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Nail one thing in these 30 categories, and your marketing will take off.

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NO SELF-RESPECTING STORY on modern marketing starts without a few staggering statistics. Here are some to ponder:

  • Prior to the availability of smartphones, American consumers accessed the Internet an average of five times a day. Now, one in four Americans reports being online constantly.
  • Forty years ago, we were exposed to about 500 commercial messages a day. Today it’s 5,000, possibly 10,000 if you live in a big urban area and use the internet a lot.
  • A typical grocery shopper spends 21 minutes doing her shopping, during which she buys an average of 18 items out of the 30,000 to 40,000 choices available to her, all while being bombarded by sale signs, commercial jingles, and other moving displays and psychologically tested packaging.

If you’re now feeling like a tiny entity that’s lost its voice after shouting to be heard in a noisy marketplace, you shouldn’t. There’s actually never been a better time to be a small-business owner, at least when it comes to marketing.

Through social media and the ultra-connectedness of consumers, small businesses can foster personal customer relationships that are the envy of bigger companies. It is also easier than ever to leverage your distinctive personality — read: “brand” — to separate yourself from the competition.

And in a world saturated with information, consumers are increasingly turning a deaf ear to the appeals of corporate marketers. Instead, they are putting their faith in the opinions of their fellow shoppers. Word of mouth is the new mass media.

For all the things that change, there are others that stay the same, and in retail, the one great constant is that consumers are powered by emotion.

To help you make the right choice for your business, and in the spirit of our distracted age, we’ve distilled the benefits of the various marketing mediums to just one thing. So, turn off your phone, power down your iPad and focus for the next few minutes.

1. Branding

The one thing to know: As the owner of a retail business, it pays to be accessible (meaning spending time on the sales floor), to be a little larger than life, to be a genuine persona that can be carried through to every part of your marketing. The unique human element is one of the advantages small businesses have over corporations. Discover your uniqueness and parade it around your sales territory. Forget about being benign and fitting in. Forget about saying, How can we help you? Focus on sharing stories and building relationships, says Peter Montoya in A Brand Called You.

One thing to do now: Add some “campfire language” to your website’s About Us page. Most introductory pages are drearily formulaic, telling the buying public what you do but not who you are. Yet in most cases, what you do or offer in the way of services is little different than what the five other pet businesses in your area provide. In contrast, no one else has your story. Share it and start to build emotional connections with the people in your market. In place of those claims to be the best at one thing or another, offer some insights into how you feel about pets, your ties to the community and your non-work interests.

2. Newspapers

The one thing to know: Traditional wisdom said: Advertise in the newspaper. Everyone reads the newspaper. Conventional wisdom says: Newspaper readers are aging rapidly as the young abandon print.  We say: Don’t buy too much into it. If you need to raise awareness of a sale, a relocation or another event, newspaper ads (run frequently before the big day) can still deliver your message. Don’t forget to run a photo.

One thing to do now: Newspapers are willing to bargain more than ever before. Ask for a free banner ad on your local paper’s website when you buy a print ad. That way, you get some insurance that younger readers will be reached while you get to experiment with online advertising.

3. Outdoor

The one thing to know: Billboards reach more people for a dollar than any other media, and they’re geographically targetable, so you can reach specific pockets of your market with them. Their weakness is that they fail to register with regular passing drivers after just a few sightings in the same location, so you need to be able to update the message or move your ad after about a month or so.

One thing to do now: Put more than eight words on a sign, and you’ll be advertising to the passenger seat. Can’t tell your story in eight words? Think again. The image should be telling most of the story anyway. (Oh, and don’t forget your contact info.)

4. Direct Mail

The one thing to know: It’s expensive, and most of it is tossed out. Use it mainly to stay in touch with your best customers.

One thing to do now: A service from the U.S. Post Office — Every Door Direct — allows you to leverage direct mail’s biggest strength, the ability to target geographically, at a reasonable price. The terms: Minimum of 200 standard flat-mail pieces (under 3.3 ounces) to be delivered via a “saturation mailing” to a particular postal route (meaning every household on that route will get your mailer, at a rate of just 14.5 cents per piece.).

5. Marketing

The one thing to know: Those 5,000 other commercial impressions you’re battling with every day? Wit will help you cut through the noise. Examples of guerrilla marketing include Colgate inserting toothbrush-shaped sticks in ice cream with a reminder: “Don’t forget to brush;” the Fitness First health chain setting up a set of scales under a bus stop seat and an accompanying digital sign displaying to all how much the person weighed; and Absolut Vodka sticking what appeared to be plundered boxes of vodka that went round and round on airport baggage carousels. The rise of social media and the chance to get potentially millions of views on YouTube has added to the impact of such stunts.

