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THE DAY-TO-DAY operations of a pet business prove challenging. Why then, would you want to add planning and executing special events to your to-do list?

For a variety of reasons, actually.

“We know that if customers come in and have a good time with us and their dogs, they will come back again and again,” says Renee Douthit of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, MT.

“People spend more when they’re having fun,” adds Terri Ellen of Nature’s Pet Market & Sunny Paws Grooming in Salem, OR.

“I want my customers to know I appreciate them,” says Toni Shelaske of Healthy Pet Products in Pittsburgh, PA.

Add to the above their use as a marketing tool that attracts  shoppers and provides a way to capture new email addresses, and the question should be: How can you afford not to hold special events?

We asked pet business owners and managers who excel in this area to share details about their most successful events. Look for inspiration in these examples. You just might want to replicate one.



To promote the January opening of their fourth location, husband-and-wife team Keith and Patrycia Miller enlisted the help of local Instagram influencers with dogs.

“We sent all the influencers a special gift box with a custom Bubbly Paws frosted bone and an invitation to our grand opening celebration,” Keith says.

The influencers also received free self-service baths for their pups and a discount on retail items, plus they got to enjoy wine, doggie beer and treats — passed via trays, of course — with other invited guests.

“We did this during our normal business hours and set up some of our friends and regular customers with free baths so it would look busy when the influencers were there,” he adds. “The worst thing that could happen would be that the store was 100 percent empty.”


The Instagram element made the event a success.

“Our goal was to spread the word about our new location, and it worked! I kept getting excited every time I got a notice that we were tagged or mentioned in a post,” Keith says, adding that the Bubbly Paws account also got a boost from the attention.

DIY TIP: Be selective about which influencers you invite, Keith advises. “Just because a person has 100,000 followers on Instagram does not mean that they are the best person to invite. We thoroughly researched everyone we invited, including trying to see where most of their fans were from. It does us no good to invite someone who has a bunch of fans who don’t live in the area. Some of the best posts we received came from people who had under 500 fans.”





On a Saturday each May, owner Toni Shelaske turns the parking lots for her two stores into pet fairs. Local rescues and vendors set up under tents, and veterinarians and other animal experts speak on a variety of topics. A K-9 team even stops by to demonstrate their skills.

“It’s a fun-filled, informative and freebie kind of day. That’s the tagline we use to describe it,” she says.

Shelaske also puts together a raffle of 70 gift baskets, with rescues in attendance splitting proceeds.

The first Healthy Pet Day happened 10 years ago and doubled as the store’s grand opening. It has grown considerably, becoming the highest volume day each year at each of her stores.

Thanking customers remains the event’s true purpose, though.

“I get to see a lot of my longtime customers who have become like family to myself and my staff,” she says. “It’s a really fun day that we all look forward to.”

DIY TIP: Shelaske advises, “Ask for support from vendors and your pet food manufacturers, to help cover costs of booths and the event in general.”




The Feed Bag Pet Supply, Mequon, WI

Once a month, The Feed Bag partners with Parrot Adventures to create new bird enthusiasts. The breeders bring to the store a variety of babies, from parakeets to macaws, so customers can interact with them.

“It’s a good way for people to learn whether this type of pet may be right for them, before they make a financial and emotional investment,” manager Connie Roller says. “It’s also a way for us to let customers know we have a full line of caged bird supplies.”

The free three-hour event draws steady traffic, thanks to marketing via email and posts by both businesses on Facebook.

“We do it on a weekend so families can attend,” she says, “and we make sure we have adequate staff for the increased amount of customers.”

In addition to higher-than-usual sales that day, The Feed Bag gets 10 percent for every bird sold.

DIY TIP: When partnering with a business, include its contact info on promotions. Before learning that, Roller says, “We had more than a few people asking us what types of birds would be there and what the prices were.”



Owner Terri Ellen was eager to celebrate when Nature’s Pet Market & Sunny Paws Grooming won two Best of Mid-Valley awards in 2016. A death in the family called her out of state, though.

Instead of waiting until she returned, Ellen asked her team to plan and execute an event. The result: Disco Dog Day.

“I gave my staff permission to be creative, do something wild and crazy,” she says. “They took it from there.”

Employees hung disco lights, set out lava lamps and  served neon-colored cupcakes. They donned ’70s fashions and  turned the lights down and the music up.

“Customers came in and danced and sang and had a great time,” Ellen learned from reports coming in via text.

The team planned the event, which included lining up vendors Earthborn and NutriSource to provide samples and specials, in just a week. They hung signs inside and outside, and posted on Facebook.

Disco Dog Day was a success: “My goal was to allow my staff to have fun, and to take ownership of the store and pride in it while I was gone. I was hoping to keep sales up,” she says. “They far surpassed what I expected and had a record-breaking day.”

DIY TIP: Leave the front door open during events like these. “People walking by were very curious about all the commotion going on inside,” Ellen heard. “It attracted a lot of customers.”




