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20 proven experiments to run in your business that will make your life easier, your employees happier and KEEP your customers coming back

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You indies are all about experimentation. After all, no corporate overlord exists to dictate which products you sell or how you merchandise them. Or which processes you put in place. Or how you manage staff or market your brand. You have the freedom to be bold, to see for yourself what works and what does not. With that in mind, we asked the PETS+ Brain Squad to share experiments that have proven successful for their businesses. Try one, two or even all 20!

EXPERIMENT

Provide free 10-minute training session to daycare dog.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Lisa Cane, Wags Doggie Day Care and Training, Wenham, MA

HOW-TO: Choose team member to customize mini-training session for the dog. Work on sit or come, or address unwanted behavior. Repeat daily with different pups.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Helps new dogs integrate more quickly into pack. Impresses pet parents and encourages future visits. Gives staff opportunity to grow. “Hands-on practice is the best way for them to improve their dog handling and training skills,” Cane says. “We are professionals, and I want us to stand out from the increasingly crowded daycare market by offering added value to our customers.”

EXPERIMENT

Create a Facebook Live series.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Jeff Jensen and Matt Braselton, Four Muddy Paws, St. Louis, MO

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HOW-TO: Decide on topic and repeat weekly or monthly. The co-owners do “In the Kitchen With Four Muddy Paws,” which features interviews with brand partners about their food and general pet nutrition.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: The setting, their home kitchen, personalizes the business. Facebook Live videos have better organic reach than regular. Series promotes higher-quality products. Jensen says, “Our ‘In the Kitchen’ videos have helped to share more about why moving toward a more natural diet is important and various ways [customers] can incorporate products for a nutritional boost, even if they’re not quite ready to change their diet.”

EXPERIMENT

Thank employees and customers for their support.

LEAD SCIENTIST: James Henline, Asheville Pet Supply, Asheville, NC
HOW-TO: Hand out gift cards and praise during staff meeting. Thank customers via video on social media.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Higher employee morale. “I gave each staff member a $10 gift card to a local coffee shop. I emphasized their importance to the success of our business, as they are the ones who handle our customers every day. After the meeting, I actually had employees in tears because I said that I cared about them. I’ve had some volunteer to come in when the store was extra-busy or ask if I needed them to stay late to help out. They were just really happy to know that someone recognized the work that they were putting in and appreciated them.” Increased sales. “I posted [the video] on Thanksgiving day, and we had our biggest Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ever. Since then, our daily sales have increased and the store is noticeably busier. I still have people coming in and telling me how much they appreciated what I said and for us being here for them.”

EXPERIMENT

Group chat with staff.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Missie Mattei, Miss Doolittles Pet Spa & Boutique, Pottsville, PA

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HOW-TO: Send need-to-knows and praise. Encourage the same from employees, as well as messages just for fun.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved communication and employee morale. Mattei says of their Facebook group chats, “At work, we are often too busy, or work different schedules, to share important or uplifting messages. This is an easy way to pass info. We’ve had a couple of people who came from difficult work environments, and this has helped us be inclusive, admit our faults, congratulate our achievements, share ideas, and find humor in each other. Everyone seems to like the easy interchanges, but if they don’t want to take part, that’s OK too.”

EXPERIMENT

Discount daycare rate for grooming clients.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Marcia E. Cram, Just Fur Pets, Springfield, VA
HOW-TO: Offer as add-on or part of package.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increases revenue and client satisfaction. “Pet parents like that their dogs get to romp with their fur friends,” Cram says.

EXPERIMENT

Create to-do list and script for grooming check-in procedure.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Nanci Sien, Pampered Paws, Owings, MD

HOW-TO: Document every step taken during check-in, from greeting client and getting pet information to providing a pick-up estimate and asking if there are any questions. Write talking points for groomers that cover the steps.

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POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved client satisfaction and retention, and increased add-on sales. “Clients have told us they felt more comfortable leaving their pets with us after getting to know the groomer at check-in and having their concerns addressed,” Sien says. “Talking to the client about their pet in-depth allows our groomers to upsell add-on services by telling the client how these services can solve specific issues. Being specific about everything that will be done during the groom as well as giving projected pick-up times have prevented misunderstandings and increased customer satisfaction.”

