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Solving the Problem of the Under-Enthusiastic Staff Member … and More of Your Questions Answered for January

Sounds like it’s time for a chat.




What does the law say about conducting a body search on a staff member I suspect of theft?

It says keep your hands to yourself. The laws regarding searches (body and workplace) stem from the way the Constitution guarantees a basic right to privacy — and your worker has a very strong privacy interest in his or her own body, even when fully clothed. If you have a legitimate concern that a staff member has stolen anything, call the police in to take it to the next level. For more information, try The Essential Guide to Workplace Investigations by attorney Lisa Guerin.

What’s the best tool for creating images and graphics for social media?

Says Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation: “Create a account! They have a free and a paid version. I’d opt for the monthly paid so that you can load your business fonts and colors to keep things consistent, add your logo (I recommend a variety of file designs — all white, all black, full color, elements of your logo) and any photos you have that are unique to your business.”

I just caught an error in the holiday bonuses we paid to sales staff. It comes to more than $1,000. Should I ask for the money back?

Asking for the money back now is a lost cause — even if you could collect, the impact on morale and productivity would be a killer. Instead, you could explain what happened and that you plan to treat the payments as interest-free advances against next year’s bonuses. That way, you should eventually recover most of the overpayments without demanding staff find money that’s probably already spent. But, hey, it’s $1,000, and it’s your mistake. If you need $1,000 that badly, you have bigger worries.

Everything I read about advertising says I need a “call to action.” What is one? Where do I get one?

“Put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a moment,” says Linda Liebrand of My Brand Buddy. “What would make them want to call you or visit your website?” that is a call to action. Liebrand offers six examples:

  • Book a free consultation today and get a bag of dog treats.
  • Call us to book your appointment today and get 10% off your first visit when mentioning “First Time Bath.”
  • Book your holiday dog care one month in advance and get one weekend free.
  • Book your dog’s grooming today and get an extra free bath — mention “Rubber duck.”
  • Visit our website and download your $10 vouchers.
  • Bring this leaflet for an instant 20% off your dog’s first spa session.

What’s the best approach to take with employees who show up and go through the motions? They don’t do anything wrong — they’re just not excellent.

Sounds like it’s time for a chat. Call the employee in, outline your concerns or hopes, and explain that you’re setting new and higher expectations, says Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High. Tell the employee you want him or her to show more desire, initiative, skill, whatever, and provide specific instances where he or she fell short. Make it clear you’ve raised the bar and then jointly brainstorm on how he or she can accomplish the goals you’ve set. You’re also going to need to make yourself responsible for follow-up. This means being on the lookout for positive behaviors, even the most incremental changes, you can recognize and reward. If all goes well, the result should be increased productivity. If not, you’re going to have to make a decision whether to let go of that employee. Average performers make for an average business

I fell behind on a personal loan and the bank sold it to a finance company that I understand paid 50 cents on the dollar for it. I can now offer repayment — but I want a 25 percent discount. How should I proceed?

Your offer sounds reasonable but be careful about disclosing how much cash you have, because the finance company still has a right to collect the full amount of the loan. And they are experts at squeezing every cent out of a settlement, so don’t expect a friendly “let’s split the difference” discussion.


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Webinar Replay: How to Keep That Holiday Momentum Rolling

Catch a replay of the recent PETS+ Live! webinar, in which host Candace D'Agnolo discusses how pet business owners can maintain their sales momentum after the holidays are finished. To see more PETS+ Live! webinars, visit

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How to Retain Staff, Decide on Vendor Displays and Deal with Miffed Vendors

Old school still works.




What’s better for marketing: email or social media?

Studies have shown that email is a stronger direct marketing tool than social media. Consider these numbers from OptinMonster based on research carried out between 2016 and 2018:

  • 91 percent of people check their email daily compared to 57 percent who check their Facebook account.
  • 77 percent of consumers say they prefer email for permission-based promotional messages compared to just 4 percent for Facebook.
  • 66 percent of email users have made a purchase as the result of a marketing message from email compared to 20 percent for Facebook.

The most telling statistic though has to do with control of your message: Email will typically reach more than 85 percent of the people you send it to, whereas Facebook’s organic reach has declined to about 1 to 6 percent, depending on your total number of followers.

