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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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FEATURED VIDEO

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PETS+ Live with Candace D'Agnolo

This North Carolina Pet Business Thrives by Creating Unforgettable Customer Experiences

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle, NC. Learn about ways to combat the big boxes and online — the key is to give your customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else — and learn why the business was honored in the 2018 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest.

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Cover Stories

Big-Box Busters

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PetSmart. Petco. Target. Sam’s Club. Walmart. Costco. Heck, let’s even throw Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and grocery store chains into the mix of big-box stores that compete for pet parents’ dollars.

But as you prove on a daily basis, bigger does not always mean better. As small-business owners, you offer more personalized customer service, including a deeper knowledge of the pet products and services you sell. You are invested in your communities. And you quickly adapt in an ever-changing industry.

All of this allows you to stay competitive.

But if you are having trouble in this area, or you want to find different ways to beat big-box stores, we invite you to find inspiration from your fellow indies.

EMBRACE BEING SMALL

1 Bark on Mulford in Rockford, IL, measures just under 1,000 square feet, and that suits Kaye Busse-Kleber just fine. The size of the store keeps customers where she can see them — and they can see her.

With that in mind, Busse-Kleber shares the story a pet parent told her about shopping at a big-box store.

“She was at [a big-box pet retailer] looking for a collar, had to track down an employee to ask the price. He had no idea and asked what section it came from. She had to show him, and then he told her the price, but said it looked used. She put it back and came to see us.”

Customers never have to search for Busse-Kleber or a member of her team. Nor do they feel like they are not valued.

“We have a smaller selection of collars, but she came in telling me about the lack of customer service and that her experience with them ‘not caring if they sold something’ would keep her from going back.”

Limiting staff to just herself and two part-timers allows for a personal connection also not found at big-box stores.

“I can guarantee, that employee didn’t ask about her dogs. The customer has only been in my store twice, and I already know she has two dogs: a Rat Terrier named Theodore and a Jack Russell Terrier named Angel.”

Another way Busse-Kleber touts the benefits of shopping small are by bragging about unique items on social media with the hashtag #YouCantFindThisAtTarget.
Toni Shelaske of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, PA, also uses her store’s small size as a selling point.

“We convey it in as much of our advertising and social media as possible. Small Business Saturday is our second-highest volume day of the year. We ask our vendors for support and offer a basket raffle, and we debut new holiday items and discounts on most of our products. Food and beverages for humans — our customers really enjoy the day!”

Support other small businesses

2Woof Woof Pet Boutique & Biscuit Bar in New Bedford, MA, and Bristol, RI, gives shelf space to several local small businesses. Among them, Dylan Giampaolo says, are “Quincy & Co. We have a seamstress that handmakes all of our bandanas and bowties for different seasons and sports teams. She also makes leashes and collars. Matisse Jeans is a cat toy handmade from recycled jeans that have a custom catnip blend from Cape Cod, and 100 percent of the proceeds ben- efit Bristol Animal Shelter.
“We truly are a small business trying to carve out a place for ourselves, and we believe in supporting other small businesses!”

Tout locally owned & operated

3 Toni Shalaske of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, PA, spends as much time as she possibly can on the sales floor working with customers.
“I want people to know that I am the owner and that I greatly appreciate their business,” she says. “So the funny thing that has happened because of that is that customers come in asking for me and say ‘I know Toni.’ When it was time for me to have my own personal Instagram page, my employees decided @IKnowToni had to be my handle.”

EARn IN (EXCLAMATION) POINTS WITH IN-depth knOWLEDGE

4Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, was more than prepared when a customer emailed her about canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).“I sent her a fairly long response with some info, attached the document I wrote for our customers (including an FAQ and links to resources from vets) and talked about the different options she could check out. She wrote back very quickly and said, ‘Shane, This is why we love you!!!!! Thank you so much!!!!’”

