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




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


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.




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.”


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.



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


“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.”



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.



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.”



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.


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.)



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.”



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.



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.


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



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.  



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.



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.”



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.”



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.



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.




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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Cover Stories

7 Ways to Make the Most of the January Slowdown

Avoid the post holiday blues with promotions to get cash-wielding customers through your doors in January.




DOES THE POST-HOLIDAY prove challenging for your business? It doesn’t need to be.

“January can still be a really good month,” Pet Boss Nation’s Candace D’Agnolo says.

Store owners, don’t dwell on cold weather reducing foot traffic. Instead promote coats, boots and other winter gear.

“Those are higher ticket items compared to the majority of what you sell,” she points out.

Groomers, expect a bump from those looking to get in one last appointment before 2019 prices go into effect, which D’Agnolo recommends doing on February 1, with the announcement in December.

“That gives clients enough time to hear about it and not feel blindsided,” she explains.

Care providers, embrace the slow down. Pet parents returning and paying for holiday services in January will help offset any decrease in bookings.

“It’s the perfect month to give you our employees time off, to catch up on their lives,” D’Agnolo says.

Whatever your business, complete tasks pushed to the bottom of the to-do list throughout the year.

“While doing your inventory, deep clean and organize. Toss out what doesn’t matter and get files ready for your accountant,” she adds.

Need more ideas? Check out how PETS+ Brain Squad members make the most of the post holiday period.

Offer Freebies and Discounts

In addition to marking treats BOGO, Nancy Okun of Dogs and Cats in Port Charlotte, FL, gives customers something sweet or meaty for their pet.

“We offer a free frozen yogurt and biscuits. Even if the customer doesn’t bring their dog to the store, we will give them a doggy bag,” she says. “If a cat owner, they get a free can of cat food, just to try something new.”

Angela Pantalone combines freebies and discounts at Wag Central in Stratford, CT.

“January is when tons of bills are due, and cash flow is important,” Pantalone says. “We have scheduled discounts on daycare and grooming packages, freebie trials and spa services for our pup clientele to keep them coming in the door.”

Wag Central in Stratford, CT, offers freebies and discounts to keep cash flowing in January. PHOTO BY LISA GARCIA

Promote With the New Year

Humans adapt healthier habits in the new year, and so can pets. Stacy Busch of Busch Pet Products in Cape Girardeau, MO, offers the opportunity for exactly that as well as for savings.

“We do a trade in promotion called new year, new food,” Busch says. “If a customer or non-customer isn’t feeding anything from us, all they have to do is bring in a bag of their food and let us find something better. They will get 15 percent off the first bag and 10 percent off the next two bags if they stick with it for three months. We guarantee better coat and skin, more energy and overall improved health. We’ve gotten some lasting customers with the promo!”

Busch also has a “Least Wanted” ingredients poster created to help promote the event.

January promotions at Fur Baby Boutique in Milford, DE, also encourage positive changes for pets. Sherry Shupe says, “We focus on New Year’s goals and starting out the new year with a better diet, more exercise (daycare) and a spa makeover!”


Deep Clean

Thanks to below zero temps in the Minneapolis area, business at Bubbly Paws dog washes slows in January. Keith and Patrycia Miller use the time to deep clean and freshen up their four locations.

“We pull out our drying channels and do a good cleaning behind them. Same with all of our back room shelves. Basically, it’s a great time to move things out into our public area, knowing that not many people will see the mess,” Miller says.

“We also power scrub all of the flooring (we do this about three times a year), but the one in January is always the best because you can really go to town with the scrubber and not worry about getting in people’s way or having our staff do it before/after store hours.”

Shutting a location down for maintenance projects, such as installing a new water heater, can happen in January without significant impact to the business.

“Our water had to be turned off for seven hours to change some plumbing around. When you are in the business of selling water, this is never a good thing. We just kept hoping the older water heater would make it through the holidays, and it did. Then we closed for a day to install the new one!”


Give Bounce-Back Coupons

When customers spend $25 or more at Purrfect Bark Market in Columbus, NC, during November or December, Eric Mack gives them a coupon for $10 off in January or February.

“It helps bring some back, but it’s also a reward for those who are our top customers,“ he says.

Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos in San Antonio, TX, handed out $10 bounce-back coupons on Small Business Saturday in 2017, redeemable in January 2018.

“We had a ton of them come back to us, and customers loved them,” she says.

