Connect with us

Tip Sheet

PETS+’s Top Tips of 2022

Our columns, Cool Store profiles, daily bulletins and other features were a regular source of advice and helpful ideas over the last 12 months. Here are some of the better ones.




A TIP IS ONLY as good as it is timely. In that spirit, here are 20 tips from the pages of 2022’s PETS+ editions and that address some of the big issues of the year, including hiring, inventory, managing the sensitivities of staff, and setting yourself up for a great 2023.

1. Find better solutions by basking in the problem.

Planning season is here but don’t rush it, says Tina Seelig, a Stanford business professor and author of “Creativity Rules: Get Ideas Out Of Your Head And Into The World”. Rather, let yourself bask in the issues for a while. If you go straight to the solution, you will likely end up thinking too narrowly, whereas if you frame wider, you can often come up with a creative answer, she says. “Living in that problem space and falling in love with your problems is one of the most powerful ways to unlock really innovative solutions,” Seelig writes. (Note that this applies to creative issues: For day-to-day problems, we often know what to do straight away, and what we call “deliberation” is actually just dithering.)

2. Stretch your stretch goals.

Setting stretch goals of, say, a 5 percent improvement for employees may be attainable through extra hard work and efficiency. But what if you told your staff you’d like them to improve their performance in a certain area by 30 percent? Impossible? Yes, but that’s the point. They would have to totally rethink how they go about hitting their numbers. To kickstart innovative thinking, you often have to first destroy the old ways of doing things.

3. We are at a unique moment in retail history – embrace the uncertainty and thrive.


The pandemic changed customers’ expectations. They now want the extra online options, to buy by phone and pick up curbside, to receive box from you in the mail, to possibly make contact via live social video. “If you are ready to embrace the omni-experiential future with open arms, things have never looked brighter for independent retailers,” says retail coach Bob Negen. To succeed in the post-COVID world of retail, you’ll need to take everything you learned during the pandemic, and build on it. “Your in-store experience is now only ONE of MANY ways for your customer to experience your business.”

4. The salesfloor is a stage. You need to rehearse.

Role-playing is one of the most effective ways of improving your team’s skills yet many pet store owners shy away from it on the grounds their staff may resist out of fear of embarrassment. But you shouldn’t. At Paws on Chicon in Austin, TX, staff take part in daily role-playing exercises. “They learn different ways to handle situations or answer questions, or if someone had a problem the day before, we role-play it to see how we could handle it better,” says owner Keith Zeiler. “We also role-play new products. It keeps everyone on their toes.” Adds sales trainer Dave Richardson: Make the role-playing positive and fun. Staff won’t be enthusiastic if the focus is negative.

5. Be nice to people who are leaving.

It’s no secret that staff turnover in the retail industry is high, especially right now. But that is no reason to treat departing workers the way you would an expired bottle of milk. On the contrary, handling them well has benefits for your business, HR magazine quotes Gail Gunderson of Ohio State University as saying. If you treat exiting workers with understanding and respect, they may decide to change their minds. They may also tell you the real reason they are leaving, which is important information if you suffer from high turnover. Parting on good terms potentially leaves the door open for them to return. And even if they don’t, they will have positive things to say, which could attract others. Finally, a cordial exit signals to remaining staff that you’re a decent boss who cares about his workers as people, which is good for morale.

6. Get ready now for the next crisis

We seem to be putting the pandemic behind us, and the future is looking bright for your business. Start looking to build a reserve now if needed. The one inviolable law of business is that trouble is nearly always around the corner, management guru Peter Drucker told in one of his last interviews. “I saved more new enterprises than I can remember by simply telling the founder who showed me how beautifully things were going that now is the time to provide for your next financing.” How? If you have six months to a year to provide for your next financing, you can be reasonably sure you’ll get it and at favorable terms, Drucker added.

7. The secret words to make an annual review productive

Employees generally hate reviews. Managers generally hate giving them. With the right approach, however, both sides can leave the meeting feeling they’ve been involved in something productive and looking forward to improved performance. In his book CULTURE CODE: THE SECRETS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL GROUPS, Daniel Coyle recommends using these 19 words to deliver the feedback: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” Why does it work? According to Coyle, it builds trust, signals belonging, and combines high standards with the assurance that people can reach those standards.

8. Add life to those plain walls

Do you have windows that won’t work for displays? Or a plain wall — inside or out — that you don’t know what to do with? Consider hiring an artist who works in paint or vinyl.

Why? That’s what these six pet stores did, and the results have helped make their stores local landmarks while pleasing pet parents and art lovers alike.

Start by researching local restrictions on window graphics (some districts have prohibitions on what you can display. Also, plan for replacement every five years because the vinyl does weather. Matthew Tapia, co-owner of The Public Pet in Honolulu, HI

Also offers this advice: “Always try to set up that ‘Instagram Moment’ for your customers, and have the artist’s handle or hashtag vis- ible for people to use.” Tagging the artist allows you to reach art lovers who also have pets.

9. Do less.

“The Underachiever’s Manifesto” doesn’t sound like a book you’d find on the shelves of the ambitious business owner. But it should be. Written by a doctor named Ray Bennett it advocates a path to a superior kind of achievement based on the idea that you need to leave some slack in your life to take advantage of the serendipity of the world, and to give yourself the elbow room you need to excel. He quotes that Spanish underachiever Pablo Picasso: “You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two … In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.”

10. Want to be a great boss? You need to have confidence — and doubt.

Why? “The best leaders have ‘the attitude of wisdom’ — the confidence to act on their convictions and the humility to keep searching for evidence that they are wrong,” writes Stanford business professor Bob Sutton in a column for the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW.