SURPRISE WITH PERSONAL SHOPPING

5 Annabell Bivens orders for The Dog Store in Alexandria, VA, with specific customers in mind.

“We have an all-black Basset Labrador (Bassador), and he rocks his clothes, but his parents wanted something super visible since they spend a lot of time in the mountains at their cabin. So, in addition to the regular colors of the new line of RC Pets Polaris sweater, we ordered him the red sweater in his size and showed them the photos of the reflective stitching. They were so excited! (His color is red). I mentioned it to them when I ordered it, and it came in about four months later. They even asked when they saw winter stuff coming out because they remembered our conversation.”

Such personal shopping does not happen when big boxes do their ordering.

TAKE PRICE-MATCHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

6How does Fetch RI compete on price with the big-box stores? Johnna Devereaux does not advertise price-matching, but she does it when possible and sees the practice as an opportunity on multiple fronts. She shares what happens when a regular customer alerts her to lower prices elsewhere:

“First, it allows me to look at the specific item and provide a lower price to this customer, who is clearly showing loyalty by bringing this to our attention. Second, it allows me to reach out to my brand rep and discuss how I can buy better at a discount, which then allows me to reduce the price of those items for all of my customers. I do advertise that to my customers, letting them know that we pass on the savings to them from our purchase bargaining, and so they now have a lower price! Win-win!”

The Store at Paws ’N Effect in Hamden, CT, also price-matches, but Sandy House simply makes the adjustment.

“We price-compare about every six to eight weeks by both physically going into the stores and then checking online, if they sell that way as well. If I find a local brick-and-mortar store is selling something for less than us, I check what our wholesale price is, and then I make the adjustment before a customer asks.”

DIVERSIFY COMMUNITY SUPPORT

7 The national pet stores in Delavan, WI, donate to local animal-welfare organizations, but Karen Conell of The Bark Market in Delvan, WI, sees the importance of investing in her community as a whole.

“We support many local not-for-profits, such as a therapeutic riding program, school for the handicapped, vocational school for adults with disabilities, wildlife rehab center, child advocacy center, playground for children with disabilities, and multiple animal rescues and shelters. We are local, and our customers are involved and reach out to us often.”

While altruistic, these efforts create positive word of mouth, giving her an advantage against big-box competitors.
“We don’t do it for recognition, but it happens and we are grateful!”

PROVIDE FREEBIES

8 When converting customers to frozen raw — still an excellent way to compete with big-box stores — Conell of The Bark Market makes it hard to resist.
“We have manufacturers who encourage us to give away a free small bag to get them started,” she says. “Let’s just say folks are stunned by the free offerings and the gentle shove in a new direction.”

Freebies can also be fun activities to draw in customers. Sue Hepner hosts a variety of events at Cool Dog Gear in Roslyn, PA.

“We just had a Winter Fashion Show: Dogs on the Cat Walk. We used customers’ dogs as our models. These awesome dogs strutted their stuff in front of the crowds, highlighting all of our winter fashions while their people modeled our human line of gifts and clothing. We also offer free pet and family picture-taking opportunities with our fall and winter backdrops. And for the first time we will be having storytime for kids. Our first story will be all about teaching children about dog safety and, of course, we’ll have a special visit from our mascot Cool Dog — always a crowd favorite!”

And Southern Barker in Lexington and Louisville, KY, has begun hosting breed meetups in its stores.

“We do get a sales boost during our meetups,” says Leslie Stewart. “They are socializing, but also shopping because they are right in the middle of the store, so they can’t help but look around! We also offer 10 percent off during the meetup. Our first meetup was for Doodles, and we had over 30 dogs!”

Finally, be sure to take advantage of manufacturer loyalty programs not available to big-box stores.

HUMBLE BRAG ON SOCIAL MEDIA

9 Big-box stores don’t share customer pet pics on social media, at least not on a regular basis or from a local store’s page. Independents do, and Bubbly Paws stores in the Minneapolis, MN, area takes it a step further.

Keith Miller says, “We regram posts from many of our customers on Instagram. Social media is the best way to brag without looking like we are bragging. We just post happy customer pictures or quotes from reviews.”

