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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

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Snow…

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Amazon isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Chewy. So how can independent brick-and-mortar stores compete when it comes to the purchase and delivery of pet supplies?

We asked you that very question, and those who have found success in this area generously shared their practices and policies. Some factor delivery into the cost of doing business, while others have grown it into quite the moneymaker. Learn from both.

THERE BEFORE BREAKFAST

1CAPTIVATING CANINES, WESTERVILLE, OH
No customer’s dog or cat ever misses their breakfast with Ron Keller on the job at Captivating Canines. He takes phone orders and drops them off the next morning, bright and early, on his way to open the store. He also makes sure pet parents get the best price. “I consistently beat anyone’s prices, including Amazon and Chewy.”

DETAILS: Free delivery within a 5-mile radius.

THERE BEFORE DINNER

2CITY BARK, DETROIT, MI
Many a pet parent empties the bag or last can at breakfast, which means picking up pet food goes on their to-do list for after work. And then tasks pile up, and it looks like they won’t get to the store before closing. City Bark comes to the rescue.

Customers can place an order via phone or website before 7 p.m. for same-day delivery between 7 and 8 p.m. They can even note exactly where they want the food left, a big plus in neighborhoods where porch pirates regularly steal deliveries. And as Jamie Judson points out, “Because we’re a local shop, we’re still able to offer our delivery customers the frequent-buyer program.”

DETAILS: $5 delivery within a 5-mile radius; the person scheduled to close does deliveries.
TIP: “It’s important when providing a service like this to go above and beyond. I’ve delivered to doggie day cares on behalf of a customer and hiked up four flights of stairs to help a customer with a broken arm.”

DELIVERY+TREATS

3PURRRFECT BARK, COLUMBUS, NC
Customers can place orders with Purrrfect Bark by phone, email and online. Deliveries often come with a surprise. “We give freebies from our stash pile. We also bring fresh doughnuts or such at times,” Eric Mack says.
Staff also put deliveries where requested, including frozen foods in house or garage freezers.

DETAILS: $4.95 delivery within a 15-mile radius.
TIPS: “Be sure it won’t stretch you thin, and always remember to put some money away for the wear and tear on vehicles.”

32 YEARS OF DROP-OFFS

4THE HUNGRY PUPPY, FARMINGDALE, NJ
The Hungry Puppy’s well-established delivery division grosses more than $1 million a year. Here’s how Frank and Teresa Frattini have built it into a highly profitable part of their business:

They take payment for delivery over the phone, not online — Customers can place orders through the store’s website or app, by phone, email and even fax. An employee then calls for payment. “This allows us the opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell items that might also be of interest to the customer. The average ticket for each delivery is twice what it is in our store,” Frank says.

They beat Amazon and Chewy’s prices — “They have to abide by MAP pricing for their products not only because manufacturers demand it, but also because they have the added overhead of having to ship products via third party. We, on the other hand, can sell the product through our store for any price we wish. We are not ‘advertising’ the price. We are just offering it for less through our brick-and-mortar store and providing the value-added service of delivering locally to our customers for free. The way we make it profitable is to buy in volumes necessary to accrue appreciable savings on products, and then we pass those savings on to our customers.”

DETAILS: $5 delivery for orders less than $50 and free for orders $50 or more within a 40-mile radius in geographically arranged areas on the same day each week; $6 additional for delivery within 24 hours; auto-ship also available.
TIP: “Infrastructure is super important, which means you have to have procedures in place from the time the orders come in until the time they are delivered.”

EXPANDED OPTIONS

5CHOICE PET, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey
In 2017, this group of pet supply stores streamlined its delivery process and reduced costs through Endless Aisles, a platform from PHIDO, the digital solutions company of Phillips Pet Food & Supplies. With it, customers can place orders for delivery at in-store kiosks and on the store’s website, and they have access to the distributor’s vast inventory.

“Our staff can place orders for customers on items we don’t have in stock or generally don’t carry,” Director of Operations Larry Bocchiere says. “Instead of taking on inventory risk, we get the product delivered directly to the customer, saving time and money but also creating a better experience for our customers.”

