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Sit. Stay. Learn

If only staff (and self) training were so easy. Here are 10 proven training methods for your business.

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School remains in session at independent pet businesses. Owners train their employees, who in turn educate customers. The result when successful: an A+ in service and in sales. We asked the PETS+ Brain Squad which methods and programs they use to send their staff to the top of the class. These 10 stood out. If they aren’t already part of your training curriculum, consider them for the reasons your peers point out. After all, knowledgeable employees create loyal customers who choose to shop your indie instead of big box or online. Now, let’s ring that school bell and begin class!

AKC S.A.F.E. CERTIFICATION

BowMeow Regency in Sheffield, MA, is an American Kennel Club S.A.F.E. (Safety, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) Certified Salon. Grooming staff are AKC S.A.F.E. Certified Groomers.

In addition to teaching her staff best practices and safety for handling animals and managing facilities, Honor Blume appreciates the marketing aspect of the training and certification.

“People recognize the AKC brand and feel it is trustworthy. I use the logo on all my ads and have the safety logo on my door as well.”

caninecollege.akc.org
AKC S.A.F.E. Training and certifications are available through AKC Canine College and range from $149.99 to $349.99.

CHECKLISTS

Jennifer Larsen loves checklists. They are an integral part of employee education at Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, WA.

“We have a new-hire checklist,” she says. “It’s approximately six pages and helps management ensure that important points are covered, and it documents by whom in case it needs follow-up, or maybe the trainer needs to be retrained. It also helps ensure that the trainers are not forgetting anything, and that no matter who trains, they don’t stray too far from what we want covered.

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“It helps the new employee, so we aren’t holding them accountable to something they didn’t even know about. It sets them up for success from the start, versus throwing them into the fire. It gives them time with a mentor in the first couple weeks so they have people they feel comfortable reaching out to for help.”

MANUFACTURER TRAINING

Paula Gorman makes manufacturers an essential part of staff product education — both in-store visits from reps and online — at Pet Supplies ‘N’ More in Muskego, WI.

“Because then it’s not just me telling my employees about the foods and products. They hear different opinions,” she says. “It helps them feel more knowledgeable and confident to speak with customers.”

Primal, Steve’s Real Food, Nulo and Nature’s Logic are among the manufacturers that Gorman has invited for training, and her employees use online portals from Primal and others, as well.

FETCHFIND

New employees at Lucky Dogs in Skaneateles, NY, get extensive hands-on training with owner Amy Schiek and existing staff. She also uses online platform FetchFind.

“When we hire employees, they can join us with varying backgrounds and levels of education. FetchFind has made it easier to increase our team’s knowledge and ensure that everyone is getting the same information about animal behavior, pet care, customer service and pet health. FetchFind adds new content regularly so there’s always something new to learn or brush up on.”

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From there, she assigns refresher training as needed and flags new content on the platform.

fetchfind.com
Founded by Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA, FetchFind helps pet care providers train, retain and engage staff. Four subscriptions levels are available: Feline Fundamentals ($199), Dog Walking & Pet Sitting ($499 per year/location), Daycare & Boarding ($799 per year/location) and All Access ($999 per year/location). Behavior fundamentals and first aid/CPR modules are available separately for $50 per individual.

SCAVENGER HUNTS

Paula Jaffe’s career as a schoolteacher inspired her to incorporate scavenger hunts into employee training at Cool Dog Gear, the store she owns with wife Sue Hepner.

“Teaching someone through hands-on learning is a very effective way to ensure that information stays in their knowledge base for much longer,” Jaffe says. “I like to use this activity after we, as owners, have gone over enough information to make their head spin! We will partner the new employee with a seasoned employee. At first, the trainee is on their own, looking for answers and finding clues. When they get stuck, they can ask their partner for hints. At the end, the two go over the answers and talk about them.

“This is also a great way for the seasoned employee to have a refresher course! And this pairing helps to build relationships between the employees. The next day either Sue or I look over the answers and review it with both employees.

“We have several versions of scavenger hunts — a few of them were actually created by the employees themselves, giving them ownership of the whole training process.”

AFA COURSES

Paul Lewis requires all employees to take the American Federation of Aviculture’s Fundamentals of Aviculture Level I online course, and many take Level II on their own.

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‘“I don’t know’ is not an option as an answer for my staff. Someone here can tell you incubation parameters of cockatiels eggs or how to help a bird with splayed legs,” he says, referring to the type of information covered. “There is not another pet store that I know of in my area that does this. It sets us apart.

“It’s not just selling as much as you can. It’s educating the customer to do the best job they can. When customers find out the staff has taken these courses, I hope they understand that we are more dedicated than just pushing birds out the door.”

Lewis pays all fees associated with this training.

afabirds.org 
These courses are open to members and non-members of AFA, and participants get continuing education credits. See their website for pricing.

THE DOG GURUS

Dogs Paw in Park Rapids, MN, offers boarding, grooming and behavioral training. New hires learn from The Dog Gurus as part of their onboarding.

“We use The Dog Gurus program as a visual aid for our new employees to learn everything from dog breeds to group play behaviors,” general manager Stephanie Keranen says. “The videos do a great job of breaking down visual behavioral cues and how to approach various behavioral situations. Learning how to safely handle different behavioral situations is essential when we care for so many dogs with a multitude of personalities.”

Advanced courses help staff keep play fun and safe.

“It is very important that our employees know how to make playgroups according to size, breed and temperament. These factors are discussed throughout the videos as are visual cues to rude and appropriate play behaviors. These factors are essential for making an effective, safe playgroup.”

thedoggurus.com 
Founders Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA, and Susan Briggs, CPACO, provide pet care business training and consulting, plus a variety of downloadable resources. See their website for pricing.

WHIZBANG! RETAIL TRAINING

Nancy and Chris Guinn, owners of Dog Krazy stores in Virginia, understand that education starts at the top. Nancy purchased the Whizbang! Retail Mastery Kit — an 11-module retail skills course — for herself a few years ago.

“I listen to it when I’m driving or when I’m feeling burned out,” she says.

They also attended this year’s Whizbang! Retail Success Summit.

“It’s a great refresher for business owners. It reminds us of why we are doing what we do. It’s a great reminder of how to provide excellent customer service. Without our customers, we don’t have a business. The one thing I will always remember is ‘You’re never going to be successful in business if you’re not in business.’ That is something a lot of business owners need to remember when having a rough day.”
Finally, they purchased the Whizbang! Retail Sales Academy program for all of their stores.

whizbangtraining.com
See their website for current pricing.

SLACK

Mark Vitt of Mutts & Co. stores in Ohio makes training fun for his staff. Earlier this year, he held a session — complete with food, drink and product information — at a video arcade bar. His use of online collaboration software Slack, with its social elements, fits right into this approach.

“We use Slack to communicate summaries and sales tips to support new product launches, instructions on in-store promotions and sales, even safety protocols,” he says, adding that it also works for loss prevention. “We used Slack to reinforce how to address potential attempts to steal merchandise, including an image of a known scammer from our security camera.”
Pet industry news also gets shared.

The obvious and most relevant example is DCM — there is so much information and misinformation regarding this huge topic that it’s difficult for our team members to stay on top of it all. So we post new info every day, which is delivered to managers, stores and individuals. And since our team members work in many stores around town during various shifts (and often have other jobs or school), Slack allows them to review this content on their schedule rather than collecting everyone for a group meeting, which requires extra payroll and logistics. It’s critical to have a consistent message, so we can share links or documents as well as include our company perspective on key topics like DCM.”

slack.com 
Monthly subscriptions range from free to $15 per user per month.

PETSTOREPRO

At Just Fur Pets in Springfield, VA, Marcia Cram uses PetStorePro to educate her staff members on the basics.
“Not all have dogs in their household or have worked with dogs. The PetStorePro training program has a large chapter on dog breeds, to include photos and basic information about each breed. It also has chapters on animal nutrition, to include ingredients found in dog food. This information helps my retail staff understand food and treats so they can help our customers make informed decisions.”

petstorepro.com
Developed by the Pet Industry Distributors Association and funded by Global Pet Expo revenue, this free online training resource has dozens of courses for associates and managers, ranging from Pet Nutrition and Customer Satisfaction to Social Media Marketing and Understanding Gross Margins.

 

IN THESE PAGES … We couldn’t do a story on training without bragging a bit about PETS+. Readers regularly tell us how we educate and inspire not only them, but also their staff as the magazine, email bulletins and webinars make the rounds at their businesses. On our team are three contributors to every issue who are also business coaches:

CANDACE D’AGNOLO
Under the umbrella of Pet Boss Nation, she provides business coaching through her Pet Boss Club, Inner Circle and Camp Pet Boss. D’Agnolo also offers inventory planning as a Management One consultant, and she is a Whizbang! Certified Coach. Be sure to check out and join her 2,000-member strong Pet Boss Nation Facebook group. petbossnation.com

NANCY HASSEL
Through her American Pet Professionals, she provides networking and educational opportunities — among them in-person events, online courses, Facebook lives and webinars — for members of the pet industry. americanpetprofessionals.com

SHAWNA SCHUH
In addition to her role as president of Women in the Pet Industry Network, Schuh is a leadership coach and leads the Ultimate Leadership Adventure. uladventure.com

 

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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Cover Stories

The 27 Contrarian Rules of Business

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T o make a point about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried that, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book, Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as iconoclasts. We like to think of them as contrarians. These are the brave, sometimes downright odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 96 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 4 percent who said they were conformists. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian. We suspect the result reflects most pet pros considering themselves as independent operators, charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more conventional employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless. There’s no inherent benefit in being unconventional.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing the things the timeworn “best practice” way.

We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, sometimes more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous.
Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you (and your business) best.

The customer is not always right.

1 It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixo and Nicholas Toman in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities.

2 One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem.

3 Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: It’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. That means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: If you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses.

4 In a series of bestselling books, consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: It’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. The weakness-plugger is the employee who goes on courses to become less awful at public speaking, when she’d be better off in a job that calls on her written skills. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Think small.

5 In his 1994 book Built to Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.”
The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done.

This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. Jerry Seinfeld’s writing technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated. Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules.

6 Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Don’t believe in long work.

7 Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this “the trap of long work.”

Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does. Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case — in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”
The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue is by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Give away your time.

8 Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time and better able to tick things off their to-do,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA , and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard, told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity: Erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over … and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts.

9 On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions.

But there aare upsides to all this: Introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of go-getters.

“Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market.

10 Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra.

Yet if innovation was a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind.

The upsides of unoriginality are clear: Imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and if they’re clever enough, can incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product.
In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says.

Run annoying ads … often.

11 There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: The more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.
Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of.

According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?”

Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell.

“These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings.

12 Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.”

There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.”

A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, rather than reading it or discussing it over email, whereas in fact, only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: Is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper.

That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs.

13 Swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff — even customers — know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14 Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One, recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.”

Don’t ask for the sale.

15 The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway.

In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground recently, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-yourself” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer.

But according to Inc. magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way.”

16 Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service.

17 Ask independent pet stores what is their point of competitive advantage, and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.”

“If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every request might be crucial for preserving sanity.

Ask customers for favors.

18 The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: We can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“What’d you think of that new food topper?”).

Don’t be so professional.

19 We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent.

The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Be an underachiever.

20 A related idea: try to do less, and you might find you get more done. There are two reasons for this: 1) the planning fallacy, which describes a psychological weakness that nearly always results in humans underestimating how long something will take to do, and 2) our nature as rhythmic creatures; we need rest to perform at our best. Running around in what appears to be a hyper-productive whirl looks impressive, but it’s usually self-defeating. You tire yourself out, resulting in work that needs to be done over, or in little getting done the following day. Or you neglect so many other duties that you’re forced to take an extra admin day to catch up. Ironically, the more time you give yourself to do individual tasks, the more things on your to-do list you actually get accomplished, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time coach and author of THE 3 SECRETS TO EFFECTIVE TIME INVESTMENT: ACHIEVE MORE SUCCESS WITH LESS STRESS. It was an approach Pablo Picasso, who got a bit done in his life, endorsed: “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.”

Lighten up when it comes to business.

21 The Protestant work ethic, as every first-year humanities student knows, is what made western capitalism so “great”. When it comes to amassing wealth, what could be more perfect than hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy? But the implicit logic of the Protestant work ethic — if it’s hurting, it must be working — all makes for a rather dour workplace. And there’s much evidence to support the idea it’s not even effective. There is much to say that levity supports a better workplace — it encourages people to take risks and come up with more imaginative ideas. Moreover, happy staff are more productive, healthier and less likely to leave.

Dump the detailed business plan.

22 Too much business advice starts with “take the 20,000 foot view,” with clearly established objectives and milestones. But there are four problems with this counsel:

  1. The future doesn’t play along. The first casualty in the heat of market battle is the plan.
  2. Compare it with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book GOAL-FREE LIVING makes the case that you can have some kind of direction without obsessing about the specific destination. “Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,” he says. “While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful possibilities.”
  3. It contrasts with what actually works. Overwhelmingly the approach of successful U.S. entrepreneurs, according to University of Virginia business scholar Saras Sarasvathy, is to give short shrift to long-range business plans and scorn market research. Instead, they go for quick wins — a few sales, then a few more. Ready, aim, fire!
  4. The biggest things — the partners we marry, the careers we end up pursuing — are often the result of happenstance. For guidance, consider the line attributed to the scholar Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

To be sure, it is necessary to do some planning. Even a bad plan gives you a mechanism for a feedback loop, experimentation and revision. Just don’t spend hundreds of hours trying to account for eventualities that will more than likely never come to fruition.

Nice guys finish last … and first.

23 Dog-eat-dog world? While you might assume someone who spends their time helping others has a hard time climbing to the top of the ladder of professional success, people who prioritize others’ interests tend to be some of the most successful in the world, according to studies done by Wharton professor Adam Grant and which were used as the basis of his book GIVE AND TAKE. “Takers” (people who consistently place their own needs before others) and “matchers” (people who reciprocate good deeds but keep the balance even) occupy the middle of the ladder, and the bottom is populated, again, by “givers,” Grant found. “Rather than blindly giving time and energy to anyone, a successful giver will adjust their reciprocity style to avoid becoming a doormat. When confronted with a taker, they become matchers, maintaining their integrity. In a group, however, givers give more, and do so publicly, helping to establish a norm of giving within their community.”

Big decision? Toss a coin.

24 Bad decisions are generally the result of a lack of information, which is what makes many business choices so agonizing. As Princeton psychology professor Tania Lombrozo, a regular on National Public Radio, notes, if no single option clearly stands out — if they’re roughly equally appealing and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research — then your decision doesn’t much matter. You could just flip a coin. When a decision turns out to have been bad, remind yourself that you truly couldn’t have known. Your agonized decision-making process may have made it feel like you were weighing the pros and cons, a task you should have performed better, but really you were taking a stab in the dark.

Sometimes bad things just need to happen.

25 As THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK author Tim Ferriss has written, it’s worth learning to “let small bad things happen,” so that big good things eventually come to pass. There are many situations in which you need to act fast if you want to avoid a negative outcome. But if that negative outcome doesn’t matter much, avoiding it might not be the best use of your time. This viewpoint reflects a line by the economist Thomas Sowell about business and life in general: “There are no solutions; there are only tradeoffs.” You’ll never solve all your problems. So which ones are worth putting up with, in order to solve the others? The new technology you want to buy might be really good, but it’s also very expensive. Or it’s really easy to use, but it doesn’t do everything you want it to do. Or the software does what we need it to do, but the way it does it is really convoluted. These are all trade-offs. The perfect solution doesn’t exist, but acknowledging that you are making trade- offs will help you make decisions and keep a project or plan moving.

Live the contrarian life.

26 Asked how to live a contrarian life, the investor and blogger Fred Wilson suggested the following list:

  • Use an Android phone.
  • Go where no one else does (he’s a venture capitalist in New York, not Silicon Valley).
  • Take the job nobody else wants.
  • Figure out how to get out of the echo chamber to think differently. (Meet and befriend artists, engineers, people who think different.)

The first three points all seem examples of “confirmation bias” and rather suspect business advice (but that’s contrarian thinking for you).

The last one is important, though. Our pattern-seeking brains send us off on old paths, which is why social media sites like Facebook or even Amazon Books that reinforce such behavior and tastes are so dangerous. To be a contrarian, it’s vital to expose yourself more often to serendipity, or even, specifically, to the people, things and ideas you don’t think you’ll like. The Zen version of this pursuit for a fresh understanding is “beginner’s mind.” As the priest Shunryu Suzuki puts it: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Accept some losses.

27 The “sunk cost bias” — which says that once you’ve invested cash in something, it feels wasteful to stop doing so — is conventional business management. But it has applications beyond steeling yourself to get rid of underperforming inventory, staff or a location. Consider the customer whose repair is already three days late. It’s the holiday season, more orders are piling in … that customer is not going to say nice things about you anyway; might as well make sure new orders get out on time.

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Power Couples

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Talk about relationship goals. These 13 couples set the bar high for living and working together. They each have found the best way to manage their marriage and their pet business, achieving success without sacrificing one for the other.

And for good measure, we’ve thrown one more power couple into this issue. Turn to the Cool Store feature on page 56 to discover why Mark and Deborah Vitt of Mutts & Co. in Ohio call the secret to their success “splitting the Ps.”

If you share a business with your significant other, we hope these examples and bits of advice resonate with you — or encourage you to consider a different approach in a particularly challenging area.

Or, if you’re contemplating such a merger, we wish you well! And expect us to ask for your own words of wisdom when we revisit this topic in the future.

Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA
Jennifer Larsen / CO-OWNER
Allen Larsen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 14

In their previous careers, Jennifer and Allen worked long hours and rarely saw each other. They opened Firehouse Pet Shop in 2014 to remedy that. The amount of time Jennifer and Allen now spend together benefits their marriage and their business, the latter through their husband-and-wife presence in the store and community.

“We admittedly can flirt a bit and get caught, but it’s nothing inappropriate, and our employees usually laugh. They say it’s funny how we argue about trying to help each other,” she says, adding, “We are in a small town, and local business owners laugh that we hold hands on our way to lunch and that we take a lunch date every day. As if working together all day isn’t enough. We are making up for lost time!”

Relationship Advice: Let work seep into your personal life, Jennifer recommends. “We enjoy brainstorming and find that some of our best ideas come when we are out and away from work, or on a long car ride when we can start diving into discussions.”

Dog Krazy, 5 Stores in Virginia
Nancy Guinn / PRESIDENT
Chris Guinn / VICE PRESIDENT
Years Married: 12

Nancy opened her first Dog Krazy store in 2006, mere months before she met Chris. He helped part-time at first and joined full-time in 2015.

“I handle all the products, employees, bakery and social media,” Nancy says. “Chris handles all the accounting, and he does everything and anything the stores need. He has the book smarts, and I have the common sense. We complement each other perfectly.”

She made their business relationship as official as their personal one earlier this year.

“Dog Krazy had always been 100 percent owned by me. For his 40th birthday, I had a cake made that said ‘Happy 49.’ When he asked why, I told him I was signing over 49 percent of the company to him.

“That was tough for me,” Nancy admits, “but he deserves it. He has worked just as hard as I have to keep Dog Krazy going and growing.”

Relationship Advice: Be grateful. Nancy says, “It’s hard 10 percent of the time and wonderful 90 percent, but when you get to spend every moment with the person you have chosen to spend your life with, and you are doing what you love, you have to remember how lucky you are. Most people answer to a boss. We answer to each other.”

Cool Dog Gear, North Wales & Langhorne, PA
Paula Jaffe / CO-OWNER
Sue Hepner / CO-OWNER
Years Partnered/Married: 16

Paula and Sue each have their own store to run. That said, they lead Cool Dog Gear as a business together, with Paula focusing on community building and the books, and Sue putting her 40 years of retail experience to work.

“We have different perspectives and are always bouncing things off of each other. It’s a good mix,” Paula says.

Relationship Advice: Don’t compete with each other, Paula offers. “We each have our areas of expertise and respect that. That’s what makes everything work.”

Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO
Debbie Brookham / CEO
Terry Brookham / COO
Years Married: 46

Debbie and Terry’s skill sets complement each other. She spends time on marketing, merchandising, purchasing and hiring. He focuses on finances, warehousing and delivery.

“Terry is a great balance for me,” Debbie says, adding that his dislike of new technology frees to her do all social media for the store, which has been open for 17 years.

Relationship Advice: Define your individual roles and write them down. Debbie explains, “Just like a job description, we were clear in who was handling what. That will save you a lot of arguments.”

Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food, Park Rapids, MN
Cecelia Michaels / OWNER
Randy Michaels / “FACE OF THE STORE”
Years Married: 9

Cecelia launched Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Food in 2016. She did it all, with help from a part-timer. When Randy retired from Delta last year, he joined the business and took over “face of the store” duties, allowing her to focus on operations.

“Randy had never worked retail,” Cecelia says, “and this has been one of the most rewarding positions he’s ever had. He’d never realized how much fun it would be to hear stories from other folks about their fur babies.”

Relationship Advice: Make time for others and your spouse away from work. Cecelia shares, “I find time to go to lunch with friends, even took a short vacation with my sister while Randy took care of the business. Spending time at home with our dog, Holly, and cat, Bunny, brings us contentment. His workshop makes him happy, and my kitchen gives me joy. Our kayaks are weekend fun, and the Harley takes us places we’ve never gone before.”

Nature’s Pet Market, Sherwood & Wilsonville, OR
Jenny Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Matt Flanagan / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Jenny wears the operations hat, while Matt dons the controller cap. Owners of the Sherwood store since 2013 and Wilsonville since 2015, they don’t even try to keep their work and personal lives separate because they love what they do so much.

He says, “Most of our vacations involve work, in one way or another, and we often join industry reps and include employees in our free time. We travel the country to industry trade shows together, but try to take a few days for ourselves while we’re there. The pet industry is so much fun, that I don’t think we’d have it any other way!”

Relationship Advice: Jenny offers, “I find that keeping focus on your own department is extremely helpful. I have had to step away from even discussing some duties and learn to let go and not micromanage and keep in mind that my husband has my best interests in mind.”

Lucky Dogs, Skaneateles, NY
Amy Schiek / CO-OWNER
Patrick Schiek / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 23

Amy opened Lucky Dogs in 2008, and Patrick joined her last fall after retiring from his sales executive role with a medical supplies company. She continues at the helm as mistress of all things pet, while he uses his analytical and operational skills to help move the business forward. They work together at the store four days a week, and that presence benefits the Lucky Dogs brand.

Amy says, “People see our love and affection for each other, and our love of all pets, and this feeds off onto them in a very personal and enjoyable way.”

Relationship Advice: Amy recommends, “At a certain point in the day, shut off the business conversation. Spend time with yourselves and your own pets.”

Woofs & Waves, Sioux Falls, SD
Mark Olesen / CO-OWNER
Nicole Olesen / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 18

Mark and Nicole met 20 years ago while working at a pet store — he even proposed there! It was only natural for them to one day open their own. Mark works full-time at Woofs & Waves, specializing at aquatics. She works full-time as a nurse, but also handles the store’s accounting and staffing, and helps with marketing.

Relationship Advice: Schedule smartly, Nicole says. “The No. 1 thing that’s kept our relationship strong is that we both have our own alone time. We each have days off when the other is working, so we both get some time for ourselves. We still have plenty of time together, but we don’t both work at the store together all day, every day.”

Pet$Aver Healthy Pet Superstore, Rochester, NY
Russ Herman / CEO
Brenda Herman / PRESIDENT
Years Married: 37

Russ and Brenda founded their pet store 25 years ago. He oversees business operations. In addition to acting as president, she assists with marketing and bookkeeping. The chain of command does present a challenge for their personal relationship, but one they more than overcome.

“It’s much harder being business partners because one spouse has to oversee the other. At home, it’s more of an equal footing,” Russ says, adding, “Through it all, we’ve managed to not let it come between us. We always see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that time will heal all things. We know that by sticking together, we’ll get through it.”

Relationship Advice: Russ recommends going on vacation together. “It’s important for Brenda and myself to see this beautiful country of ours. Taking time off helps to recharge your energy. It’s great to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

Exotic Pet Birds Inc., Webster, NY
Sal Salafia / CO-OWNER
Jamie Salafia / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 16

Sal and Jamie have been together for 25 years, 18 of those as business partners. They worked in real estate and property management — and continue to — long before the couple opened their bird store. He handles purchasing, facility management and their breeding program. She manages the staff and finances.

“We really try to run certain aspects of the business separately and trust each other,” Jamie says about their key to success as a couple and in business.

Relationship Advice: Sal agrees and recommends never contradicting each other. “The staff knows that when one of us is there, they have the highest-level manager on scene and don’t have to worry about second-guessing of a decision made, as we always honor what each other decides.”

Pawsitive Karma, Castro Valley, CA
Marilyn Texter / CO-OWNER
Robin Keim / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 25

How have Marilyn and Robin found 13 years of success with their store and grooming salon? They don’t work together. They split up the six business days evenly. Marilyn does lead retail efforts, and Robin helms the salon.

Marilyn says, “Robin is very methodical, and I am more social, so it makes sense. I totally do not want to do all the yucky things like grinding nails or squeezing anal glands, and Robin does not like having to cover the front, doing several things at once in front of people.”

Relationship Advice: Determine before starting the business, which is more important, your relationship or your job? Write it down and figure out how to maintain that goal,” Marilyn says.

The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV
Kimberly Gatto / CO-OWNER
Mario Gatto / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 21

Kimberly manages their store full-time, while Mario pitches in part-time when not serving as a high school principal. They have each carved out their areas of expertise.
She says, “Mario’s strengths are definitely working with numbers and getting the best deals from our sales reps and at shows. My strengths are merchandising and customer service. I treat people as I would want to be treated, therefore I think of our customers as an extension of our family.”

Relationship Advice: Kimberly recommends taking a parental approach when disagreements arise in the business by “listening to each other, equally compromising and always keeping in the back of your mind that you both want the business to succeed. It’s treating the business just like it’s one of your kids.”

Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA
Shane Somerville  / CO-OWNER
Adam Felker  / CO-OWNER
Years Married: 10

Shane Somerville and Adam Felker share the secrets to their success as married co-owners of Paddywack.

Shane says, “I think the biggest reason we have a successful partnership in-store is that we each have our own strengths and skill sets that help keep us from stepping on each other’s toes too much!”

She explains, “While I do some of the more ‘fun’ orders, like for collars, gifts and decorative bowls, he does much of the weekly ordering for food, treats and basic supplies. I like to think my strengths are with customer care and more ‘front of house’ type duties, so I tend to work the floor more, work on new staff training and do all of the social media work.”

Adam agrees and adds, “Shane is much more of a people-person and is a rockstar on the sales floor dealing with customers, whereas I see myself as stronger in administrative, quantitative and technical matters. Additionally, she ends up being the one that our staff goes to with emotional concerns, whereas I’m the one they come to for advice on the best way to achieve a particular operational task.”

Relationship Advice: Get away. The couple recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a 10-day kid-free, work-free vacation. Shane says, “It was really helpful in recharging our batteries and allowing us to spend time as a couple, rather than just as parents or business partners. If you can go someplace and shut off the work emails, I highly recommend it!” Adam says vacations also help them avoid overlap between the personal and professional parts of their lives. “That allows us to disable work email, withdraw from the store and absorb ourselves in something unrelated to work. Of course, it helps that we have a strong management team to run things back at the store in our absence!”

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12 Pet Pros Who Show Love For Beloved Animals … On Their Skin

Do you wear your heart on your sleeve? These pet pros definitely do.

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