EXPERIMENT

Designate a sports jersey day of the week.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Diane Marcin, Benny’s Pet Depot, Mechanicsburg, PA

HOW-TO: Pick day and encourage employees to wear sports jerseys.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts employee morale and creates fun atmosphere for staff and customers alike. Marcin says, “The customers love it! When a customer walks in wearing the same team as you are, the conversations begin about the game last week or the upcoming one. Every now and then you get a high-five.”

EXPERIMENT

Get a liquor license.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Carol Will, Lola & Penelope’s, Clayton, MO

HOW-TO: Contact state alcohol beverage control agency. Licenses vary by whether selling, serving or both, and whether wine and beer or also hard liquor. Will advises, “If you go for it, call and talk to the leadership in your city before you submit your application. Explain your vision, and ask about any concerns. I had to present to the board of aldermen for approval. It went well since they knew the city supported our plan.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Further differentiates your store from other retailers. Supports pet-related breweries and wineries. Among others, Lola & Penelope’s carries local craft beers Urban Chestnut Brewing Company’s Underdog and 2nd Shift Brewing’s Cat Spit Stout.

EXPERIMENT

Promote big events with a radio ad campaign.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

HOW-TO: Poll your staff and customers on which stations they listen to. Tune into top three, noting personalities, music and commercials. If your business would be a good fit, and you would play them in your store, contact each station. Ask about audience to determine if demographics match your customer base. Learn their ad creation process. “The radio station will take care of writing the ad copy, and producing the spot to your satisfaction,” Dickerson says. Negotiate, he adds. “Radio rates can be flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts or add-ons.” Choose the best offer.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts visibility and sales. Nashville Pet Products ran two radio campaigns in 2018. Ads for Customer Appreciation Day helped increase sales by 52 percent over previous year’s event. Ads for the annual holiday sale brought in 25 percent increase year over year.

EXPERIMENT

Give welcome boxes to new grooming customers.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kris Minkle, The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

HOW-TO: Ask food, treat and grooming product manufacturers to provide samples and coupons that can be regular items for box. Add to it samples specific to client, such as a sensitive-formula shampoo for pet with skin issues, as well as low-cost items: a roll of poop bags or a small toy. Include nutritional and grooming literature, plus menu of services. Place in box branded with your logo. Minkle says, “If we have time, we also take a photo of their freshly groomed dog and include that as well.” Cost: around $3.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improves customer satisfaction. “We noticed a distinct rise in new customers leaving feedback, once we started the boxes. It seems like people are much more likely to give feedback online or ratings if they’ve gotten something for free.” Increases sales and improves customer retention. “A woman with a Standard Poodle named Timber came in a few days after she had her dog groomed, and she wanted to try the foods included in the box, saying Timber ‘loved them.’ She has turned into a very regular food and grooming customer.”

EXPERIMENT

Get up two hours before leaving for work to practice self-care.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

HOW-TO: Set your alarm and don’t hit snooze. Megyese says, “I have been getting up earlier and investing that quiet morning time in myself by reading, meditating and journaling.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Start day with clarity and calm, be less reactive at work. “In the past, if events did not unfold the way I had planned for them to, I would work myself into a mental frenzy and somehow convince myself that all my planning was futile because I would always be at the mercy of circumstances I could not control,” she says, offering this example:

“Our town’s Christmas parade was cancelled because of a severe storm. Our store is located on the parade route. It is historically one of our strongest sales days of the year. The call to cancel was made just two hours before the event, so I already had extra staff on hand as well as increased inventory.

“Rather than getting upset, I chose to see it as something that would become a future conversation starter. While my morning routine did not change the negative economic impact the storm caused, I was able to see that there was nothing I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. Instead of fretting about what I could not control, I decided a rainy day with more than enough staff would be the perfect time to take an afternoon off and spend it having fun with my granddaughter.”

EXPERIMENT

Move from item-pricing to peg- and shelf-pricing.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Duane Poland, Bones-n-Scones of Palm Springs, Palm Springs, CA

HOW-TO: Instead of placing price tags on each item, create peg and shelf tags for pricing.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Speeds up restocking, as products can go from box to shelf. Provides clarity. Poland says, “Many of our customers simply didn’t look at the back of the package.” Boosts sales. “We have also seen an extra bump in sales of our treats we have priced up front, as there is no longer a ‘mystery’ as to the price!” Saves time. “I believe things can always be better, easier and faster. Any time saved, no matter how small, can really add up and frees staff to better serve our customers and companion animals!