Red and pink toys and treats take over Miss Doolittle’s in January.

Celebrate the Next Holiday

Cory Giles of The General Store in Collinsville, IL, turns to wild bird seed and feeders to keep sales from dipping.

“Typically we have cold and snowy weather in January, which not only helps wild bird sales, but also provides the inspiration for topical social media posts,” Giles says. “Wild bird content is popular, and informative posts are even more popular.“

He shares videos on the store’s Facebook page that show off products and include tips for keeping wild visitors well fed. Giles posts about National Bird Day on January 5 and even Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21, as squirrel feeders and food also are available. He always keeps social media content fresh.

“For instance, instead of reusing the same post about the frequent feeder program our wild bird seed vendor offers, I periodically post about it in the context of updating how many free feeders we have given away so far.“

At Miss Doolittle‘s Pet Spa and Boutique in Pottsville, PA, Valentine’s Day decorations go up in mid-January. Missie Mattei merchandises themed treats, toys and accessories, and offers a deluxe grooming package with a champagne and strawberries theme.

“It really helps keep the flow going at a time when it usually slows down,“ she says.


Take A Vacation

Stephanie Rossini of Giggy Bites Bakery & Marketplace in Chadds Ford, PA, seizes the slowdown as an opportunity to get away. “We plan our vacation for the first week of January because we have found good travel deals and it gives us the opportunity to recharge after the craziness of the fourth quarter in retail.”

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Cover Stories

Pet Pros Share Their Expertise, Helping You Learn How To Do … Everything!

Our guide to apprehending bad fish, displaying more dog food than you have room for, triaging a sick bird, fixing a freezer, and most things in between




WE RECENTLY ASKED members of the PETS+ Brain Squad to share standout skills. Their responses, rounded up here, impressed us! We learned a lot, and laughed out loud more than once. Guest stars also make an appearance — check out Lucky Dog host Brandon McMillan and Cat Canopy Rescue’s Shawn Sears — to offer their expertise on additional topics. To take part in future stories like these, join our Brain Squad at We want your knowledge as part of the collective PETS+ readership!


ShaWn Sears | Cat Canopy Rescue, Woodinville, WA

Arborist Shawn Sears co-founded Cat Canopy Rescue to help kitties who climb too high in western Washington. In other areas of the country, pet business owners can advise customers with stuck pets by passing along his tried and true tips:

  • Give the cat 24 hours to come down — “They need to climb down backwards. Some can figure it out.” Sears discourages setting out food as encouragement. It can attract other animals, which will make up in the tree seem safer than down on the ground.
  • Don’t call the fire department — “It’s rare that they will come out and help. Dispatch doesn’t generally respond to a cat stuck in a tree.”
  • Do call an arborist if the cat has climbed higher than 20 feet — These professional climbers can safely reach such heights and offer the best possible outcome.
  • DIY up to 20 feet — Most extension ladders measure between 18 and 25 feet, allowing for pet parents to safely climb and attempt a rescue at this height. Simply scoop up the cat if near the trunk. Use a pushbroom to nudge the cat toward you if farther along a branch. Pro tip: Wear rubber-palmed gardening gloves for grip and protection.



Kirstin Morrison | Six Figure Pet Business Academy

Difficult clients often cost more money than they bring into a business. Business coach Kristin Morrison recommends firing those who do.

“Letting  challenging  clients go frees up  your time, your energy and creates space to take on an ideal client. It’s worth it.”

Here’s how to have the dreaded but necessary conversation:

  1. It’s always best to “break up” over the phone, rather than in email or text, and start the conversation with honest appreciation.
  2. Be firm, but compassionate.
  3. Try to sound breezy and light, even when not feeling that way.
  4. Don’t blame.
  5. Keep the conversation brief.
  6. Be professional.
  7. Offer a positive affirmation about your experience with the client. Something like “I really enjoyed working with your pets” can be a truthful, simple way to end the call. (Leave out the part about the humans being challenging!) Leave people better than when you found them.



Spencer Williams | West Paw Design, Bozeman, MT

In his role as CEO of West Paw Design, Spencer Williams has created more than a few pet toys. He believes all products should solve a problem or enhance the relationship between a person and their dog or cat.

“If it’s doing one of those things, it’s going to be a great toy.”

