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Super-size Your Customer Service with Ideas from the Big-picture Stuff down to the Nitty-gritty

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Super-size your customer service with ideas from the big-picture stuff down to the nitty-gritty.

 STORY BY  PAMELA MITCHELL

Customer service can break or make your business. Consider this stat from Inreality’s 2016 The Reality of Retail report:

“After a poor experience with a physical store, 63 percent of shoppers said they would be unlikely to shop at that store again.”

Pet businesses — whether retail, grooming and/or boarding — must meet even higher standards than other types of providers.

“Pets are members of the family now, and customers want them treated as such,” says Nancy Hassel, president of the networking and educational organization American Pet Professionals. “There are so many ways to go above and beyond with customers. If you do, you will stand out, and so will your store.”

With that in mind, we asked pet businesses in the U.S. and beyond to share examples of stellar customer service. Some are practices you can quickly and easily replicate, while others will require you to be ready to deliver if a similar situation arises.

We also talked to five pet stores whose highly successful loyalty programs turn first-time visitors into repeat customers. And Bob Phibbs — aka The Retail Doctor — shares how he helps businesses improve their customer experience and increase sales.

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1. HAND OUT REPORT CARDS

What pet parent doesn’t want to know what their pup gets up to each day? At Dog Wild Pet Supplies and Resort in Cooperstown, NY, they learn exactly that upon pickup from daycare. Each attendee gets a report card complete with a portrait or action shot on one side, and information about their day on the other.

Dog Wild owner Dana Rice explains the cards serve multiple purposes.

“They let the customer have a peek into what their dog did that day and who the dog played with. Many customers like to learn who their dog’s friends are, and then like to meet the owner of that dog. Or the customer will ask after their dog’s friends when they come in another time.”

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The cards give staff a place to write notes when something positive or special happens, or to let the owner know if the dog had a bad day.”

Best of all, the cards give the customer something to take home to share with family and friends.

“Many get put on refrigerators and shared at work,” Rice says, and that sharing has helped increase awareness of the doggie daycare program, as they have many attendees whose owners work together.

Finally, the report cards also subtly reinforce the Dog Wild brand and keep contact info handy.

 

2. BE A HEALTHCARE PARTNER

Rachel Diller, owner of The Poodle Shop in Littleton, CO, had a client named Mindy who belonged to an elderly couple.

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“She came in for a routine groom. Her teeth were extremely loose and barely hanging on. I explained that she’d need to see a vet for a dental. The owners just seem confused,” Diller recalls.

The groomer booked a dental appointment for Mindy, shuttled the dog to and from Plum Creek Veterinary Services, and planned to pay the bill. (Upon hearing the story, the vet picked up the tab.)

The act of kindness earned the groomer  plenty of positive buzz on social media and old-fashioned via word or mouth, which resulted in new clients.

“[We got] lots of comments and pats on our backs. It’s just good karma. What goes around comes around.”

 

3. CELEBRATE THE GOOD TIMES

Shop Dog in Sioux Falls, SD, never forgets a pet’s birthday (or gotcha day). Each month, owner Ellyn Suga sends 200-plus members of the store’s Birthday Club a coupon good for a frosted cupcake, a festive bandana and 15 percent off one in-store item.

“We see birthday pups almost daily. Customers love picking out the bandana,” Suga says. “Having those personal interactions is a great way to build a deeper relationship with our customers.

“Customers also love the discount. It’s a great way to incentivize a customer to buy a toy, as to not miss out on the discount. It has definitely boosted sales.”

Birthday dogs also pose for a photo to go up on the store’s Facebook and Instagram pages, helping to attract new business. Suga encourages customers to share on their social media as well.


Shop Dog presents birthday pups with bandanas on their special day.

 

4. HONOR PETS WHO PASS

The owners of Fetch Haus in Red Deer, Alberta, in Canada, grow quite attached to customers and their pets. So much so that when a dog or cat dies, they present the family with a small memorial stone with sayings such as “Cats leave paw prints on our hearts.”

 

5. HELP BRING HOME LOST PETS

Dogs and cats who go missing get plenty of attention online, but because birds are less common as pets, they do not. Paul Lewis, owner of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, aims to change that with the Lost & Found page on his store’s website.

“As soon as we have a nice day in the spring, we get a call from someone who took their bird outside and it flew off. The opposite is also true, that people find birds after a nice day,” Lewis explains.

In addition to posting info about the pets online, the store also keeps band numbers of the birds it sells.

“A few years back we got a call from someone 90 miles away who found a blue-throated macaw, and we were able to locate the owner by the band number.”

Lewis says the page has a 10 percent success rate for reuniting birds with owners.

“It’s a small percentage, but for every one who gets back home, it’s a nice feeling that we were able to help.”

 


Nail trims are free and spa packages are 50 percent off on Animal Hut’s  customer appreciation day.

6. SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION

Each year, Animal Hut in Penn Hills, PA, holds a customer appreciation day on Small Business Saturday, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Those who stop by get a doggie hors d’oeuvre and popcorn, plus a free toy. Nail trims are complimentary that day, with spa packages at 50 percent off.

“The event has boosted our day-of sales and made a great impression with all our grooming customers,” owner Renee Lauer says. (Don’t miss what other pet businesses do for Small Business Saturday on page 43.)

 

7. SPECIAL DELIVERY

Natural Pawz in Houston, TX, doesn’t offer delivery as a service but made an exception recently. “A regular customer called our store and was panicked because she was out of food for her dog,” owner Biff Picone says. “She is a senior citizen and does not drive at night. Our manager could not let the poor dog go hungry, so she loaded up the food and drove it to the customer’s house.”

 

8. REWARD RESCUE

Lissa Durbin has a special surprise for those who bring their newly rescued dog to her grooming shop, BowWow’s Pet Laundry, Barkery and Boutique in Blue Island, IL.

“When they return for pickup, I will tell them that the services are complimentary as a way to say thanks for saving a dog,” she says. “I discuss what I did and explain any issues I’ve found. [And] I hand them an appointment card for the next grooming.”

