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PETS+’s Top Tips of the Past Year

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.

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IF THERE’S ONE thing to know about running a pet business, it’s that there’s always more to learn. In any given year, our No. 1 end-of year tip would be: Go back and read all the PETS+ editions of the previous 12 months cover to cover. There’s a wealth of information there covering everything from inventory management, to selling bands to adding personality to your store. Although, yes, we also have to accept you may not have the time right now. Given that, here are 20 tips from the pages of PETS+ in 2023 that stood out to us and which we hope will help you with your business in the new year and beyond.

Offer a New Year Preview

Give customers a sneak peek at what you have planned for the new year. Are you introducing new products? Have you grown your staff or expanded your services? Send out an email recapping the past year and let people know what you have planned for the New Year, recommends Constant Contact in their monthly marketing newsletter.

Truly Personal Thank-You Notes

To really make your thank-you note memorable, attach a cookie (pet or human) – and to make the whole thing even more personal, opt for a customized cookie and a handwritten note. Follow up a week or so later to see how the cookie went down. Oh, and don’t forget to ask about how Buster is doing on his new diet.

Glad to Wrap

Some bosses view their staff like family, others see them as assets. Dan Reitman of Dan’s Pet Care in New York does too, but he also sees them as potential mobile billboards. He offers his pet sitters and dog walkers the option to wrap their personal cars in his company’s logo, at his expense, and receive $200 a month in exchange. Ten employees have currently taken him up on the offer, and they are expected to follow the same code of conduct in their personal driving as they do when on the clock. “It’s massively successful! We get so much business from it, and it adds to the perceived legitimacy of your business in the eyes of the consumer when they see you everywhere,” Reitman said. Could you do something similar for your business?

Feed it Forward

Providing feedback has long been considered to be an essential skill for leaders. But according to executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, there are two problems with it – it addresses something that happened in the past and it makes the recipient defensive. In its place he recommends “feedforward,” which is suggesting a couple of things you think could help one of your workers improve their performance. It takes little time and is usually well received, he writes on his blog.

“These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way the manager can ‘cover the same points’ without feeling embarrassed and without making the subordinate feel even more humiliated,” he says.

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Share the Self-Love

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for a reminder on the importance of sharing the love – with yourself. “The biggest life hack is to become your own best friend. Everything is easier when you do,” says mindfulness teacher Cory Mascara.

Price First, Features Second

When asked, “How much?” the first digit of a number should always be the first syllable out of your mouth. That’s the advice of sales pro Gene Chamberlain. Start with a sales line like, “You have excellent taste in cat trees,” followed by a list of the features and the person stops listening. Start with the price, followed — without pause — by the features, and all of those things you list make the price seem cheaper and cheaper.

Keep the Lines Open

Once your business gets big enough, you hire someone to answer the phones. That’s great for efficiency, but it also adds a layer between you and your customers. And it’s not just you — it’s managers and anyone else who no longer answer phones. But there’s real benefit in maintaining that contact, marketer and business author Seth Godin says, explaining that everyone on staff should spend time each month working the customer service line and answering questions. On top of learning about what people are searching for or are unhappy about, you establish a human connection.

Secure Your Email

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of email, but so much of its power goes under-utilized, because, simply put, no one tells us! Here’s one for Gmail you should know: Confidential Mode for sensitive emails. It allows you to set a message expiration date, revoke message access at any time and require a verification code (sent by text) to open a message. Got a message you don’t want shared? Simply locate the “padlock” icon at the bottom of your message (usually it’s near the blue “Send” button), choose your options and you’re set to go.

Add Google’s Local Services

If you're a pet care business and want to get new clients, consider adding Google’s Local Services Ads to your plans. They’re easy to set up, the “Google Screened” badge adds a level of verification easily visible to potential clients, and the conversion rates for these leads are significantly higher than those of a standard search ad. Take advantage of this powerful tool and start seeing quick results in your pet care business, says Matt Aldrich, the creative brain behind Pet Engine Marketing.

Better Than Perfect

Perfection isn’t just impossible, it’s counterproductive, notes Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and author of the bestseller THINK AGAIN. “Perfectionists are more likely to burn out and less likely to embrace new challenges. Success depends on high standards, not being flawless. The target is not perfection — it’s excellence.”

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Add Some Color

Don’t be fooled by those who say you should “paint your walls white because you have such colorful merchandise.” Color speaks volumes, says interior designer Lyn M. Falk. “It brings warmth and personality to a space.” Consider one accent color as a key focal point to engage the eye and draw in customers, she advises. “And neutral doesn’t always mean white. It can be beige, taupe or light grey. The right colors are key – they need to match your brand palette, support your product lines and appeal to your target market.”

Recruit Your Pet Walkers for Your Delivery Team

Deliveries are a service that provides convenience for your customers and extra revenue for the store. The 100-plus households that use the dog walking and/or pet sitting services of Lucky Dogs in Skaneateles, NY, can ask for the team member to bring along product orders as well, explains owner Amy Schiek, adding that also helps cement relationships with customers.