Dee-O-Gee customers start celebrating Valentine’s Day the weekend before, thanks to the store’s annual Smooch Your Pooch event. It features a photo set complete with props, plus chocolate-dipped strawberries for humans and holiday cookies for pups.

“We take the photos and then post them on our Facebook page that evening,” sales and marketing manager Renee Douthit says. “Customers love tagging themselves and making the image their profile photo.”

That community engagement, boosted by social media, proves key to the success of Smooth Your Pooch and of Dee-O-Gee.

“Our customers love that we do events,” she explains, adding that they often say “it is one of their favorite things about shopping with us.”

DIY TIP: Start planning photo events four to six weeks prior, Douthit advises. In addition to hiring a photographer, “That gives you enough time to create graphics, advertise in the newspaper and plan your social media strategy.”





Just like the handprints teachers send home with human students, the paw paintings from Posh Pet Hotel will hang on refrigerators and in frames for years to come. Lincoln and Stacey Baker hold Pup-casso twice a year at their boutique, daycare-boarding and grooming business.

“We have this free event to create something that will last a lifetime for owners, so they can remember their fur babies,” Lincoln says. “We love to offer fun and value to our customers.”

Staff set up in the puppy room, dropping a cloth to protect floors. They then move dogs through an assembly line of sorts, dipping their paw in pet-friendly paint, pressing it on paper, and washing paint off in a basin filled with soapy water. After, pups get to play with their friends in one of the indoor or outdoor areas.

Lincoln uses a marker to add stems and leaves to the paintings, turning paw prints into pretty flowers. The pet’s name and a Posh Pet Hotel sticker are finishing touches.

“So many people love it,” he says of the popular event, which gets marketed online and in store. Word of mouth and social media posts about Pup-casso also attract new customers.

DIY TIP: Don’t stress the mess, whether at your business or on the paper. Pet parents will love the painting even if there are smudges. “We try to get it perfect,” Lincoln says, “but they are dogs.”




Registration for this annual event fills up weeks in advance. Why? Because the people and pets who attend could not possibly have more fun.

Paddywack pet store created and hosts Tricks for Treats, which happens the Sunday before Halloween throughout Mill Creek Town Center. For a $10 donation per pet, participants get a start time, reusable bag, and map of 25 treat stops and activity stations.

Husband-and-wife owners Adam Felker and Shane Somerville enlist product manufacturers to provide the “treats,” which she says “range from samples to full-size products — they definitely get way more than $10 worth of stuff!”

They ask event beneficiaries, which receive 100 percent of registration fees, to help man stations. The Halloween-themed photo set proves popular. Employee Caitlan Frend, also a professional photographer, shoots participants and uploads to the store’s Facebook page for a costume contest with prizes.

Tricks for Treats exists first as a fun fundraiser — more than $2,000 each year — and Somerville says that also benefits their business.

“We believe that one of the reasons we are successful, and even growing in an industry and area crowded with competition, is our active interest in supporting nonprofits in our community.”

She adds, “We also know that people love when stores do events, and we have people come from quite a long ways away just to come trick or treating with us, so it helps get our name out there even more!”

DIY TIP: Limit the number of participants and stagger start times to avoid overcrowding at stops and stations. Tricks for Treats offers 200 spots within a 2 ½-hour time frame.




Nearly 200 dogs take part in this annual Easter Biscuit Hunt. Here’s how it works: Each team gets 30 seconds in Easter Biscuit Field, aka The Hungry Puppy dog park. The human must stand in a designated spot and hold a retractable leash with their pup on the other end. Using only leash tugs and vocal commands, they must guide their hunter to an Easter Biscuit. Squeaky toys and other treats serve as distractions. Teams with the three fastest times win store gift cards, with all participants getting a prize.

Marketing director Joanie Hauleiter says the event achieves multiple goals.

“It celebrates the relationship people have with their pets, provides a unique experience not found anywhere else, and gives people a reason to recognize our brand and the different services and products we offer, providing a compelling reason to do business with us!”

It also attracts new customers and gives staff an opportunity to sign them up for the store’s email newsletter.

Hauleiter begins marketing the event three weeks prior, sending out press releases, putting flyers in shopper’s bags, running an ad on in-store monitors and posting on various social media channels.

DIY TIP: Give each team a number when they arrive so everyone knows their place in line. No cuts!




Each July, Bad Dog Frida celebrates its anniversary. Product manufacturers, rescue groups and local trainers and daycare providers set up tables outside. Inside, food and supplements are 15 percent off. Pups get doggie ice cream.

Perhaps the biggest draw, though, are the goodie bags — filled to the brim with samples from the likes of Stella & Chewy’s, Fromm, Herbsmith and Polka Dog Bakery — free to the first 50 attendees.

“Last year, we had more than 50 people lined up outside waiting for us to open! The goodie bags have a reputation all their own,” co-owner Carmen Alcalde says.

DIY TIP: Bad Dog Frida spans just 600 square feet. Stores with similar space constraints will want to have partners outside for sure. “People can go out and chat with vendors if the store is too packed. It’s proven to be really helpful for customers, dogs and us,” Alcalde says.




