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Tip Sheet

The Best Tips of 2017

Here are our 10 best tips of 2017.

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THERE’S NO QUALITATIVE way to grade tips. What works at one store, may prove ineffective at another. What represents a fresh approach in one market, may be old hat in another. Still, as a publication that prides itself on finding and sharing good ideas, we’d like to think we stumbled across a few nuggets worthy of repeating in a year-end list. And worth trying to implement in the new year.

Here are our 10 best tips of 2017.

Yessify Your Yesses

There is always a better answer than a mere “yes,” says author Dale Dauten, author of The Gifted Boss. He gives the example of asking a number of auto repair shops if they repair Lotuses. Most say “no,” a few say “yes,” but then one says, “Absolutely, we specialize in imports and the shop’s owner drives a Lotus.” Who do you think got the business? So the next time somebody asks you if you carry no-bark collars, find a better answer than just “yes”. 

Serve up a Sandwich

You may have already heard of the concept of giving “sandwich” criticisms to employees. (Short version: Say something nice, make your criticism, end with something nice.) One other thing to watch out for, according to T.J. Schier, author of SEND FLOWERS TO THE LIVING, is using the word “but” as part of the sandwich. That one small word can ruin the taste of the whole sandwich. Instead, use “and,” as in the following example: “Jane, normally you are my best employee, and it’s critical you are here on time so you can do that awesome job of client service. Now get out there and make it happen.”

The WOM Test

There’s no advertising force more powerful than word of mouth. But sometimes it’s awkward asking your customers to spread the good word about your business. Want to identify good candidates? Joe John Duran, author of START IT, SELL IT AND MAKE A MINT tells of a businessman who has a little test. He asks his customers if they know a good restaurant he can take his wife to. They can’t think of one? OK, probably not a good person to ask for referrals. They give you a name? There’s some potential. They tell you a restaurant, tell you to use their name while making the reservation, and check back later to see how much you enjoyed it? This is clearly somebody who feels good about helping people. And a great candidate to spread the word about your business.

List Your To-Don’ts

OK, just about everybody regularly creates “to-do” or “start doing” lists. But Jim Collins, author of Good To Great, wonders whether you have a “stop doing” list. Think of all the harmful, unproductive (or even less productive) behaviors you engage in … and put them on your list. Let your “stop doing” list help you focus on the things you need to do to make your business great.

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Goodbye, Dirty Bills

Nobody really likes old, dirty money. In fact, when researchers at the University of Winnipeg gave students $20 and told them they could buy as much as they wanted from a mock store and save the rest, students given crisp $20 bills spent an average of $3.86, while the “dirty money” students spent $8.35. Researchers believe worn bills generate feelings of dirtiness and contamination in the holder, thereby devaluing them. The takeaway? Take grubby notes out of circulation. Each time a customer uses an old bill to pay you, stick it in a jar for emergency expenses, like the repair bill for a computer that goes down. Don’t return such notes to your customers or use them to pay staff.

Get a Three-Month Review

From Seth Godin’s THE BIG MOO: Do what entrepreneurial hotelier Chip Conley does at his Joie de Vivre hotels. Make it a habit to sit down with your new hires at about the three-month point. But don’t give them a performance review — have them give YOUR operation a performance review. After three months, their eyes are still fresh enough that they’ll be able to see things you’re missing. And they’ll have been on the job long enough to know how things work. Chances are good that they’ll have a few great ideas to contribute, Godin says.

Blogging Made Easy

Can’t figure out where to start blogging? Business blogger Marcus Sheridan, whose relatively small Georgia-based pool and spa company is rated No. 1 in Google for pool manufacturers in his region, can tell you. Says Sheridan: “Start with the questions you get every day. Take those 100 questions, and turn them into 100 blog posts with those questions transformed into the titles.” Even if you only hear the same 10 questions, blog posts answering those will get you started. Aim for one “frequent question answered” post each week, and supplement with posts about new products, events and promotions.

