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Real Deal

The Case of the Holiday Staffing Hurdle — We Want Your Thoughts

Here’s what readers are saying so far.




IN OUR LATEST REAL DEAL scenario, Ellen feels confident she’s ready for the holidays. She’s especially thankful that her longtime employee Sue ias able to step up and work full-time in December so that Ellen can spend her time doing what she loves most, grooming dogs.

Then she gets a phone call.

“Hi Ellen, it’s Sue. Listen, I’m at the airport, and I don’t have much time to talk, but I won’t be able to make it to work tomorrow. Dad just rang; Mom’s had a stroke, and it’s serious. I hope you can find someone to cover for me because I need to go home.”

Of all the things she imagined going wrong, Sue not showing up for work wasn’t one of them. Ellen doesn’t even know where to start to fix this problem.

Several questions now arise:

  • How can Ellen protect herself from depending too much on individual members of staff in the future?
  • Is Ellen right to let Sue take as much time off as she needs?
  • What should Ellen do to get her business through the next few weeks and the busy holiday season?

We’d love to hear what you think. Check out the full scenario and send us your own response here.


Below is a sampling of the responses we’ve received so far.

Kim L.
Roanoke, VA 

The employer should be reasonably accommodating in order to ensure the prize employee feels secure in their position when their period of family crisis is over. If the employer does not allow the employee to have the time off for this type of crisis, the chances of the employee choosing to leave the company are high. The long-term effects of losing a top sales person will be far more detrimental to the business over the course of what could have been a long and mutually profitable partnership. Sometimes the loss of someone over a short period of time is necessary and it is the responsibility of a small-business owner to prepare for and manage the crisis while respecting the needs of the employees.

Terri E.
Salem, OR 

What a good thing to be thinking about now! I plan to hire a high school student for part-time work now and will get them trained before the holiday season. This person won’t necessarily have the experience needed to work with our customers but can do all the backup work in the store to free up my experienced staff for more customer-facing time. The PT person can clean, straighten, handle recycling all the cardboard, stock shelves, answer the phone and be our runner. I think it’s always good to have a backup employee in mind.

Eric M.
Columbus, NC

It’s just one of those things you need a plan for, and be ready to jump in if and when it does happen. Given it’s the employee’s parents, and not some long-distance relative, I feel OK letting the employee have the time needed to get situated and take care of matters. I would like communication and a possible return date. In my opinion, this is part of small business, flexibility and compassion.

Simple: Ellen and other will need to work some hours to cover.

Karen C.
Delavan, WI

We (I!) also offer grooming/training as well as full line of goods. Always have a few people that are familiar enough with your store to at least run the register and answer phones. In an emergency, any number of people can step up.


Can’t be afraid to ask for help from current and past employees/family in times like this!

Don’t underestimate your clients; if you are honest about the situation, they will be understanding if appointments have to be adjusted.

We have adjusted store hours temporarily, to ensure proper staffing during emergencies.

The employee should take the time she needs without risk of losing her job. Good and loyal help is hard to find, and life happens.

We don’t get stressed about the holidays. We are here for our clients “with bells on.” Our clients appreciate that our customer service, pricing and selection are full-time all year. This makes the unexpected stuff less disastrous.


Read the Full Scenario ➜





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Real Deal

Store Owner Gets Word That a Current Employee Has Filed for Unemployment. How Should She Handle the Situation?

Here is the case of the fraudulent unemployment claim.




KELSEY WAS DRIVING along a snowy country road en route to her third store location to help her manager, Mark, with a big delivery that was coming in. As she sang along with the music in her truck, her phone rang, and she recognized her accountant’s number on caller ID.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at .

“Hey Joe! How are you? I thought we were talking next week?”

“Hey Kelsey,” Joe said. “We are set for our call next week, but I got the unemployment application that came through for John Smith and wanted to know if —”

Kelsey interrupted: “Unemployment papers? What do you mean? He still works for us — he is at the Southtown location right now.”

Before Joe could answer, Kelsey said, “Joe, I am almost at our other store, let me call you back when I get there.” With her mind racing, she could not understand what was happening. This has to be a mistake, Kelsey thought to herself. Who would apply for unemployment while still working?