Social media sites, in general, are more casual and can help build brand awareness, reach very specific customer segments and foster and create communities. Social media is also a great of way building your database of email addresses through contests and other activities that require audience participation. With social media generating leads but not necessarily more business, it’s thus important to combine both email and social media marketing efforts to get the maximum return.

We spend a lot of time training staff. How do we ensure we’re keeping them in a competitive environment like the current one?

A competitive salary is obviously important, but employee longevity is often more about other issues like the friendships people have at work, the opportunities to grow, the challenge and satisfaction they get from their career. And sometimes it’s about the benefits. One of the best ways to find out what an employee wants is “stay interviews,” held periodically. Specifically, say: “Please tell me why you like working here and what I can do better.” (Employment website Monster offers a list of “stay interview questions here: As you gain experience as an employer, you’ll develop better instincts when it comes to hiring the kind of people who will stay. But it doesn’t hurt to be upfront. Tell job candidates, “This is a long-term position for the right person. If you don’t see yourself here in three years, please tell me.”

I carry two competing brands in a fairly narrow, raw-food category. Now one of them is implying I should drop the other slightly-less-popular brand or it will cut off supply. Is this legal?

With a few exceptions, yes, the law allows a miffed vendor to cut you off cold. “In general, companies in the U.S. are free to decide when to do business and when to stop doing business with another company,” says attorney Barbara Mandell of the law firm Dykema Gossett, which focuses on antitrust law.

Is there a rule of thumb on using vendor displays?

There are times, says display expert Larry Johnson, when it makes sense to use vendor-provided collateral, such as when customers ask for the line by name, or when the display has some feature or information you can’t recreate in your own setup. But more often than not, you won’t get the seamless fit that top-notch visual merchandising demands, says Johnson, listing mismatching colors, overbearing logos and “displays that are too big for the amount of business you expect them to generate” as some of the problems he’s seen in such situations. Good display is all about balance, focus and restraint, and an ad hoc approach will rarely work. “Sometimes free can end up being very costly,” Johnson says.

I just caught an error in the bonuses we paid out to staff for the holiday period. It comes to over $1,000. Should I ask for the money back?

Nope. Eat the loss. Even if you could collect, the impact on morale and productivity would be a killer. Instead, you could explain what happened and that you plan to treat the payments as interest-free advances against next year’s bonuses. That way, you should eventually recover most of the overpayments without demanding staff find money that’s probably already spent.

How do you know an online review is sincere?

We’ll assume you’re asking because you suspect a rival is padding its Yelp page, not because you’d ever consider doing anything so unethical (and illegal in some states).

Based on Yelp’s own data-driven research, fake reviews tend to stand out because of the following:

  • The glowing testimonial belongs to a newly created account with no history of reviews.
  • There’s an overabundance of first-person pronouns or mentions of who the person was with (“my husband,” “my family”).
  • The review features strings of empty adjectives extolling the general unadulterated awesomeness of the store.
  • The reviewer goes overboard with detailed descriptions of product or service features.
  • There is the existence of terms and phrases that business owners, rather than shoppers, would likely use, such as “great customer service” or “their industry-leading prototype bridal display.”

Bottom line: It’s surprisingly difficult to fake sincerity.

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The Perils of Shipping Animals and — Oh My! — Taxidermist Referrals?

We answer your most pressing questions.




I have a small grooming operation. What’s the protocol when you’re busy and the phone rings? Answer the call and put it on hold, or let it go to voicemail?

This is really about personal preference. But Pauline Blachford of Pauline Blachford Consulting prefers the latter for two reasons: The customer you are serving at the time the phone rings (or even the pet you are working on) deserves your undivided attention. “This also breaks the train of thought of the service provider and causes a disconnect between the two,” she adds. When it comes to voicemail, the greatest fear for incoming callers is that they never know when their call will be returned.

Blachford recommends the recording say something like: “Thank you for calling ABC Groomers. We are presently taking care of another client. Your call is important to us. Please leave your name and number, and we will get back to you with the hour.” In committing to an hour, it sets the precedent that every team member knows that responding ASAP is the top priority.

The banker who has always handled our account and knows our business is moving to a larger lender. Should we follow him or stay with our existing bank, which has treated us well?