One thing to do now: While guerrilla marketing has been embraced by big companies (think Red Bull’s outer-atmosphere parachute jump), it has its origins in smaller businesses seeking to generate a buzz on a tight budget. What could you do that’s out of this world … or at least outrageous?

6. Promotions

The one thing to know: Be bold or be ignored. Promotions remain the best way to quickly build excitement and attract people to your store. But … price-driven events don’t keep you top of mind throughout the year. And you run the risk of training your market to wait for discounts.

One thing to do now: Involve your staff in the planning of any sale or promotion. Be clear in your planning on exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve: Do you want to raise cash or promote a brand? Get rid of old merchandise or have an event?

7. Gift Certificates

The one thing to know: The most powerful gift certificates are those that have no minimum purchase requirements. If you’ve got the nerve to do it, offer $25 and watch your customers pour in.

One thing to do now: Are there employers like insurers, banks, hospitals or car dealerships in your area? In the months before the holiday season, approach management with an offer to provide customized gift certificates that could be distributed with payroll checks prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. It will make the bosses, and your sales, look good.

8. Website

The one thing to know: If you don’t have a decent, mobile-friendly website, you do not exist. Marketing tool, e-commerce platform, store catalog, social media portal, first impressions … it’s difficult to overstate how important your website is to your business, and how it is only going to become more significant in the future.

One thing to do now: If your site was designed by a “computer geek” friend or relative, it is probably time to bring in an expert. Opt for a “website developer” over a “designer.”

9. Email Bulletins

The one thing to know: In contrast to a lot of social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), email is a true and tried performer. Recent research has found that 4.25 percent of website visitors from emails turn into customers, while only 0.59 percent of visitors from social media make the conversion. While people show more willingness to be engaged commercially by emails, it doesn’t mean you can get overly promotional. Engagement should come first. Every email you write should be focused on your customer. It should meet their needs or offer something special so they close it feeling happy to have spent the time reading it.

Here are some ways you can make your emails worthwhile, courtesy of Constant Contact:

  • Offer valuable information that will solve one of their challenges
  • Share resources they may not know about
  • Give them a discount code or coupon to use on a purchase
  • Invite them to something exclusive, whether it’s a private page on your website or an event at your location

One thing to do now: Keep a signup sheet on your counter. And your request for a customer’s email address should imply a benefit: “Would you like to receive emails every few weeks about new products and special store events?” Grab people while they are on the premises. That’s when they are excited about your products and services.

10. Co-promotions

The one thing to know: Aim for a partner with similar clientele. It could be a coffee shop, an ice cream store, a yoga studio — even a pet business offering complementary products or services.

One thing to do now: Join your Chamber of Commerce. Whenever there’s small business campaign in the community, you’ll be among the first to know.

11. Word of Mouth

The one thing to know: The secret to generating positive word of mouth is never to promise everything you intend to deliver. The bigger the happy surprise you deliver when your customer comes into contact with you, the stronger the positive word of mouth that will follow.

One thing to do now: Send a thank-you note and gift certificate or discount coupon to referrers. (Of course, you need to make it a habit to ask customers how they found you). Be sure to send monthly emails to these clients with what’s new. If they’ve recommended you to one person, they are likely to recommend you to more.

12. Exterior Signage

The one thing to know: Expensive signage at an intrusively visible business location is often the cheapest advertising your money can buy. In marketing speak “intrusive visibility” refers to a sign’s ability to stand out from its surroundings. Are you in a location with a lot of passing traffic? Does your sign face that direction? It’s surprising how many signs can’t be seen by someone walking up Main Street.

One thing to do now: There is more to exterior signage than hulking billboards atop your store or a huge Duratrans display. A sandwich board out front can reinforce your branding message on a regular basis while building share of mind. Neat handwritten messages in chalk often work the best. The key is to change the message every few days. Give people a reason to look for your sign each day and to come in. You may need to check with your local city council to see what the regulations are, and then get to work.

ONLINE EXTRAs

13. Radio

The one thing to know: It’s the mass media for the small guy who wants to be a household name in his local market. It takes a high-frequency and a long-term commitment, but only a modest budget. According to Wizard of Ads Roy H. Williams, radio advertising offers 14 times the bang for your buck as newspaper advertising when used as a long-term strategy. You just need someone who is good with words and who knows how to script an emotionally engaging story.

One thing to do now: Use your own voice (not the channel’s talent, which everyone has heard and ignores). And make your point quickly. In an age of digital distraction and information overload, people are losing their listening skills. To embrace the new demands and forestall a wandering mind, Williams advises you to:

  1. Talk faster, say more.
  2. Use big ideas, presented tightly.
  3. Introduce a new mental image every three to five seconds.
  4. Use fewer adjectives.
  5. Embrace unpredictable timing and intonation.
  6. Say things plainly. Bluntly, even.
  7. Emotion is good. Even negative emotion.