Scout Out New Customers

Contact local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Both organizations have pet care badges/medals to complete. “Recently, we hosted a group of Girl Scouts at our doggie day care where worked with our dog trainer on dog behavior and light dog training,” says Stacy Busch-Heisserer of Busch Pet Products and Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp in Cape Girardeau, MO. Doing so cultivates the next generation of customers, and in the meantime, they bring their parents back.

Too Good to Be True?

Test new advertising mediums with an offer that’s “too good to be true.” Let’s say you plan to spend $5,000 with a radio station. Try spending the first $1,000 this way: Create an ad offering a $75 bag of high-end dog food for only $5 for the first 10 people who come in with the secret code word. Your cost is $500 for the advertisement, and a couple hundred bucks to subsidize your product cost. If 10 people don’t respond to your ad, you’ve likely saved yourself $4,000 on a medium that probably wouldn’t have worked for you. Of course, if they’re lined up 20-deep outside your store, you will certainly be advertising again soon (though probably not with such a jaw-dropping offer).

Speak, Wait, Listen

Just about everybody believes they need to improve their speaking skills. Yet just about nobody wants to do the one thing that can help them improve fastest: to listen to recordings of their voices. Christy Fletcher, a spokesperson for QVC, advises you use this trick: Don’t play the recording back immediately. “You must allow time to separate yourself from whatever you have recorded, so you can be more objective,” she says in a column for eHow. “Record something. Wait a day. Then listen to your voice.”

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Tip Sheet

9 Tips to Ramp Up Sales, Productivity

Follow this simple rule: Reschedule.

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PRODUCTIVITYLeave the Mess for Now

If you typically feel the urge to straighten your desk before you can start on meaningful work, The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman suggests a simple rule: Reschedule. “If your job permits it, schedule a daily deck-clearing hour — but at 4.30 p.m., not 9 a.m.,” he says. “It’s time to abandon the secret pride we procrastinators feel in having completed 25 small tasks by 10 a.m. If they’re not the right tasks, that’s not really something to be proud of.” Instead, Burkeman recommends the timeworn advice to work on your most important project for the first hour of each workday.

NEW HIRESFreedom Must Be Earned

Something to keep in mind for those who are breaking in new employees: It’s easier to give employees autonomy and freedom than it is to take it away. So, clearly state directions and expectations when employees are new to their jobs. Then, let autonomy and flexibility “be an earned right of their performance,” says Bob Nelson in 365 Ways to Manage Better.

HIRINGBrown Bag It

According to a tale in Bob Nelson’s book Please Don’t Do What I Tell You, Do What Needs to Be Done, when an ice-cream store in Texas ran out of job application forms, a quick-thinking employee handed each remaining applicant an empty paper bag with instructions to do something creative with it. This brainstorm forced job-seekers to show their creativity and ability to entertain others, important attributes in the ice-cream business … and pet care.

MANAGEMENTChange Takes Monthly Meetings

How often are you doing performance evaluations with your salespeople? Once a year? Twice a year? Not enough, says George Whalin, author of Retail Success. To truly shape performance requires monthly evaluations. Talk with your salespeople about how they performed versus their goal for the month that passed. The goal of these meetings should always be improving performance, not simply listing the things an associate did right or wrong.

MARKETINGShout It Out from the Curbside

Your biggest sale of the year is here, and you want to be jam-packed with customers. You’ve spent big on ads and done heavy direct mailing. What else can you do? On the day of the sale, hire people to wear sandwich boards promoting the sale. (“50% Off! Today Only!”) Have them stand at major intersections within a mile radius of your store, recommends the Idea Site for Business.

THE YUCKY STUFFDot Plot

Everyone knows cleanliness is good. It indicates attention to detail, professionalism and hygienic conditions. Yet it’s an area most staff tend to take shortcuts. To enforce the deep cleaning habit, John Putzier, author of Get Weird!, suggests a game called Collect the Dots: Place little colored stickers around your store, concentrating on the most obscure corners, nooks and crannies, say, in the dusty reaches of the dry food racks. Any employee who collects a sticker and brings it to you gets points. More points, bigger rewards.