Williams recommends that budding designers do the following:

  • Draw the toy and share it with as many people as possible to get feedback. Also consider how it would fit into a product line or retail brand.
  • Finalize design and 3-D-print the prototype — “3-D printing is really cost effective now and widely available. In Bozeman, MT, our public library has a 3-D printer.” If you don’t want to invest in and/or learn the required software, outsource to an expert.



Kris MinklE | The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

Marketing director Kris Minkle knows how to get maximum merchandising from minimal dollars. This sports-themed set began as part of a display she made for pet beds and other items.

A bed sheet from a discount store represents the sky. Minkle painted hundreds of dots on butcher paper to create the blurry stadium crowd. White tape and an inexpensive fleece serve as the football field, with PVC pipe and fittings making up the uprights.

“The display was a smashing success, and we sold out of our first order of beds. It probably cost less than $10 and took an afternoon to put together. I then recycled the painted background and used it as a photo backdrop for our grooming dogs!”



Sal Salafia | Exotic Pet Birds, Rochester, NY

Customers think of pet business owners as all-around animal experts. They regularly ask for information and advice — and for help during emergencies. Sal Salafia provided the latter on a recent Friday night.

“A client brought in a young budgie who was losing energy. With all of the avian vets in town closed, she turned to us out of fear that her bird would not make it through the weekend.”

Salafia raises a variety of birds and does so with regular veterinary guidance. His store has several incubators, so he placed the bird, named Ozzy, inside one to raise and maintain his temp.

“You do this because birds can lose energy critical to their survival when in a weakened state.”

Salafia then slowly fed Ozzy a mixture of Pedialyte and Kaytee Exact Hand Feeding Formula through a syringe to ensure he didn’t dehydrate in the raised heat.

“I allowed him to rest for about an hour. Upon the second check-in, he was bouncing around with an unbelievable amount of energy and eating millet.”

For pet store owners who do not raise birds but do sell bird supplies, Salafia recommends being prepared for such a situation: Learn how to hand-feed birds and have available an incubator and an avian vet who will take an after-hours call.



Nancy Hassel | American Pet Professionals

A positive mention of your business on TV or in a newspaper or magazine can give it a significant boost. But how do you get the press to even open the emails you send? Nail the subject line, Nancy Hassel says. That means grabbing their attention and getting right to the point. “Journalists are crushed for time and usually on deadline. Be respectful of that and think about what makes you open an email.”

Hassel wrote this one for APP client Harbor Pet: Media alert! North Fork Dock Diving Pet Expo & Fundraiser May 20-21, 2017. It resulted in 36 press mentions, including camera crews and reporters covering the event.

Hassel also advises not to use tactics like “Re:” when there was no initial contact. Your email may land in the trash — or worse, marked as spam.



Laura LaCongo | Notorious D.O.G., Clarence, NY

When merchandising in her store, Laura LaCongo utilizes space up to the ceiling. This display features a variety of creatures, on land and in the sea.

“Fluff and Tuff fish hang from the ceiling as if they are swimming.”

LaCongo recommends staying within weight guidelines when using ceiling clips to hang products. For this display, she used clips suitable for up to 12 pounds.


Kelly Catlett | Waggs 2 Whiskers, Bagdad, KY

Not all pets connect quickly with a new sitter. When that happens, Kelly Catlett pulls from her bag of trust-building tricks.

She tosses treats into the crates of scared, barking pups. This serves as a distraction and allows her to open the door and move away. Catlett keeps a children’s book handy and reads aloud to draw in aloof kitties. She also finds that talking to pets as she goes about other business in the home works.

“That gives the pets a chance to get used to my movements, my sounds, my voice. Remember that we are on their turf. It’s their home, and they are always so protective of it. Even though I have already met them at our meet and greet, I’m still careful to not assume they remember me and have accepted me as their caregiver.”



Cory Giles | The General Store, Collinsville, IL

Cory Giles has embraced Facebook Live as a way to promote products new to his store. Dozens of videos feature everything from dog treats and chews to cat toys and litter boxes. Items that require demonstration, such as a litter box, show best in video, he says.

“There are no tools that compare for pure product demo. Think about how much less effective a traditional text and picture post would be.”

Giles recommends the following when promoting a product on Facebook Live: State how it will solve a problem, and anticipate and address any objections. He also recommends using page insights to decide when to go live and for how long, based on previous viewer engagement. His pro tip: Check out the Switcher Go and Ripl apps for inserting graphics and video.


Jane Donley | Dog Beach Dog Wash, San Diego, CA

Dogs love to roll in anything stinky and/or sticky. In the case of tree sap, Jane Donley has a tried-and-true removal method.

“Out comes the spray bottle of De-Solv-it, an eco-friendly organic product containing a citrus solution safe for skin and hair.”

She sprays it on the dog’s coat, preferably dry, then waits a few minutes for it to penetrate the sap. Paper towels wipe the sap away, and then the dog gets shampooed and rinsed well.



Toni Shelaske says, “Stripe it.” Instead of stacking food from the same brand by protein, alternate proteins within the same stack. She says manufacturers have even begu n adding product info to bag bottoms for this very purpose.

“Striping allows us to offer customers a wider selection while saving space on the sales floor.”



Nancy Okun | Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

Nancy Okun learned a valuable lesson from last year’s Easter Bunny photo fundraiser: Do not use fake grass on the set.

“A little one pooped on the grass. Not to worry. It was hard enough to pick up with a poop bag. A fairly large dog peed on the grass. Soaked that up with paper towels, sprayed Fizzion and thought all was well. Nope.

“Within the next 40 minutes, and we book every five minutes for pictures, we spent more time cleaning up poop and pee than taking pix. By the end, we couldn’t get the grass clean. The smell was so strong we had to leave the room to catch our breath. The bunny had to toss his sneakers in the garbage along with the fake grass.”

Okun solved the problem in 2018 by swapping the fake grass for a sheet, keeping the Easter Bunny’s “lawn” from too closely resembling a doggie bathroom.



Candace D’Agnolo | Pet Boss Nation

The business coach regularly points out to clients that they own a store — not a museum! That means moving older inventory.

“Mark items older than three months 20 to 25 percent off, and items older than six months 35 to 50 percent off. Get an influx of shoppers twice with one sale by kicking it off on a Friday; on the following Thursday, take significant additional markdowns on stuff that’s older than six months. Refresh the displays as you go, ensuring they always look the best they can. Promoting the additional markdowns will bring shoppers back who love a deal.”



Rachel Phelps |

When Preston the Westie became an internet-famous blogger, local TV stations began asking his human Rachel Phelps if they could appear in pet-centric segments.

“After a very painful first interview, where luckily the camera focused on how cute Preston was instead of his rambling mom, I knew I need to get help ASAP.”

Phelps joined Toastmasters, the nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

“My club meetings gave me a safe place among supportive people to practice speeches for events, conduct mock interviews, and even how to lead a press conference. I also received constructive feedback from other members and tips on how to improve.”

She recommends that all business owners join Toastmasters or a similar org.

“The way we are perceived is so important for first impressions. If we come across as confident when we speak, then people will take us more seriously and are more likely to work with us on projects or partnerships. Plus, the media loves to put people on camera who make a good impression and feel comfortable in front of the lens.”



Robert H. Smith | Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, Selden, NY

Before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Jungle Bob’s offered exotics boarding as a courtesy to its customers. The natural disaster changed the store’s approach.

“We never lost power and suddenly had 65 extra cages of other people’s animals,” Robert H. Smith — aka Jungle Bob — says. “It was a major emergency, as people lost their homes during that storm.”

It didn’t feel right charging for the service, but the tip jar overflowed as customers began picking up their pets, some after weeks of boarding. That told Smith that they would pay for the service, especially after the store had showed such generosity in their time of need.



Laura Amiton | The Filling Station Pet Supplies, Tigard, OR

When a power surge took out the lights in two of her store’s freezers, Laura Amiton decided to try a DIY repair with help from the manufacturer.

“They walked me through the first one. I took some pictures so I would make sure to re-attach several switch cords to the same places, and then I did the second one without their help.

“Honestly, I was sweating bullets because the person on the phone made it very clear that the replacement part would blow out if anything was hooked back up again in a wrong order.

“But, it worked out, and I truly did feel like I accomplished something that generally I would have hired out for. I’m sure it saved me the cost of a technician’s time, and if it were to happen again, I feel much more confident that I could fix it myself.”



Kristen Finley | La Bella Puppy Doos, San Antonio, TX

Quicks get clipped. It happens, and then blood begins to seep from the nail. Groomer Kristen Finley prepares for these inevitable — especially with black nails — accidents. She never clips wet nails, as the styptic powder that stops blood flow adheres only to dry nails, and she creates a calming atmosphere in her salon.