EXPERIMENT

Touch things only once.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kara Holland, Pittsboro Pet Supply, Pittsboro, NC

HOW-TO: Apply this direction to any task you can. Holland explains, “I teach this to our staff members the first day they start working at our store. Instead of handing pamphlets from sales reps to me, ask where they go and always place them there. It saves them from moving it multiple times.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: “Touching things once saves us so much time and empowers our staff to make decisions on their own. The same issue or same item shouldn’t have to be reviewed over and over again, unless it is an item that deserves to be!”

EXPERIMENT

Let calls go to voicemail when grooming pets.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Rachel Malmfeldt, Pampered Pups Grooming, Joliet, IL

HOW-TO: Record voicemail message that lets customers know you have a dog on the table and will return their call in a set amount of time. Instruct employees to not interrupt their work to take calls.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Reduces stress and increases safety. “ This has created a more relaxed atmosphere for the groomers and pets,” Malmfeldt says.

EXPERIMENT

Have new employees shadow a top salesperson.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Terri Ellen, Nature’s Pet Market, Salem, OR

HOW-TO: Schedule so that new employees can observe during their first two weeks. Pair them with top team members.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: New team members learn best practices on the job, while those they shadow grow as leaders. Increased sales, higher employee retention. “New employees can quickly learn to run a register and check out customers, but the foods and nutrition for pets are quite a bit more difficult or complicated,” Ellen says. For example, she adds, “It’s wonderful when an employee is standing there listening to me help that customer solve an itchy dog’s problems.”

EXPERIMENT

Delegate ordering to a proven manager.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

HOW-TO: Choose a manager who knows the store and its customers well, then give him trial-run order. Lewis shares, “Sometimes staff have a different perspective on what our customers like and don’t like. I don’t talk to everyone who comes through the door, and sometimes customers are more comfortable talking with the staff.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time, freshens stock and empowers the manager. “It has led to bringing in new products I’d never try myself,” he says, that ended up being a hit with customers.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce stress by watching less TV news.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Julie Husa, D Best Pet Sitting, Dallas, TX

HOW-TO: Subscribe to your local newspaper. Watch only one local news show daily or pick from online highlights. Avoid 24-hour news channels.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Turning off bickering politicians and pundits helps keep cortisol production in check and leads to a healthier self, at home and work.

EXPERIMENT

Find out if there’s an app for that.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Debbie Brookham, Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

HOW-TO: Visit app store of choice to see what tools could improve a specific business process. Or just explore store to see what’s new and could help. Download to evaluate, then ask employees to do the same before purchasing or implementing app.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time and money, improves workflow and communication. Brookham uses Trello for all of the above. “Trello is a great communication tool for us. It is separated in ‘boards’ so you can easily label a column a different name, such as ‘Customer Requests.’ When I order product, I’m able to go to one location. The team member includes the client’s name and contact info, along with their initials and date. I can see to order it, and then when it comes in we go back to Trello, contact the customer and write any additional notes. Once the special order is picked up, we delete the note from the Trello board. With so many shifting gears in a small business, it’s best to stay focused and organized.”

EXPERIMENT

Create employee bonding opportunities outside of work.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Caitlin Jones, Nooga Paws, Chattanooga, TN

HOW-TO: With employee input, plan outing. Encourage non-work talk. Pick up the tab. Jones took her 12 employees to dinner and a haunted house in October.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved teamwork. “Getting to know each other on a deeper level helps us work together during our shifts,” she says.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce daycare rates on traditionally slow days.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

HOW-TO: Determine which day, or days, of week, have significantly lower bookings and how much you can afford to discount and still be profitable.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increased bookings. Pantalone discounts daycare from $38 to $30 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and has doubled her bookings on those days. “What a fun pat on the back that has been!” she says.

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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Cover Stories

One-Minute Mentors

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Each of our america’s coolest stores contest winners has a mentor at its helm. These leaders advise and inspire their employees, and they do the same for fellow pet business owners through our interviews with them.

But who are their mentors?

We asked winners to tell us about a person, company, industry or previous career that has help guide them to where they are today.

 

MIKE DOAN

ODYSSEY PETS, DALLAS, TX

When Mike Doan opened Odyssey Pets with wife Sherry Redwine, he was sure to manage differently than he had been managed in the past.

“When I was young, I worked in a pet store and recall explaining to a customer all the features and details about a specific filter. I convinced him to purchase the more expensive one for quality assurance.

“Later that day, I overheard the owner of the store telling someone that I was a really good salesman and they should keep me on the floor up front, rather than in the back cleaning cages. It always bothered me that they never told me.