DETAILS: $5.95 delivery on orders less than $49 and free for orders $49 or more.
TIP: “The truth is: Our customers will shop however they want to. Sometimes that’s in-store, but other times they’re busy and want products delivered. Home delivery is just another service that strengthens our customers’ trust in our brand, increasing their loyalty and ultimately our bottom line.”

CUSTOMIZED ORDERS

6HEALTHY PET PRODUCTS, PITTSBURGH, PA
Toni Shelaske offers customization as part of her delivery process. Customers, who place orders by phone, can set up recurring orders and even ask that proteins be rotated. They can request that products be left in a specific place and also in a waterproof bag during wet weather. They can get a delivery window as well. “And then we can smile and say thank you in person. That is definitely something the customer can’t get online.”

DETAILS: Free within a 5-mile radius, $5 for more than 5 miles and $10 for more than 10 miles.
TIP: Delivery can be a pain, Shelaske says, but it must be offered. “A lot of companies are swinging back to delivery. Who knows? Maybe the milk box will end up back on the front porch someday!”

TO THE LETTER

7AGSENTIALS, WATKINS, MN
This store and feed manufacturer has been delivering to farmers for 30 years, and began offering the same service to pet parents and hobbyists two years ago. No matter the address, they follow even the most specific instructions to the letter.

Farmers can direct delivery to where feed is stored, such as in a barn or shed, and the employee will not only stack each bag in the same direction for easy identification and a uniform look, but also will place any remaining bags on top of new ones to ensure they are used first. Pet parents and hobbyists also can specify where deliveries should be left, outside their home.

Orders get placed by phone, email or online, with the AGsentials truck making deliveries. Sandy Wolff says, “People love seeing our branded and wrapped truck pull into their yard — it’s very farm feeling and provokes a certain contented, country emotion.”

DETAILS: Free delivery for orders $100 or more within geographically arranged areas on the same day each week; fees apply to orders less than $100, varying on location.
TIP: “It takes a while to build the customer base. Track your expenses and time as a way to measure your success.”

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Epic Fail

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Where once failure was the domain of losers, it’s now a cause célèbre, a hard-earned badge of redemption and authenticity. In ads for sneakers, athletes relish in how many times they missed the winning shot. In magazine articles, CEOs take pride in recounting their blunders, politicians and celebrities their lowest moments.

The benefits of failure shouldn’t be news to us. Toddlers develop into autonomous, well-functioning selves by testing boundaries. Fall over, pick yourself up, fall over with a little less pain the next time.

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible, and the benefits manifold. From preventing recurring mistakes to spurring innovation, to helping you find your true course to uncovering opportunities, it often begins with failure.

Yet for most of us mortals, this advice is still hard to take: Failure is painful. Disappointment cuts deep. And so much psychologically rests on being right, that denial and finger pointing remain our default responses.

Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor of management at the Columbia Business School, says that when she asks execs how effective their organizations are at learning from failure, on a scale of one to 10, “I often get a sheepish ‘two — or maybe three’ in response.”

Failure involves real costs: It wastes money, destroys morale, infuriates customers, damages reputations and can sometimes lead to legal trouble. For small-business owners, there is the legitimate risk that a major failure — choosing a wrong location, expanding to a new market or opting not to adopt new tech — could mean the end of their business.
Further, there’s a concern among many managers that a fear-no-failure culture will lead to an anything-goes environment for staff.

As a result, despite all the good talk about failure, most businesses continue to do the opposite. They punish mistakes, shoot the messenger, deny errors, blame others, make no systematic effort to study it and basically ignore what failure has to teach them.

In doing so, they double down on their errant course of action, stifle risk-taking and create the very thing they are trying to avoid — a terminal misstep.

As the business world becomes more complex and uncertain, the issue is becoming more critical. In 2019, leading a business is not so much about good management, as it is about how you respond to new threats, new trends, new technologies. Nobody gets it right the first time anymore.

“It’s not about effective planning. It’s about trial and error,” Tim Harford writes in his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. “Those who can afford to fail more times will succeed in the long run,” he says.