“Yes, you need to carry yourself in a way that shows you are in charge, but it’s vital to couple that strength with a humbleness that ensures you realize you will often be wrong, and which encourages people to suggest alternative ways of doing things,” he says.


11. Unruly kid rampaging through the store? Offer them their own shopping kart to fill up.

Kids can cause havoc in a pet store, posing a threat to animals, themselves and your stock. Rather than running around trying to catch every display they may upend, get them engaged in some orderly activity, ideally one that may ring up some sales at the checkout.

At the Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, WA, staff go out of their way to make children feel welcome and have fun. “We offer them popcorn, a free fire hat, and even a kids shopping cart to fill up. As for the parent, hopefully it gives them a needed break and they appreciate our help,” says co-owner Jennifer Larsen. Adventure Pets in Mandeville, LA, uses a similarly positive but slightly different approach: children are givena an early lesson in pet care and encouraged to feed the fish (one pellet at a time) in their koi pond.

12. Always do a working interview withtop job candidates

A paid “trial” of two to three days will help you “avoid disasters by being an open book and also giving us a window into the candidate’s customer service skills,” says Alison Schwartz, who uses such an approach at her store, All Pets Considered, in Greensboro, NC. It also allows for a a “no hard feelings” divorce if the candidate herself doesn’t feel like it’s the place for her.

During their working interview, candidates are given a brief tour of the store to review the products that All Pets Considered carries, and then put to work at the register to check out customers and answer phones. “Listen to your staff and their observations because they are the ones who will be most closely working with these individuals. They often have opinions that are valuable when it comes to hiring decisions,” Schwartz says.

13. Get a digital business card made up ahead of your next trade show.

It will save time, money and trees. Nancy Guinn, the owner of Virginia-based independent pet food chain Dog Krazy, says that with such a card, she can simply tap a new contact’s phone to upload their business information via NFC technology, or they can scan the QR code on the back, which can be updated online at any time.

14. Prepare a training checklist for new hires and be sure to include all the important details — even the obvious ones.

Andy Wiltz of Woof’s Play & Stay in Merriam, KS, says, “Some tasks seem overly simple, like how to scoop poop and wash the scooper. You might think it seems condescending to break it down, but the team appreciates it, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment knowing they are working through the task list pretty easily.” Ask your team for help and make it a live document that can be constantly updated. Keep in mind too the some of the other professionals who use checklists as part of their daily routines – pilots, surgeons, software engineers — are all people in critical positions. Even when they are not saving lives, checklists simply make things go more smoothly.

15. Hesitant to dive into video for fear of being judged? Get over yourself.

Putting yourself on camera isn’t about you. It’s about the message you have. And most importantly, it’s arguably the best medium for building the crucial “know, like, trust” factor with customers, says Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. Don’t worry about being perfect. Indeed, the messy can be perfect because the imperfect is relatable, says D’Agnolo, who recommends aiming for three short Reels on one day every week, and doing a Facebook live for 15 minutes weekly.

16. Create “New Pet” kits for shelters to give out to adopters.

Include food, scoop bags, cat litter … whatever your vendors are willing to donate. And, most importantly, a $5 gift card to get these new pet parents in your store.

17. Reboot Your Phone Every Week

That’s part of the National Security Agency’s recently released “best practices” guide for mobile device security. While it won’t stop a sophisticated hacker, it will make them work harder to maintain access and steal data from your phone. “This is all about imposing cost on these malicious actors,” Neal Ziring, technical director of the NSA’s cybersecurity directorate, told the Associated Press. The reason is that the latest malicious software typically targets your phone’s root file system. But the newest phones can detect and block such malware during a reboot.

18. Slow-moving product? Tie a bow on it.

Getting seasonal inventory right is a tough balancing act: Order too much and you’re stuck with merchandise that won’t move after Dec. 25. Order too little and you miss a prime selling opportunity. The answer? Be conservative and if you have a better-than-expected year, dress up regular stock as festive season goodies.

“When we run out of holiday merch, we tie red ribbons on regular merch and bundle products,” says Pattie Zeller, owner of the Animal Connnection in Charlottesville, VA, crediting Bob Negen of WhizBang Retail for the idea. “It works every time for other holidays too. And bundling always increases the average sale.”


19. Force a real decision

The next time you ask an employee or partner for their opinion on a business-related matter, say to rate a job candidate, a new line or a business proposition, ask them for a score between one and 10 but tell them they can’t choose seven. Seven is a fudge, says speaker and author Kyle Maynard. Force the person to choose between at least an eight, an indication that they’re genuinely excited by the prospect, and a six, which usually means they’d pass on it.

20. Always add, “which means…”

To boost the impact of your sales presentations and really, REALLY ensure your prospective customer understands the benefits of what you’re selling, always add “which means…” after every feature you share, says “Wizard of Ads” author Roy H Williams. “You can add these words verbally, or you can add them silently, but this habit will bridge you into language the customer can see in their mind,” he writes in his weekly Monday Morning Memo. Williams provides the following examples: “This blade is made of Maxamet steel, which means you’ll never have to sharpen it” and “This is a 52-week schedule, which means your name will become the one people think of immediately and feel the best about.”



NASC Media Spotlight

At first it was just an idea: Animal supplements needed the same quality control that human-grade supplements receive. But that was enough to start a movement and an organization —the National Animal Supplement Council — that would be dedicated to establishing a comprehensive path forward for the animal supplements industry. In this Media Spotlight interview, NASC’s president, Bill Bookout, talks to PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita about the industry today: Where it’s headed, what’s the latest focus and why it’s vital to gain the involvement of independent pet product retailers.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular