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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

“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.

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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?”

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“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.

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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.

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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 Vendor Doesn’t Like His Booth Location at a Local Pet Festival, Its Organizers Are Left Trying to Calm Him

What would you have done? Here are your answers.

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FOR THE FIFTH YEAR, in a row, Erika and Janelle have hosted the Ruff Ruff Harvest Fest in Minneapolis. At this year’s fest, they were excited to bring in a few new types of vendors. The Fest is normally just pet vendors, but had many inquiries from area businesses that were not pet specific and wanted in on the large crowd the annual fest draws.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

Two days before the event, as Erika and Janelle were finalizing last-minute preparations, Janelle said, “We’re taking a bit of a risk bringing in these vendors that are not pet-related.”

“Well, Carl basically begged us to be part of it — I mean you were there,” Erika laughed. Carl is a well-known fixture in the community with a successful home-remodeling business.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Janelle agreed. “It will be fine — it’s only a few non-pet vendors.”

Saturday morning, 7 a.m., the day of the fest: It was the perfect fall day, cool and crisp, and the sun was shining bright. The majority of the vendors set up the night before, and the early morning gave way to the bustle of tents popping up, people rushing around, and dogs barking with excitement.

At 9:45 a.m., Janelle was walking the grounds and noticed a few vendors still not there or set up. One empty vendor space was a 10-by-20 space at the front, but they just texted her that they were a few minutes away. Local vendors were frantically setting up — knowing they were late — and Carl was one of them who arrived to set up just minutes ago.

The gate to the fest opened at 10 a.m. to a flood of pet parents with their dogs in tow, heading onto the grounds. Janelle was smiling, saying hello to them and greeting each dog. Just then Carl came over and said in a frustrated tone, “No one has come by our booth, or to that area of the fest yet.”

“What do you mean?” Janelle said, puzzled, looking down at her phone, “It is 10 after 10 — the fest just opened?”

“We want to move our location! No one is going to see us where we are!” Carl said loudly, “What about that spot right there?”

Shocked at Carl’s tone and attitude, Janelle said calmly, “Carl, they are on their way, and they paid premium for that space.”

“We would never have been part of this if we knew we were going to be in back!” Carl said.

Janelle tried to walk Carl away from the entrance to avoid making a scene and said, “You asked us to be part of this fest, and you picked the space for your booth. I am not sure why you are so upset — again the fest just started.”

“Yes but that spot in the front is empty! I demand that you give us that space!” Carl nearly shouted. “I am not happy!”

With that, many people had turned and looked to see what the commotion was, and Janelle quietly said, “You need to lower your voice. This is a family friendly event. I will be right back.”

Erika saw Janelle walking over to her rather quickly and said, “What is going on over there?”

“Carl is causing a huge scene,” Janelle said, explaining the problem to Erika. “What should we do?”

The Big Questions

  • What could be done to alleviate the situation so it doesn’t escalate?
  • What should Janelle and Erika say to Carl to maintain a professional working relationship, for the fest and beyond?
  • Is there anything Janelle and Erika could have done to prevent this?
Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

Maps detailing what space each vendor is in, sent out before the event, would stop this before it started. If Carl had a problem, it would be known prior to the event, and the option to not attend would be his. We have all been to events that are not as well organized as we would like; that’s life. Offer to do something during the event to promote those who are there, but maybe didn’t get a good location — a shout out “thank you” over the PA system, etc. Don’t let anyone feel your event isn’t worth doing again next year!

Wendy M.
Emerald Isle, NC

I would use the feel-felt-found method with Carl: “Carl, I understand how you must feel. When I have been a participant of these kind of events, I felt that way too when no one came to my booth, especially after spending time and money to set up. But here is what I have found: Since this is a pet-related event, attendees will go to those booths first. Then they will explore the other options.” I would then give him the option to either stay, and remind him he knew exactly what the event was about and that it would draw in families that may need his service, or to pack up his booth and leave. Under absolutely no circumstances would I allow him to bully his way into the prime spot. If he continued disturbing the peace, I would also remind him that he could either leave peaceably or with the help of local law enforcement — his choice.