There is a quote often attributed to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck that “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

But recent research indicates it actually helps to know the hurt firsthand, for the resilience it builds and because like riding a bike, some things you can’t learn from a book or YouTube video.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford

“All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” says Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and a professor at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

In the following pages, we provide tips to help you prepare for when things go wrong and to get the best out of situations when they do go awry.

There is, however, no way to take the pain out of failure. At times like that, it helps to take a philosophical view. On top of trying to tell yourself the feeling of disappointment is salutary, keep in mind that in some mysterious way, the possibility of failure is what makes games worth playing, business pursuing and ultimately life worth living.

When there is no challenge, the joy evaporates. (Try playing a video game designed for 4-year-olds, and see how long that stays fun!)

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke summed it up nicely: “The purpose of life is to be defeated by ever greater things.”

In business, those challenges are waiting every day. Go down valiantly.

 

20 Ways to Make the Most of Failure

“Always learn from mistakes and failures,” notes Tavor White of Chews Happiness in Boulder, CO. “If one does so, they are not failures.” Too true. Here are 20 tips to help you turn those failures around.

Contain the downside

1 To be able to enjoy the benefits of failure, you’ve got to be able to survive the experience. Thus it’s best to fail small and cheaply. Always ask, “What is the minimum viable experiment?” says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads. It also helps to stick to areas where you have some related business experience. The business world is littered with the dead projects of companies that strayed too far from their core competence. Even a small failure can be expensive, but in the long run, ignorance tends to be even more costly.

Dig deep

2 When Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, discusses failure with executives, she often asks them to consider her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure, which lists causes ranging from deliberate deviation to thoughtful experimentation. “When I ask executives to estimate how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually 2 percent to 5 percent. But when I ask how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70 to 90 percent. The consequence is that many failures go unreported and their lessons are lost.” To be sure, managers need to make a distinction between excusable and inexcusable mistakes, but often one can discover underlying causes that are more important. Was the cause carelessness, training, fatigue or another issue?

Fail differently

3 A crucial question to ask yourself about your mistakes is, “Am I failing differently each time?” says Steven Levitt, author of the business best-seller Freakonomics. For all our talk here about failure, what we are actually talking about is learning. Fail the same way over and over, and you’re clearly not learning.

KEEP Plans B, C and D on deck

4 “Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches on the grounds that failure is common,” says Harford in his book Adapt. “This approach is far less intimidating than trying to come up with the best idea ever. You need Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. ” Not only does a fallback position make it easier psychologically to be wrong, but it enables you to take away a wider range of lessons from each mistake, he says. Ideally, you want to try a mix of off-the-wall ideas and by-the-book practices.

WRITE DOWN YOUR FLOPS

5 Keep a failure résumé: When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to analyze the practical, operational reasons you failed. What’s the point of such self-flagellation? “Because honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow — as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line,” says Tim Herrera in his Smarter Living column for the New York Times. It can also be a reminder of how much you’ve tried, said Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School. “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am,” she says.

FAIL FROM the front

6 The example set by owners and management is crucial. Admitting mistakes shows a leader’s self-confidence and helps forge closer ties with employees. “A blunder admitted is empathy earned,” write Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins. “Leaders who don’t cover up their errors become people whom others can admire and identify with.”

Debrief

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life by Francesca Gino

7 When a business venture fails, sure, it sucks. But when a military expedition fails, people die. The life-or-death nature explains the military’s relentless review system, known as “after-action reviews” (AARs) of each combat encounter and combat-training exercise. “As in business, the reasons for success or failure in combat often are not clear,” writes behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent. “AAR participants discuss four key questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What are we going to do next time?” To be sure, failure reviews aren’t much fun. Most people would rather sweep the little disaster under the carpet and look forward. But then the learning opportunity is lost. Such “reviews work best when they are fast and to the point; take place frequently, through good times and bad; and are forward-looking, with an emphasis on learning, not assigning blame,” write Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas in Increase Your Return on Failure.

If it ain’t broke, experiment

8 There’s a view that success doesn’t have much to teach you — you may have been lucky, it will cover up mistakes, it saps the will to innovate, it can make you overconfident and misattribute the real factors at play. But it doesn’t have to be that way, say Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano in an article in the Harvard Business Review. “Celebrate success but examine. Ironically, casting a critical eye on your success can better prepare you to avoid failure,” they write. Gino and Pisano say the right question for leaders of learning organizations to ask is not “What are we doing well?” but rather “What experiments are we running?” Keep looking at data even when things are going well — understanding why you’re successful is as important as understanding what causes mistakes.

Beware your biases

9 The human capacity for self-deception is profound. It thus helps to be aware of the kinds of biases that can undermine a proper evaluation of a project. Among the most common psychological blind spots related to failure are the “God complex” (feelings of infallibility), chasing your losses (taking bigger risks to win back lost money), or hedonic editing (when we try to convince ourselves that a mistake doesn’t matter, or finding some way to reinterpret our failures as successes). Few of us can make purely rational decisions. Beware of your biases.

Use symbolic rituals

10 Heroic Failure Awards, Failure Walls (a space in your back room where you and staff can share your “growth lessons”) or a Failure Hour (a weekly meeting devoted to things that went wrong and can be improved) can help create an environment in which failures are openly and seriously discussed. “Something magical happens to failure when it’s openly acknowledged,” writes business author Jeff Stibel in a column for Bizjournals.com. “Paradoxically, it becomes less of a big deal.”

Hail the bad-news messenger

11 “The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to shoot the messenger and bury the bad news,” write Birkinshaw and Haas. “Big, painful, expensive failures are easy to spot. But in many organizations, any failure that can be hidden is hidden as long as it’s unlikely to cause immediate or obvious harm.” The goal should be to identify it early, before it has mushroomed into disaster. Among the ways to do this: creating a shared understanding around the types of failures that employees can expect to happen, being accessible as a leader both in terms of personality and physically, and rewarding the messenger who presents bad news.

Find a podcast

12 When things aren’t going well, there’s a fabulous world of inspiration out there: podcasts, YouTube commencement speeches, TED talks, School of Life videos. No end, really, of great people who have experienced what you’re going through and can provide reassurance or even tactical guidance. Designer Ida C. Benedetto told the Creative Independent she keeps a collection of such talks for when she needs a boost (petsplusmag.com/5192). Build your own list.

Share what you learn

13 While it’s useful to reflect on individual failures, the real payoff comes when the lessons are shared across the organization or even better, they become part of institutional memory. At Coca-Cola, stories about the failure of New Coke are still told 30 years on. Former CEO Roberto Goizueta got years of one-liners from the fiasco. “Admitting his mistake conveyed to his employees better than a hundred speeches or a thousand memos that ‘learning failures,’ even on a grand scale, were tolerated,” says Farson. Today, traditional soft drinks now account for less than two-thirds of Coke’s business. “They saw the handwriting on the wall, and they evolved into ready-to-drink teas and coffees and juices and dairy products. Coca-Cola knew it was time to reinvent themselves; to transform from one thing into another. This is why — after a continuing series of mistakes, failures, and course corrections — they will continue to thrive,” says Roy Williams.

Know HOW failure looks

14 Recognizing failure can be surprisingly difficult. We’ve been trained that “persistence pays off,” so it feels wrong to cut our losses and label an idea a failure. “Decide what success and failure would look like before you launch an initiative,” says Wharton Business School’s Rita Gunther McGrath, noting that some companies build exit strategies into their projects to ensure that doomed or resource-sucking efforts do not drag on. “Being able to recognize a failure just means that you’ll be able to re-cast it into something more likely to succeed,” Harford adds. In such instances, feedback — either in the form of data or third-party reviews — is essential for determining which experiments have succeeded and which have failed. “Get advice, not just from one person, but from several.”

Use checklists

The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande

15 In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande argues that in our complex modern world, failure results not so much from ignorance (not knowing enough about what works) as from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works). His solution: checklists. In medicine, a field where the available well of learning expands every year, the problem is “making sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly,” says Gawande, a physician. A recent study in U.K. hospitals suggested that wider use of checklists might prevent 40 percent of deaths during treatment. If surgeons can fill out checklists, the rest of us should probably be willing to run our expertise by the numbers as well.