It’s never just about the bank or just about the banker. The most important thing is that your banker has influence within his or her institution. He needs to be able to get things done, either through his professional credibility, knowledge or connections. Talk to the banker. Ask him if he feels his new bank will be the right fit for you. Shifting a business account is not like transferring a credit card debt. It’s a significant process. But then a well-connected banker as also a crucial team member of any growing business.

Is it absolutely necessary to reconcile our books to the last penny? It seems a lot of effort for not much point.

There are some areas where you can disregard small discrepancies, but when it comes to reconciling the bank account to the general ledger, you need to be “bang on all the time,” says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. It primarily has to do with security: A common embezzlement technique is to skim small, seemingly random amounts of cash from revenue. Over the years, these mysterious discrepancies can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Can I send by mail any animals, like a small turtle? I mean, it will be in a proper crate.

Turtles no, but there are a number of “small, harmless, cold-blooded animals” that you can legally mail, along with bees, fish and live adult birds. As you can imagine, there’s an exhausting list of rules and restrictions governing such shipments. (Read the U.S. Postal Service guidelines here: But given all the requirements and, moreover, the risk to the animal itself, you’re better off legally and morally to let customers pick up pets or deliver them yourself.

Much sales advice recommends role-playing exercises, but my sales staff members always slink away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make role-playing positive and fun. First play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note.

A taxidermist asked if we’d provide referrals. I’m not sure it’s something I want to be associated with. What’s your view?

Well, it’s a growing market and you’d probably be providing a service to people who don’t think they can physically part with their beloved pet’s remains. Perhaps you could consider providing a discreet link on your website under “Other Services,” and you may find it bringing in a new clientele. Another option is to call around to your local jewelers and see if they do lab-grown diamonds made from the cremated ashes of the pet. Memento mori!

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Start the New Year Right: Schedule Ahead, Meditate, and Hire a CPA

Try a five-minute meditation session to reduce stress.




In my grooming business, I feel like I can never look further ahead to the next few days’ appointments. How do I get further ahead?

Especially at this time of year, when you’re wrapping up your 2018 calendar and looking ahead to 2019, try a simple trick Fay Bunny of Day of the Dog in Salem, MA, uses: When grooming clients are checking out — especially regular customers — encourage them to to book their next appointment … and the next … and the next. “When we notice a pattern with people who like certain days/times, we call them as soon as we get our new calendar and tell them they’re welcome to book as many appointments as they’d like to get ‘first pick’ for those prime-time slots,” Bunny says.

Some days I think my business is going to drive me crazy. I get so stressed I think I might explode in front of my employees or customers. Any tips on how to keep calm?

Try meditation. The common misconception is that meditation requires a lot of time to be effective. But here’s a quick, five-minute exercise from author and meditation expert Alan Watts that should help smooth you out during even your most frenzied moments. Says Watts: “Find a quiet place and sit, either cross-legged on the floor, or in a straight-backed chair. Don’t lie down. You’ll probably fall asleep, and your assistant may trip over you when he opens the office door. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in through your nose, letting the air fill your lungs, all the way down to the diaphragm. Hold it briefly, then exhale slowly. Most of us routinely take shallow breaths — a few good deep ones should relax you considerably on their own. Tell the chatterbox in your head to quiet down, and try to focus on a single sound. ‘One’ is a good basic sound. Say it, either aloud or in your head, as you slowly exhale each breath: ‘Onnnnnneeeee.’ Do this for five minutes, or even one if time is short. You should feel calmer and more centered when you’re finished.”

I’ve always done my own books and taxes, but I’m thinking of hiring a bookkeeper or CPA. The cost worries me though.

You sound like a lot of entrepreneurs with that DIY frontier mentality. To be sure, CPAs aren’t cheap and they don’t even keep your financial paperwork in order (that’s the bookkeeper’s job). But hire the right one, and he or she should return the investment many times over in strategic advice with regards to tax, sourcing capital, operational weak spots, financial red flags and competitive opportunities. Indeed, after tax season is over, a good accountant should be acting almost as an outsourced chief financial officer, looking how to drive performance over the next year and into the future. Be sure to look for someone who will take the time to really understand you and your business. And, be sure he or she communicates well and speaks in a language you understand.

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