in this instance, never fear, it really isn’t. On the contrary, the government IS very particular about all the taxes and Social Security that get paid on overtime. We’d say a better approach is to view your employees as an asset who make you money, not as an expense. Invest in your employees to make them more efficient, and they’ll make you even more money. Or hire the staff you actually need.

I’m looking to upgrade our lighting, but I can’t help get my head around Kelvin and color temperatures. Help!

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot. Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs. Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

Our marketing images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their ads without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson.

What are some suggestions for creating and implementing a dress code for my store?

First, put it in writing, with examples of what’s appropriate and what’s not, says Anne Sowden, of image consultancy group Here’s Looking at You. When talking about the dress code, be sure to focus on the business reasons behind the policy and the image you want your store to project. If employees are having problems meeting the dress code, Sowden says it’s best to schedule a private meeting. “Make sure the employee knows the messages that their clothing is sending. Wrinkled clothing may be interpreted as a lack of attention to one’s job.” Give them suggestions for more appropriate outfits. And when they are appropriately dressed, says Sowden, give positive encouragement.

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Harness the Over-Achiever, Sell Your Business to Prospective Employees, and Get Your Customers to Follow Your Move

Ever consider systems and processes that everyone abides by?

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What to do with the over-achieving employee? I have one such person — my newest hire — who puts the rest of the staff in the uncomfortable position of “how do we keep up with her? She’s kicking our ass.”

On the surface, that seems like a good problem to have, but if no one can keep up, it can strain relations and tank morale all around. Nancy Hassel of American Pet Professionals has a question to throw back at you: “Do you have systems and processes in place already that everyone abides by?” she wonders. “If not, it may be time to start, so everyone is on a level playing field. I would try roping in some of that energy of the new hire to see if she inspires new ideas and inspiration for your business. Bring everyone together for team meetings. Maybe her ass-kicking has been needed, and you’re all just not used to it! Or, maybe the new employee may not be a fit for your business as she is disrupting your status quo.”

I’m moving my store to a new location about 25 miles away. What are some ways to get my customers to follow me?

Have no fear — this is actually a great marketing opportunity because it gives you a valid reason to communicate with your existing clientele, as well as prospective customers. Start getting out the news months before the move. “It is important to communicate why you are moving — a better location, a bigger location, a more convenient location, you purchased a building,” says James Porte of the Porte Marketing Group. Place a small sign in your existing store announcing the move. You can also mention it on your business cards, invoices and other mediums. A direct mail-out is critical, says Porte, adding that the more memorable way you can communicate this, the better the chance it will be remembered. “I once saw a pack of playing cards imprinted with a business’s name that was packaged in a die-cut paper moving truck as a self-mailer. It was awesome!” Next, get in touch with the local newspaper and tell them about the move, and in particular what you’re bringing to the market — possibly exposure to the finest independent pet-food makers or a higher level of pet care. As the day nears, get on the phone. “Contacting each and every customer by phone to let them know you are moving is by far the most effective way,” Porte says. Finally, a grand opening will help get your old customers to the new store so “they can experience what you have done that is improved and of greater benefit to the customer,” he says. And don’t worry about overdoing the message. This is one time when repetitive communication is necessary, particularly to your existing customers.

What kind of discount should I give my bookkeeper on my merchandise, given that she knows exactly how much I paid for it?

We’d say very little. Your bookkeeper should be a pro who understands how discounts impact your bottom line. If she asks for a “good price,” offer her the employee discount or trade merchandise for her services. And to keep it fair for both parties, trade full retail for full retail. Unless your bookkeeper is willing to discount her services, you should not feel obliged to cut the price of her purchases.

If I join other retailers in a group marketing effort, am I responsible if their advertising is misleading? What about the advertising of a brand name item I carry in my store?

Wherever your name or store is represented, you have responsibilities. If you are part of a group advertisement, adding your logo to a prepared ad (as in co-op advertising) or endorsing a product, you have the obligation to do your homework to ensure the ad is not misleading. Know whom you’re dealing with and ensure you know where and how your name/logo are being used.

What’s a good way to sell our company to prospective employees?

One of the most valuable skills a businessperson can have is the ability to recruit and retain good people, and it all starts with the job posting. “When the right people read your ad, their hearts will whisper, ‘These people are like me, and I am like them,’” says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads. Bullet-point what the job entails and also the benefits, but the core message of your ad should be about who you are as a company, your reputation and your goals. The best salespeople often don’t have a sales background, so go easy on the requirements. Your message should be more about culture than qualifications.

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