These parties are all about the pups. They get to snuggle with a pajama-clad team member while watching a movie and eating popcorn. These one-on-one sessions last 20 minutes and are available several times throughout the year.

“The benefits are numerous,” co-owner Suzanne Locker says. “Extra income, fun for the staff, and they give parents the confidence that their pet is staying at a fun place with fun folks.

Slumber parties also help to market ABC Pet Resort’s extensive list of add-on activities. Cute photos of people and pups in PJs go a long way on social media.

Locker adds, “It’s an inexpensive marketing tool — that works!”

DIY TIP: Have check-in staff also wear PJs when slumber parties are available. Pet parents will ask about the attire before employees can even offer the option.



How far in advance you check off the items on this list varies by the type and size of event, but be sure to set deadlines for each and tackle them all for best results.

Decide on an event
Pick one previously held or from this story, or brainstorm a fresh idea with your staff. You can even assign them the task altogether.

“Empower your employees to be creative and have fun, then trust them to do it,” Nature’s Pet Mart owner Terri Ellen says. “I’ve learned that I don’t always have to have my hands in everything. If I’ve hired the right people to be on my team, I can trust them to take charge.”

Pick the date.
If tied to a holiday, look to the weekend prior. Always ensure that no other pet events are planned for the day, as you don’t want to compete for attendees or partners.

“Rescues and small businesses have limited funds, staff and time to spend on events,” Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, WI, points out, “so plan way ahead and offer a super-quality event that will draw the best people year after year.”

Also consider spreading larger events out over two days. Eric Mack, owner of Purrrfect Bark in Columbus, NC, plans to do that with his store’s anniversary celebration this year.

“We did have several people who came into the store and left because the line was so long,” he says of the 2017 event. “Most of them came back, but I’m sure some didn’t.”

Line up partners. 
You don’t have to go it alone. Ask manufacturers to be on hand with information and free samples. Talk to neighboring business to see if they want to join in on the fun, or provide items for goodie bags or raffle baskets for future reciprocity. If you plan to raise funds, enlist the beneficiary organizations to co-promote and provide volunteers.

“If you’re writing them a check,” Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville says, “they are usually more than happy to assist.”

Promote, promote, promote.
Send event listings and press releases to local publications by their deadlines, and inquire about advertising if you have the budget. Make posters to hang in-store, and to share with your newsletter subscribers and on social media. Create an event listing on your Facebook page and consider paying to boost it.

Schedule staff. 
Do you need all hands on deck? Yes, and perhaps then some (remember the volunteers). Assign everyone roles, but also have designated floaters to jump in where needed.

“Make sure you have additional help for parking,” Joanie Hauleiter, marketing director for The Hungry Puppy, says. A team member helping attendees find spots will ease frustrations.

Have fun! Don’t sweat the sales!
Focus on making the event fun for your customers, not on making sales.

“I think people appreciate going to something and not being pushed for a sale to be made,” Paul Lewis, owner of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, says, adding about his recent Bird of Prey event, “It was a pleasant time, and some stayed hours talking about birds with other people.”

Debrief ASAP.
Renee Douthit, sales and marketing manager for Dee-O-Gee, advises, “Taking notes right afterward about what worked and what needs improvement is crucial. If you wait for a week, you are likely to forget some of the small details that you want to remember for the next time.”


Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.




Webinar Replay: How to Keep That Holiday Momentum Rolling

Catch a replay of the recent PETS+ Live! webinar, in which host Candace D'Agnolo discusses how pet business owners can maintain their sales momentum after the holidays are finished. To see more PETS+ Live! webinars, visit

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Cover Stories

7 Ways to Make the Most of the January Slowdown

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offer Freebies and Discounts

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

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

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

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

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

Promote With the New Year

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

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

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

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


Deep Clean

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

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

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

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

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


Give Bounce-Back Coupons

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate the Next Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take A Vacation

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

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Cover Stories

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

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




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


ShaWn Sears | Cat Canopy Rescue, Woodinville, WA

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

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



Kirstin Morrison | Six Figure Pet Business Academy

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

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

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

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



Spencer Williams | West Paw Design, Bozeman, MT

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

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

Williams recommends that budding designers do the following:

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



Kris MinklE | The Whole Pet, Fort Smith, AR

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

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

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



Sal Salafia | Exotic Pet Birds, Rochester, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nancy Hassel | American Pet Professionals

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Kelly Catlett | Waggs 2 Whiskers, Bagdad, KY

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

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

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



Cory Giles | The General Store, Collinsville, IL

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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



Nancy Okun | Cats N Dogs, Port Charlotte, FL

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

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

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

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



Candace D’Agnolo | Pet Boss Nation

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

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



Rachel Phelps |

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



Brandon McMillan, LUCKY DOG on CBS

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Diller also recommends a thorough set of salon guidelines.

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



Hilary Sloan |

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

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



Mike Doan | Odyssey Pets, Dallas, TX

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

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

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



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Meet 8 Pet Champions With Business Super Powers

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




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

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