“I’ve realized since then that sales environments can be competitive. Competition on the sales floor can often breed contempt among the staff. This contempt does not foster a team environment. So now, when I see someone who expresses a certain quality, I make sure to tell them they are good at it in order to let them know they are valued, instead of just capitalizing on their skill and keeping them in the dark.

“A team that supports each other achieves a much higher level of success than one that has everyone in it for themselves.”

AIMEE GILBREATH

MICHELSON FOUND ANIMALS ADOPT & SHOP, CULVER CITY, CA

“I learned the ‘15-minute rule’ in my consulting job years ago. The concept is that if you have been struggling with something for 15 minutes without making any progress and you don’t have any idea what to do next, then it is time to ask for help. Too often we feel like we should be able to handle anything in our job role independently, and we get embarrassed at the idea of asking for help. The 15-minute rule keeps me from getting stuck in a loop of frustration and reminds me that I have a network of colleagues who would be happy to support me (as I would them).”

ROBERT H. SMITH

JUNGLE BOB’S REPTILE WORLD, SELDEN, NY

Before opening Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, Robert H. Smith founded and ran a company that sold and serviced computer systems for the banking industry.

“This arena required skilled workers with impeccable credentials. Surety bonds, background checks, and clean records and driver’s licenses were mandatory. Our employees handled large amounts of cash, servicing ATMs and teller machines behind the bank line. Honesty and integrity was in their DNA.

“I have applied these same principles to all who work here. Although we don’t require staff to be bonded and insured, we certainly aim high when hiring and demand that no one ever lies to a customer or even guesses! When asked a question they may not know the answer to, they are instructed to ask management. Animals’ lives are at stake, and a healthy animal is the goal to ensure a happy customer and a great pet experience.

“For me this is every bit as important as a pile of cash was back then. So the lessons learned years ago are applicable at Jungle Bob’s. Even in a business that sells snakes, tarantulas and cockroaches, you have to maintain your integrity to succeed in the long term.”

FRANK FRATTINI

THE HUNGRY PUPPY, FARMINGDALE, NJ

Frank Frattini credits his father, a former Marine, with instilling in him the importance of perseverance.

“As you can imagine, quitting or giving up is not part of our DNA. This proved especially valuable when we first went into the business back in the ’80s, when there were virtually no models of pet stores that did not sell pets. At the time, more than a few friends and family members thought I was more than a little ‘off’ for leaving a prestigious position as a bank official for a major money center bank to sell dog food.”

The trait also helped him develop the store’s popular delivery program.

“In addition, back in the ’80s, the concept of delivering dog food and supplies to people’s homes was, to say the least, a bit ahead of its time. It took a lot of perseverance to get people to embrace the concept. I like to think that we were Chewy before Chewy, the primary difference being that our model makes money.”

PATTIE BODEN

ANIMAL CONNECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Pattie Boden points to friend and mentor Shayne Jackson as the source of a most helpful bit of business advice. The owner of a successful masonry company, Jackson also has a working cattle ranch where he teaches horsemanship.

He told her to “Do less sooner … then do less than less.” She explains:

“Many people don’t give their business associates the opportunity to ‘try.’ We give them direction or a list of things to do, and then never allow them to fulfill those obligations without nagging or micromanaging.

“Make sure your directions are clear and consistent every single time, so there is no question about what is expected. If they need redirection, that’s fine, but get in and get out and go on with it.

“I have found that when I set people up to succeed and recognize a ‘try,’ that things fall into place almost seamlessly. Rewarding the slightest try isn’t like giving everyone a blue ribbon or saying good job just for showing up. It’s knowing that your people understand what you are asking and respect you enough to follow through to the best of their ability.”

ELLYN SUGA

SHOP DOG BOUTIQUE, SIOUX FALLS, SD

Ellyn Suga finds inspiration and guidance from Donald Miller, owner of StoryBrand, which helps businesses clarify their message.

“I attended a workshop with Miller in Nashville. He shows business owners how we’re simply here to help solve our customers’ problems. We must be able to empathize with them, but use our command and knowledge of the industry to show our authority.”

KEITH MILLER

BUBBLY PAWS, MINNEAPOLIS, MN

Before opening Bubbly Paws, Keith Miller worked in the radio industry for 10 years. It taught him to pay attention to the little details in order to provide great customer service.

