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When Outside Consultants Disagree on a Business’s Future Path, What’s a New Store Owner to Do?

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AMELIA WAS A PET SITTER for a few years and had dreamed of opening an all-in-one place to serve different needs for dog owners. She decided to bring on a team of outside consultants before the opening and was lucky enough to have some investors to help her get started.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Two months before opening, on a chilly evening in Asheville, NC, Amelia set up a dinner event for her team of consultants and investors to meet to go over her plan for the business.

“Thank you all for taking the time to be here tonight to get Doggie Destination started!” Amelia said excitedly to her crowd, and a lot of whoops and cheers came from the table.

Her team consisted of a marketing coordinator, Margaret; her biggest investor, Mark; as well as a dog trainer; a public relations consultant; and a retired pet store owner.

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During the dinner, ideas and drinks were flowing, Amelia was taking notes, and everyone was adding information and insight. A plan was really forming for the launch of her facility.

“This is really incredible — I could not be happier with everything happening here,” Amelia said. “I do have a question: Can anyone suggest software to book appointments?”

“Oh that’s easy,” Mark chimed in, “We worked with 321Groom when they were launching, and I would really recommend them for that.”

Margaret, who had had a few too many drinks, interrupted: “What? 321Groom is awful, and the owner is a complete idiot! I worked with them on their marketing, and they didn’t do anything they should have. I can’t believe you would recommend them!”

Mark and everyone at the table looked stunned.

“I am surprised you are saying that,” Mark said. “We had nothing but a great experience with them —”
Margaret was leaning over the table and pointing in Mark’s face: “There is no way we are talking about the same person. He was just awful! And their software is full of bugs!”

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Mark, still a bit in shock from Margaret’s outburst, decided to let her have the last word, seeing she may have had too many drinks.

“OK, OK. I am sure we can think of another company,” he said. But he was unimpressed with Margaret’s lack of professionalism, and she didn’t know his relationship with 321Groom.

As the dinner wrapped up, Amelia thought that besides Margaret’s outburst, the evening had been a success.
The next morning Amelia met Mark for coffee.

“Hi, Mark,” she said. “Thanks again for coming last night and for all your wonderful feedback and information!”

“Hi, Amelia. You are definitely onto a great start, I am happy to be part of it,” Mark said. “I will say, though, last night was great until your marketing person started jumping all over me. I thought her reaction was really inappropriate and unprofessional. You may not know, but we were backers of 321Groom.”

Amelia felt her face flush.

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“I didn’t realize that,” she said. “I apologize for Margaret’s outburst.”

“Well, you may want to think about whether you should keep her on your team. If she is talking that way about a past client, what is she going to say about your business in the future?”

“She came highly recommended,” Amelia said. “I will say, though, it did bother me that she had so many drinks at a business event.”

“Yeah, she didn’t seem to slow down in that regard,” said Mark.

After Mark left the coffee shop, Amelia was feeling unsure of how she should handle the situation.

The Big Questions

  • Is there a way Amelia can smooth things over between her biggest investor and the person tapped to handle her marketing?
  • Should Amelia be worried about — or say anything to her — about Margaret’s drinking?
  • What can Amelia do to ensure the friction does not imperil her new business?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Dion L. Minneapolis, MN

Let her go. When people show you who they are, believe them.

Terri E. Nature’s Pet Market, Salem, OR

I’d sit down with Margaret and acknowledge her strong opinion and outburst. I’d ask her what she was thinking when she made those statements, listen and ask more questions to get to what she has to say without the anger involved. She really may have something important to contribute, but no one is going to hear it with all the emotions up front. Get to the facts. I’d expect you’d learn a lot about how her mind works and whether she’d continue to be a valued team member or not. Either way you need to understand.

Frank F. Farmingdale, NJ

If I were Amelia, the question I would always ask is, “What’s best for my business?” I would also expect that my experts would think in the same spirit. Just because Mark is a silent partner doesn’t necessarily mean that that software will be the best choice for Amelia’s startup. In addition, Margaret needs to have more professionalism in regard to her excessive drinking at any event while representing your company. Also, her outbursts were not in the best interests of the team dynamics. Ultimately, Amelia will have to decide strictly on the merits of the software to determine whether it meets most of her requirements when compared to alternatives available. The priority of all decisions should be what’s in the best interest for Amelia’s company, which necessitates putting aside any and all outside biases and agendas.

Sandy H. Watkins, MN

Yes, there is always work to do to smooth tough conversations. First, she could reconnect with Mark and eloquently tell him that she is concerned with the potential friction that the prior evening’s discussion created. Mark seems to be very business-savvy and emotionally intelligent. Ask him whether this may affect any potential of working together and mention his invaluable contribution to the vision. Likely, Mark will give suggestions on how to fix any residual — and there may not be any. As far as Margaret, it would be wise for Amelia to have a candid, yet professional, chat as soon as possible. We always want to address conflict at the onset. Amelia could have a written and simple list of expectations for professionals she hires to represent her brand and company. Amelia should bravely tell Margaret that her excessive drinking at the dinner was inappropriate timing and out of context. Next time, boundaries of a few-drink maximum might be in order. I’d conclude by asking Margaret how she foresees this situation being resolved.

Kelly C. Bagdad, KY

Amelia should handle it face-to-face with a non-alcoholic meeting with both Mark and Margaret and discuss the issues at hand in order to come to a conclusion on working together in the future. She should ask Margaret beforehand to bring facts in on the 321 company and any others she would recommend. They can then hash it out and decide what will work best for Amelia’s company. And also Amelia may have to be the mediator in order to keep things calm and to be sure they will be able to work together going forward.

Carlos C. Upland, CA

Margaret acted in a very unprofessional manner. I would be worried about continuing to work with her. There is more at issue here than just the drinking. It appears that Amelia did not do enough research before hiring Margaret.

Wendy M. Emerald Isle, NC

Since the friction was largely due to the choice Margaret made to consume too much alcohol, the onus is on her to smooth things between everyone. If she cannot, or will not own up to her unprofessional behavior and apologize to Mark and Amelia for her outburst, Amelia is better off replacing her.

Ruth M. New York, NY

If Margaret is a marketing person, surely this outburst was inappropriate? Sadly, drinking can interfere with the way we handle things. Perhaps Amelia should find out how much she drinks regularly and then read October 2018 PETS+ about how to handle difficult conversations. Is this the right person for her?

Kristina R. Falls Church, VA

Good for Ameila to get a board together to help. With that said boards are advisory. If she is the 51-percent holder in this situation, then she should do what she feels is best for her, not the others. I understand that Mark is an investor and it would be hard to lose him, but if he knows how much she needs his investment, he could very well be the one to watch out for. Margaret, appeared to be drunk, lost her guard and blurted out her true feelings. But, she was drunk, maybe next meeting, don’t have it around booze. If Margaret has a good reputation, I would not say anything, chalk it up to the booze. But I would watch for other unsolicited outbursts. Friction is normal between people. We are all different, thankfully. If you bring in a board you have to know that each member will have opinions, and just like armpits, some stink. She needs to be the leader and have the last word. It is her business.

Danny B. Sarasota, FL

Amelia is drowning in drama after her first get together two months BEFORE Day 1. She should can Amelia, not judge her booze issue. Amelia will make the connection sooner or later. Mark had no business predicting the future or even bringing up the silent partner handcuffs. He needs to go too. She should open the business and start working 80-hour weeks. She will learn. If she needs all this hand-holding this early, she should just work for someone else who will tell her what to do and pay her, rather than her paying someone to tell her what to do.

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

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Real Deal

A Regular Customer of Snowy Paws Is Also One Who Returns Her Purchases Regularly. What’s a Store Owner to Do?

Read the case of the frequent returner.

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SWEEPING THE DUSTING of powdery snow away from the storefront and putting down pet-safe salt, Taylor was looking forward to the Winterfest Weekend in the beautiful mountain resort town where Snowy Paws is located.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

During the bustling ski season, the store is quite busy from November through April, and this weekend was one of the busiest in February. The boutique caters to both high-end clientele who come into town to ski, with touristy, kitschy items and regular pet supplies for local year-round residents. To cater to all clientele can be a challenge.

As Taylor sprinkled the salt, one of her top costumers was walking her year-old Golden Doodle across the street and waved, “Hi Taylor! We’ll be in later today!”

“Looking forward to seeing you both!” Taylor replied, waving back. “I have some new treats for Oliver to try!”