Give back the pen

16 It’s not just at the organizational level that failure can be “a gift.” Individuals, likely including your employees, can benefit from its didactic embrace. The problem is that many managers are what psychologists call “over-functioners” — faced with a challenge in the store, they spring into fixing mode, taking control, attacking the issue, offering instructions and dealing with it. As with raising kids, it often helps to let your underlings fail to allow them to develop, even if it creates some short-term anxiety or uncertainty. When a person is stuck or struggling, ask them, “What do you think you should do? Go try it and I’ll give you some ideas and then you see how it goes.”

You are not your failure

17 A lot of us look to athletes for inspiration, especially when it comes to taking on a daunting challenge. But according to British sports psychologist James Hamilton, many elite athletes have a pretty unhealthy view of success and failure, associating defeat with an all-round failure of the self. To be sure, it can fuel a heightened drive, leading them to put up with huge levels of discomfort and deprivation, but it can also result in risk-avoidance and self-blame when things don’t pan out as they had hoped. A much healthier view, he says, is to remember that any failure “stands separate” from you.

Celebrate intelligent failure

18 As 3M’s legendary chairman William McKnight once said, “The best and hardest work is done in the spirit of adventure and challenge. … Mistakes will be made.” A risk-averse culture, on the other hand, is dangerous. Once you quit innovating and become guardians of the status quo, the end is only a matter of time. “One division head I worked with would say to his team members during their performance reviews, ‘Show me your scrap heap,’” recalls Wharton’s Gunther McGrath. “The request perfectly conveys the idea that high achievers will, of necessity, try some things that don’t work out.” Tom Peters sums it up another way: “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”

Educate your subconscious

19 The pioneering behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman changed the standard view that humans are rational economic actors. The Soviet Union proved something similar for economies — what looks to be efficient rationalization is often a system that can’t learn or adapt. It’s the same for just about any business. British advertising great David Ogilvy had an interesting take on this: “The beginning of greatness is to be different. And the beginning of failure is to be orthodox. Big ideas come from the unconscious. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.” Go expose yourself to ideas and experiences.

Share your failures

20 Look for opportunities to share your mistakes, be it at a lunch, an industry peer group or some other professional gathering. “If you’re having lunch with some of your peers, then revealing failure is a great strategy to induce levels of liking by reducing malicious envy,” Amy Edmondson says. Adds Roy Williams: “When people share their experiences in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, a special kind of magic occurs: Smart people become wise, and their businesses begin to grow.”

FAILURE TEACHES THE BEST LESSONS

Pet pros share their flops … and how they bounced back.

Photos, Bad or Good, Make the Day

Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT
3 One of my easiest epic fails to swallow is one that is reoccurring and that we poke fun at. We post a monthly calendar, and often the event of the day focuses on photos coming to owners via text. In our fun “wag speak,” we explain that we know that a pup may not cooperate with the turkey hat on his head or sitting nicely in a valentine photo booth. We send the epic-fail pictures as well as the perfect ones to keep things lighthearted and fun. Most of our clients say this makes their day.

Big-Box Lessons

Nancy Okun, Cats n Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL
3 I brought in a brand of cat food that’s sold in a big box. My thinking was the low price I got and the quality of the food, plus the well-known brand, would attract enough customers to make it profitable. Six months later, I’ve decided to discontinue this brand. I don’t consider this a failure. I look at it as more of a lesson learned that I shouldn’t bring in any brands a big box already stocks. The customers left for price, even though our prices were within pennies of each other. Mass advertising made a big difference. Now, when a brand goes big-box, we discontinue it and find a brand equal or better to replace it. And, we let our customers know what’s going on upfront. We tell the customer how much we value their loyalty and hope they will stay our customer.

Discontinued Chore

Jack Carey, Amoskeag Pet Supply, Manchester, NH
3 We tried having theme months. Like puppy month, cat month, etc. Initially, we were all excited to create the promotion and decorations for each month. After the first few months didn’t generate any interest for our customers, it became a chore and ultimately was discontinued. It did help us round out our departments’ offerings and promoted creativity.