“While working at a station in Minneapolis, Bob Guiney from THE BACHELOR was in town a few times. The first time, he made the effort to go around the room to get to know everyone and what they did. Three weeks later, he was back in town and came to the station, and started talking to me like he personally knew me!

“I work hard to get to know each customer who comes in, and really try to remember them the next time. Anyone can build a dog wash, but the one thing that really makes Bubbly Paws unique is the customer experience and how we try to treat everyone like an extended member of our family!”

TANIA ISENSTEIN

CAMP CANINE, NEW YORK, NY

Tania Isenstein spent 17 years as a lawyer for Goldman Sachs before switching gears to buy Camp Canine.

“The company focused heavily on its business principles,” she says. “The first one states: ‘Our clients’ interests always come first. Our experience shows that if we serve our clients well, our own success will follow.’ That principle expressed what I already believed going into the firm, but it also became a way of life for me. The leadership team here at Camp Canine and I ingrain this into every new employee and live it daily. As at Goldman Sachs, it has proven successful.”

LEEL MICHELLE

BOW WOW BEAUTY SHOPPE, SAN DIEGO, CA

Her many years in corporate fashion retail taught Leel Michelle to place a high value on her employees.

“They can make or break your day and your brand. Treat employees like family and be respectful of them and their time, and you’ll always have their respect. Working in corporate retail, we learn the importance of continuing education on how to be good managers, store merchandising, branding and customer service. These are all key ingredients to business success.”

TRACE MENCHACA

FLYING M FEED CO., HOUSTON, TX

Years at The Container Store taught Trace Menchaca that “in retail, everything matters. Your warehouse must be as perfect as the sales floor. Everything is done with intent and purpose. Everything is done a specific way. Creating an outstanding customer experience is critical. And creating an amazing culture for employees is crucial.”

DEBBIE BROOKHAM

FURRY FRIENDS INC., COLORADO SPRINGS, CO

Bob and Susan Negan of Whizbang Retailers help guide Debbie Brookham. They have taught her many lessons over the years.

“I think one of the most important was not to put a rule in place because of one bad customer. When you get burned in retail, and it happens to all of us, our defenses go up to make up store rules. The lesson is to stop and think how customer-friendly that might be for the rest of your good clients? Take a breath and re-think that strategy.”

PATRICK DONSTON

ABSOLUTELY FISH, CLIFTON, NJ

Patrick Donston subscribes to business author Jim Collins’ concept of Level 5 Leadership.

“I attended a conference and was profoundly inspired to become a Level 5 Leader. Ardent managers who instill passion in the workforce are the fuel for every good business. When you walk into a store that has this kind of passion, it’s palpable. As a customer, you definitely notice a difference. I learned the key to igniting our message is to communicate throughout the organization a clear understanding of what we are ultimately fighting for.

“Level 5 Leaders are built to make a difference. They are leaders of great purpose who act as stewards of the purpose. They bring their vision to life in meaningful ways to the marketplace. People follow them because of who they are and what they stand for.

“I’ve learned that simple concepts are better than convoluted solutions and ‘that people are not necessarily your most important asset, the right people are.’ I knew right then what I needed to work on in hopes of being a better leader and build a more meaningful organization.”

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Cover Stories

7 Ways to Make the Most of the January Slowdown

Avoid the post holiday blues with promotions to get cash-wielding customers through your doors in January.

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DOES THE POST-HOLIDAY prove challenging for your business? It doesn’t need to be.

“January can still be a really good month,” Pet Boss Nation’s Candace D’Agnolo says.

Store owners, don’t dwell on cold weather reducing foot traffic. Instead promote coats, boots and other winter gear.

“Those are higher ticket items compared to the majority of what you sell,” she points out.

Groomers, expect a bump from those looking to get in one last appointment before 2019 prices go into effect, which D’Agnolo recommends doing on February 1, with the announcement in December.

“That gives clients enough time to hear about it and not feel blindsided,” she explains.

Care providers, embrace the slow down. Pet parents returning and paying for holiday services in January will help offset any decrease in bookings.

“It’s the perfect month to give you our employees time off, to catch up on their lives,” D’Agnolo says.

Whatever your business, complete tasks pushed to the bottom of the to-do list throughout the year.

“While doing your inventory, deep clean and organize. Toss out what doesn’t matter and get files ready for your accountant,” she adds.

Need more ideas? Check out how PETS+ Brain Squad members make the most of the post holiday period.