“If you are nervous, the dog will be nervous as well, so go slow and be calm when clipping nails.”

Nerves can lead to high blood pressure and stronger blood flow. Finley also cuts nails only during vet office hours in case a dog has an undiagnosed disorder that keeps blood from clotting as it should.



Brandon McMillan, LUCKY DOG on CBS

Dog trainers and owners of daycare and boarding facilities know what to do when a fight breaks out. Because it happens less frequently in retail settings, store owners may be caught off-guard. Lucky Dog host Brandon McMillan shares this don’t and do.

5 Don’t try to grab the dogs by their collars — “The danger zone when a dog is fighting is right near the collar and above. Dogs don’t know what they’re biting if they go into full bite mode. I’ve seen people lose digits that way.”

5 Do make noise — “The best way to break up a fight is with a loud noise.” He recommends shaking pennies in a jar or using compressed air.

McMillan regularly employs noise during training to break a dog’s focus on unwanted behavior. He partnered with Petmate to make his own version of pennies in a jar, the Shake & Break Training Tool. Use one to break up a fight and ensure a sale.



Trish Elliott | Town & Country Pet Resort, Valley Springs, CA

Trish Elliot’s boarding facility sits in the middle of her 160-acre ranch, which also has sheep. Wrangling dogs who just want one more minute — or 10 — in the play yard doesn’t differ too much from moving livestock, she says.

Whether the dog just won’t listen, or hasn’t settled in and fears the unknown, Elliot starts by opening the gates to the play yard and their run. She then makes a big circle to approach the pup from behind.

“That small amount of pressure by approaching will cause them to move away, toward their run.”

It also helps to put a treat on their bed as a reward.



Rachel Diller | The Poodle Shop and Urban Sophisticats, Littleton, CO

Some salons hire groomers as employees. Others bring them on as contractors or simply rent them a booth. No matter the setup, Rachel Diller details it in writing. Among the factors she covers in a contract are who has responsibility for products, equipment, scheduling, pricing, insurance, client retention. Also: payment amount and who handles withholding taxes.

Diller also recommends a thorough set of salon guidelines.

“Clearly define the rules and policies. The space being offered to a worker is your space. You have every right to define how it is utilized and cared for.



Hilary Sloan |

Ella Bean — puppy mill rescue and lover of all things cashmere — has 113,000 followers on Instagram. How did she get so famous? Her human Hilary Sloan made it happen. Here’s how you can do the same:

  • Post clear, clean pictures.
  • Tell a story — “Ella chooses to cuddle up on a cashmere or faux-fur blanket above anything else in the house. She positions herself at the highest point in the room and looks down on everyone. Those quirks inform her luxury diva personality.”
  • Engage with the community — “As people come on your page and like and comment, it’s important to acknowledge that. It’s also important to acknowledge people who are creating content that you really like and respect. Ella’s account is so successful because we’re friends with so many people we’ve met on social media.”



Mike Doan | Odyssey Pets, Dallas, TX

Overnight, a fish can turn into a cannibal that can evade capture. When that happens, Mike Doan reaches for his tiny tackle, then baits the hook with mysis (shrimp-like crustaceans), and drops it in.

“Because the bad fish is also the alpha, he’ll be the first to check out the new food dangling down. Once he takes the bait, tug on the line to set the hook and draw that bad boy out of the tank. Gently, with wet hands covered in StressGuard, remove the hook. With one end of a Q-tip, dab the puncture until dry. Then dip the other end in iodine or mercurochrome and cover the wound.”

Then find that bad boy a new home where he can live … alone.



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Meet 8 Pet Champions With Business Super Powers

These heroic pet pros’ alter egos are anything but underdogs.




At a store in New York, a man stares at shelf after shelf of bags and cans, stressed about choosing the right food for his dog. A cat cowers in her carrier at a grooming salon in Ohio, fearful of what awaits outside the open door. At a home in Maryland, a woman frets over a beloved pet’s health, worried something may be seriously wrong. Who can these mere mortals turn to? Who will help their furry family members? The Super Pet Professionals! These heroes excel at education. They have a calming way with animals. Their instinct and knowledge tell them when it’s time to involve a vet. Some also have a knack for merchandising, an eidetic memory or the ability to be extraordinarily efficient. With these powers, they keep people and pets happy and healthy. Let’s meet eight such champions!

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