14. SEO

The one thing to know: If you don’t show up on the first couple of pages of Google’s search engine, you’re not going to be found.  Without some basic search engine optimization, you will languish in the forgotten purgatory that is Google’s back pages.

One thing to do now: In order to perform well in local search results it’s critical that you optimize your Google Local Guides listing. Update the details about your business — always with identical address, phone number, hours info across  — and you’re good to go!

15. Google Ads

The one thing to know: Local pay-per-click works for businesses that are well known. If you’re still trying to build a reputation, try another mass medium to grow awareness first, and focus your website efforts on SEO.

One thing to do now: While Google Ads might not be a good marketing fit for your business, you should still be experimenting with them. Google itself recommends small businesses start with a daily test budget of $10 to $50.

16. Mobile Marketing

The one thing to know: The future of mobile marketing? It arrived yesterday. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re playing catch-up; most of the world’s biggest retailers didn’t see the impact smartphones would have on Internet use either.

One thing to do now: Make sure that what customers are finding accurately represents your business. If you haven’t done so, claim your business on Yelp to help you keep track of what people are saying.

17. SMS Marketing/Coupons

The one thing to know: Coupons work spectacularly well on mobile phones. A report by Chetan Sharma Consulting found that mobile coupons get 10 times more redemptions than traditional coupons.

One thing to do now: The initial ardor surrounding deal sites has cooled, and rightly so — store owners often ended up holding the bag as bargain hunters scooped up heavily discounted goods and never returned. Newer mobile campaign services such as those offered by Constant Contact promise to give the store owner control over the discounts being disbursed.

18. Social Media

The one thing to know: Social media can be an effective and measurable way to attract customers, but it takes a huge investment of time. It is in the words of the technocrati “earned advertising” as opposed to the paid variety. If you don’t enjoy engaging people through mediums like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter you are probably better off directing your energy to more conventional marketing channels.

One thing to do now: Be genuine. Your goal should be to create a first-name dialogue that will result in relationships rather than leads. Have faith those good relationships will turn into sales later.

19. Facebook

The one thing to know: Facebook is not a push medium. The moment you force Facebook engagement, you lose credibility with your audience. Seek to build a reputation as the “go-to person” for pets in your area. Help your customers make better buying decisions, whether it’s advice on nutrition, training a bird to speak or exercising an overweight hamster.

One thing to do now: Hold a Facebook Fan Friday party to reward those loyal customers who like your page. Can’t do that? Offer these “best customers” a special perk like a discount coupon or daily deal through your Facebook page.

20. Blogging

The one thing to know: You know more about pets than just about anyone in your market. Blogs are your platform to show that off while building trust and appreciation for your business. That Google is increasingly demonstrating a preference for “expert” content — content that answers search phrases that start How Do I …? Where can I …? What is the best …? — is a huge added benefit

One thing to do now: Think up the 50 most asked questions you get from customers and create a blog post around each one. When you get done you’ll have enough fresh content for a year.

21. Review sites

The one thing to know: More than 90 percent of consumers now read reviews before making a purchase, and according to one survey, 78 percent of them say they trust peer recommendations over ads.

One thing to do now: Want good online reviews of your business? ASK satisfied customers for them. Most customers will be more than happy to comply. In your pursuit of favorable coverage, aim for at least 10 customers. Stop letting that one disgruntled customer on Yelp! dominate public perceptions of your store.

22. YouTube

The one thing to know: On YouTube, in contrast to just about every other medium, consumers are willing to spend a significantly greater amount of time with brand messaging … as long as it’s entertaining.

One thing to do now: Use your smartphone to collect video of customers giving you real-world, real-time testimonials “in the moment.” Post these testimonials on YouTube and embed them on your website. “You don’t even need to know what you’re doing, says “Wizard of Ads” Roy Williams. “Professional video editors are plentiful and affordable in the cloud,” he says.

23. Magazines

The one thing to know: When you know the type of consumer you want to target with your message (meaning their personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles), magazines are one of the best tools. This kind of targeted exposure means the success of your campaign will be determined by how good your ad is. Downside is that frequency is not great and that rates tend to be high.

One thing to do now: Big brands will use magazine ads to raise awareness or to persuade people to consider their product over another company’s. YOUR ads should encourage readers to come in and buy something.

24. Mobile Billboards

The one thing to know: The answer to that problem of a billboard message becoming quickly invisible to regular passers-by? Wheels. Mobile billboards and transit advertising are an effective alternative in large urban areas where the cost of a prominent billboard can be astronomical.

One thing to do now: Congested traffic is your target. Drivers who are stuck in traffic will most likely notice, read and remember the ads on the back of mobile billboard trucks or buses.