John had worked part-time for Kelsey for almost two years, and, while he had some issues — being late sometimes and health problems — he still did a good job when he was there. She could not think of a reason why he would do this, although she knew he was on medical assistance. She even drove him to the doctor a few months ago when he had no way to get there.

Kelsey pulled her truck into the parking lot at the Northtown store, and Mark waved to her.

“Morning, Mark,” she said. “Listen, I have to make a call — I will come up front to help you in a few minutes.” She rushed to the office door and immediately dialed Joe.

“Hey Kelsey, so he still works there?” Joe said. “This is bizarre. He apparently applied for unemployment insurance saying that he was terminated a few weeks ago, by you.”

“I mean, I can pull up the cameras right now,” Kelsey said. “He is working — how is this even possible? I pay him by check, he is on our payroll, I certainly did not fire him, and he has only ever worked part-time for us!”

“I am not sure,” Joe said. “I can email everything to you so you can look at it, and obviously will not approve it. Seems crazy — OK, just sent it to you.”

“Thanks, Joe,” Kelsey said. “You are a lifesaver!”

Kelsey reviewed the unemployment application, and, sure enough, John had applied for it. She went on to the website of the unemployment office to try to find a number to call or how to dispute this application. After finally getting someone on the phone, they told her, “You will have to fill out the form and dispute the claim, and since you say they still work for you — write that on the paperwork, as we have no area on the form that says the employee still works for you.”

Kelsey thought it unbelievable that there wasn’t even a box to check off that someone was falsely claiming unemployment.

Kelsey didn’t want to mention anything to Mark since it was a different store. John didn’t work under his authority, but she really needed feedback. So, she called her friend who was a store owner in another town. After explaining what was going on, Kelsey asked her friend, Martha, “I feel so betrayed. I have helped this guy so much — and I can’t get a straight answer from the unemployment office on how to handle this. What would you do?”

The Big Questions

  • How would you approach this situation with the employee falsely claiming unemployment?
  • How have you handled similar unemployment claims as a business owner?
  • How would you deal with the employee in this scenario?
Sheila R.
Arlington, VA

I would just ask the employee directly. In some states, you can file for unemployment if hours were reduced, so it could be totally legitimate. If the employee says it wasn’t him, then together we would call the unemployment office. If it was him, and it is a fraudulent claim, I would fire him and then fight the new claim with all the facts about him trying to file a fraudulent claim.

Doug S.
New City, NY

The employee would be terminated on the spot because filing a false unemployment document is dishonest and illegal.

Marcia C.
Springfield, VA

Contact the unemployment commission and complete its paperwork. If you can get a person on the phone, ask if a fraudulent claim can be grounds for dismissal. If so, fire him! If it’s not, meet with John immediately. You may discover that the unemployment commission made an error. Or, he may confess that he’s filed a fraudulent claim. If there is no error and he did file, you don’t want him as an employee. Change his work assignments to ensure he’s not responsible for money, orders, company credit cards. Take his building key, access to social media accounts, and don’t schedule him for any shifts where he would be alone in your store. And tell him why you’re doing it. He may quit. And no unemployment for him if he quits. Start a performance notes document — customer complaints, poor interactions with staff, late arrivals, unplanned absences. This is your backup if he files again.

Molly T.
Houston, TX

My sister had been laid off from her full-time job. She just helps me on occasion on the weekends when she is available. She has been doing that for at least five years, so I just keep her on payroll. She filed for unemployment due to being laid off from her full-time job. It came down on me as well. I disputed it twice, and they still honored the claim on me. Crazy. I am telling the lady on the phone that she is my sister and still has a job with me and the lady did not care. It was the most bizarre thing. It is the only claim I have ever lost!

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

To handle this, I would approach this situation with the employee falsely claiming unemployment by bringing them in and just giving them a performance review as well as allowing them to have the opportunity to “review” you and the store. This will be proof he works there as well as if he is happy or unhappy. As a previous business owner, I have handled similar unemployment claims and now assist others to help against false claims. To deal with the employee in this scenario, I would not treat him any differently because you don’t want other cases to be bought up against you such as discrimination due to his health or such.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

When a Marketing Consultant Under-Delivers, What’s a Business Owner to Do?