The initial $50 grooming loss turns into around $800 a year in grooming and retail revenue, she says.

 

9. BE THERE DURING A DIFFICULT TIME

When one of their regular grooming clients escaped from the vet’s office and went missing for a week, the staff at Club Canine in Portsmouth, NH, reached out to offer help.

“We had asked the owners to contact us the minute she was found so that we could open the salon to get her groomed after her big (and scary) adventure,” owner Stacey Kimberley Rogers recalls. “They did, and hours later we had transformed her back into the beautiful girl she is. All at no charge, of course!”

 

No heavy lifting at The Hungry Puppy.

10. DO THE HEAVY LIFTING

Kibble and canned food can get pretty heavy. Warehouse staff at The Hungry Puppy in Farmingdale, NJ, happily carry purchases weighing more than 15 pounds. from the shelf to the register and out to the car for customers.

 

5 Essentials from an Expert

Bob Phibbs — aka The Retail Doctor — regularly speaks on the subject of customer service (most recently at SuperZoo). In his “Essentials of Exceptional Retail Customer Service,” Phibbs writes, “To stand out from the competition, you need to focus on creating an exceptional experience.” We applied five of his tips to pet businesses, with permission, of course. Take a look at this excellent advice for your store, grooming shop or boarding facility:

  1. Have a message of hope 6 He says that employees “should be able to not just inform, but to also inspire, educate and instill confidence.” Use this advice to sell nontraditional pet foods, such as raw or dehydrated. Show the hope offered by these products’  health benefits and provide support as customers transition their dog or cat.
  2. Call on people to take risks 6 Phibbs points out that for some shoppers, purchasing premium products “naturally pushes at their comfort level.” To move these customers beyond any hesitation, he recommends helping them see that while they may be spending more, they are getting a better fit.In a boarding facility, this might involve showcasing pets as they enjoy premium rooms and amenities. Emphasize “just like home” instead of “luxury.”
  3. Focus on relationships 6 The key, Phibbs advises, is staffing and training: “That means you must have enough coverage for employees to be able to spend a little extra time with someone and enough retail sales training that they truly understand how to approach and engage a stranger.” Spending more in these areas always equates to increased sales.
  4. Celebrate newbies 6 Phibbs writes, “When you focus on established customers over newbies, you can end up treating those newbies as disposable, which thwarts any efforts at creating an experience, much less getting them to return again and again.” He recommends giving first-timers a tour. Get to know them and their pets, and discover their needs as you briefly point out what your business has to offer.
  5. Plan for the major holidays 6 “When decorations, emails, schedules and Facebook posts are thought out in advance, your customer experience during those holidays remains high,” Phibbs says. Plan two months out for major holidays. Your employees will also appreciate the foresight.

To get more customer service tips from Phibbs, as well as sales and merchandizing strategies, visit his online learning center at retaildoc.com.

  

KEEP THE FAITH

Drive your customers to return time and again with a loyalty program that works for you.

A customer loyalty program that works well helps level the playing field with online competitors and big-box retailers. But who wants a level playing field? You want one that tilts to your advantage, and tweaking your loyalty program can do that.  A loyalty program may be the deciding factor for whether people walk in your store and how much they spend, Nielsen’s 2016 Global Loyalty-Sentiment Survey found. And loyalty members generate 12 to 18 percent more revenue for retailers than non-members, according to 2016 research from Accenture Interactive.  We talked to five retailers who shared their strategies for creating programs that keep customers as loyal to their stores as their pets are to them.  

 

1. GO MOBILE WITH A FUN APP

Customers at The Hungry Puppy in Farmingdale, NJ walk to the register and hand their smartphones to the sales associate without being asked. They’re eager to get the reward available only to those who have spent $75 and have downloaded The Hungry Puppy app. They are immediately rewarded with a virtual scratch-off ticket to rub off right on their phone screens. Every scratch-off is a winner with $3 to $10 in Pup Bucks to be used at their next visit or an entry into a monthly $100 gift basket raffle.

“People buy more because they want to qualify for the scratch-off,” says Frank Frattini, The Hungry Puppy’s owner.

Creating a loyalty program through an app is a strategic decision to stay competitive in an increasingly mobile world. The 2016 Bond Loyalty Report, a survey of nearly 12,000 U.S. consumers, found that 57 percent of members would like to engage with loyalty programs via mobile devices.

“We wanted ours to be the first one,” Frattini says. “If customers download our app, they aren’t as likely to download PetSmart’s or Petco’s apps.”

The Hungry Puppy app also includes monthly coupons, “Bring Your Pup” rewards ($5 to bring in your dog three times in one month), and access to veterinary and training assistance.

The app was easily customized from a template bought through Como Sense, a customer management and loyalty program provider. Total yearly licensing fees and expenses? Around $700.

“The return on investment is huge,” Frattini says. Over 4,000 customers have downloaded The Hungry Puppy app. Last year, customers redeemed a whopping 97 percent of over $12,000 in Pup Bucks.

 

2. MAKE MEMBERS FEEL GOOD

Pet$aver Healthy Pet Superstore’s loyalty program at its three New York locations is successful because it makes customers feel good about its rewards. Members can earn 3 percent back on qualifying purchases or donate those points to Pet$aver’s Shelter Feeding Program.

“Customers love the fact they can donate their points,” says Pet$aver CEO Russell Herman.

Pet$aver’s generosity began 10 years ago with its Responsible Owner’s Club, which gives discounts to those who adopt from shelters. Pet$aver also donates $10 to the rescue organization when customers redeem discounts.

Last year, Pet$aver’s customers chipped in over $50,000 in donations to provide food for local shelters through the Shelter Feeding Program. Herman estimates that Pet$aver saw 1,500 new customers in 2016, and 500 became regular customers.

“Both our programs create a sense that we’re a very community-based store,” Herman says. “With national chains moving in, we have to change the way we do business and find a way to increase our customers’ excitement.”