OPT FOR THIRD-PARTY SAFETY TRAINING

10 Big-box stores have in-house training programs for their groomers. Third-party training and testing can provide a competitive advantage for independent salons. Knotty Dog in Chelsea, AL, staff go through PetTech First Aid and CPR training. BowMeow Regency in Sheffield, MA, is an American Kennel Club S.A.F.E. (Safety, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) Certified Salon, and grooming staff are AKC S.A.F.E.-certified groomers. Both salons tout their status.

pARTNER WITH VETERINARIANS

11 With more and more big box locations offering veterinary services, it only makes sense to consider doing the same. Mike Murray has created multiple partnerships for Bonnie’s Barkery in Phoenix, AZ.

“We partner with a holistic vet to do a monthly anesthesia-free teeth-cleaning clinic, in conjunction with dental hygienists,” he says, sharing that the store gets a percentage of fees. “We also created an office in our last remodel that our vet partners utilize to see patients.”

And after the Food and Drug Administration released its report on canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and related foods, Murray invited a holistic vet to give a seminar on the topic.

“It went very well!” Murray says. “We had 30-plus customers attend. It was very interactive, with lots of questions asked and answered.

“Most who attended had a much better understanding of the potential risks of their dog getting DCM and learned ways to mitigate that potential risk.”

Some customers did ask about changing foods, Murray says, “but a lot of the discussion was around using toppers that can provide additional nutrients and taurine to the pet’s diet,” resulting in new regular sales of the products.

Mark Vitt has also created such partnerships for his six Mutts & Co. stores in Ohio.

“We have a mobile vaccination clinic, coordinated by a local vet office, at our stores every other Friday to provide low cost vaccination and wellness checks.”

TAKE A RISK ON UNIQUE, HIGH-END PRODUCTS

12 “You find unique products in our store,” says Connie Roller of The Feed Bag Pet Supply in Grafton, WI. “Department stores and big-box pet stores all have the same old, same old.”

Roller says her staff works hard at trade shows, looking for unique, fun or even quirky products.

“We are willing to gamble with slightly more high-end products because although our customers can squeeze a nickel to death, they won’t hesitate on a $195 ortho dog bed that matches their décor perfectly,” she says.

“We also have some handcrafted wood products like pet steps and diners, along with handcrafted cat trees that we drive a few hours to pick up. These are definitely on the higher-end of retail, but they actually look and feel more like furniture than what you can get at [big-box stores].”

The store carries most of these higher-end products year-round, but, Roller says, “we sell more during the holidays because people can justify splurging when they can call it a gift.”

The Hermitage, TN, location of Nashville Pet Products is a former convenience store and doesn’t try to hide it.

DON’T DO COOKIE-CUTTER WHEN DESIGNING YOUR STORE(S)

13 Nashville Pet Products has six stores. While signage provides brand consistency, each location has a different look and layout — partly because of commercial space availability, but also by design. Perhaps the most unusual is the Hermitage, TN, location, which is a former convenience store.

“We keep each store unique to avoid a cookie-cutter, big-box feel,” Keefer Dickerson says.

This advice also applies to stores with one location: Don’t try to look like a mini-big box.

Danielle Wilson of Bath & Biscuits in Granville, OH, explains.

“I had a vision in my head of how I wanted my store and salon to look. I didn’t want to look cookie-cutter. I wanted to decorate with vintage items and displays, to have real hardwood floors and inviting rooms to explore. I had been watching for my building to become available for a while and jumped on it as soon as I saw the ‘for rent’ sign.”

TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE EXTENDED FAMILY

14 Customers at The Wagging Tail in Las Vegas, NV, get asked about their pets, but Kimberly Gatto also asks about the people.

“With our loyal repeat customers, we get to know them and their family. When their two-legged kids come in with them, we engage the kids (How was school? What did you learn? How’s the team going? etc.). If customers have brought up issues, we try our best to remember and ask how it is going (How’s your mom doing after her surgery? How’s the job hunt going? How was the Stones concert you saw last week?).