The case of the over-promising marketer.




KATIE JUST OPENED her first business, a dog café, before the holidays, and the reception was better than she expected. But marketing is not her area of expertise, nor has she found the time to do it while running the café. One of her new year’s goals was to hire someone to increase their social presence and email marketing.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at .

Before opening the café one morning, Katie was answering emails, and posting to her Facebook page about the specials at the café that day. An ad popped up for a marketing guru — exactly what she was looking for. She clicked on the ad, and it said they specialize in marketing, social media, email marketing and advertising.

“This is too good to be true,” she thought and she continued to look at their website. It seemed like they had a decent track record of clients. So, she filled out the “contact us” form.

About an hour later, she received a phone call from the founder of the company.

“Hi Katie, this is Ronald Smith with Town B Marketing getting back to you about your email inquiry. Do you have a moment to chat?”

“Wow … um … thank you for getting back to me so quickly,” she said. “I actually don’t have time at the moment — do you want to come to the café to meet?”

Before she could finish Ronald said, “Yes. How is 2 p.m. today?”

She was kind of shocked at how quickly he wanted to meet, but she agreed, as that was a slower time at the café.

Katie really hit it off with Ronald, and she was impressed with his knowledge of marketing and his incredible claims of helping clients get a following on social. Ronald followed up quickly with a contract, for three months of work for $10,000, with a third up front. Katie thought it was high, and she consulted with a good friend Jacqueline, who had her own clothing boutique down the street.

“It looks like a good company based on their clients,” Jacqueline said. “We paid almost the same amount for an independent contractor to do similar work.”

After four weeks of work, and already paying $3,300 up front, Ronald did provide some social posts for her platforms, created an email marketing campaign and was working on a series of Facebook ads. Katie thought the progress would be faster, especially with his supposed track record and how much money she already gave him that she agreed to in the contract.

Katie was frustrated, though, when she noticed that her social posts looked very similar to other posts for other pet care companies. She let out a sigh said to herself, “I told him I wanted to stand out, to be different — not lumped I with every other pet business! Ugh!” And while the café’s Facebook and Instagram pages had growing followings, it didn’t seem any faster than when she was trying to do them herself.

She sent Ronald an email, asking what the status of the Facebook campaign was, and she expressed her disappointment in the social posts and growth.

There was no response for four days from him, and it just seemed filled with excuses. Moreover, at the end, he had the audacity to remind her that the next payment was due on Friday for him to continue working. Flabbergasted, she called Jacqueline for advice, “I am stunned ….

What … how … I signed a binding contract with him. Now I don’t know what to do!”

The Big Questions

  • How would you handle a company that you hired to do a project but was not delivering on what it agreed to in the contract?
  • What would you say to someone who is a new business owner in reference to hiring outside companies?
  • If you have no budget for a lawyer, how would you dispute this situation?
Angela P.
Stratford, CT

Contracts are broken all the time. It could be scary at first for a new business owner to think about defaulting on a contract, but if there’s dissatisfaction with the service and not an acceptable response, then there’s no reason that payments should be made. As owners we cannot do it all, but trusting our gut leads us in the right direction. Katie should remember what made her take the leap into becoming a business owner anyway: guts, bravery and nervousness … not fright! The marketing guy should be afraid of her!
Katie should take the lead and suggest how this could be worked out reasonably without outside interference from legal. She can intelligently negotiate to get what she wants, and she can be unwavering. The marketing guy should want to keep a good reputation and, in doing so, work to please the customer, not his own pocket. I trust that this scenario would in the end work out just fine.

John C.
Bronx, NY

As a leading marketing and sales consultancy, I would offer the following advice for hiring a marketing agency:

1. Sometimes expectations are subjective. Outline expectations and objectives upfront and in writing. Try to negotiate with the company to recoup some of the money paid. No agency wants an unhappy client. Try to negotiate with the agency for future work without pay until expectations are met. Most people are reasonable and don’t want negative feedback.

2. Check references and see examples of work before getting started. It’s always good to get a perspective from an agency’s past and present clients to see how they feel about their work.