 

3. JOIN A UNIVERSAL PROGRAM

Customers are less likely to sign up for programs at stores they don’t visit often. Universal loyalty programs such as Belly solve that problem. With Belly, consumers don’t have to join yet another retailer’s program, and businesses don’t have to design, implement and maintain their own programs.

Everyone just joins Belly, and the program runs itself.

“The ease of Belly made it a no-brainer,” says Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, WI where customers have enjoyed using Belly for five years. She says Belly has “without a doubt” resulted in increased customer retention, more purchases and higher profits.

Belly members get a plastic card or download the Belly app to earn points when they shop at any participating Belly store. Points are based on visits rather than quantity or price.

Independent retailers (restaurants, bookstores, salons, etc.) that subscribe to Belly get an iPad to set up at their register that customers interact with by scanning their card or cellphone or entering their email.

Depending on the subscription level, businesses have access to customer demographics and insight into shopping behaviors. They can also email promotions and coupons to their Belly customers.

Convenience is the biggest benefit: It lets people maintain many individual reward programs through one account.

Conell feels the heat from online competition and big-box stores within a few miles of hers.

“It’s vital to show customers you value their patronage,” she says. “Offering this loyalty program, plus our laser focus on customer service, allows us to stand out and be successful and profitable.”

 

4. KEEP IT SIMPLE

On the other end of the spectrum, a simple program works beautifully, too. At Maxwell & Molly’s Closet’s two locations in New Jersey, customers who spend $200 earn 5 percent off all purchases for life.

Owner Bonnie Bitondo says it’s her gift to customers for walking in the door.  Customers receive a gift bag when they join the Paw Club. The bag contains food and small gifts, but the key to success is the $5 gift certificate attached. “It gets them coming back to us,” Bitondo says.

From there, it’s been easy for hundreds of Bitondo’s customers to meet the $200 requirement to become a Platinum Paw Club member and get the lifetime discount.

“People like simplicity and immediate rewards. They don’t want to wait a year. They want to know they get something every time they walk in the door,” Bitondo says.

 

5. OFFER A VARIETY

A drawback with some loyalty programs is the inability to choose how rewards are earned or given. The solution? Build your own program from scratch.

At Especially for Pets’ seven locations in Massachusetts, loyal customers are members of the Companion Rewards Program, which was created exclusively for the business by software developers at M & M Enterprises.

“It is a huge undertaking to develop a custom solution, but it differentiates you from the competition,” says Especially for Pets CEO Michael DiTullio.

Customizing his own program let DiTullio design rewards for every type of shopper. His program currently includes:

  • 13th food purchase free
  • 10th grooming free
  • 3% rewards on supplies
  • $10 off training
  • 10% senior discount
  • 10% discount for one month for people who have adopted a rescue pet
  • 10% discount on all purchases for foster pet parents

DiTullio says the program drives purchases. “Customers are less likely to buy food from another store or online because those purchases don’t count toward their free 13th food program.”

With more than 30,000 customers enrolled, the Companion Rewards Program shows how the ability to reward a variety of shopping habits provides value to many different customers.

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Cover Stories

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Snow…

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Amazon isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Chewy. So how can independent brick-and-mortar stores compete when it comes to the purchase and delivery of pet supplies?

We asked you that very question, and those who have found success in this area generously shared their practices and policies. Some factor delivery into the cost of doing business, while others have grown it into quite the moneymaker. Learn from both.

THERE BEFORE BREAKFAST

1CAPTIVATING CANINES, WESTERVILLE, OH
No customer’s dog or cat ever misses their breakfast with Ron Keller on the job at Captivating Canines. He takes phone orders and drops them off the next morning, bright and early, on his way to open the store. He also makes sure pet parents get the best price. “I consistently beat anyone’s prices, including Amazon and Chewy.”

DETAILS: Free delivery within a 5-mile radius.

THERE BEFORE DINNER

2CITY BARK, DETROIT, MI
Many a pet parent empties the bag or last can at breakfast, which means picking up pet food goes on their to-do list for after work. And then tasks pile up, and it looks like they won’t get to the store before closing. City Bark comes to the rescue.

Customers can place an order via phone or website before 7 p.m. for same-day delivery between 7 and 8 p.m. They can even note exactly where they want the food left, a big plus in neighborhoods where porch pirates regularly steal deliveries. And as Jamie Judson points out, “Because we’re a local shop, we’re still able to offer our delivery customers the frequent-buyer program.”

DETAILS: $5 delivery within a 5-mile radius; the person scheduled to close does deliveries.
TIP: “It’s important when providing a service like this to go above and beyond. I’ve delivered to doggie day cares on behalf of a customer and hiked up four flights of stairs to help a customer with a broken arm.”

DELIVERY+TREATS

3PURRRFECT BARK, COLUMBUS, NC
Customers can place orders with Purrrfect Bark by phone, email and online. Deliveries often come with a surprise. “We give freebies from our stash pile. We also bring fresh doughnuts or such at times,” Eric Mack says.
Staff also put deliveries where requested, including frozen foods in house or garage freezers.

DETAILS: $4.95 delivery within a 15-mile radius.
TIPS: “Be sure it won’t stretch you thin, and always remember to put some money away for the wear and tear on vehicles.”

32 YEARS OF DROP-OFFS

4THE HUNGRY PUPPY, FARMINGDALE, NJ
The Hungry Puppy’s well-established delivery division grosses more than $1 million a year. Here’s how Frank and Teresa Frattini have built it into a highly profitable part of their business:

They take payment for delivery over the phone, not online — Customers can place orders through the store’s website or app, by phone, email and even fax. An employee then calls for payment. “This allows us the opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell items that might also be of interest to the customer. The average ticket for each delivery is twice what it is in our store,” Frank says.

They beat Amazon and Chewy’s prices — “They have to abide by MAP pricing for their products not only because manufacturers demand it, but also because they have the added overhead of having to ship products via third party. We, on the other hand, can sell the product through our store for any price we wish. We are not ‘advertising’ the price. We are just offering it for less through our brick-and-mortar store and providing the value-added service of delivering locally to our customers for free. The way we make it profitable is to buy in volumes necessary to accrue appreciable savings on products, and then we pass those savings on to our customers.”