Gatto is not afraid to tell folks that she doesn’t think of them as customers, but as an extension of her family.

“We care about their entire family (human and animal). We mourn when they mourn. We feel joy when they feel joy. It’s all about community. Being a part of a community and being totally vested in it.”

Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs in Port Charlotte, FL, shares that sentiment.

“One customer shared that she doesn’t have the best home situation, so when she comes into the store, we give her a big hug and let her know how great it is to see her. She talks. We listen. She leaves feeling better. It’s not about selling dog food.”

Nor is it all about selling with Charlsye Lewis of Metro Animals in Fort Worth, TX. Among the many practices at her store are “introducing them and their kids to our shop macaws, Baby and Blueberry; genuinely complimenting something about their dogs; and offering the Southern hospitality of greeting them when they come in, and as they leave.”

And Jack Carey of Food for Pets in Manchester, NH, has gone so far as to loan his car and money, in a sense, to customers.

“A few years ago, a customer locked her keys in her car. She had a second set at home, so I let her borrow my vehicle to go home and get the spare set. We’ve had a few cases of customers forgetting their credit card at work or home, and we tell them to take the product with them and call us with the credit card info. We appreciate our customers’ trust and want to return the favor.”

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Cover Stories

Best Day Ever: Readers Share Their Most Memorable Days in the Business

A few responses even had us reaching for the tissues.

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Best day ever. It’s a phrase used often. But what if you had to pick just one? A day above all others in your pet business. Could you? We asked you to do exactly that in a recent Brain Squad survey. And you didn’t disappoint.

Your answers moved us, as they all revolved around helping the dogs, cats and other pets in your communities. A few responses even had us reaching for the tissues.

Like this one from Charlotte Petrey of You Lucky Dog in Houston, TX: “The day we flooded and saved all the dogs.”

Digging deeper, we learned that during the unexpected Memorial Day Flood of 2015, water rose to 2-1/2 feet inside this family-owned boarding facility. Overnight staff moved all 23 guests to safety in higher areas of the building, continuing in the dark after power went out. Pet parents and the community were so grateful that they contributed more than $25,000 via gofundme to help Petrey rebuild.

Now that most certainly counts as a best day ever. Read on for more.


“In January 2018, my then 9-year-old daughter was sitting with me in a snowstorm here in Connecticut with our chocolate Lab, Harley, and we were discussing sports we would like to participate in with our Lab in the spring. She said she couldn’t throw a Frisbee and wanted to try agility. Then she asked if she could do swimming with Harley.

So we researched sports involving dogs and swimming, and found dock diving! We soon learned that there were no dock-diving pools for dogs in our state. And a pet resort and spaw we own is on 6 acres with plenty of room to add a pool. And what’s a resort without a pool? Right?

From my daughter’s desire to spend time with our loving Lab, an idea was born, and we spent the winter designing, planning and ordering 13,000 square feet of artificial turf, pool, dock, etc. while learning all about the sport.

In June 2018, we opened Connecticut’s only Ultimate Air Dogs dock diving pool, a 45-foot saltwater pool at one of my resorts. I have added a 40-foot dock to it and offer the pool as a Dock Diving facility — with swimming lessons, hydrotherapy, daily swims for guests, private pool rentals and pool pawties. We recently had our first-ever competition weekend. Fox 61 News came to cover it. People couldn’t believe how beautiful the facility and location are, and compliments flowed all day.

It was a dream come true to see my children participate as youth handlers in dock diving events that weekend. Watching my now 9- and 10-year-old daughters participate in a sport with their dog, on my property, while observing so many other competitors enjoying quality time with their families and dogs in such a fun sport, definitely qualified as a Best Day Ever.

