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The Big Survey

Pet Pros Reveal their Biggest Challenges in 2022 and What They are Doing to Address Them

Post-pandemic tumult demands creativity from owners and managers.




Question: What has been your biggest overall challenge in 2021-22?

Hiring and retaining staff
Supply issues with vendors
Cash flow
Increasing online competition
Keeping customers happy

BEING A BUSINESS owner is always challenging. But on top of the usual issues thrown up by the need to satisfy customers, ward off threats from competitors, and manage economic fluctuations, 2022 introduced some new ones – labor participation is down, productivity is down, consumer confidence is down, while inflation is at a 40-year high. At the same time, most independent pet business owners have never been more prosperous. In short, it’s been a little weird since the end of the pandemic. In such an environment, we asked the 550-plus pet pros who took our inaugural 2022 Big Survey what was the most serious challenge they were facing. The answer? “Hiring and retaining staff,” followed ever so closely by “Supply issues with vendors.” Those two challenges accounted for almost three-quarters of the answers, followed by “Managing cash flow” (14%), “Increasing online competition” (2%), “Keeping customers happy” and “Others” (9%).

Asked how they were dealing with the tight labor market, the owners and managers who took the survey responded with the kind of creativity we have come to expect from the PETS+ community. Here are some of the answers:

To deal with the tight labor market:

  • “Pulling in workers from different industries, who have strong work ethic but want more money. We hired an auto mechanic. He loves grooming cats.
  • “Taking my staff on continuing education retreats so they know they’re valued.”
  • “Continuing to be a satellite location for the grooming school so we can train our own groomers.
  • “Taking advantage of a state worker training grant to increase the continuing education stipend for all employees, which my full-time dog trainers love.”
  • “One of our nicest, best customers wanted to start helping people, so we put her on the payroll. If she is gonna be here all the time, she might as well get paid.
  • “We created a structure so that our staff feels motivated to ‘climb the ladder’ and work their way up to better pay and benefits.”
  • “The biggest thing in all of the stress is keeping my staff happy, because that keeps the customers happy. So I am doing extra stuff for our groomers like free tool sharpening, and stuff for our retail like a fun Halloween competition for whoever gives away the most free dog food samples wins Halloween décor, lots of free coffees and lunches, etc.”
  • “We’ve increased pay drastically but also are expecting more managerial roles from them as we step back a bit and let them run the business.”
  • “We bumped up our training program and made it a weekly task for all employees.”
  • “We switched from traditional interviews to an open house hiring format and it’s proven to be very successful!”
  • “We’ve tried changing up our hiring ads, we’ve continued to increase wages and we offer a raise after 90 days because we had so many new hires start and not even stay three months. We’ve actually hired several people who work other jobs and we try to co-ordinate schedules which makes scheduling much harder and a lot less flexibility when someone needs off but allows us to find some reliable staff that’s motivated to work.”
  • “Not expecting the same work ethic as 10 years ago. Allowing par performance and understanding that things that used to take one to three months now take six to nine months. Overall, lowering the bar has reduced manager stress.”

To deal with supply shortages:

  • “We have learned how to ‘buy sideways.’ We go straight to the brand and tell them our issue (and usually we are big accounts for the brands), and they find product for us from stores that aren’t selling it.”
  • “We still order items from our distributor even if it shows zero availability, rather than waiting for the item to show as available. This lets them know that their fill-rate isn’t as high as they think!”
  • “We’ve become experts at transitioning customers to different foods if we have out of stock issues with suppliers/distributors. We’ve always preached rotation, but we’ve upped our game now.
  • “Previously we tried to avoid bringing in pet foods that directly competed against one another but recently changed our motivation and brought in foods that might serve our customers in the absence of other lines that we carry.
  • “Buying heavy. I am keeping heavier back stock than we generally have before to try and ride out the OOS waves, and we have brought it some alternative options for customers.”
  • “I have really just been trying to think of out-of-the-box ideas and bring in new products. We have added new services including our hydrotherapy, pet chiropractic and canine massage which has helped cash flow increase.”

The very first PETS+ Big Survey was conducted via an anonymous online form from late September through October and attracted more than 550 responses from American pet-store owners and managers. The full results will be published in the Nov-Dec edition of PETS+.



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