Be on Alert for Imposters

Beware! That relative, employee or even loyal customer on the end of the line asking for some sort of financial help may not be who you think they are. According to a story in the Washington Post, technology is making it easier and cheaper for bad actors to convincingly mimic voices. In 2022, impostor scams were the second-most popular racket in America, with over 36,000 reports of people being swindled by those pretending to be friends and family, according to data from the FTC. If you receive such a call requesting money, even if the voce is uncannily like someone you know, insist on switching to video or put the person on hold and try to dial them yourself. In 2024, you need a solid verification protocol with friends/family to defend against scammers.

Provoke Good Fortune

The core strategy of anyone looking to enhance their luck is to expose yourself to as much randomness and “good uncertainty” as you can. Break your daily routines, go to a party with a goal of only talking to people wearing red, attend conferences no one else in your field is attending, read books and blogs no one else is reading. “Although it may seem strange, under certain circumstances, this type of behavior will actually increase the amount of chance opportunities in people’s lives,” says Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK and author of The Luck Factor. It’s like living in an orchard, he says. Keep going back to the same trees and soon you’ll harvest no apples. “It is easy for people to exhaust the opportunities in their life. Keep on talking to the same people in the same way. Keep taking the same route to and from work. Keep going to the same places on vacation. But new or even random experiences introduce the potential for new opportunities.”

Young, Dumb and Broke? Not Really. It’s More Like Young, Smart and Picky

Hiring young workers is tough nowadays. Not only do they have the advantage of a tight labor market, but they want more than just a paycheck. What to do? Begin by covering the basics: Promise competitive pay and benefits, be clear about job responsibilities, offer flexible schedules, highlight opportunities for growth, tout your environmental and social consciousness and emphasize the social aspect of the job. Promote your fun company culture on social media and participate in local internship programs.

Get Used to Being Uncomfortable

There is actually no way to escape the tug of anxiety. Its evolutionary roots as a warning system mean it’s baked in and will always feel uncomfortable. Anxiety becomes maladaptive when it paralyzes. The answer is thus to appreciate that we humans are “anti-fragile” — we strengthen and grow when challenged. When we know what’s required and can marshal the resources to cope with them, scary things become challenges rather than threats. In the words of the late psychologist Susan Jeffers, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

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Build a Staff Website

Need a spring project? How about building a dedicated website just for staff? Sal Salafia, owner of Exotic Pet Birds in Webster, NY, says such an online resource — which allows his staff to access FAQs, request time off, create weekly schedules and keep up to date on product information — has been “a game-changer” for his business. “Took months to build, but was so worth it.”

Leave a Little in the Locker Room

As a pep talk staple, “Go out there and give it 110%!” makes intuitive sense. More effort srhould lead to greater success. Only it doesn’t. In a wide number of fields, from Olympic sprinting to academic learning to your pet business, demanding the optimal invariably leads to burnout, discouragement, and poorer results over the long haul. It’s the rationale behind the 85% rule, which recommends aiming for a sweet spot just short of maximum effort to achieve high performance. In an article in Harvard Business Review, business author Greg McKeown suggests implementing the 85% rule specifically by setting a done-for-the-day time, explicitly telling employees to aim for 85% effort, and watching out for unnecessarily high-pressure language like “ASAP” and “urgent” in communications. Yep, he’s saying you should leave a little in the locker room.

Stretch the Scale

If you’ve sought feedback from customers and they’ve only ever told you that you are fantastic, or rated you 5 out of 5, you may want to try stretching the scale — to 14 points. It allows your customers to refine their assessment. If they circle 12 for example, it means you’re excellent, but you could be better. Once you have that margin, tease out the specifics. What exactly can you do to be better? And is it worth it?

A Fix for Broken Treats

Those broken bits of treats at the bottom of buckets in your treat bar always seem worthless, don’t they? Another write-off. Sigh. Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, has the perfect solution: Bundle a half pound of those broken bits into cellophane bags and sell them for $1.99.

“No one wants broken pieces when they’re in the buckets at full price, but they’ve been flying out merchandised this way!” Somerville says.

Make a Friend From a Different Generation

Because for most pet pros, that means someone younger. And we don’t need to tell you millennials and Gen Z think, communicate and shop in different ways to their predecessors. You may not agree with them but they have invaluable insights to share for any business owner looking to operate an ongoing enterprise. How to do it? With younger consumers it invariably starts online these days. Get more active on relevant social media platforms. Attend industry events that are relevant to young people. Maybe consider sponsoring events or activities in your community that are geared towards the younger generation. Overall, be open when opportunities arise.

In 2024, Aim High. And a Little Lower

2024 is here and with it the tantalizing thought of what you might be able to achieve. The consultants at McKinsey recommend setting an “aspirational goal” and an “acceptable result.”

An ambitious goal raises your odds of success. But it also boosts your odds of feeling like a failure. In contrast, if you fall short of the aspirational goal but hit the acceptable one, you haven’t failed. The other advantage of an aspirational target is that it tells everyone on your team that “we are open to doing things differently,” says the report.

We trust you have a stretch goal close at hand. It’s big dreaming that get us through the hard or slow times. Now scale it back and come up with a goal that would deliver a satisfactory year!

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