Sharon smiled, waved and continued her walk. Taylor went into the shop to open up and said to Kurt her store assistant, “Sharon just said she will be in later,” smirking to him. “I wonder what she is going to try to return today. Actually, can you look up and see what she did purchase the last time she was in?”

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“Sure,” Kurt said walking over to the computer that was also the register. “She just bought dog food, so I don’t think she will be bringing that back,” he chuckled. “Although, nothing would surprise me with her.”

As the day went on, Taylor forgot about Sharon and Oliver, until the jingle of the front door rang as the door opened. Turning to see it was Sharon and Oliver rushing in from the snow, Taylor noticed Sharon had a Snowy Paws store bag in hand.

Smiling at them and grabbing some treats, Taylor walked over and said, “How are you both doing today? Ready for this weekend?”

“Well, almost. We have friends and family coming in tonight — and wanted to make sure I got here before the festivities begin!” Sharon said, smiling. “So you know how much I loved this dog harness when I got it for Ollie, but it seems to be fraying a bit.”

Taylor examined the harness, seeing that Oliver had clearly chewed on it. “Hmm, do you remember when you bought this?”

“Well I am not sure exactly, but probably within the last month.”

“OK, let’s check to see if we can pull up when you purchased it,” Taylor said, looking at the computer. “It looks like you purchased this about 8 months ago …. I am not sure if the manufacturer will take it back after all these months and replace it —”

“Well you know I am in here weekly,” Sharon said. “I am sure you can do something for me. Perhaps another, better harness would work for Oliver?”

Taylor spotted Kurt over Sharon’s shoulder making a face.

Sharon was a local well-to-do resident who was a frequent shopper, but she was also someone who was always bringing product back to return long past Snowy Paw’s return policy.

Taylor would normally take a product back that wasn’t so obviously chewed up by the dog, but this was really damaged. “Well, it does look like Oliver may have gotten a hold of this harness and damaged it,” she said.

Sharon looked at her blankly and then down to Oliver and said, “You didn’t do that did you? The harness must not be high quality. What do you think, Ollie?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Taylor handle a frequent customer who seemingly takes advantage of what she spends versus adhere to the store’s return policy?
  • What kind of return policy can Taylor put into place and be better about enforcing at her store?
  • Is it even viable to have a return policy in this day and age competing with online e-commerce sites?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Elvis J.
San Rafael, CA

This customer is what my friend calls a “taker.” Takers do not realize what they are doing because they can’t see beyond there own actions. As a store owner, it is difficult to tell them what they are doing is wrong, because the taker will not understand. Each time they try to return something you have to evaluate whether you want this customer to continue buying from you. If they are returning 80 percent of what they are purchasing, it would be smart to “shut off the spigot,” so to speak. Having strong policies about returns is an option, but generally most manufacturers have a no-questions-asked return policy, so a store owner should pass that along. At my store, we take all returns. All dog and cat food is guaranteed, and we extend that to all merch. And a good way to prevent abuse of a liberal, no-questions return policy is to encourage with a very strong voice that an exchange for more merchandise is really more beneficial for all parties involved.

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Mary Beth K.
Kennebunkport, ME

It sounds like Taylor and her staff are already accustomed to stroking this customer’s ego, so Taylor should start out by thanking Sharon for being such a loyal customer and let her know how much she values her business, enjoys her visits with her and Oliver, etc. Then Taylor needs to remind Sharon all puppies, no matter how cute and well behaved, will chew given the opportunity. If the harness is 8 months old, chances are Oliver needs a “big boy” harness anyway and Taylor should suggest a more size-appropriate option, and maybe some new chew toys. Perhaps Taylor could offer up a new toy for Oliver to “test” and ask Sharon to give her feedback, reinforcing Sharon’s importance and value (i.e., her ego).

Greg F.
Scottsdale, AZ

I would politely remind Sharon of the return policy but offer her a good discount on a replacement harness. She will probably accept that offer as she knows what really happened. You need to take care of your good customers, while trying not to break the bank. Service with a smile. Remember that a satisfied customer will only tell three or four others about the experience, while a dissatisfied customer will tell two to four times as many people about their poor experience. Play the odds and send them away happy.

Jim L.
PembroKe, MA

Tell Sharon that it’s obvious that the dog has chewed the halter and that is no fault of the manufacturer. You can offer her a 10 percent discount, or a number of your choosing, to console her on her new purchase.