25. Location

The one thing to know: Showrooming, social media engagement, geotargeting … for all the upheaval in retailing, some rules remain inviolable, including the granddaddy of them all — it’s about location, location, location. A high-visibility location is usually the cheapest advertising you can buy for a retail business, especially in current times, with escalating media costs and the public showing an increasing resistance to ads. “Your location tells the public what you believe about your company in your heart,” says “Wizard of Ads” Roy Williams.

One thing to do now: Move to where the action is. Take your lead from Home Depot, Starbucks and the other big boys who have already done the research. If you’ve fallen for a cheap location and are paying thousands more in marketing than in rent, you might consider putting that cash toward a better location, somewhere people can’t miss you as they drive by.

26. Public Relations

The one thing to know: Journalists will rarely read past the first 25 words of a press release. It’s why many PR companies are shifting to Twitter to disseminate their news. Make it easy for them as a source. Pitch story ideas, get to know and be available if a reporter calls. In a world where consumers are skeptical about most of the information they see about a business, mentions in the local newspaper boost credibility, influence brand identity and your Google ranking. It’s worth it.

One thing to do now: Think like a newspaper editor. That means, what is it that will make a reader utter those golden words, “Huh, how about that?” This could be a trend in pet-gift-giving at the holidays to something unique and out of the ordinary.

27. Events

The one thing to know: Whether it’s a birthday party, a dog-training seminar or another themed event, the single thing that will determine its success more than any other is a follow-up phone call to the initial invitation. This is about giving people a FUN, possibly educational human experience that they can only get from a small retailer. Your regular customers will likely be put out if you DON’T call them.

One thing to do now: Use the “50 percent rule” to determine how many customers you will need to achieve your sales goal. It goes like this: 50 percent of those clients who express interest will say they will be there; 50 percent of those who do actually will show up; and 50 percent of those who show up will buy something.

28. Loyalty

The one thing to know: Consumers today expect to be rewarded for their loyalty. And there are a lot ways to do that, from incentive operators to a simple program you manage yourself that disburses rewards at your discretion.

One thing to do now: In your mind, you may already be aware of who your best customers are — the people who attend your events, open your emails, engage you on social media, refer other shoppers to you, and who account for a disproportionate share of your sales. Reward these customers for their loyalty by putting them on an exclusive list. Planning a sale or event? Rolling out new products or services? Let them know first by scheduling a special email a few days before notifying everyone else.

29. Yellow Pages

The one thing to know: The Yellow Pages were where people used to go to find a service provider (in contrast to newspapers and magazines, where’d they look for products). The operative words: “used to.” Now, they go to Google.

One thing to do now: Put your ad dollars elsewhere. It’s time to move on.

30. Cause Marketing

The one thing to know: People like to support and spend money with businesses that share the same values and support the same causes. Your community links are an advantage over the majors. Play it up.

One thing to do now: You don’t have to always donate products, your time or energy to community causes (but obviously it’s a good thing to be seen to be doing good). Blogs and other social media channels offer you the chance to express your support and show off your values. If there’s a particular cause your business supports or whose values you stand with, remind your audience. Just stay clear of politics.

Chris Burslem is the group managing editor of SmartWork Media.

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Cover Stories

One-Minute Mentors

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Each of our america’s coolest stores contest winners has a mentor at its helm. These leaders advise and inspire their employees, and they do the same for fellow pet business owners through our interviews with them.

But who are their mentors?

We asked winners to tell us about a person, company, industry or previous career that has help guide them to where they are today.

 

MIKE DOAN

ODYSSEY PETS, DALLAS, TX

When Mike Doan opened Odyssey Pets with wife Sherry Redwine, he was sure to manage differently than he had been managed in the past.

“When I was young, I worked in a pet store and recall explaining to a customer all the features and details about a specific filter. I convinced him to purchase the more expensive one for quality assurance.

“Later that day, I overheard the owner of the store telling someone that I was a really good salesman and they should keep me on the floor up front, rather than in the back cleaning cages. It always bothered me that they never told me.

“I’ve realized since then that sales environments can be competitive. Competition on the sales floor can often breed contempt among the staff. This contempt does not foster a team environment. So now, when I see someone who expresses a certain quality, I make sure to tell them they are good at it in order to let them know they are valued, instead of just capitalizing on their skill and keeping them in the dark.

“A team that supports each other achieves a much higher level of success than one that has everyone in it for themselves.”

AIMEE GILBREATH

MICHELSON FOUND ANIMALS ADOPT & SHOP, CULVER CITY, CA

“I learned the ‘15-minute rule’ in my consulting job years ago. The concept is that if you have been struggling with something for 15 minutes without making any progress and you don’t have any idea what to do next, then it is time to ask for help. Too often we feel like we should be able to handle anything in our job role independently, and we get embarrassed at the idea of asking for help. The 15-minute rule keeps me from getting stuck in a loop of frustration and reminds me that I have a network of colleagues who would be happy to support me (as I would them).”