DETAILS: $5 delivery for orders less than $50 and free for orders $50 or more within a 40-mile radius in geographically arranged areas on the same day each week; $6 additional for delivery within 24 hours; auto-ship also available.
TIP: “Infrastructure is super important, which means you have to have procedures in place from the time the orders come in until the time they are delivered.”

EXPANDED OPTIONS

5CHOICE PET, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey
In 2017, this group of pet supply stores streamlined its delivery process and reduced costs through Endless Aisles, a platform from PHIDO, the digital solutions company of Phillips Pet Food & Supplies. With it, customers can place orders for delivery at in-store kiosks and on the store’s website, and they have access to the distributor’s vast inventory.

“Our staff can place orders for customers on items we don’t have in stock or generally don’t carry,” Director of Operations Larry Bocchiere says. “Instead of taking on inventory risk, we get the product delivered directly to the customer, saving time and money but also creating a better experience for our customers.”

DETAILS: $5.95 delivery on orders less than $49 and free for orders $49 or more.
TIP: “The truth is: Our customers will shop however they want to. Sometimes that’s in-store, but other times they’re busy and want products delivered. Home delivery is just another service that strengthens our customers’ trust in our brand, increasing their loyalty and ultimately our bottom line.”

CUSTOMIZED ORDERS

6HEALTHY PET PRODUCTS, PITTSBURGH, PA
Toni Shelaske offers customization as part of her delivery process. Customers, who place orders by phone, can set up recurring orders and even ask that proteins be rotated. They can request that products be left in a specific place and also in a waterproof bag during wet weather. They can get a delivery window as well. “And then we can smile and say thank you in person. That is definitely something the customer can’t get online.”

DETAILS: Free within a 5-mile radius, $5 for more than 5 miles and $10 for more than 10 miles.
TIP: Delivery can be a pain, Shelaske says, but it must be offered. “A lot of companies are swinging back to delivery. Who knows? Maybe the milk box will end up back on the front porch someday!”

TO THE LETTER

7AGSENTIALS, WATKINS, MN
This store and feed manufacturer has been delivering to farmers for 30 years, and began offering the same service to pet parents and hobbyists two years ago. No matter the address, they follow even the most specific instructions to the letter.

Farmers can direct delivery to where feed is stored, such as in a barn or shed, and the employee will not only stack each bag in the same direction for easy identification and a uniform look, but also will place any remaining bags on top of new ones to ensure they are used first. Pet parents and hobbyists also can specify where deliveries should be left, outside their home.

Orders get placed by phone, email or online, with the AGsentials truck making deliveries. Sandy Wolff says, “People love seeing our branded and wrapped truck pull into their yard — it’s very farm feeling and provokes a certain contented, country emotion.”

DETAILS: Free delivery for orders $100 or more within geographically arranged areas on the same day each week; fees apply to orders less than $100, varying on location.
TIP: “It takes a while to build the customer base. Track your expenses and time as a way to measure your success.”

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Cover Stories

Epic Fail

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Where once failure was the domain of losers, it’s now a cause célèbre, a hard-earned badge of redemption and authenticity. In ads for sneakers, athletes relish in how many times they missed the winning shot. In magazine articles, CEOs take pride in recounting their blunders, politicians and celebrities their lowest moments.

The benefits of failure shouldn’t be news to us. Toddlers develop into autonomous, well-functioning selves by testing boundaries. Fall over, pick yourself up, fall over with a little less pain the next time.

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible, and the benefits manifold. From preventing recurring mistakes to spurring innovation, to helping you find your true course to uncovering opportunities, it often begins with failure.

Yet for most of us mortals, this advice is still hard to take: Failure is painful. Disappointment cuts deep. And so much psychologically rests on being right, that denial and finger pointing remain our default responses.

Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor of management at the Columbia Business School, says that when she asks execs how effective their organizations are at learning from failure, on a scale of one to 10, “I often get a sheepish ‘two — or maybe three’ in response.”

Failure involves real costs: It wastes money, destroys morale, infuriates customers, damages reputations and can sometimes lead to legal trouble. For small-business owners, there is the legitimate risk that a major failure — choosing a wrong location, expanding to a new market or opting not to adopt new tech — could mean the end of their business.
Further, there’s a concern among many managers that a fear-no-failure culture will lead to an anything-goes environment for staff.

As a result, despite all the good talk about failure, most businesses continue to do the opposite. They punish mistakes, shoot the messenger, deny errors, blame others, make no systematic effort to study it and basically ignore what failure has to teach them.

In doing so, they double down on their errant course of action, stifle risk-taking and create the very thing they are trying to avoid — a terminal misstep.

As the business world becomes more complex and uncertain, the issue is becoming more critical. In 2019, leading a business is not so much about good management, as it is about how you respond to new threats, new trends, new technologies. Nobody gets it right the first time anymore.

“It’s not about effective planning. It’s about trial and error,” Tim Harford writes in his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. “Those who can afford to fail more times will succeed in the long run,” he says.

There is a quote often attributed to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck that “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

But recent research indicates it actually helps to know the hurt firsthand, for the resilience it builds and because like riding a bike, some things you can’t learn from a book or YouTube video.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford

“All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” says Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and a professor at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

In the following pages, we provide tips to help you prepare for when things go wrong and to get the best out of situations when they do go awry.

There is, however, no way to take the pain out of failure. At times like that, it helps to take a philosophical view. On top of trying to tell yourself the feeling of disappointment is salutary, keep in mind that in some mysterious way, the possibility of failure is what makes games worth playing, business pursuing and ultimately life worth living.

When there is no challenge, the joy evaporates. (Try playing a video game designed for 4-year-olds, and see how long that stays fun!)

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke summed it up nicely: “The purpose of life is to be defeated by ever greater things.”

In business, those challenges are waiting every day. Go down valiantly.

 

20 Ways to Make the Most of Failure

“Always learn from mistakes and failures,” notes Tavor White of Chews Happiness in Boulder, CO. “If one does so, they are not failures.” Too true. Here are 20 tips to help you turn those failures around.

Contain the downside

1 To be able to enjoy the benefits of failure, you’ve got to be able to survive the experience. Thus it’s best to fail small and cheaply. Always ask, “What is the minimum viable experiment?” says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads. It also helps to stick to areas where you have some related business experience. The business world is littered with the dead projects of companies that strayed too far from their core competence. Even a small failure can be expensive, but in the long run, ignorance tends to be even more costly.

Dig deep

2 When Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, discusses failure with executives, she often asks them to consider her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure, which lists causes ranging from deliberate deviation to thoughtful experimentation. “When I ask executives to estimate how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually 2 percent to 5 percent. But when I ask how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70 to 90 percent. The consequence is that many failures go unreported and their lessons are lost.” To be sure, managers need to make a distinction between excusable and inexcusable mistakes, but often one can discover underlying causes that are more important. Was the cause carelessness, training, fatigue or another issue?

Fail differently

3 A crucial question to ask yourself about your mistakes is, “Am I failing differently each time?” says Steven Levitt, author of the business best-seller Freakonomics. For all our talk here about failure, what we are actually talking about is learning. Fail the same way over and over, and you’re clearly not learning.

KEEP Plans B, C and D on deck

4 “Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches on the grounds that failure is common,” says Harford in his book Adapt. “This approach is far less intimidating than trying to come up with the best idea ever. You need Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. ” Not only does a fallback position make it easier psychologically to be wrong, but it enables you to take away a wider range of lessons from each mistake, he says. Ideally, you want to try a mix of off-the-wall ideas and by-the-book practices.

WRITE DOWN YOUR FLOPS

5 Keep a failure résumé: When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to analyze the practical, operational reasons you failed. What’s the point of such self-flagellation? “Because honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow — as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line,” says Tim Herrera in his Smarter Living column for the New York Times. It can also be a reminder of how much you’ve tried, said Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School. “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am,” she says.

FAIL FROM the front

6 The example set by owners and management is crucial. Admitting mistakes shows a leader’s self-confidence and helps forge closer ties with employees. “A blunder admitted is empathy earned,” write Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins. “Leaders who don’t cover up their errors become people whom others can admire and identify with.”

Debrief

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life by Francesca Gino

7 When a business venture fails, sure, it sucks. But when a military expedition fails, people die. The life-or-death nature explains the military’s relentless review system, known as “after-action reviews” (AARs) of each combat encounter and combat-training exercise. “As in business, the reasons for success or failure in combat often are not clear,” writes behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent. “AAR participants discuss four key questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What are we going to do next time?” To be sure, failure reviews aren’t much fun. Most people would rather sweep the little disaster under the carpet and look forward. But then the learning opportunity is lost. Such “reviews work best when they are fast and to the point; take place frequently, through good times and bad; and are forward-looking, with an emphasis on learning, not assigning blame,” write Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas in Increase Your Return on Failure.

If it ain’t broke, experiment

8 There’s a view that success doesn’t have much to teach you — you may have been lucky, it will cover up mistakes, it saps the will to innovate, it can make you overconfident and misattribute the real factors at play. But it doesn’t have to be that way, say Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano in an article in the Harvard Business Review. “Celebrate success but examine. Ironically, casting a critical eye on your success can better prepare you to avoid failure,” they write. Gino and Pisano say the right question for leaders of learning organizations to ask is not “What are we doing well?” but rather “What experiments are we running?” Keep looking at data even when things are going well — understanding why you’re successful is as important as understanding what causes mistakes.

Beware your biases

9 The human capacity for self-deception is profound. It thus helps to be aware of the kinds of biases that can undermine a proper evaluation of a project. Among the most common psychological blind spots related to failure are the “God complex” (feelings of infallibility), chasing your losses (taking bigger risks to win back lost money), or hedonic editing (when we try to convince ourselves that a mistake doesn’t matter, or finding some way to reinterpret our failures as successes). Few of us can make purely rational decisions. Beware of your biases.

Use symbolic rituals

10 Heroic Failure Awards, Failure Walls (a space in your back room where you and staff can share your “growth lessons”) or a Failure Hour (a weekly meeting devoted to things that went wrong and can be improved) can help create an environment in which failures are openly and seriously discussed. “Something magical happens to failure when it’s openly acknowledged,” writes business author Jeff Stibel in a column for Bizjournals.com. “Paradoxically, it becomes less of a big deal.”

Hail the bad-news messenger

11 “The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to shoot the messenger and bury the bad news,” write Birkinshaw and Haas. “Big, painful, expensive failures are easy to spot. But in many organizations, any failure that can be hidden is hidden as long as it’s unlikely to cause immediate or obvious harm.” The goal should be to identify it early, before it has mushroomed into disaster. Among the ways to do this: creating a shared understanding around the types of failures that employees can expect to happen, being accessible as a leader both in terms of personality and physically, and rewarding the messenger who presents bad news.

Find a podcast

12 When things aren’t going well, there’s a fabulous world of inspiration out there: podcasts, YouTube commencement speeches, TED talks, School of Life videos. No end, really, of great people who have experienced what you’re going through and can provide reassurance or even tactical guidance. Designer Ida C. Benedetto told the Creative Independent she keeps a collection of such talks for when she needs a boost (petsplusmag.com/5192). Build your own list.

Share what you learn

13 While it’s useful to reflect on individual failures, the real payoff comes when the lessons are shared across the organization or even better, they become part of institutional memory. At Coca-Cola, stories about the failure of New Coke are still told 30 years on. Former CEO Roberto Goizueta got years of one-liners from the fiasco. “Admitting his mistake conveyed to his employees better than a hundred speeches or a thousand memos that ‘learning failures,’ even on a grand scale, were tolerated,” says Farson. Today, traditional soft drinks now account for less than two-thirds of Coke’s business. “They saw the handwriting on the wall, and they evolved into ready-to-drink teas and coffees and juices and dairy products. Coca-Cola knew it was time to reinvent themselves; to transform from one thing into another. This is why — after a continuing series of mistakes, failures, and course corrections — they will continue to thrive,” says Roy Williams.