Vicki G.
Moline, IL

I would calmly tell Carl that you are sorry he is disappointed, but “As I said before, it is early. People will be coming by as the day progresses. The front space is already reserved and paid for, and the people are on their way.” I might offer a partial refund if at the end of the show, he feels he had no traffic. If he continues to berate you, I would say, “I am sorry, sir, there is nothing I can do.” And walk away.

Karen C.
Delavan, WI

We’ve been to many of these fests and have hosted them as well. We were never guaranteed a particular spot, but as a paid sponsor for many years, we did get great placement. When we hosted, our featured guest — typically a rescue — would get first dibs, and others were free to set up where they chose. These types of scenarios can almost always be avoided by having a clear and concise policy. Whether the space is free or fee-based, have a policy! A great event planner will make sure the flow around an event like this draws people all the way through. Food or interesting demos are great for this. The vendor needs to be a great presence and attract folks to them. I would not hesitate to remove a vendor who threatened the event with the antics described, and I would certainly not invite them back.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

To alleviate the situation so it doesn’t escalate, ask Carl to calm down. Text the vendor who is running late to see if it is possible, because they are late, that another vendor, who is there, have the spot. Then ask them to “sneak” in the back to set up, so not to disturb the front entrance. See what they say. If the vendor agrees, have them switch, and if not, offer a partial refund and a guaranteed entrance spot next event. Janelle and Erika could have prevented this by having a vendor meeting to confirm the times and locations. If vendors are late, then in the contract state that they would be moved to the back of the festival.

Cathy E.
Des Moines, Indianapolis, Kansas City

It’s pretty obvious the event isn’t the problem; Carl is the problem. If he begged to be in the show and selected his location, then he didn’t know how to manage his own expectations. I would say to Carl that he needs to give the crowd a chance to filter throughout. When people attend an event, they walk the entire site, they will get to his booth. But if by noon he is still uncomfortable with his location, then you will revisit it and see if there is another location that will work better. Hopefully, this will give him a chance to settle down, begin interacting with the crowd and rethink his position. Don’t ignore him, check back every couple hours, knowing that something is bothering him that probably has nothing to do with the event. Use phrases like “we want this to work for you” and “your business is important to us.”

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 the Would-Be Manager Resigns and Later Reconsiders, What Should the Store Owners Do?

The case of the waffling quitter…

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JOE AND JESSIE WERE just about to open their third boutique pet store in a bucolic town in upstate New York. Opening day was planned for the busiest weekend of the year: Labor Day, which kicks off the area’s most active season.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

The town becomes chock-full of tourists, there for the pumpkin-picking, vineyards and antiquing. Joe and Jessie’s store happened to be next-door to one of the hippest coffee shops in the pet-friendly town.

Jessie was walking through the store, doing some last-minute decorating, filling end caps with locally made dog treats while humming to herself. Smiling ear to ear, thinking out loud she said, “I can’t believe we did it!” And with that, her phone vibrated with a text. It was from Joe: “Hey, you are not going to believe what I am dealing with right now. Can you call me?”

Jessie immediately called, “Hey, everything OK? What’s going on?”

“So, you are not going to believe this,” Joe said. “Sandra just stopped in to gave me her notice — she is quitting!”

“What — what are you talking about?” Jesse asked, completely perplexed. “Are you sure you didn’t misunderstand?”

“Oh, I am sure, she told me she is taking a job at the market down the street!” Joe said.

“The market? You mean the grocery store? What? Why? We have done so much to accommodate her the last two years!” Jessie was stunned.

Joe and Jessie had invested a great deal of time and energy training Sandra, bringing her to pet industry conferences and trade shows, grooming her to work full-time in the new location. They always made sure that she could set her own hours to be able to take care of her husband while he was undergoing chemotherapy. Now that he was in remission, they were counting on Sandra to manage the new store.

“I am flabbergasted. We are opening in two days, and our Harvest Fest at the Saratoga store is happening in two weeks. She is supposed to work the booth there. What are we going to do?” Jessie said.