SALESThe Eyes Have It …

Eye contact is important in any kind of sales — and pet-related sales are no exception. Jack Mitchell, author of Hug Your Customers, suggests asking your sales people: “Do you know the color of your top customers’ eyes?” Quiz them on this whenever you feel your sales staff might not be making enough eye contact.

SALES… But Don’t Overdo It

Speaking of eye contact, have you ever wondered how much is too much and how much is too little? Here’s the answer from Keith Ferruzzi, author of Never Eat Alone: “If you maintain an unblinking stare 100 percent of the time, that qualifies as leering. If you keep eye contact less than 70 percent of the time, you’ll seem disinterested and rude. Somewhere in between is the balance you’re looking for.”

ATTITUDEA Mantra for Sales Success

Great sales mantra seen on the website of sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer at gitomer.com. A reader writes that while he is selling to a customer, he keeps telling himself, “I am transferring enthusiasm. I am transferring enthusiasm.”

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Tip Sheet

A New Store Every 3 Months? Here’s How — And 8 Other Tips

Don’t miss: a really easy way to power up sales.

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INSPIRATIONBe an Idea Machine

Write down 10 ideas a day. “Do it for six straight months and see what happens. It actually turns into a super power,” says serial entrepreneur and author James Altucher. To collect his ideas, Altucher buys 1,000 waiter’s pads at a time from restaurant supplies websites (10 cents a pad). “They’re great for meetings because I have to keep concise lists, and they’re always good conversation starters.”

BRAINSTORMINGThe Power of OneNot making any headway with your brainstorming sessions? Go it alone, writes Seth Godin in Free Prize Inside, citing a study that found a team of four people, each brainstorming alone, came up with twice as many ideas as when they tried it together. Best approach? Assign team members to brainstorm alone, then bring everybody together to share — and critique — the ideas generated.

MERCHANDISINGA New Store, Every 3 MonthsIf a customer enters Urban Pooch Canine Life Center in Chicago, IL, after a three-month absence, he finds a completely new store. How? Owner Ed Kaczmarek told a panel at Global Pet Expo that he rearranges the floor every three months, “so customers have to re-experience it.” They also have to ask where items are, which encourages interaction with staff that can lead to more sales.

MESSAGINGYour Bud: RepetitionThere’s a reason infomercials drag on forever: our human weakness for pattern recognition. We’re programmed to think that something we’ve heard repeatedly is more important than something we’ve heard only once. Yet, as a blog at Entrepreneur.com points out, many business owners believe that if someone doesn’t immediately latch onto an idea when it’s said the first time, a different way needs to be found to say it. “If you have a well-honed idea, and you’re simply trying to market it better, get comfortable saying the same thing multiple times,” writes Martin Zwilling. Trust, care, professionalism. There aren’t too many messages you should stray from when it comes to marketing pet services.

SALESNo More Stone FaceNegotiating tip from Selling Power magazine: Forget the stone face. When a customer balks at your price or asks for a discount, go ahead and cringe. The flinch will put your opposition on the defensive and force him or her to try to justify the request or offer a concession. Don’t appear terrified, merely surprised.

EVENTSSell The SizzleA bank in Seattle, WA, lets prospects know about its “hot” loan rates and friendly service by holding a Friday barbecue in the parking lot. The manager cooks the hot dogs and hamburgers, folks come by to talk and eat, and all receive info on the bank’s services. Perhaps you might let your customers know about your “hot” summer deals in a similar manner?

ARITHMETICWhy Didn’t We Learn This in Fifth Grade?If quickly working out percentages, such as a 4 percent discount on a $75 item, trips you up, keep this hack in mind: It’s often easier to flip the sum. So, 75% of $4 — even we got this — is $3! 18% of $50 (50% of $18 = $9), 14% of $300 (300% of $14 = $42) Genius, right?