Know HOW failure looks

14 Recognizing failure can be surprisingly difficult. We’ve been trained that “persistence pays off,” so it feels wrong to cut our losses and label an idea a failure. “Decide what success and failure would look like before you launch an initiative,” says Wharton Business School’s Rita Gunther McGrath, noting that some companies build exit strategies into their projects to ensure that doomed or resource-sucking efforts do not drag on. “Being able to recognize a failure just means that you’ll be able to re-cast it into something more likely to succeed,” Harford adds. In such instances, feedback — either in the form of data or third-party reviews — is essential for determining which experiments have succeeded and which have failed. “Get advice, not just from one person, but from several.”

Use checklists

The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande

15 In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande argues that in our complex modern world, failure results not so much from ignorance (not knowing enough about what works) as from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works). His solution: checklists. In medicine, a field where the available well of learning expands every year, the problem is “making sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly,” says Gawande, a physician. A recent study in U.K. hospitals suggested that wider use of checklists might prevent 40 percent of deaths during treatment. If surgeons can fill out checklists, the rest of us should probably be willing to run our expertise by the numbers as well.

Give back the pen

16 It’s not just at the organizational level that failure can be “a gift.” Individuals, likely including your employees, can benefit from its didactic embrace. The problem is that many managers are what psychologists call “over-functioners” — faced with a challenge in the store, they spring into fixing mode, taking control, attacking the issue, offering instructions and dealing with it. As with raising kids, it often helps to let your underlings fail to allow them to develop, even if it creates some short-term anxiety or uncertainty. When a person is stuck or struggling, ask them, “What do you think you should do? Go try it and I’ll give you some ideas and then you see how it goes.”

You are not your failure

17 A lot of us look to athletes for inspiration, especially when it comes to taking on a daunting challenge. But according to British sports psychologist James Hamilton, many elite athletes have a pretty unhealthy view of success and failure, associating defeat with an all-round failure of the self. To be sure, it can fuel a heightened drive, leading them to put up with huge levels of discomfort and deprivation, but it can also result in risk-avoidance and self-blame when things don’t pan out as they had hoped. A much healthier view, he says, is to remember that any failure “stands separate” from you.

Celebrate intelligent failure

18 As 3M’s legendary chairman William McKnight once said, “The best and hardest work is done in the spirit of adventure and challenge. … Mistakes will be made.” A risk-averse culture, on the other hand, is dangerous. Once you quit innovating and become guardians of the status quo, the end is only a matter of time. “One division head I worked with would say to his team members during their performance reviews, ‘Show me your scrap heap,’” recalls Wharton’s Gunther McGrath. “The request perfectly conveys the idea that high achievers will, of necessity, try some things that don’t work out.” Tom Peters sums it up another way: “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”

Educate your subconscious

19 The pioneering behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman changed the standard view that humans are rational economic actors. The Soviet Union proved something similar for economies — what looks to be efficient rationalization is often a system that can’t learn or adapt. It’s the same for just about any business. British advertising great David Ogilvy had an interesting take on this: “The beginning of greatness is to be different. And the beginning of failure is to be orthodox. Big ideas come from the unconscious. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.” Go expose yourself to ideas and experiences.

Share your failures

20 Look for opportunities to share your mistakes, be it at a lunch, an industry peer group or some other professional gathering. “If you’re having lunch with some of your peers, then revealing failure is a great strategy to induce levels of liking by reducing malicious envy,” Amy Edmondson says. Adds Roy Williams: “When people share their experiences in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, a special kind of magic occurs: Smart people become wise, and their businesses begin to grow.”

FAILURE TEACHES THE BEST LESSONS

Pet pros share their flops … and how they bounced back.

Photos, Bad or Good, Make the Day

Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT
3 One of my easiest epic fails to swallow is one that is reoccurring and that we poke fun at. We post a monthly calendar, and often the event of the day focuses on photos coming to owners via text. In our fun “wag speak,” we explain that we know that a pup may not cooperate with the turkey hat on his head or sitting nicely in a valentine photo booth. We send the epic-fail pictures as well as the perfect ones to keep things lighthearted and fun. Most of our clients say this makes their day.

Big-Box Lessons

Nancy Okun, Cats n Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL
3 I brought in a brand of cat food that’s sold in a big box. My thinking was the low price I got and the quality of the food, plus the well-known brand, would attract enough customers to make it profitable. Six months later, I’ve decided to discontinue this brand. I don’t consider this a failure. I look at it as more of a lesson learned that I shouldn’t bring in any brands a big box already stocks. The customers left for price, even though our prices were within pennies of each other. Mass advertising made a big difference. Now, when a brand goes big-box, we discontinue it and find a brand equal or better to replace it. And, we let our customers know what’s going on upfront. We tell the customer how much we value their loyalty and hope they will stay our customer.

Discontinued Chore

Jack Carey, Amoskeag Pet Supply, Manchester, NH
3 We tried having theme months. Like puppy month, cat month, etc. Initially, we were all excited to create the promotion and decorations for each month. After the first few months didn’t generate any interest for our customers, it became a chore and ultimately was discontinued. It did help us round out our departments’ offerings and promoted creativity.

Trust Your Instincts

Johnna Devereaux, Fetch RI, Richmond, RI
3 There is no such thing as a failure — just an opportunity to do something different (or make a different choice with newly learned information) next time. I remember bringing in a new collar line that I didn’t quite believe in. They were cute and of high quality, but my instinct told me they wouldn’t sell. I went against my gut … and ended up sitting on over $1,000 of inventory. The takeaway: Always trust your instincts. You know your consumer base better than anyone. Don’t ever let a salesperson change your mind. Lesson learned … and luckily at a relatively inexpensive price.