Trust Your Instincts

Johnna Devereaux, Fetch RI, Richmond, RI
3 There is no such thing as a failure — just an opportunity to do something different (or make a different choice with newly learned information) next time. I remember bringing in a new collar line that I didn’t quite believe in. They were cute and of high quality, but my instinct told me they wouldn’t sell. I went against my gut … and ended up sitting on over $1,000 of inventory. The takeaway: Always trust your instincts. You know your consumer base better than anyone. Don’t ever let a salesperson change your mind. Lesson learned … and luckily at a relatively inexpensive price.

An Upside to the StoryWendy Megyese

Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC
3 I decided to open a second location in 2018. I became enamored of another beach town that was an hour away. The emotional attachment overrode my logical decision-making, and I hunted until I found a site that was being constructed. I overlooked its drawbacks. All I saw was that it was near the beach and that I would be able to create the interior I wanted, rather than having to retrofit an existing structure. I signed a lease and paid the deposit — two months’ rent. As construction began, I started feeling queasy about my decision. It was keeping me awake at night, and I realized I was spending time trying to justify my action. It became clear that I had made the wrong choice. I contacted the real estate agent and told him I wanted to back out of the deal. I was fortunate that he allowed me to do so since the construction was not fully completed, but I forfeited my deposit. While the money was unrecoverable, I decided to mentally frame it as a very expensive lesson. A few months later, that area was devastated by Hurricane Florence. While the building I would have been in is still standing, most businesses there were closed for months. If there is any upside to the story, it is that I would have lost much more had I gone forward with my plans instead of admitting that I made a poor decision and backed out of it.

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You impress us. On a daily basis. Your creativity and generosity know no bounds. In fact, many of you are leaders in your respective fields, innovating and then sharing your wins with other pet business owners and managers so they too can succeed. Ten such professionals are profiled here. Some are pioneers. Others have taken an existing product or service and given it a new spin, helping to move their part of the pet industry forward. We hope they inspire you to do the same. That is, if you aren’t already.

DOG PARK INNOVATORS

Dave Hensley & Leib Dodell | Bar K, Kansas City, MO

Most public dog parks are problematic. They never have enough shade or seating. Fights break out between unsupervised pups. Rules prohibit food and small children, rightly so for safety reasons, but it makes a family trip to the park difficult for some. And not all dogs have the vaccinations they need.

Leib Dodell and Dave Hensley decided to create a place for pets and their people that has none of these issues — and that offers so much more. They opened Bar K in August 2018.

“Like a lot of entrepreneurs, we started out wanting to solve a problem for ourselves,” Dodell says. He enjoys going out with his Australian Shepherd Benji and Shepherd mix Bear, as does Hensley with his Goldendoodle, Bishop. “Public dog parks are challenging and limited in the experience they provide.”

Bar K spans two acres on the south bank of the Missouri River, adjacent to downtown Kansas City and partially under the expansive Heart of America Bridge.

“It was this big undeveloped property, kind of a dump, but we could see it had potential to be something special.”

The business partners made it exactly that. Off-leash space totals 68,400 square feet (about 20 percent larger than a football field), with separate areas for dogs big and small, and puppies, to run and play. A jungle gym, four-sided climbing wall and splash pool are among the amenities. Dogtenders, trained in behavioral cues, watch over the action.

“Our trained staff can spot escalating warning signs, and then redirect dogs with a ball or take them to another part of the park.”
A separate 3,000-square-foot Petfinder Park hosts adoption events and training classes.

Inside the 5,000-square-foot restaurant and bar — built from 17 repurposed shipping containers — humans can order from a healthy casual menu while their pups play outside. Those who want to dine with their leashed dogs can do so on the outdoor deck or upstairs patio, and even order a meal for them from a special menu. Beer, wine and cocktails are served inside and outside.

Kids are welcome throughout the property, with different rules applying to on- and off-leash areas. Pet parents can stop by the Groom-Groom Room, a grooming salon with self-bathing station, before they leave.

Admission to Bar K is by day pass, $10 per dog and $5 per additional dog, and by annual membership, $225 per dog and $25 per additional dog. Membership recently surpassed 1,500 members, and Dodell says, “1,000 people can come through on a busy weekend.” All pets must be vaccinated or provide recent titer test results.