Daycare and boarding guests enjoyed their stay, and veteran dock-diving competitors, who traveled to Connecticut from Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island for the event, were blown away by the beautiful facility and pool, welcoming staff, cleanliness of the place, smooth registration process and professional atmosphere. It was over 100 degrees, and the event went on without a bump or complaint. It is always a lot of work putting on events. And we do have many. But this was our first dock diving event. To see it come to fruition July 2019, after a child’s idea was offered in January 2018, is a dream come true and best day ever for me! — Krista Lofquist Wagging Tails, Wolcott, CT

“One Christmas, a little girl came in with $100 to spend on our favorite dog charity. She couldn’t have a dog, so her mom told her she could do this. We loaded her up and gave her all kinds of things. The warmth in this little girl’s heart was so overwhelming. All of us were crying of happiness. That’s a good day!” — Debbie Brookham, Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

“Best day ever was when I looked out onto my doggy day-care floor and realized that all 50-plus pup clients were not any of my family or friend’s dogs. My ‘field of dreams’ really had become a profitable biz without any help from my loved ones. Cool stuff!” — Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

“I had a client who brought her two Gordon Setters and one Miniature Poodle in for grooming regularly. The dogs were so tuned into the process and pickup. One night, the parking lot was full and the owner parked her big SUV in another spot. I checked the dogs out and helped her take them to the truck. Both big dogs jumped on the top of the car hood that was parked in their usual spot. I laughed so hard, but the mom was clearly mortified. Nobody saw. Just made the end of the day fantastic for me. I’ll never forget that day or the dogs.” — Rachel Diller, The Poodle Shop, Littleton, CO

“The best day ever was when I came to the conclusion that I had too many customers. For the last year, I have had to stop taking on new customers due to a full schedule. Just a few months ago, I ordered my second van to convert (should be on the road by end of the year) and am working on expanding!” — Amanda Bowman, Fairy Tails Mobile Grooming, Cherry Hill, NJ

“When a family had to move away and told me I was the one who changed their kid’s life — an autistic kid who no matter what they tried, nothing helped. When they came to my store, everything came together when they picked out a bird, realized not all dogs were bad, (we had a store Mastiff at the time) and life seemed better. I had no idea until they thanked me and told me how it has changed “Nick.” — Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

“When I hosted my first Backyard Luau for the dogs. Not only did each and every one of them wear leis, but they were all so calm and happy. I was such a proud ‘earth mother’ that day.” — Vanessa Cruz, Dawgs All Day, Brooklyn, NY

“We shut down our location to pamper over 40 shelter dogs, and the staff morale was so strong.” — Jessica Cooke, Yuppy Puppy, O’Fallon, MO

“We had a customer in tears. His daughter’s dog was failing and suffering from cancer. His daughter was still away at school, and this was the love of her life. He asked if we could recommend something that would help. After much discussion of the circumstances, we recommended Pet Releaf and Allprovide Gently Cooked. He followed our advice and came in with his daughter the following Saturday, and with “Root Beer” the Jack Russell Terrier. He was jumping around and full of life, and his daughter thanked us with a big hug. Root Beer lived for almost 9 more months and was comfortable and pain free. We were so thrilled to be able to offer this as an option.” — Christine McCoy, The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, North Royalton, OH

“Our best day ever was during one of our breed meetups. During Doodle Day, there were approximately 50 dogs and their owners in the store. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day and many of them hung out outside on the porch or in the parking lot. It was not only our best sales day, the general vibe in the store was happy, as people got to meet other owners. I saw many of them exchanging contact information. Connecting people through their pets always brings me joy.” — Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

“There are many ‘best day evers’ in the independent pet food retailer industry. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by the things that I love and motivate me for 34 years, not to mention the customers who share the same passions and interests. There are now second-generation customers who have parents who have shopped in the store for many years. I always remind myself to focus on those things when the occasional stressful situation arises.” — Jack Carey, Food For Pets, Manchester, NH

“Every Black Friday! We love the excitement of the shoppers. It’s truly the official kick-off to the holiday season.” Tammy Vasquez, Bark Life, Seminole, FL

