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What Has Worked (So Far) For Pet Businesess During the COVID-19 Crisis

Indies share the best decisions they've made since the coronavirus pandemic began.

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IN OUR PETS+ Brain Squad survey on how coronavirus has affected pet businesses, we asked, “What do you think has been your best decision so far as a manager/leader in this crisis?”

Owners and managers shared not only decisions they have made in recent days, but also how their regular behaviors and business practices have proved beneficial.

“No matter what’s going on in our lives, we always give back. Right now we are OK, but our friends that have other other types of small businesses are not. Our focus is on helping them. They’re our biggest supporters, and we have to help them stay afloat right now. We’re also helping our local rescues. Later today, we’re going to be offering free dog food to anyone in the service industry that has been laid off. We want them to have one less thing to worry about. We already set aside 250 bags of food that we have coming in to donate to our community.” — Nancy Guinn, Dog Krazy, Fredericksburg, VA

“Firing an associate that had a coronavirus party and posted videos on Facebook.” — Pam Alerine, Style Mutt, Cleveland, OH

“Hawaii was slow to enact preventative measures as we had a low number of confirmed cases. We started social distancing and cleaning marketing/messaging before anyone else, and began working on changes to how we do business on the back end. We were able to launch our initiatives very quickly after the first large government push for action. We feel it has instilled confidence in our customers that we are on top of things and keeping them safe!” — Niki Libarios, Hawaii Doggie Bakery, Honolulu, HI

“My best decision was to network with other business leaders. We were able to come up with some ideas that will help us pivot and have the added benefit of perhaps creating future streams of revenue.” — Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

“Had an all-staff meeting where I outlined specifics on how radically this situation is influencing our customers, their decision making and this business. Also reiterated what our cleaning protocols are so all are consistent and safe.” — Marcia Cram, Just Fur Pets, Springfield, VA

“Stocking extra food. We have always had a large back stock of our best selling foods. It served us well when people were coming in like crazy to get food. I am super thankful for my hoarding tendency now.” — Anna Woodcock, Brown Dog Bakery, Ankeny, IA

“I am taking each day as it comes. I am not in panic mode. I did discover that my emergency plan with my insurance only covered closures due to natural disasters, and I guess this does not constitute. So we are taking it one day at a time, booking dogs, staying cheerful and listening to each client’s concerns. The area is very quiet. People are being smart and staying home when they do not need to be out. I hope this continues and breaks the epidemic.” — Melissa Ripple, Paws & Effect, LLC, Eustis, FL

“Keeping my community of customers connected in our FB live. I have scheduled FB live events with our instructors and trainers.” — Alysa Slay, Camp Dogwood, Highland Park IL

“We did a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios with our store teams prior to the crisis, so when we had to implement new procedures, we were prepared. Our store teams have been incredible, and we’re very proud of the team effort they’ve all been showing. We’ve brought our shop managers into all of our decision-making processes so the teams are working very cohesively.” — Jeff Jensen, Four Muddy Paws, St Louis, MO

“Implementing a text payment system for curbside pickup.” — Victoria Park, Park Pet Supply, Atlanta GA

“Keeping the public informed about what we are doing in store… and most importantly about how the stress we are all feeling is directly impacting our pets and how to help alleviate that burden from them. We are helping our customers by reminding them of simple things they can do to keep their dogs happy and with reduced stress— that’s fun for everyone!” — Johnna Devereaux, Fetch RI, Richmond RI

“I think our best decision was shutting down to walk-in traffic. There’s nothing more important than protecting the health and safety of our community, including ourselves and our staff.” — Shane Somerville, Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA

“Manage by fact. Don’t listen to tweets.” — Audree Berg, Auggie’s Doggies Pet Supplies, Fort Lauderdale, FL

“My best decision was getting our online store up and running with all our products and promoting buy online, pickup in store or curbside.” — Georgann McConn, Pet Pros, Woodinville, WA

“To have saved an emergency fund.” — Donna Trilli, Healthy Pets NW, Portland, OR

“Best decision is the curbside service and free same-day delivery. We talked about it in December, but this kicked us in the butt to get it done sooner.” — Patricia Boden, Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA

Instituting other avenues for our customers to receive their needed supplies.” — Michele Saharic, Barkley’s Gourmet Marketplace, Flemington, NJ

“I don’t have employees so no worries there. As far as for customers, I think communicating with them and keeping calm. It’s business as usual for us, and the willingness to go even more over-and-beyond what we already do helps give our folks peace of mind. I’ve been coming in earlier and giving the choice to have home delivery before or after hours.” — Kimberly Gatto, The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV

“Designating an employee only restroom to minimize contamination.” — Amanda Kiviniemi, Animal City, Murfreesboro, TN

“Assuring our customers of their and their pets’ safety along with describing our already in play disinfecting rituals.” — Christine Dixon, Wiggle and Walks Pet Care, Charlotte, NC

“Curbside pickup! Requires no human contact!” — Heather Campbell, Bow Wow & Woofs, Blaine, WA

“I began monitoring available information from our county and state health authorities to provide regular factual updates to my staff (so they could avoid being influenced by all the misinformation coming in), and I created our contingency plan so we can make our decisions clearly in the next few weeks. I am coming to work every day and checking in with my staff regarding their health status and stress load. If they are ill, they will stay home. If they get too stressed, we will reduce our hours to compensate for that. All staff are guaranteed two weeks of PTO to deal with this, and I have put two weeks of payroll into reserve to cover it. So far so good!” — Kate Lindburg, Animal Crackers Pet Supply, Corvallis, OR