An Upside to the StoryWendy Megyese

Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC
3 I decided to open a second location in 2018. I became enamored of another beach town that was an hour away. The emotional attachment overrode my logical decision-making, and I hunted until I found a site that was being constructed. I overlooked its drawbacks. All I saw was that it was near the beach and that I would be able to create the interior I wanted, rather than having to retrofit an existing structure. I signed a lease and paid the deposit — two months’ rent. As construction began, I started feeling queasy about my decision. It was keeping me awake at night, and I realized I was spending time trying to justify my action. It became clear that I had made the wrong choice. I contacted the real estate agent and told him I wanted to back out of the deal. I was fortunate that he allowed me to do so since the construction was not fully completed, but I forfeited my deposit. While the money was unrecoverable, I decided to mentally frame it as a very expensive lesson. A few months later, that area was devastated by Hurricane Florence. While the building I would have been in is still standing, most businesses there were closed for months. If there is any upside to the story, it is that I would have lost much more had I gone forward with my plans instead of admitting that I made a poor decision and backed out of it.

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You impress us. On a daily basis. Your creativity and generosity know no bounds. In fact, many of you are leaders in your respective fields, innovating and then sharing your wins with other pet business owners and managers so they too can succeed. Ten such professionals are profiled here. Some are pioneers. Others have taken an existing product or service and given it a new spin, helping to move their part of the pet industry forward. We hope they inspire you to do the same. That is, if you aren’t already.

DOG PARK INNOVATORS

Dave Hensley & Leib Dodell | Bar K, Kansas City, MO

Most public dog parks are problematic. They never have enough shade or seating. Fights break out between unsupervised pups. Rules prohibit food and small children, rightly so for safety reasons, but it makes a family trip to the park difficult for some. And not all dogs have the vaccinations they need.

Leib Dodell and Dave Hensley decided to create a place for pets and their people that has none of these issues — and that offers so much more. They opened Bar K in August 2018.

“Like a lot of entrepreneurs, we started out wanting to solve a problem for ourselves,” Dodell says. He enjoys going out with his Australian Shepherd Benji and Shepherd mix Bear, as does Hensley with his Goldendoodle, Bishop. “Public dog parks are challenging and limited in the experience they provide.”

Bar K spans two acres on the south bank of the Missouri River, adjacent to downtown Kansas City and partially under the expansive Heart of America Bridge.

“It was this big undeveloped property, kind of a dump, but we could see it had potential to be something special.”

The business partners made it exactly that. Off-leash space totals 68,400 square feet (about 20 percent larger than a football field), with separate areas for dogs big and small, and puppies, to run and play. A jungle gym, four-sided climbing wall and splash pool are among the amenities. Dogtenders, trained in behavioral cues, watch over the action.

“Our trained staff can spot escalating warning signs, and then redirect dogs with a ball or take them to another part of the park.”
A separate 3,000-square-foot Petfinder Park hosts adoption events and training classes.

Inside the 5,000-square-foot restaurant and bar — built from 17 repurposed shipping containers — humans can order from a healthy casual menu while their pups play outside. Those who want to dine with their leashed dogs can do so on the outdoor deck or upstairs patio, and even order a meal for them from a special menu. Beer, wine and cocktails are served inside and outside.

Kids are welcome throughout the property, with different rules applying to on- and off-leash areas. Pet parents can stop by the Groom-Groom Room, a grooming salon with self-bathing station, before they leave.

Admission to Bar K is by day pass, $10 per dog and $5 per additional dog, and by annual membership, $225 per dog and $25 per additional dog. Membership recently surpassed 1,500 members, and Dodell says, “1,000 people can come through on a busy weekend.” All pets must be vaccinated or provide recent titer test results.

 

FITNESS TRAINER FOR PUPS & THEIR PEOPLE

Sue Hepner | Cool Dog Gear, Langhorne & North Wales, PA

Dogs make the best workout partners. They’re always up for exercise, whether it be a walk or run or game of fetch.* Too bad pups can’t go to the gym with their people.

They can in Pennsylvania, thanks to Sue Hepner, co-owner of Cool Dog Gear stores. She created and offers private Work Out Doggie Style classes at both locations, six days a week.

Her own enthusiasm for fitness inspired the program. “I would go to the gym, and my dog would be like, ‘What about me?’”

Hepner, also an avid dragon boat racer, put together the core routine with her team’s coach, retired physical education teacher Jan Cairone. Instructors modify as needed for different doggie ages and physical abilities.

“The youngest pup we have is 4½ months. The oldest is 15 years. The seniors, for example, don’t do as much jumping,” she says, adding that growing puppies also skip certain exercises.

Each class begins with dog and pet parent — or parents — doing three minutes of laps around the gym, located at the back of each store. “They can walk or run, however they usually get around the block.”

Participants then start moving through a series of stations. Pups weave through poles, balance their front paws on an oversized ball and do nosework by finding hidden treats. Hepner even has skateboards for advanced students. In between, they walk or run laps again. Humans guide their dogs, but also have exercises of their own to do such as reps with resistance bands and kettlebells.

Class always ends with 10 minutes of fetch to pull out the pup’s last bit of energy. “Then they’re done, physically and mentally.”

Each class costs $20, with each store holding 100-plus a month. Hepner does not have to advertise the program, as photos she shares nightly on social media get tagged, liked and shared, and lead to new participants. Its popularity even has manufacturers providing toys and treats used in class because doing so results in sales boosts.

Next up for Hepner: She plans to franchise Work Out Doggie Style to other pet businesses.

FIVE-PAW CHEF

Beth Staley | Happy Dog Barkery, Downers Grove, IL

In 2011, pet baker Beth Staley introduced a new Thanksgiving special: turkey stew for dogs.

“We ended up selling 250 over just a couple of days. It took us by surprise,” she says.