After a few days of scrambling to have their grand opening, set up interviews to fill Sandra’s position and also hire another part-timer at the new location. Jessie’s stress was through the roof, when this was supposed to be an exciting time with the new store opening. Sandra did give them four weeks’ notice, to fulfill her obligations. That helped, but still, Jessie and Joe were just so upset by putting so much time and energy into Sandra and always being there for her.

After two weeks, they found one part-timer and had interviews lined up for a full-time manager of the new location. And Jessie received a surprise text.

She immediately texted Joe: “Guess who got wind that we were filling her spot faster than she imagined? And you’re not going to believe this — she just texted me to tell me she thinks she made a mistake, and would we let her keep her job? Unreal! What do you think we should do?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Jessie respond to Sandra’s text?
  • What would be the best solution for Joe and Jessie in this situation?
  • What plans can be put into place when you are left short-staffed
Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

This has actually happened to us. On one hand, you want to keep a good staffer that you have spent time training and are invested in, and on the other, you can’t be sure that they won’t do it again. You need to talk to them to see why they left in the first place. Get to the root of the reason, and you will know if it’s something you can both try to resolve and you can keep a good working relationship, or if you need to leave things as they are. Then see why they want to come back and if it’s something you can accommodate. Being understaffed is hard on everyone, but bringing the wrong person back will make it worse and demoralize the remaining staff.

Amdrea D.
Brooklyn, NY

Depending on who they have found in place of this person, I would not let her come back. People have to suffer consequences for their actions. I guess some communication would have helped, but no matter how good you are to your employees, it’s never enough.

Marcia C.
Springfield, VA

Employers can’t expect staff to stay forever. Especially when the unemployment rate is below 4 percent! If Sandra was a good employee, I’d let her stay on and have her help train the new manager. Then keep her at the original store. It’s easier to keep a trained employee than it is to hire and train a new one. I wouldn’t shoot myself in the foot by letting her go.

Brett F.
Owego, NY

I’d say this: “I’m sorry, but as much as we love you and you have been a great asset to our team, we didn’t expect you to decide to quit and then change your mind. We have filled your old position. We spent a lot of time and money getting you trained and comfortable as a manager of our growing company and enabled you to make a flexible schedule to help your family. You thanked us by taking a position with a grocery store. As much as it pained us, we’ve moved on. If you had communicated with us anything that might have been a concern, we would have been happy to address it at the time. Unfortunately, you chose another path. Amidst having to plan and staff two other stores, a grand opening of our third and a booth at the fair, we were able to fill your spot. It was hectic and stressful, but we did it. Thanks for all your hard work. Good luck in your new endeavor.”

Wendy M.
Emerald Isle, NC

While it would be easy to hire Sandra back since she is familiar with the store operations, if there is a lack of trust, the benefit of rehiring her might be short-lived. Skills can easily be taught to someone who is eager and able to learn. But broken trust can be extremely difficult to reestablish.

Pattie B.
Charlottesville, VA

When an employee chooses to go, they go for a reason. Let them go. If they made a bad choice, maybe that’s a learning experience for both employer and employee.

Diana H.
Rochester, WA

I have experienced a similar situation. My best advice is to not invest all your eggs into one basket. I understand that our choices and finances dictate this; however, for me, it has been a significant financial and time loss. I have had to push back projects six months to a year. Finding qualified and dedicated employees is difficult and takes time. I would put together specific guidelines and requirements if I decided to hire the employee back. These should be in place for all employees.

Michelle P.
Bellevue, WI

I think a sit-down conversation should have happened immediately upon her giving notice to find out why she needed to quit. The fact that she wants to stay says there was a need not met that the grocery could meet — whether it was hours, pay, benefits or some personal reason. I wouldn’t make any decision until a conversation had happened. I certainly wouldn’t let my wounded ego get in the way of the potential to keep a well-trained employee.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

The best solution for Joe and Jessie in this situation is to sit and talk face-to-face with Sandra find out what really is going on and see if they all could come up with a plan in which they all would be satisfied with.

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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