“Not ordering up on merchandise and halting rain checks during this time period.” — Matthew Albright, Phillips Pet Supply Outlet, Bath, PA

“Staying calm, staying positive, trying to help our most vulnerable customers. If you take the focus off yourself, you will see the big picture and look for ways to help others that are less fortunate.” — Ramie Gulyas, Follow Your Nose, Evanston, IL

“All decisions are made through the lens of keeping my team and my customers safe first, while still providing a consistently high level of continued service.” — Frank Frattini, The Hungry Puppy, Farmingdale, NJ

“Staying open and assuring customers we will keep updating on the status of supplies. Offering to store food for anxious customers, letting customers know they can call first to make sure we have what they want in stock, giving out extra treats for cats and dogs.” — Nancy Okun, Cats n Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

“We met with our team before it blew up and covered what could happen, and what we were doing to be proactive about it. It helped us when the time came, and the team already knew the drill and were already cleaning more, etc. Doing 50 percent more in sales, they were prepared and worked hard to keep up. We also warned them about hours/possibility of having to close, being slow, etc., suggesting they build their immune systems and start padding their bank accounts now.” — Jennifer Larsen, Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA

“My management team met with all staff individually to assess what hours they all NEED. Those who don’t support themselves were removed from schedule temporarily, as owners we are jumping in to do assignments we don’t normally do to ensure the animal husbandry is kept up professionally.” — Sal Salafia, Exotic Pet Birds Inc, Webster, NY

“Right now it is just being honest with all my staff. Keeping them up-to-date on everything that is happening. Giving them financial advice and helping them put a personal plan together on how we are going to all survive this together. I will continue to put my employees in front of myself.” — Michelle Nelson, The Pet Authority, Albert Lea, MN

“Reassuring our customers that we’ll be here for them however we need to be.” — Diana Farrar, Fifi & Fidos Pet Boutique, San Antonio, TX

“Reducing hours and laying off non-essential staff while at the same time communicating early and often with our customers.” — Myra Tsung, Camp Kitty, Decatur, GA

“Canceling or postponing upcoming events, instituting hourly cleaning.” — Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

“Trying my best to stay positive for my clients and independent contractors.” — Kelly Catlett, Waggs 2 Whiskers, LLC, Bagdad, KY

“Maintaining our hours and prices.” — Robert Durham, Willis Feed Mill Co, LLC, Willis, MI

“Waived cancellation fees for holiday visits.” — Sherri Schott Richlyn, Rovers Pet Services, LLC, Perry Hall, MD

“Try to maintain a level of normalcy for the staff.” — Tim Hall, Naturally 4 Paws, Silverdale, WA

“I’ve tried to emphasize the scientific and medical facts. So much misinformation is circulating. Staff and customers need to be vigilant in increasing social distance and in decreasing the overall number of close interactions where possible. Prudent choices to reduce the infection rate, not panic.” — Jim Seidewand, Pet World, Rochester, NY

“Paring down to a reduced staff and confirming all appointments to be sure staff wasn’t in place without clients here.” — Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

“Just taking one obstacle at a time. Paying close attention to what is happening and making sound decisions as I go that align with my personal morals.” — Deana Deitchler, Dogs Paw, Park Rapids, MN

“Trying to remain calm and follow CDC guidelines.” — Beth Hobbs, Stay and Play at Home, Bristol, VA

“The curbside service allows me to keep staff wages paid since we haven’t cut our hours. We have a very small staff, though, and two have elected to stay home. We may need to cut operating hours if remaining staff cannot keep going or if the demand slows down.” — Jodi Etienne, Razzle Dazzle Doggie Bow-tique, Bradley, IL

“Staying calm and dispersing information to our employees.” — Charlsye Lewis, Metro Animals, Fort Worth, TX

“I’m by nature low drama and an extreme planner, so my staff knows I’m on top of things every day, not just during a crisis. We hope to give our clients peace of mind and a place to stop in if just to chat!” — Karen Conell, The Bark Market, LLC, Delavan, WI

“Talking with the staff about being realistic and not to panic. Being smart about cleanliness away from work, too.” — Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

“I am a high-risk individual over 60. I have moved to my home office, and my assistant agreed to work six days a week. We now close on Sunday.” — Denise Strong, Pawz On Main, Cottonwood, AZ

“We allowed staff to stay home if they chose to, and if anyone wants to work they have the option. Push more on cleaning and wipe down on traffic areas as often as possible.” — Tammi Bui, Wishbone Pet Care, Missouri City, TX

“Keeping my staff calm and updating them constantly while remaining positive.” — Heidi Neal, Loyal Biscuit Co, Rockland, ME

“I’ve told my employees I will keep food on their tables.” — Corey Heenan, Corey’s Canine Creations, Altamont, NY

“Eliminating as much client/employee contact as possible.” — Patti Colandrea, Bark Bark Club, Chicago, IL

“Quick action to institute curbside pickup.” — Beth Cristiano, Pretty Paws, LLC, Harrison, NY

“Getting good solid information.” — Greg Gorski, Cody Pet Depot, Cody, WY

As of March 23, 78 owners and managers have responded to our survey. Stay tuned for more results. Join the PETS+ Brain Squad to take part in surveys. To hear more from your independent pet business peers, join our Facebook Community.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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