Offer Freebies and Discounts

In addition to marking treats BOGO, Nancy Okun of Dogs and Cats in Port Charlotte, FL, gives customers something sweet or meaty for their pet.

“We offer a free frozen yogurt and biscuits. Even if the customer doesn’t bring their dog to the store, we will give them a doggy bag,” she says. “If a cat owner, they get a free can of cat food, just to try something new.”

Angela Pantalone combines freebies and discounts at Wag Central in Stratford, CT.

“January is when tons of bills are due, and cash flow is important,” Pantalone says. “We have scheduled discounts on daycare and grooming packages, freebie trials and spa services for our pup clientele to keep them coming in the door.”

Wag Central in Stratford, CT, offers freebies and discounts to keep cash flowing in January. PHOTO BY LISA GARCIA

Promote With the New Year

Humans adapt healthier habits in the new year, and so can pets. Stacy Busch of Busch Pet Products in Cape Girardeau, MO, offers the opportunity for exactly that as well as for savings.

“We do a trade in promotion called new year, new food,” Busch says. “If a customer or non-customer isn’t feeding anything from us, all they have to do is bring in a bag of their food and let us find something better. They will get 15 percent off the first bag and 10 percent off the next two bags if they stick with it for three months. We guarantee better coat and skin, more energy and overall improved health. We’ve gotten some lasting customers with the promo!”

Busch also has a “Least Wanted” ingredients poster created to help promote the event.

January promotions at Fur Baby Boutique in Milford, DE, also encourage positive changes for pets. Sherry Shupe says, “We focus on New Year’s goals and starting out the new year with a better diet, more exercise (daycare) and a spa makeover!”

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Deep Clean

Thanks to below zero temps in the Minneapolis area, business at Bubbly Paws dog washes slows in January. Keith and Patrycia Miller use the time to deep clean and freshen up their four locations.

“We pull out our drying channels and do a good cleaning behind them. Same with all of our back room shelves. Basically, it’s a great time to move things out into our public area, knowing that not many people will see the mess,” Miller says.

“We also power scrub all of the flooring (we do this about three times a year), but the one in January is always the best because you can really go to town with the scrubber and not worry about getting in people’s way or having our staff do it before/after store hours.”

Shutting a location down for maintenance projects, such as installing a new water heater, can happen in January without significant impact to the business.

“Our water had to be turned off for seven hours to change some plumbing around. When you are in the business of selling water, this is never a good thing. We just kept hoping the older water heater would make it through the holidays, and it did. Then we closed for a day to install the new one!”

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Give Bounce-Back Coupons

When customers spend $25 or more at Purrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, during November or December, Eric Mack gives them a coupon for $10 off in January or February.

“It helps bring some back, but it’s also a reward for those who are our top customers,“ he says.

Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos in San Antonio, TX, handed out $10 bounce-back coupons on Small Business Saturday in 2017, redeemable in January 2018.

“We had a ton of them come back to us, and customers loved them,” she says.

Red and pink toys and treats take over Miss Doolittle’s in January.

Celebrate the Next Holiday

Cory Giles of The General Store in Collinsville, IL, turns to wild bird seed and feeders to keep sales from dipping.

“Typically we have cold and snowy weather in January, which not only helps wild bird sales, but also provides the inspiration for topical social media posts,” Giles says. “Wild bird content is popular, and informative posts are even more popular.“

He shares videos on the store’s Facebook page that show off products and include tips for keeping wild visitors well fed. Giles posts about National Bird Day on January 5 and even Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21, as squirrel feeders and food also are available. He always keeps social media content fresh.

“For instance, instead of reusing the same post about the frequent feeder program our wild bird seed vendor offers, I periodically post about it in the context of updating how many free feeders we have given away so far.“

At Miss Doolittle‘s Pet Spa and Boutique in Pottsville, PA, Valentine’s Day decorations go up in mid-January. Missie Mattei merchandises themed treats, toys and accessories, and offers a deluxe grooming package with a champagne and strawberries theme.

“It really helps keep the flow going at a time when it usually slows down,“ she says.

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Take A Vacation

Stephanie Rossini of Giggy Bites Bakery & Marketplace in Chadds Ford, PA, seizes the slowdown as an opportunity to get away. “We plan our vacation for the first week of January because we have found good travel deals and it gives us the opportunity to recharge after the craziness of the fourth quarter in retail.”

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Cover Stories

Pet Pros Share Their Expertise, Helping You Learn How To Do … Everything!

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.

 

 

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