MARKETINGIn Ads, Paint with Narrow StrokesKeep your advertising focused. Take Coca-Cola, for instance, writes Luke Sullivan in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. The company owns nearly 80 brands of drinks, but they’ve never run an ad for all of them at once. If you feel you have three important things that you absolutely have to say … well, then just buy three ads.

LEADERSHIPManage the MiddleDon’t concentrate too much on the top 10 percent of your performers. They can take care of themselves, says Susan Lucia Annuncio in Contagious Success. And the bottom 10 percent … they will be gone soon, or at least they should be. Instead, spend most of your time and attention on those in the middle, who are already doing some things right but need more instruction and support.

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Tip Sheet

Give the Bad News First, Distribute Swag, Spill Your Coffee During an Interview and 5 More Ingenious Tips

And throw a party!

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TESTIMONIALS

Throw a Party

What month was your business born? Throw a birthday party, and ask your customers to bring “gifts” of testimonials that you can use in your marketing. Including such third-party recommendations on your website and in your ads is one of the best ways to convince others that your store is, indeed, the best place to shop, says Entrepreneur magazine’s Idea Site for Business.

AMIABILITYSmile Right

A smile originates in two places — the mouth and the eyes, says Paul Timm in “50 Powerful Ideas You Can Use to Keep Your Customers.” Give your customers a mouth-only version, and it looks like your smile was pasted on. It’s like saying “Cheese!” for a photographer. But your eyes are the true window to your soul. If you can’t muster a convincing smile, practice in front of a mirror until you get it right.

EMPLOYEESDistribute Swag

Next time you return from a trade show, give all your freebies and product samples away to staff members … with one caveat: They have to review the new products. “This shows that you value their opinion,” says Shawna Schuh, president of Women in the Pet Industry Newtork. It’s a win all around: “They get free products, and they also become experts featured at the store.”

INTERVIEWSTime for Oops!

A good job interview idea from Selling Power magazine is to have a little accident. Tip over a trashcan or spill a cup of coffee on your desk. If the job candidate immediately leaps up to help … well, then they have cleared another hurdle in the interview process.

CREATIVITYOn a Roll? Take a Break Anyway

According to a Columbia University study, the key to taking breaks — meaning to maximize their impact on your creative thinking and to ensure you stay refreshed — is to stop even when you don’t feel like it. “Participants who didn’t step away from a task at regular intervals were more likely to write ‘new’ ideas that were very similar to the last one they had written,” the authors explained in Harvard Business Review. So, “if you’re hesitant to break away because you feel that you’re on a roll, be mindful that it might be a false impression.” The “break” in each case merely involved switching tasks. A change, it seems, really is as good as a rest — so long as you do it on schedule.

MARKETINGUse Sign Language

When you go to a trade show, you ask your vendors what’s new, right? Of course you do. Merchandising consultant Larry B. Johnson says the best way to draw customer interest from regular clients is to put a whiteboard on an easel (total cost: $79) just inside your door with all of your new products written on it.

MANAGEMENTYes, They Want The Bad News First

When you’re delivering good news and bad news to employees, always give the bad news first, says Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Pink acknowledges that many bosses hope to cushion the bad stuff to come. “But that is wrong,” he explained to The Washington Post. “If you ask people what they prefer, four out of five prefer getting the bad news first. The reason has to do with endings. We prefer endings that go up, that have a rising sequence rather than a declining sequence.”

RECRUITINGAdjust Your Expectations

The strong economy, heightened competition for good employees, and societal changes mean the guidelines you used to hire may not be as useful as they once were, says Kate Peterson of consultancy Performance Concepts. “Employment history can’t be interpreted the way it used to be,” she says, noting that workers are much less likely to hold jobs for long periods of time. “Stop tossing applications because the candidate has had five jobs in the past 10 years. It’s the way of the world today.”

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