Stews are now a bestseller at her Happy Dog Barkery, with more than 1,800 sold in January of this year alone. Staley makes three recipes at a time from an ever-growing menu, now at 25. Popular offerings include Heart of Hearts (chicken, zucchini, chicken liver and heart, carrot and pea) and Pork n Beans (pork, sweet potato, garbanzo bean, molasses, bacon and tomato sauce).

“It’s not a complete diet, more of a food topper or to entice dogs who aren’t eating well.”

Staley has always looked for ways to innovate as a pet baker and chef. In addition to custom cakes and other bakery items, she offers seasonal and cultural treats. Polish pet parents particularly appreciate her celebration of Pączki. The traditional day of eating special jelly-filled buns happens in March, and dogs get their own pączki filled with chicken, coconut, peanut butter or sweet potato. More than 1,300 sell over the three-day period they are available.

Bakery items, which include all of the above, make up 30 percent of overall sales, helping to spur “double-digit growth every single year,” Staley says.

HERBALIST TO THE PETS

Johnna Devereaux | Fetch RI, Richmond, RIL

Johnna Devereaux has been studying the healing properties of herbs for humans since she was 15 years old. After opening Fetch RI in 2014 and becoming a certified canine and feline nutritionist, it was only natural to begin incorporating herbs into her plans for pets.

“I’ve been blessed from my childhood with this passion, and now I’ve found a way to use it to help animals heal themselves and to increase my business,” Devereaux says. “I’m so grateful and appreciative.”

Now also a clinical pet nutritionist, she offers a variety of services and products for dogs and cats with health issues. In-depth nutritional assessments and recommendations involve consultation with the treating veterinarian, or Devereaux can simply look at recent test results and current medications. This costs $75 per hour, $35 per half-hour followup. She also dispenses advice and herbs outside of consultations for minor acute issues, such as suggesting marshmallow root for a dog with an intestinal tract inflamed by diarrhea.

Her go-to commercial herbal products are those from Animal Essentials. The company even creates custom extracts for the store. Devereaux also has an herb garden and apothecary at home.

“I’m sensitive to where herbs come from, whether or not there are heavy metals in the soil, so I grow my own. I make salves for wound care and paw protection, and hot spot remedies. I also formulate teas because I’m a huge advocate of adding water to a dog’s food, and it’s another way to deliver herbs.

“If we’ve interfered somehow and interrupted an animal’s system, I provide tools to help the body heal itself.”

PET SUSTAINABILITY PIONEERS

Julie Paez & Pennye Jones-Napier | The Big Bad Woof, Washington, DC

Pennye Jones-Napier and Julie Paez founded The Big Bad Woof in 2005. Since day one, they have helped to set the standard for sustainable pet stores in this country.

“We’ve always had a green business model, which encompasses everything from what we use for cleaning products to how our electricity is supplied,” Jones-Napier says. “This even flows into buying decisions, by looking at where a product is made, how it is packaged and how far it has to travel to get to our store.”

Among their sustainable achievements: The Big Bad Woof in Hyattsville, MD, was the first business to become a U.S. Benefit Corporation, in 2010. They closed that location in 2016 to reopen in Washington, DC, with D.C. Benefit Corp status.

The current store has 96 solar panels and two energy-efficient Big Ass Fans.

Staff reuses shipping materials and picks up styrofoam coolers and ice packs from area vet clinics to use for raw food delivery.

Bones and organ meats come from a local organic, non-GMO farm. Locally made Chippins treats use cricket as protein.

They joined the Mayor’s Office of the Clean City campaign. Free branded poop bags and holders are available at the store.

LEADER IN PET SERVICES SAFETY

Suzanne Locker | ABC Pet Resort & Spa, Willis, TX

In the early 2000s, doggie day care continued to grow in popularity. However, members of the American Boarding Kennels Association were not convinced it was without risk to the dogs.

As the service became more mainstream and seen as a viable play activity, the ABKA tasked member Suzanne Locker with updating existing accreditation standards to include day care best practices. The revised standards came out in 2006.

“We saw that we needed to be inclusive of all kinds of services,” Locker says. “We had an obligation to our staff, pets and pet parents to have safety procedures for overnight lodging as well as day care.”

During her time with the association, she also served on its board of directors and as president. Her pet resort continues to value safety certifications through the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, American Kennel Club and the Professional Animal Care Certification Council.

Locker also stresses their importance during her Pet Care Facility Management Boot Camp for those opening their first pet services facility.

PET WHOLE FOOD ADVOCATES

Marc Berube & Gregori Lukas | Lukas & Berube Healthy Pet Markets, Montclair, NJ

Gregori Lukas and Marc Berube want nothing more than for pets to eat fresh whole foods. The co-owners of Lukas & Berube’s Healthy Pet Markets believe so strongly in such a diet that they invited top integrative veterinarians and industry experts to speak about it and other topics at their first-ever Healthy Pet Summit.

Held in October 2018 at a venue near their store, the summit featured well-known practitioners Dr. Karen Becker, Dr. Melissa Shelton, Dr. Judy Morgan, Dr. Gerald Buchoff and Dr. Laurie Coger, plus Answers Pet Food Nutrition Science Director Billy Hoekman.

“Our goal in gathering this elite set of vets and experts was to open the minds of pet parents who might not know about nutrition and other modalities, and how they can be proactive about doing the best for their animals,” Lukas says. “We wanted to inspire and educate.”

The event sold out quickly and went over capacity to accommodate all 85 people who wanted to attend. They came from around the world and were more knowledgeable about pet nutrition than the original intended audience, being followers of the speakers on social media. Lukas was more than happy with the outcome.

“If we can make an impact in the pet food industry, support the ongoing growth of this small community, then others will learn that there are better options,” he says.

Tickets are already on sale for the 2019 Healthy Pet Summit, which will be a much larger event held Oct. 12 at Montclair State University. Lukas, a certified pet food nutrition specialist who serves as nutrition education director for the store and animal nutrition specialist alongside Buchoff at Holistic Pet Care, has other changes planned.

“We will say farewell to kibble in the store all together. To be the change, we have to be the difference.”

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