ROBERT H. SMITH

JUNGLE BOB’S REPTILE WORLD, SELDEN, NY

Before opening Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, Robert H. Smith founded and ran a company that sold and serviced computer systems for the banking industry.

“This arena required skilled workers with impeccable credentials. Surety bonds, background checks, and clean records and driver’s licenses were mandatory. Our employees handled large amounts of cash, servicing ATMs and teller machines behind the bank line. Honesty and integrity was in their DNA.

“I have applied these same principles to all who work here. Although we don’t require staff to be bonded and insured, we certainly aim high when hiring and demand that no one ever lies to a customer or even guesses! When asked a question they may not know the answer to, they are instructed to ask management. Animals’ lives are at stake, and a healthy animal is the goal to ensure a happy customer and a great pet experience.

“For me this is every bit as important as a pile of cash was back then. So the lessons learned years ago are applicable at Jungle Bob’s. Even in a business that sells snakes, tarantulas and cockroaches, you have to maintain your integrity to succeed in the long term.”

FRANK FRATTINI

THE HUNGRY PUPPY, FARMINGDALE, NJ

Frank Frattini credits his father, a former Marine, with instilling in him the importance of perseverance.

“As you can imagine, quitting or giving up is not part of our DNA. This proved especially valuable when we first went into the business back in the ’80s, when there were virtually no models of pet stores that did not sell pets. At the time, more than a few friends and family members thought I was more than a little ‘off’ for leaving a prestigious position as a bank official for a major money center bank to sell dog food.”

The trait also helped him develop the store’s popular delivery program.

“In addition, back in the ’80s, the concept of delivering dog food and supplies to people’s homes was, to say the least, a bit ahead of its time. It took a lot of perseverance to get people to embrace the concept. I like to think that we were Chewy before Chewy, the primary difference being that our model makes money.”

PATTIE BODEN

ANIMAL CONNECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Pattie Boden points to friend and mentor Shayne Jackson as the source of a most helpful bit of business advice. The owner of a successful masonry company, Jackson also has a working cattle ranch where he teaches horsemanship.

He told her to “Do less sooner … then do less than less.” She explains:

“Many people don’t give their business associates the opportunity to ‘try.’ We give them direction or a list of things to do, and then never allow them to fulfill those obligations without nagging or micromanaging.

“Make sure your directions are clear and consistent every single time, so there is no question about what is expected. If they need redirection, that’s fine, but get in and get out and go on with it.

“I have found that when I set people up to succeed and recognize a ‘try,’ that things fall into place almost seamlessly. Rewarding the slightest try isn’t like giving everyone a blue ribbon or saying good job just for showing up. It’s knowing that your people understand what you are asking and respect you enough to follow through to the best of their ability.”

ELLYN SUGA

SHOP DOG BOUTIQUE, SIOUX FALLS, SD

Ellyn Suga finds inspiration and guidance from Donald Miller, owner of StoryBrand, which helps businesses clarify their message.

“I attended a workshop with Miller in Nashville. He shows business owners how we’re simply here to help solve our customers’ problems. We must be able to empathize with them, but use our command and knowledge of the industry to show our authority.”

KEITH MILLER

BUBBLY PAWS, MINNEAPOLIS, MN

Before opening Bubbly Paws, Keith Miller worked in the radio industry for 10 years. It taught him to pay attention to the little details in order to provide great customer service.

“While working at a station in Minneapolis, Bob Guiney from THE BACHELOR was in town a few times. The first time, he made the effort to go around the room to get to know everyone and what they did. Three weeks later, he was back in town and came to the station, and started talking to me like he personally knew me!

“I work hard to get to know each customer who comes in, and really try to remember them the next time. Anyone can build a dog wash, but the one thing that really makes Bubbly Paws unique is the customer experience and how we try to treat everyone like an extended member of our family!”

TANIA ISENSTEIN

CAMP CANINE, NEW YORK, NY

Tania Isenstein spent 17 years as a lawyer for Goldman Sachs before switching gears to buy Camp Canine.

“The company focused heavily on its business principles,” she says. “The first one states: ‘Our clients’ interests always come first. Our experience shows that if we serve our clients well, our own success will follow.’ That principle expressed what I already believed going into the firm, but it also became a way of life for me. The leadership team here at Camp Canine and I ingrain this into every new employee and live it daily. As at Goldman Sachs, it has proven successful.”

LEEL MICHELLE

BOW WOW BEAUTY SHOPPE, SAN DIEGO, CA

Her many years in corporate fashion retail taught Leel Michelle to place a high value on her employees.

“They can make or break your day and your brand. Treat employees like family and be respectful of them and their time, and you’ll always have their respect. Working in corporate retail, we learn the importance of continuing education on how to be good managers, store merchandising, branding and customer service. These are all key ingredients to business success.”