 

FITNESS TRAINER FOR PUPS & THEIR PEOPLE

Sue Hepner | Cool Dog Gear, Langhorne & North Wales, PA

Dogs make the best workout partners. They’re always up for exercise, whether it be a walk or run or game of fetch.* Too bad pups can’t go to the gym with their people.

They can in Pennsylvania, thanks to Sue Hepner, co-owner of Cool Dog Gear stores. She created and offers private Work Out Doggie Style classes at both locations, six days a week.

Her own enthusiasm for fitness inspired the program. “I would go to the gym, and my dog would be like, ‘What about me?’”

Hepner, also an avid dragon boat racer, put together the core routine with her team’s coach, retired physical education teacher Jan Cairone. Instructors modify as needed for different doggie ages and physical abilities.

“The youngest pup we have is 4½ months. The oldest is 15 years. The seniors, for example, don’t do as much jumping,” she says, adding that growing puppies also skip certain exercises.

Each class begins with dog and pet parent — or parents — doing three minutes of laps around the gym, located at the back of each store. “They can walk or run, however they usually get around the block.”

Participants then start moving through a series of stations. Pups weave through poles, balance their front paws on an oversized ball and do nosework by finding hidden treats. Hepner even has skateboards for advanced students. In between, they walk or run laps again. Humans guide their dogs, but also have exercises of their own to do such as reps with resistance bands and kettlebells.

Class always ends with 10 minutes of fetch to pull out the pup’s last bit of energy. “Then they’re done, physically and mentally.”

Each class costs $20, with each store holding 100-plus a month. Hepner does not have to advertise the program, as photos she shares nightly on social media get tagged, liked and shared, and lead to new participants. Its popularity even has manufacturers providing toys and treats used in class because doing so results in sales boosts.

Next up for Hepner: She plans to franchise Work Out Doggie Style to other pet businesses.

FIVE-PAW CHEF

Beth Staley | Happy Dog Barkery, Downers Grove, IL

In 2011, pet baker Beth Staley introduced a new Thanksgiving special: turkey stew for dogs.

“We ended up selling 250 over just a couple of days. It took us by surprise,” she says.

Stews are now a bestseller at her Happy Dog Barkery, with more than 1,800 sold in January of this year alone. Staley makes three recipes at a time from an ever-growing menu, now at 25. Popular offerings include Heart of Hearts (chicken, zucchini, chicken liver and heart, carrot and pea) and Pork n Beans (pork, sweet potato, garbanzo bean, molasses, bacon and tomato sauce).

“It’s not a complete diet, more of a food topper or to entice dogs who aren’t eating well.”

Staley has always looked for ways to innovate as a pet baker and chef. In addition to custom cakes and other bakery items, she offers seasonal and cultural treats. Polish pet parents particularly appreciate her celebration of Pączki. The traditional day of eating special jelly-filled buns happens in March, and dogs get their own pączki filled with chicken, coconut, peanut butter or sweet potato. More than 1,300 sell over the three-day period they are available.

Bakery items, which include all of the above, make up 30 percent of overall sales, helping to spur “double-digit growth every single year,” Staley says.

HERBALIST TO THE PETS

Johnna Devereaux | Fetch RI, Richmond, RIL

Johnna Devereaux has been studying the healing properties of herbs for humans since she was 15 years old. After opening Fetch RI in 2014 and becoming a certified canine and feline nutritionist, it was only natural to begin incorporating herbs into her plans for pets.

“I’ve been blessed from my childhood with this passion, and now I’ve found a way to use it to help animals heal themselves and to increase my business,” Devereaux says. “I’m so grateful and appreciative.”

Now also a clinical pet nutritionist, she offers a variety of services and products for dogs and cats with health issues. In-depth nutritional assessments and recommendations involve consultation with the treating veterinarian, or Devereaux can simply look at recent test results and current medications. This costs $75 per hour, $35 per half-hour followup. She also dispenses advice and herbs outside of consultations for minor acute issues, such as suggesting marshmallow root for a dog with an intestinal tract inflamed by diarrhea.

Her go-to commercial herbal products are those from Animal Essentials. The company even creates custom extracts for the store. Devereaux also has an herb garden and apothecary at home.