Carla C.
Upland, CA

The store should exchange the harness. Her business is worth more than the wholesale price of a harness.

CJ
Tom’s River, NJ

Swallow the loss. But be sure to say that the return value should be in exchange and not cash, plus that you are doing a favor by allowing it. Last, smile and give her a charm or some other inexpensive but really nice product for free. I promise the returns will stop. For more information, read Influence by Robert Cialdini for social/group dynamic tricks to contain bad behaviors in humans. I used Influence to grow my business, which was purchased in bankruptcy four years ago, from about 25 clients per month to over 150.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

We try to prevent returns in the first place. We give out food and treat samples, we have toy demos, and we fit dogs for harnesses and coats, boots, costumes like Nordstrom’s shoe department. Good service can prevent some returns. If your customer returns everything she buys, how valuable is she? The time you spend with her is time you are not spending with someone else. But does she bring in business, friends, family, neighbors, etc.? Where will she shop, if not with you? Be nice and polite, but you can say no with a smile and hopefully not lose her forever.

Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

Take it back … no questions asked! 100 percent guaranteed! And thank her for letting you know. Yes, return policies are necessary, mostly to give our customers a guideline as well as to provide our sales team with an additional tool to demonstrate to our customers that we are willing to break the rules for them, either “this one time” or “since they are such a good customer.”

Audree B.
Fort Lauderdale, FL

You could have been talking about my customer. Our return policy is clearly printed at the register and on the receipts. However, we do make exceptions depending on the situation. In this case, if the harness is being returned due to a manufacturer’s defect, we’d take it back. Or if they manufacturer had a policy that they’d replace a chewed harness. If it’s being returned just do to normal wear and tear, we’d have to enforce the policy. We explain that our vendor restricts our ability to submit returns after 90 days (or what ever time frame we state on our return policy). We have done this, but we do explain that we’re itty bitty and try really hard to keep our prices fair.

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Stacy D.
Providence, RI

Have a 30-day return policy for everyone. If she can’t enforce it, say it is a state policy. The store isn’t making money if a customer returns everything they buy.

Danielle F.
Datyon, OH

As the owner of a retail business, every once in a while you’ve just had enough. We can do the math and understand the lifetime value of a customer. But when the customer’s value goes negative, it’s time to fire them. First, don’t fire the customer in the heat of the moment. It’s not the way you should do business. If you find yourself in that place, take a deep breath, and finish the transaction in front of you. Acknowledge that you’re angry. In the calm moments decide if the lifetime value is worth what you’re going through. Next, make a decision if the negative feedback is worth the hassle of having that person as a customer. Once you’ve made the decision to let them go, happily send them to your competitor. The next time the customer comes in, have a calm conversation. Explain that your ultimate goal is to make them happy and hand them off to a competitor. There is no reason to make an unfriendly return policy based on one bad customer.

What’s the Brain Squad?

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

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Real Deal

When One Dog Scuffles With Another While Being Trained By Your Staff, What Do You Need to Do?

A new dog-training service at a pet boutique gets off to a bad start.

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SHAWN ALWAYS WANTED TO add dog-training services to his small pet retail store in SoHo in New York City, but he has limited space inside to host classes. After three years in business, he finally partnered with a good friend and seasoned dog trainer, Cory, to start offering individual dog-training services.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Saturday mornings are always the busiest at Shawn’s store, with pet parents out and about with their pups in this dog-friendly and popular area of the city. While checking out a customer’s purchase, Shawn’s cellphone was ringing. Looking down at the phone he saw it was Cory, who had left with a new client’s dog a half hour before. Shawn picked up, “Hey, hold on. I’m ringing up a customer.”

“OK, there you go, have a great day, and we will see you and Max soon!” Shawn said, handing a bag of dog treats to his customer, and then returned to his cellphone.

“Hey, how’s your session going?” he asked. “What? Wait, slow down, I can’t understand … what? How did that happen?” Shawn could feel his heart beating in his chest. Realizing that another customer was in the pet toy aisle right across from him, Shawn turned, walked a few feet away and quietly said, “Is anyone hurt? Is the dog OK?”