TRACE MENCHACA

FLYING M FEED CO., HOUSTON, TX

Years at The Container Store taught Trace Menchaca that “in retail, everything matters. Your warehouse must be as perfect as the sales floor. Everything is done with intent and purpose. Everything is done a specific way. Creating an outstanding customer experience is critical. And creating an amazing culture for employees is crucial.”

DEBBIE BROOKHAM

FURRY FRIENDS INC., COLORADO SPRINGS, CO

Bob and Susan Negan of Whizbang Retailers help guide Debbie Brookham. They have taught her many lessons over the years.

“I think one of the most important was not to put a rule in place because of one bad customer. When you get burned in retail, and it happens to all of us, our defenses go up to make up store rules. The lesson is to stop and think how customer-friendly that might be for the rest of your good clients? Take a breath and re-think that strategy.”

PATRICK DONSTON

ABSOLUTELY FISH, CLIFTON, NJ

Patrick Donston subscribes to business author Jim Collins’ concept of Level 5 Leadership.

“I attended a conference and was profoundly inspired to become a Level 5 Leader. Ardent managers who instill passion in the workforce are the fuel for every good business. When you walk into a store that has this kind of passion, it’s palpable. As a customer, you definitely notice a difference. I learned the key to igniting our message is to communicate throughout the organization a clear understanding of what we are ultimately fighting for.

“Level 5 Leaders are built to make a difference. They are leaders of great purpose who act as stewards of the purpose. They bring their vision to life in meaningful ways to the marketplace. People follow them because of who they are and what they stand for.

“I’ve learned that simple concepts are better than convoluted solutions and ‘that people are not necessarily your most important asset, the right people are.’ I knew right then what I needed to work on in hopes of being a better leader and build a more meaningful organization.”

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Cover Stories

Lab Work

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You indies are all about experimentation. After all, no corporate overlord exists to dictate which products you sell or how you merchandise them. Or which processes you put in place. Or how you manage staff or market your brand. You have the freedom to be bold, to see for yourself what works and what does not. With that in mind, we asked the PETS+ Brain Squad to share experiments that have proven successful for their businesses. Try one, two or even all 20!

EXPERIMENT

Provide free 10-minute training session to daycare dog.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Lisa Cane, Wags Doggie Day Care and Training, Wenham, MA

HOW-TO: Choose team member to customize mini-training session for the dog. Work on sit or come, or address unwanted behavior. Repeat daily with different pups.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Helps new dogs integrate more quickly into pack. Impresses pet parents and encourages future visits. Gives staff opportunity to grow. “Hands-on practice is the best way for them to improve their dog handling and training skills,” Cane says. “We are professionals, and I want us to stand out from the increasingly crowded daycare market by offering added value to our customers.”

EXPERIMENT

Create a Facebook Live series.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Jeff Jensen and Matt Braselton, Four Muddy Paws, St. Louis, MO

HOW-TO: Decide on topic and repeat weekly or monthly. The co-owners do “In the Kitchen With Four Muddy Paws,” which features interviews with brand partners about their food and general pet nutrition.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: The setting, their home kitchen, personalizes the business. Facebook Live videos have better organic reach than regular. Series promotes higher-quality products. Jensen says, “Our ‘In the Kitchen’ videos have helped to share more about why moving toward a more natural diet is important and various ways [customers] can incorporate products for a nutritional boost, even if they’re not quite ready to change their diet.”

EXPERIMENT

Thank employees and customers for their support.

LEAD SCIENTIST: James Henline, Asheville Pet Supply, Asheville, NC
HOW-TO: Hand out gift cards and praise during staff meeting. Thank customers via video on social media.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Higher employee morale. “I gave each staff member a $10 gift card to a local coffee shop. I emphasized their importance to the success of our business, as they are the ones who handle our customers every day. After the meeting, I actually had employees in tears because I said that I cared about them. I’ve had some volunteer to come in when the store was extra-busy or ask if I needed them to stay late to help out. They were just really happy to know that someone recognized the work that they were putting in and appreciated them.” Increased sales. “I posted [the video] on Thanksgiving day, and we had our biggest Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ever. Since then, our daily sales have increased and the store is noticeably busier. I still have people coming in and telling me how much they appreciated what I said and for us being here for them.”

EXPERIMENT

Group chat with staff.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Missie Mattei, Miss Doolittles Pet Spa & Boutique, Pottsville, PA

HOW-TO: Send need-to-knows and praise. Encourage the same from employees, as well as messages just for fun.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved communication and employee morale. Mattei says of their Facebook group chats, “At work, we are often too busy, or work different schedules, to share important or uplifting messages. This is an easy way to pass info. We’ve had a couple of people who came from difficult work environments, and this has helped us be inclusive, admit our faults, congratulate our achievements, share ideas, and find humor in each other. Everyone seems to like the easy interchanges, but if they don’t want to take part, that’s OK too.”