3. You can usually find a law student or firm willing to do some small business work pro bono. Sometimes a letter from a lawyer is enough to get a dialogue started.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

To handle a company that you hired to do a project but was not delivering on what was agreed to in the contract, it depends on the wording in the contract. If she specifically stated in the contract that she wanted to “stand out and not be similar to other pet businesses,” she would be able to do something such as hold the next payment until he changes the ads to stand out. Of course, she needs to save the examples of hers and the other ads for proof and reference. I would say to someone who is a new business owner: Ask for references, call those references, do research on the company, verify the sources, and in this case check out his other marketing sites, and she would have seen the similarities. Having no budget for a lawyer, I would dispute this situation by requesting a meeting with Ronald before next payment is paid and try to discuss the situation.

Liz Barnes M.
Lawrenceburg, KY

I would never sign a contract of this nature with out a 90-day money-back guarantee. Pay for 90 days. If things improve by 20 to 30 percent, go with them. If not, time to resume your search.

Jim A.
South Jordan, UT

I am one of those marketing consultants, and this kind of thing embarrasses me, but I see it far too often. To avoid such frustration, you must realize that you are your company’s chief marketing officer, and while you can delegate, you cannot abdicate that responsibility. You must educate yourself on marketing as the primary function of your business — to bring in buyers. You’re going to have to remain involved pretty constantly, especially in the beginning, if for no other reason than to bring your vendors up to speed about your business. If you hire help, you must be both realistic and clear on expectations and particularly on frequency of communication. (I insist on at least weekly meetings with my clients.) There should be a performance “out” in your agreement. If you’re not happy, you should be able to terminate the arrangement, for reasonable cause.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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Real Deal

At a Holiday Photo Event, a Dog Plays Naughty with Santa, 
Putting the Boutique Owners in a Difficult Situation

Read the case of Santa’s dog bite.




A’S PET BOUTIQUE was just coming up on its first year of business, and owner Aaron was excited to be hosting the business’s first Santa Paws photo event — where pet parents could bring in their pets for pictures with Santa. In addition, the store planned hot chocolate and nibbles for the humans, special Santa dog treats and discounts on holiday merchandise. A lot of marketing and pre-promotion were going into the event and seemed to be creating a buzz both online and in the community.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at .

“Hey, it looks like we are up to 115 people who plan on coming to the event, but only about 25 people have actually pre-scheduled their appointments,” said store manager Anita, who has 15 years pet retail experience. “Do you think we should cap it at 50, 25 each day just for the photos?”

“Let’s just let anyone come,” said Aaron, still a relative newbie to the pet space. “If they want to wait or get squeezed into a photo session, let them.”

“OK, but it could get out of control if all those people actually show up,” Anita warned.

“A problem I would love to have,” quipped Aaron as he flashed a big smile. Anita frowned: This weekend could be amazing or a nightmare.

As the Santa Paws weekend drew closer, they were close to 50 paid-for and scheduled photo appointments. They hired a professional to play Santa and a pet photographer to take the photos.


Two hours into the event, everything was going seamlessly, people were having their pets’ photos taken with Santa and sticking around for some holiday cheer while the photos were printed and sent to their phones. As the holiday music played in the background, the sounds of laughter, dogs barking and the cha-ching of the register were music to Aaron’s ears.

This is exactly what he was envisioning when they were planning the event, until suddenly he heard a very loud, “Oooowwwww!” and then the growls and yap of a small dog.

“Your dog … your dog just bit me!” exclaimed Santa to the dog’s parent.

Aaron ran over to see what was happening, and just then Santa pulled off his glove to reveal a punctured bloody hand. There was an audible gasp from people nearby. “Anita, get the first aid kit! Can you guys give us some room?” Aaron then turned to Santa: “Joe, are you OK?”


“Well, no! I was just bit!” Joe said. “I have been doing these gigs a long time, never have been bitten this bad before.”

Aaron handed him paper towels. “Let’s go into the bathroom and wash off your hand to see how bad it is.”

“I am so sorry.She has never done anything like that before!” the dog’s owner said.