“I’m sensitive to where herbs come from, whether or not there are heavy metals in the soil, so I grow my own. I make salves for wound care and paw protection, and hot spot remedies. I also formulate teas because I’m a huge advocate of adding water to a dog’s food, and it’s another way to deliver herbs.

“If we’ve interfered somehow and interrupted an animal’s system, I provide tools to help the body heal itself.”

PET SUSTAINABILITY PIONEERS

Julie Paez & Pennye Jones-Napier | The Big Bad Woof, Washington, DC

Pennye Jones-Napier and Julie Paez founded The Big Bad Woof in 2005. Since day one, they have helped to set the standard for sustainable pet stores in this country.

“We’ve always had a green business model, which encompasses everything from what we use for cleaning products to how our electricity is supplied,” Jones-Napier says. “This even flows into buying decisions, by looking at where a product is made, how it is packaged and how far it has to travel to get to our store.”

Among their sustainable achievements: The Big Bad Woof in Hyattsville, MD, was the first business to become a U.S. Benefit Corporation, in 2010. They closed that location in 2016 to reopen in Washington, DC, with D.C. Benefit Corp status.

The current store has 96 solar panels and two energy-efficient Big Ass Fans.

Staff reuses shipping materials and picks up styrofoam coolers and ice packs from area vet clinics to use for raw food delivery.

Bones and organ meats come from a local organic, non-GMO farm. Locally made Chippins treats use cricket as protein.

They joined the Mayor’s Office of the Clean City campaign. Free branded poop bags and holders are available at the store.

LEADER IN PET SERVICES SAFETY

Suzanne Locker | ABC Pet Resort & Spa, Willis, TX

In the early 2000s, doggie day care continued to grow in popularity. However, members of the American Boarding Kennels Association were not convinced it was without risk to the dogs.

As the service became more mainstream and seen as a viable play activity, the ABKA tasked member Suzanne Locker with updating existing accreditation standards to include day care best practices. The revised standards came out in 2006.

“We saw that we needed to be inclusive of all kinds of services,” Locker says. “We had an obligation to our staff, pets and pet parents to have safety procedures for overnight lodging as well as day care.”

During her time with the association, she also served on its board of directors and as president. Her pet resort continues to value safety certifications through the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, American Kennel Club and the Professional Animal Care Certification Council.

Locker also stresses their importance during her Pet Care Facility Management Boot Camp for those opening their first pet services facility.

PET WHOLE FOOD ADVOCATES

Marc Berube & Gregori Lukas | Lukas & Berube Healthy Pet Markets, Montclair, NJ

Gregori Lukas and Marc Berube want nothing more than for pets to eat fresh whole foods. The co-owners of Lukas & Berube’s Healthy Pet Markets believe so strongly in such a diet that they invited top integrative veterinarians and industry experts to speak about it and other topics at their first-ever Healthy Pet Summit.

Held in October 2018 at a venue near their store, the summit featured well-known practitioners Dr. Karen Becker, Dr. Melissa Shelton, Dr. Judy Morgan, Dr. Gerald Buchoff and Dr. Laurie Coger, plus Answers Pet Food Nutrition Science Director Billy Hoekman.

“Our goal in gathering this elite set of vets and experts was to open the minds of pet parents who might not know about nutrition and other modalities, and how they can be proactive about doing the best for their animals,” Lukas says. “We wanted to inspire and educate.”

The event sold out quickly and went over capacity to accommodate all 85 people who wanted to attend. They came from around the world and were more knowledgeable about pet nutrition than the original intended audience, being followers of the speakers on social media. Lukas was more than happy with the outcome.

“If we can make an impact in the pet food industry, support the ongoing growth of this small community, then others will learn that there are better options,” he says.

Tickets are already on sale for the 2019 Healthy Pet Summit, which will be a much larger event held Oct. 12 at Montclair State University. Lukas, a certified pet food nutrition specialist who serves as nutrition education director for the store and animal nutrition specialist alongside Buchoff at Holistic Pet Care, has other changes planned.

“We will say farewell to kibble in the store all together. To be the change, we have to be the difference.”

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