EXPERIMENT

Discount daycare rate for grooming clients.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Marcia E. Cram, Just Fur Pets, Springfield, VA
HOW-TO: Offer as add-on or part of package.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increases revenue and client satisfaction. “Pet parents like that their dogs get to romp with their fur friends,” Cram says.

EXPERIMENT

Create to-do list and script for grooming check-in procedure.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Nanci Sien, Pampered Paws, Owings, MD

HOW-TO: Document every step taken during check-in, from greeting client and getting pet information to providing a pick-up estimate and asking if there are any questions. Write talking points for groomers that cover the steps.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved client satisfaction and retention, and increased add-on sales. “Clients have told us they felt more comfortable leaving their pets with us after getting to know the groomer at check-in and having their concerns addressed,” Sien says. “Talking to the client about their pet in-depth allows our groomers to upsell add-on services by telling the client how these services can solve specific issues. Being specific about everything that will be done during the groom as well as giving projected pick-up times have prevented misunderstandings and increased customer satisfaction.”

EXPERIMENT

Designate a sports jersey day of the week.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Diane Marcin, Benny’s Pet Depot, Mechanicsburg, PA

HOW-TO: Pick day and encourage employees to wear sports jerseys.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts employee morale and creates fun atmosphere for staff and customers alike. Marcin says, “The customers love it! When a customer walks in wearing the same team as you are, the conversations begin about the game last week or the upcoming one. Every now and then you get a high-five.”

EXPERIMENT

Get a liquor license.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Carol Will, Lola & Penelope’s, Clayton, MO

HOW-TO: Contact state alcohol beverage control agency. Licenses vary by whether selling, serving or both, and whether wine and beer or also hard liquor. Will advises, “If you go for it, call and talk to the leadership in your city before you submit your application. Explain your vision, and ask about any concerns. I had to present to the board of aldermen for approval. It went well since they knew the city supported our plan.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Further differentiates your store from other retailers. Supports pet-related breweries and wineries. Among others, Lola & Penelope’s carries local craft beers Urban Chestnut Brewing Company’s Underdog and 2nd Shift Brewing’s Cat Spit Stout.

EXPERIMENT

Promote big events with a radio ad campaign.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Keefer Dickerson, Nashville Pet Products, Nashville, TN

HOW-TO: Poll your staff and customers on which stations they listen to. Tune into top three, noting personalities, music and commercials. If your business would be a good fit, and you would play them in your store, contact each station. Ask about audience to determine if demographics match your customer base. Learn their ad creation process. “The radio station will take care of writing the ad copy, and producing the spot to your satisfaction,” Dickerson says. Negotiate, he adds. “Radio rates can be flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts or add-ons.” Choose the best offer.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Boosts visibility and sales. Nashville Pet Products ran two radio campaigns in 2018. Ads for Customer Appreciation Day helped increase sales by 52 percent over previous year’s event. Ads for the annual holiday sale brought in 25 percent increase year over year.

EXPERIMENT

Give welcome boxes to new grooming customers.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kris Minkle, The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

HOW-TO: Ask food, treat and grooming product manufacturers to provide samples and coupons that can be regular items for box. Add to it samples specific to client, such as a sensitive-formula shampoo for pet with skin issues, as well as low-cost items: a roll of poop bags or a small toy. Include nutritional and grooming literature, plus menu of services. Place in box branded with your logo. Minkle says, “If we have time, we also take a photo of their freshly groomed dog and include that as well.” Cost: around $3.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improves customer satisfaction. “We noticed a distinct rise in new customers leaving feedback, once we started the boxes. It seems like people are much more likely to give feedback online or ratings if they’ve gotten something for free.” Increases sales and improves customer retention. “A woman with a Standard Poodle named Timber came in a few days after she had her dog groomed, and she wanted to try the foods included in the box, saying Timber ‘loved them.’ She has turned into a very regular food and grooming customer.”

EXPERIMENT

Get up two hours before leaving for work to practice self-care.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Wendy Megyese, Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

HOW-TO: Set your alarm and don’t hit snooze. Megyese says, “I have been getting up earlier and investing that quiet morning time in myself by reading, meditating and journaling.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Start day with clarity and calm, be less reactive at work. “In the past, if events did not unfold the way I had planned for them to, I would work myself into a mental frenzy and somehow convince myself that all my planning was futile because I would always be at the mercy of circumstances I could not control,” she says, offering this example:

“Our town’s Christmas parade was cancelled because of a severe storm. Our store is located on the parade route. It is historically one of our strongest sales days of the year. The call to cancel was made just two hours before the event, so I already had extra staff on hand as well as increased inventory.

“Rather than getting upset, I chose to see it as something that would become a future conversation starter. While my morning routine did not change the negative economic impact the storm caused, I was able to see that there was nothing I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. Instead of fretting about what I could not control, I decided a rainy day with more than enough staff would be the perfect time to take an afternoon off and spend it having fun with my granddaughter.”

