KATE PACKED UP the rest of her Harry Potter window display items from May and smiled at the June installation. It honored Pride Month and featured brightly colored rainbows and hearts sure to catch the eyes of passersby.
She walked through the store one last time, making sure there were plenty of rainbow bandanas and cookies, and a variety of colorful toys.
ABOUT REAL DEAL
Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.
When the doors opened the next day, on Jun. 1, Kate would be ready to celebrate Pride with her employees and customers. There were very few Harry Pawtter toys left over, and all of the sorting hat cookies had sold out a week ago, so she knew the time and creativity spent on window and in-store displays were paying off.
Kate locked up for the night and headed to her car for the drive home. She had just climbed in when an alert chimed on her phone, letting her know the store had a new Google review. Kate always got excited when new reviews came in, as she loved getting feedback from customers.
Kate touched the screen to read the review and saw the one star.
She began to read the review, anxious to see what type of negative experience someone had had at her business. It said, “Just passed this store, and the window display is filled with rainbows and Pride items. Pride Month has nothing to do with pets, so maybe the owners should keep their personal opinions to themselves. People want to shop for their pets, not think about sexuality.”
Kate reread the review, thinking to herself, “Wow.” Every few weeks, she created a different theme to highlight in the front window. Her employees were excited about the new display and had helped her with the concept. Kate even made T-shirts for them that said “Love Is Love,” with a pawprint for each “o.” She thought back to the Cinco de Mayo display before Harry Pawtter and how it had also sparked a negative review. That person scolded Kate for appropriating the holiday. It seemed as if any idea she had would offend someone.
The Big Questions
- Should Kate take down the window display and avoid any societal and/or cultural themes?
- Leave the display up and respond that it’s her store and she can display anything she likes?
- Leave the display up and ignore the review?
Fort Worth, TX
We decided when we first opened to stay politically neutral as a company. It has worked very well for us because we simply do not get involved in hot-button issues. You will have customers on all parts of the social and political spectrum. The one thing they have in common is their love for their pets. Why would you intentionally inflame segments of your customer base? Your business is better served staying focused on pets and avoiding controversial topics.
I use discretion when decorating my store’s window. My college town has a bit of both conservative and liberal views, so I try to meet in the middle and hope for the best. I make sure my store is open and welcoming to ALL, and that is what we should strive for, as word of mouth, bad OR good, goes a long way toward determining how long our business is viable. Although I wouldn’t stress about ONE review, if it becomes more problematic, then I would take a step back and reassess the message I am sending with my display. For Christmas, I have a tree with lights, then decorate it with pet toys. For Easter, I used a blow-up bunny and have flowers all around it. I have received many compliments, and those people told me it is because of my displays that they entered my store. Weigh the compliments vs. complaints and go from there.
Mill Creek, WA
I love doing a Pride display every year! Our community and staff includes many people who identify as LBGTQIA, including myself and my older child, and I think it’s important to show folks that our store is a place that celebrates everyone, and that the queer community is welcome, wanted and fully supported at our shop. I, too, had a former customer make a similar statement to Kate’s customer, and my response was that while she was certainly entitled to her own feelings, if our store’s stance was not aligning with hers, then we wish her well shopping elsewhere and we will not stop standing up for what we believe in when it comes to human rights. Human rights should not be up for debate, and I’m just as happy to have bigots and homophobes go elsewhere. I’d suggest that now is a time when our marginalized communities need support the most, and that Kate can firmly but kindly respond to the review in a way that affirms her commitment to the queer community, and leave her display looking loud and proud! (That said, to be a true ally, she should probably rethink her Harry Pawtter theming.) With regards to cultural celebrations, I do think it can be tricky. We did a fundraiser last year for Dia de los Muertos in honor of an employee who passed away, but I planned it in conjunction with one of my Mexican-American employees to ensure it was respectful and culturally appropriate since I am white/of European descent and do not celebrate the holiday. I would take a more measured approach to cultural traditions, and work to ensure they’re going to be seen as respectful and true to the intent of the holiday itself and the people who celebrate it, and not just seen as a sales technique.
I would leave the display up and respond to the review, letting them know we celebrate the diversity of our clientele and that each display strives to be inclusive of all the various people we cater to.
Jennifer Moore B.
North Ridgeville, OH
Kate needs to know her customers well enough to know what they support. If she thinks they would support her Pride month display, then by all means, go for it. If her customers tend to be more conservative, than maybe rethink it. I avoid politics and controversy because I am here to do business with everyone.
Pet stores and other public places are often the target of people who believe that their way is the only right way. I believe any place of business should be supporting what they consider important to support; someone will be offended, and that customer can decide to not shop at a store that supports something that they do not. There is no need to speak offensively to a business owner for showing their support to a group. If only it were that simple, though. Unfortunately, many businesses are trained to not openly show support for any organization other than those related to pets for fear of offending someone. To the owner of the business, I believe you should support what you’d like to support and also make your team members proud to do the same.
I think one of the best things about being an indie store owner is that we get to make decisions to celebrate things like this. We love Pride month and Black History Month! We refrain from political signs during elections, but we never stray from the social issues that we sell merchandise for. I would let the review roll off my back and celebrate pride … with PRIDE!
NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ
Kate should leave the display up and her response should be to the point that many of her customers appreciate these type of displays and it has no bearing on her personal opinions. She could also ignore the review as it does not comment on her store operations. Unfortunately, we live in a time where getting offended seems to be the norm. There is no reason get defensive with this type of review.
I would leave the display in place and ignore the rude comments. Everyone is entitled to celebrate what is important to them. If someone is offended by the display, then it is their option to shop elsewhere. I am sure most customers are not bothered by it and probably like seeing products featured in new and exciting ways. No one is able to please everyone; there is always someone who will find something to complain about.