“We are fortunate to be in Salem, MA, which gets very good tourist traffic most of the year, especially in October. It is so rewarding to hear from customers who visit the city yearly and make it a point to visit us, to both say hello and purchase our hand-made treats and cookies. With all the things to do and see, to know they make our shop a destination makes us feel very proud. Kimberly Barnes, New England Dog Biscuit, Salem, MA

“Probably receiving a pile of magazines with Mumsie and me on the front cover winning first place in PETS+ America’s Coolest Pet Store 2018!” Leel Michelle, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

“We just had our best sales day ever this July. It topped the previous best day ever by more than 12 percent! We discount our whole store by the same percentage as number of years old we are. This year it was 14 percent off since our store is 14 years old. We have VIP swag bags — customers can pre-order to guarantee their bag — and a prize wheel for when they spend certain amounts, and we host multiple nonprofits/rescues as well as demo reps with freebies. It’s a big festive atmosphere, and our customers love it! Next year we’ll have to come up with something else to make it even more special to celebrate 15 years! — Shane Somerville, Paddywack, Mill Creek, WA

“One of my best days ever was when after months of step-by-step encouragement (and courage building), one of the dogs in our workout program finally went across the balance beam on his own! The pet parents and the dog were both elated! I know that dog was happy because he kept circling around and doing it over and over again with ‘Look Mom, No Hands’ excitement! Everybody in the store came over to watch him run through the course like a kid in a candy store!” — Sue Hepner, Cool Dog Gear, Roslyn, PA

“I have adoptions most Saturdays, and the best day is when the shelter leaves empty-handed.” — Ron Keller, Captivating Canines, Westerville, OH

“The day our Boston store really lifted off/went into the black. We opened during the recession in 2010, and it took way longer to get up on its legs than I expected.” — Kathy Palmer, The Fish & Bone, Boston, MA

“Having multiple customers come in and be so happy they were crying, based on proper nutritional guidance from my team. We had five customers in one day!” — Jennifer Flanagan, Nature’s Pet Market Sherwood, Sherwood, OR

“When my little Chihuahua, Cocomo Joe, went into the Burke & Herbert Bank, located in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, and helped me convince them that a dog bakery and boutique was just what Old Town needed. Cocomo Joe gave a few little looks with his Burberry shirt, and they were sold. Cocomo Joe was asked to sign the loan with me, and he eagerly did for a treat.” — Kristina Robertson, Barkley Square Pets, Falls Church, VA

COCOMO JOE

“The first day my pet facility opened for business and earned the first $5 bill in cash. I still have it taped in my check-in desk. — Tammi Bui, Wishbone Pet Care, Missouri City, TX

“Any day that I get a customer coming back to tell me that their dog or cat has changed drastically for the better simply because we suggested a different food, or suggested trying CBD for whatever ails them, is a fabulous day! Knowing that our experience and knowledge was able to help another pet parent find their way and change their fur baby’s life for an astounding better is always our best day! For us, it’s about community that drives us to do what we do, and of course, for the love of all fur kids out there in the world.” — Kimberly Gatto, The Wagging Tail, Las Vegas, NV

“Any day that I have helped an animal and its person live their best life.” — Honor Blume, BowMeow Regency, Sheffield, MA

“Grand opening day is what stands out to me. The adrenaline, the positive vibes, meeting the community, seeing the team and how excited they were. And how even under extreme stress, we all made it through with smiles. (Nothing would scan, our POS didn’t sync with inventory and was a disaster!) — Jennifer Larsen, Firehouse Pet Shop, Wenatchee, WA

“Our best day ever in business was just before the Fourth of July this year, when people were out and about taking their dog to the dog park, then coming over to our shop next door to give a self-serve bath and buy treats. We were staffed up for it, and everyone was moving and grooving, keeping customers engaged and served all day long. We provided pizza for the staff as a thank you for their hard work that day. We made a few hundred more dollars than we normally make, but more importantly, made new and existing customers happy to do business with us.” — Charlsye Lewis, Metro Animals, Fort Worth, TX