EXPERIMENT

Move from item-pricing to peg- and shelf-pricing.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Duane Poland, Bones-n-Scones of Palm Springs, Palm Springs, CA

HOW-TO: Instead of placing price tags on each item, create peg and shelf tags for pricing.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Speeds up restocking, as products can go from box to shelf. Provides clarity. Poland says, “Many of our customers simply didn’t look at the back of the package.” Boosts sales. “We have also seen an extra bump in sales of our treats we have priced up front, as there is no longer a ‘mystery’ as to the price!” Saves time. “I believe things can always be better, easier and faster. Any time saved, no matter how small, can really add up and frees staff to better serve our customers and companion animals!

EXPERIMENT

Touch things only once.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Kara Holland, Pittsboro Pet Supply, Pittsboro, NC

HOW-TO: Apply this direction to any task you can. Holland explains, “I teach this to our staff members the first day they start working at our store. Instead of handing pamphlets from sales reps to me, ask where they go and always place them there. It saves them from moving it multiple times.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: “Touching things once saves us so much time and empowers our staff to make decisions on their own. The same issue or same item shouldn’t have to be reviewed over and over again, unless it is an item that deserves to be!”

EXPERIMENT

Let calls go to voicemail when grooming pets.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Rachel Malmfeldt, Pampered Pups Grooming, Joliet, IL

HOW-TO: Record voicemail message that lets customers know you have a dog on the table and will return their call in a set amount of time. Instruct employees to not interrupt their work to take calls.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Reduces stress and increases safety. “ This has created a more relaxed atmosphere for the groomers and pets,” Malmfeldt says.

EXPERIMENT

Have new employees shadow a top salesperson.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Terri Ellen, Nature’s Pet Market, Salem, OR

HOW-TO: Schedule so that new employees can observe during their first two weeks. Pair them with top team members.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: New team members learn best practices on the job, while those they shadow grow as leaders. Increased sales, higher employee retention. “New employees can quickly learn to run a register and check out customers, but the foods and nutrition for pets are quite a bit more difficult or complicated,” Ellen says. For example, she adds, “It’s wonderful when an employee is standing there listening to me help that customer solve an itchy dog’s problems.”

EXPERIMENT

Delegate ordering to a proven manager.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Paul Lewis, Birds Unlimited, Webster, NY

HOW-TO: Choose a manager who knows the store and its customers well, then give him trial-run order. Lewis shares, “Sometimes staff have a different perspective on what our customers like and don’t like. I don’t talk to everyone who comes through the door, and sometimes customers are more comfortable talking with the staff.”

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time, freshens stock and empowers the manager. “It has led to bringing in new products I’d never try myself,” he says, that ended up being a hit with customers.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce stress by watching less TV news.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Julie Husa, D Best Pet Sitting, Dallas, TX

HOW-TO: Subscribe to your local newspaper. Watch only one local news show daily or pick from online highlights. Avoid 24-hour news channels.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Turning off bickering politicians and pundits helps keep cortisol production in check and leads to a healthier self, at home and work.

EXPERIMENT

Find out if there’s an app for that.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Debbie Brookham, Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

HOW-TO: Visit app store of choice to see what tools could improve a specific business process. Or just explore store to see what’s new and could help. Download to evaluate, then ask employees to do the same before purchasing or implementing app.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Saves time and money, improves workflow and communication. Brookham uses Trello for all of the above. “Trello is a great communication tool for us. It is separated in ‘boards’ so you can easily label a column a different name, such as ‘Customer Requests.’ When I order product, I’m able to go to one location. The team member includes the client’s name and contact info, along with their initials and date. I can see to order it, and then when it comes in we go back to Trello, contact the customer and write any additional notes. Once the special order is picked up, we delete the note from the Trello board. With so many shifting gears in a small business, it’s best to stay focused and organized.”

EXPERIMENT

Create employee bonding opportunities outside of work.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Caitlin Jones, Nooga Paws, Chattanooga, TN

HOW-TO: With employee input, plan outing. Encourage non-work talk. Pick up the tab. Jones took her 12 employees to dinner and a haunted house in October.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Improved teamwork. “Getting to know each other on a deeper level helps us work together during our shifts,” she says.

EXPERIMENT

Reduce daycare rates on traditionally slow days.

LEAD SCIENTIST: Angela Pantalone, Wag Central, Stratford, CT

HOW-TO: Determine which day, or days, of week, have significantly lower bookings and how much you can afford to discount and still be profitable.

POSITIVE OUTCOMES: Increased bookings. Pantalone discounts daycare from $38 to $30 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and has doubled her bookings on those days. “What a fun pat on the back that has been!” she says.

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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.

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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!”

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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!”

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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.

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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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