No, I would NOT take down the display. No, I would NOT ignore the review. I would first thank them for the review and let everyone know that your store is inclusive of EVERYONE. Your store is a celebration of relationships that folks have with their pets, and EVERYONE is included. This is just a store’s way of recognizing that regardless of orientation, we all have that one thing in common … our love for our pets! It’s paramount to keep in mind that it is far more important to the potential reader of the review what YOUR response is then the original complaint itself. On a more personal note, I would simply file it away as another fart in my hurricane as a business owner and continue forward!
She should leave the display and ignore the review. Kate should focus on all of her positive reviews and the excitement and support she received from her employees, and accept that no matter what we do, someone will be offended.
Kate should ignore the review and keep her display up. No one can ever please everyone. If Kate wants to make a display for Pride month, then she must accept that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, which is OK. If this reviewer didn’t even step in Kate’s store and reviewed solely off of seeing the display, it’s not a true review. It’s simply someone spreading their opinion and negativity, trying to get a reaction or attention. There is nothing Kate, or anyone, could respond with that would change the reviewer’s mind. Another reason to respond would be to explain yourself. But there’s no explanation needed. Kate simply had a display that the woman doesn’t like, and it’s that woman’s choice not to shop at Kate’s store. Also, Kate doesn’t need this person as a customer. If the reviewer is that upset by a display, imagine how she would react if she bought a toy that her dog doesn’t like. I think Kate dodged a bullet AND has a beautiful display.
I have had a similar response to Pride decorations — not in the window, but on a bandana we put on a groomed pup. The owner (a very frequent customer) told us to, get that s**t off her dog, and that gave me a huge pause to think over the image we project with our business. I try very hard to keep my store Switzerland in all matters to never alienate anyone. I would advise Kate to take her personal feelings out of the equation, Should anyone be bothered by Pride decorations? Of course not, but obviously some are. I would save the decorations for holidays that are not controversial.
Take into account the demographic of your area is key. If you are in San Francisco, then Pride is embraced and may be of benefit as a promotion for the business. But if the business is in the bible belt of the South, maybe not so much. At the end of the day, as a business owner you do what you feel best for your business. There may be some naysayers, no matter what you choose to do. If as a business owner, aware of your surroundings and community, are confident that the reach of the promotion is positive to the majority, stick to your guns. Maybe respond in a kind, but careful manner. Pride may not relate to pets, but to some owners, it does.
I would have a really hard time not getting upset over this. I would certainly leave the display! I would kindly respond to her review with something like “We love and appreciate all of our customers and love dressing up our window for different seasons, holidays, and themes.” At the end of the day, people like that aren’t my people anyway, but those who do matter will see my kind response.
“Thank you for your review. We love to hear how we’re doing and where we can make improvements. We love connecting with our community, especially around the holidays! We find it to be a fun and creative way to accept everyone in our community, even those without pets. We will continue to honor our role in the lives of pets and their humans, and we will continue to respect the people who live in our community. We hope that this response finds you well, and we welcome you to visit anytime. You may find that there is more to us than just our window display(s). Happy window shopping!”
Colorado Springs, CO
No response would be a mistake in my opinion. Across several social issues, we have see bullying increase over the last several years. For whatever reason, people feel emboldebed to tell you how and and what to do, think, feel, put in your window display etc. They do this because it has become cool to tell others how they have hurt their feelings … and it goes both ways. Some bullies would tell you that you were wrong if you didn’t put up a display to celebrate Pride month. These bullies continue because they aren’t stood up to. First, I would leave the display up. My response to the review would be: “Thank you for taking the time to write a review/make your worthless opinion known to the world. My shop. My display. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Matter of fact, your money is is as valuable in my store as your opinion is in your review. It worth nothing. So don’t bother coming in … ever.”
I think the person who left the review has their own issues/opinions and are pushing them onto someone else and their business. I would leave the window display up, and I would also see if the person who left the review is a current customer (my guess is they are not). Then I would respond to the review. I would respond with something along the lines of: “While we appreciate you sharing your opinion, our store loves and enjoys celebrating and including everyone in our community. One of our favorite ways to do that is by creating fun window displays for everyone to enjoy. We are sorry that you didn’t appreciate our window display, however, our customers and many people in our community do.” By responding in this way, you are showing anyone who reads the 1 star review that it was uncalled for and they really won’t put much thought into it.
St. John, IN
Leave the display up and ignore the review. You can’t please everyone!
Cape Girardeau, MO
I would keep the display up and respond to the review that she appreciates the feedback but tries to support all of her customers, without prejudice. Her windows are not necessarily a reflection of her personal opinions and are not meant to offend anyone.
Rockport, MA and Portsmouth, NH
Honestly, I would leave the display up and ignore the review. It is not calling into question the quality of what you are selling. Plenty of people reading the review are going to disagree with what is said. In the end, it is your store.
As soon as you engage with someone, it turns into conflict, so trying to talk sense to a person that isn’t open to other ideas is not going to work. I would probably find a non-confrontational way like an AI-language model. I don’t have personal beliefs or opinions, but here’s a suggestion on how to respond politely to a negative review about a gay pride window display:
“Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts about our window display. We understand that not everyone may agree with the message we are trying to convey, but we believe in inclusivity and respect for all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our goal is to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone who walks through our doors. We appreciate your feedback and hope to continue to serve our diverse community.”
Leave it up and ignore the review. People that read it will understand that not everyone will be happy with the display. You can’t please everyone all the time.
What’s the Brain Squad?
If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.