“We’ve done a couple on-site fundraiser meet-and-greets with local rescues. The Greyhound rescue is my favorite group. They come in numbers and they shop, tell stories, encourage meeting the dogs and are generally great people to be around, and the rescued Greyhounds are amazing.” — Brett Foreman, Eupawria Holistic Pet Center, Owego, NY

“The day that we opened up our second location! Greatest thing ever knowing that you are doing well enough and helping enough people out and they are recommending people to you, that you then have the capability of opening up another location to make you reach even farther and help out even more people.” — Dylan Giampaolo, Woof Woof Pet Boutique & Biscuit Bar, New Bedford, MA

“Pretty much any day that I get to spend outdoors at a community event. I do a lot of event marketing, and I love setting up the booth early in the morning, talking to new, potential customers and playing with their dogs.” — Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

“The Saturday before Christmas. Everyone is in shopping mode, but in a pleasant, not ‘mall-crushing-crowd’ way. And it’s great to know that their pets are being treated just like family. You can almost imagine the puppy stockings hanging on the mantle and wrapped gifts under the trees. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the busiest revenue days of the year, either.” — Mark Vitt, Mutts & Co., Delaware, OH

“Every day is great, but nothing beats the day we opened and realized our dreams had come to fruition. Ten years going strong now with loyal staff and awesome customers.” — Rosi Ladouceur, Barrkhaven Pet Boutique And Spaw, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“The best days I have are when clients rave about our services or when we get any sort of recognition. For instance, winning the Best of the Best in pet care award for our county, which is a voting-based award.” — Ashley Cook,Viva La Pet, Dover, NJ

“We are fortunate to be in Salem, MA, which gets very good tourist traffic most of the year, especially in October. It is so rewarding to hear from customers who visit the city yearly and make it a point to visit us, to both say hello and purchase our hand-made treats and cookies. With all the things to do and see, to know they make our shop a destination makes us feel very proud. — Kimberly Barnes, New England Dog Biscuit, Salem, MA

“Probably receiving a pile of magazines with Mumsie and me on the front cover winning first place in PETS+ America’s Coolest Pet Store 2018!” — Leel Michelle, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

“When a client told me that a friend she had referred to me told her that they found someplace that was way cheaper. My client told her that [her dog] Daisy likes likes Corey. I’m not changing.” — Corey Heenan, Corey’s Canine Creations, Altamont, NY

“I feel every day is our best day in business, and every day stands on its own for different reasons!” — Johnna Devereaux, Fetch Ri, Richmond RI

“Every anniversary. Feels awesome to make it another year.” — Lisa Vella, South Bark Dog Wash, San Diego, CA

“My best day ever is when I ring a lot of sales, which is usually around the Christmas holiday season and everyone is generally happy!” — Laura Haupt, Bark & Meow Inc, Tarrytown, NY

“I could say the day Judi walked into the store and told me I needed her. But, the all-time best day ever was when Judi adopted Buddy and brought him to the store with his e-collar on to meet my dog Taylor. The two dogs became besties right away. Why not? Judi and I are! — Nancy Okun, Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

“I’d have to say the best for me was the day my husband was able to quit his job and join me full-time.” — Nancy Guinn, Dog Krazy, Fredericksburg, VA

“One day that stands out above others are our customer appreciation days. They are a lot of work, but we serve lunch — deep-fried cheese curds, ice cream — and offer store discounts, a discount dartboard customers can throw at to get a larger discount, free items and more! It is fun watching customers enjoy themselves, and all flock to the store. — Lisa Keppers, Sauk Centre Country Store, Sauk Centre, MN

“Most of the best days ever are when customers come in and treat us like family, and tell us happy and sad things that are happening in their lives. Because they consider us family, they want us to know. — Paula Gorman, Pet Supplies ‘N’ More, Muskego, WI

“Whenever we get to welcome families who rescue dogs is our best day ever.” — Asha Olivia, Hoby Dogy Pet Care, Boca Raton, FL

“The day I won second place in America’s Coolest Pet Stores” contest in 2017.” — Patricia Boden, Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA

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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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