“Um … well, uh, I was evaluating the dog as we were walking, doing simple training along the way,” Cory said. “Remember his owner said he is sometimes leash-aggressive? But he was doing great with me … until someone walked by with their small dog on a retractable leash. The small dog rushed over right into Duke’s face, and that’s when Duke went a ballistic and tried to get the little dog.”

“Oh no!” Shawn exclaimed. “Where are you now? Is the owner still there?”

“The owner left with the dog, said they were to the vet around the corner,” Cory said. “I think that his dog will be OK. It seemed like more growling than anything else from Duke. He wouldn’t show me if the dog was actually injured, or they were just both startled. It didn’t look like Duke put his mouth on the little dog, but he was growling and the little dog screamed. I had Duke back into a sit stay very quickly.”

“Did he take your information, or did you get his information?” Shawn asked.

“Well he took my card, but I was not able to get his info because he was so upset and wanted to go the vet right away. I told him to contact me to let me know how the dog is.”

Shawn let out a big sigh. “Man, I hope the dog is OK, and they contact you, well, contact us, to let us know how the dog is …”

“Yeah, me too. I am heading back now with Duke,” Cory said. “We will see you in a bit and figure out what to do, and we have to call his owner,” Cory said.

“OK, see you soon,” replied Shawn. Shaking his head, Shawn was now worried what would happen next.

The Big Questions

  • How should Shawn handle this when the small dog owner calls?
  • If your store offered a training service like this, how do you deal with the legalities of a situation like this?
  • Shawn is nervous now about continuing offering this service, what should he do?

Real Deal Responses

Iva K. Stow, MA

The business owner must show genuine concern for the small dog and its owner. This will go a long way. I would suggest a policy about retractable leads on visitors as well. In the least, insist on them being locked as soon as you see one in your store. After the situation has calmed down, someone should try to talk to the small dog owner about their personal responsibility in this event. 

Dawn T. Vero Beach, FL

First of all, to evaluate a dog it should be in a controlled circumstance, not out in the public area. Second, once you are out in the public, there should be two trainers as to have protection if a small dog such as this came running up to a leash-aggressive dog in training. Third, have the business as well as the trainer insured for cases like this. 

Karen C. Delavan, WI

We have offered training for over 20 years. There really is no way to avoid what happened in the story if you are out in public training. The key is to know what to do when it does! Our training takes place inside until the dogs have good skills and the owners are confident in their handling skills. A dog going after another dog is real life and what we train for! We cover what to do if this scenario happens, and frankly it has happened in class with student dogs. To protect yourself as an owner is important. Have a policy in place and be prepared to pay some vet bills if there is an injury. The trainer should carry insurance as well. Luckily, these skirmishes aren’t usually serious but are a great learning experience.

Carolyn B. McHenry, IL

Personally, I would have immediately gone to the vet’s office. I would want to be present to see for myself what the injuries are or are not, so that I can better understand how to handle the situation. When/if the owner calls, Shawn’s first reaction should be, “How is the dog?” Shawn should then apologize for the situation and listen to the owner. Establish whether there was damage and to what extent. If there was, he should offer to pay the vet bill. If there was no damage, Shawn should offer a free service of some sort; assure the owner that he is handling the matter and reviewing protocol with his trainer. Review what happened to determine whether the trainer is competent and whether he could have prevented the incident. Review protocol with the trainer and discuss how to handle situations before they occur to avoid the current incident.

Bob W. Colorado Springs, CO

Since this did not happen at the store, why is the store even involved? If Shawn’s insurance does not include liability ($2 million/$4 million), he should make sure his policy does, should the incident happen at his store. His trainer is an independent contractor and needs his own insurance listing Shawn’s place as co-insured.

Marcia C. Springfield, VA

If your insurance pays a claim, have the injured party sign a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from further claims from this injury as well as from making slanderous/libelous comments about your business in person or in social media.

What’s the Brain Squad?

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

Continue Reading

Real Deal

When A Store Owner Politely Admonishes A Boy Wreaking Havoc, the Mother Threatens to Retaliate by Writing Negative Reviews

Here’s how members of our Brain Squad responded.