Anita asked everyone to be patient, and she would let them know what would be happening the rest of the day soon — but to stay and enjoy themselves.

Aaron, said to Anita, “It doesn’t look that bad — but he is shaken up. Did you get the information from the dog owner?”

“Yes, the dog is up to date on all shots,” Anita said, “and we already have all her contact info from her consent form. I feel terrible for Joe.”

“He doesn’t know if he will stay,” Aaron said. “He may go to urgent care. We have all these people, appointments lined up. If he leaves, to go to the ER or urgent care, I understand completely, but what are we going to do about the rest of the event?”

The Big Questions

  • What would you do without a backup Santa?
  • How would you handle all those pre-paid appointments for photos with Santa?
  • Should the dog owner be responsible for the medical expenses, or the store, or both?
Pattie B.
Charlottesville, VA

We’ve had Santa before — he got piddled on, but never bitten! My ex was Santa, and he left and went home. So I got to be Santa for a day! When we have photo sessions, it’s by appointment in our indoor photo area, or if it’s by drop-in, we have a tent with panels outside the front door. This helps to reduce stress in a crowded situation. If we have outside people come in to help with an in-store event where dogs are welcome, they sign a release. But if there was a bite, we would pay for the medical expenses. Most owners whose dogs bite never really think it’s their fault and take no responsibility for bad training. They’re the ones who would be most likely to complain about the situation online, which takes too much time and effort on my part to diffuse.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

First, never schedule such an event without a backup Santa. Considering they don’t have one, see if the Santa suit will fit the owner or possibly the other employee in the store. To handle all the prepaid appointments for photos with Santa, Aaron could reschedule the appointments or offer a refund. It is an unfortunate circumstance that the dog bit the Santa. However, dogs are dogs. The dog owner she should offer to pay — or at least split — the cost with the store for the responsibility for any medical expenses.

Frank F.
Farmingdale, NJ

We’ve been holding a pictures-with-Santa event for 26 years. (Last year, we had more than 600 dogs have their pictures taken with Santa, with the proceeds going to local rescue groups.) Knock on wood, we’ve never had an incident where Santa was bitten (especially since I’m Santa …). We do not book prepaid appointments for pictures. We have a backup plan for Santa should I get sick/lame/lazy or die! We have a dog trainer/behaviorist on-site during the event to help set up the dogs for their pictures. Last, my business insurance would be on the hook for the liability, since it is a company event.

Debbie K.
St. Augustine, FL

Get an employee to get on the costume and continue on. If not, refund the appointments along with a free bag of food or something else. Unfortunately, the store is responsible. Maybe split the cost with the dog owner if they feel an obligation.

Angela P.
Stratford, CT

The health and safety of Santa is of most importance, so of course he should go to urgent care. I would quickly compose a text or email message to all of the participants: “An overeager elf pup showed Santa his displeasure by giving him a little nip. Santa is OK, but needs to get some first aid. We will be continuing to take photos with our fun backdrop and have Santa’s costume here should you as an owner want to use it with your dog. While we’re sure the photos will still come out cute, if you’d like to reschedule, we will let you know when Santa is available! Thanks for understanding!” Honesty, willingness to still show that the event and store are open and ready for celebration, as well as offering an alternative, will still gain points with customers. Most reasonable people would be fine with this.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

We do free Santa photos every Saturday in December (we suggest a donation to the shelters we sponsor), and it’s my biggest nightmare scenario. One year our Santa who did this for 10 years was ill and went into the hospital after one Saturday. We chose our backup based more on personality than anything else, and it worked just fine. There were people who expected our regular Santa, but they were more concerned about his health than their photo. I would hope that by having a photographer setting this up, that they would have language in their form explaining that there could be an emergency like this and how they would compensate those paying for photos. I would also think they would have a backup plan. The store insurance should cover Santa’s injuries, and our state does hold pet owners responsible for bites.

Greg G.
Cody, WY

Do you have workmans comp? I do on everybody! I would be out of business if I didn’t. Had an employee fall, hurt her shoulder. She had $57,000 in medical bills. Worth every penny to have coverage. No comp? Split the bills between customer and store. Replay video if you have to see what actually happened.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

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