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DIANA ALWAYS LIKED to take part in her local Chamber of Commerce meetings to network with other store owners. At this event, the topic of out-of-control kids came up, and stories started flowing across the table of business owners.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

“It’s not surprising how kids coming into our pet store can really think it is a toy store for humans,” Diana said during the meeting. She was seated next to the local hardware store owner, Tom. “The bright colors, toys modeled after cartoon characters, different types of balls — I can see how they may be confused by this. But you would think that their parents would pay attention to their behavior in any store.”

“Oh you are preaching to the choir, Diana,” Tom said. “We had two pricy items broken recently by a young girl who just knocked them off the shelf. Her parents acted like it was our fault!”

“Wow!” Diana said. “That is terrible. What did she break?”

“We sell handpainted ceramic accents in our garden section — and if I didn’t know any better I would swear this kid just smashed them on the ground to get her parents’ attention,” Tom said.

“I just don’t get it. If dog owners let their dogs act crazy everywhere they went, people would say something or call them out on social media about it!” Diana said. “The other day, one of our good customers, who usually shops alone, came in with her young son and her friend. Her son was completely out of control while there.”
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“What happened?” Tom asked.

“Her son, who was probably 8 years old, was bouncing one of the larger Kong squeaky tennis balls, and his mother was not even trying to stop him. Shocker, right? Then he started throwing it around the store. It bounced off of several displays and knocked over some merchandise and almost broke some of our ceramic dog bowls,” Diana said with a look of disbelief on her face.

“So I said to him, ‘OK, Steven, please stop throwing the ball — you are going to break something — and can you please give me the ball?’ This kid looked at me and threw the ball at me with a loud grunt! He missed me and hit one of our treat displays, knocking a couple bags onto the ground.”

Tom was shaking his head listening.

“And then his mother, who was talking to her friend and not paying attention to Steven, said, all while giving me a nasty look, ‘Let’s go! Steven, come on — time to go.’ And she and her friend and her son left the store. I couldn’t get over why she looked so mad at me. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I even said ‘please’ two times! But later that night I got the most passive-aggressive email from her,” Diana said.

“Really? Wow! What did it say?”

“She basically said how she loves our store, but it was unacceptable the way I spoke to her son,” Diana said.

“What?” Tom said. “No …”

“Yup, and went on to say that if I didn’t apologize to her and her son, she would give us bad reviews on Google and Facebook and tell everyone how rude I was to her and her son,” Diana said shaking her head.

“That is unbelievable — I hope they never come into my store!” Tom said, “But seriously, what are you going to do? What did you reply with?”

“I don’t know,” Diana said. “I haven’t replied to her yet. What would you do?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Diana reply to the mother?
  • What can a business do to keep kids under control
  • If the customer does begin bashing Diana’s store online, how should she respond?

Real Deal Responses

Marvin S.

Grand Junction, CO

I think she handled it correctly. I would have acted in the same way, only sooner and more firmly. As far as the reviews, I would respond and suggest that she pay attention to her son’s actions when they are out shopping. I would guess he acts this way wherever they are. If a review is written, she can do two things: Ignore it or respond with the facts. Customers will see all the good reviews and see the one bad and realize that there is something wrong with that review.

Terri E.

Salem, OR

I would apologize to the mother and explain that you were concerned about her son breaking something and accumulating a bill for her to pay. It’s not worth the fight to be right. When children come in with their parents, as soon as I can, I reach for the stickers and ask them to choose two to put on the back of their hands. The parents appreciate the attention we pay to their child. It takes the child’s attention off our inventory. I’ve also been known to pull a toy off the shelf, hand it to the child and ask them to find where it belongs and put it away for me. I tell them I need help. Recently, we had an anniversary party with a Hairy Potter theme. We gave the leftover glasses to kids who came in. Find a way to distract them. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Pay attention to them. Parents will appreciate it too.
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Chip B.

Black Mountain, NC

Directly, there is very little you can do. I try to address misbehaving kids with “Be careful, sweetie,” so that it comes from a place of concern rather than judgment. Indirectly, there are a number of things. I closed my fish room largely because of misbehaving or unattended children. Any pet beds, cat trees, etc. are put up really high where kids can’t reach them. I wouldn’t reply to a review at all. Perhaps the customer will either move on or share her story with someone and hopefully have her perspective changed. And if she is that unreasonable, there’s not much that can be said to her that will have a productive outcome.

Lisa G.

Millville, NJ

Here’s how she might respond: “I didn’t mean to make anyone feel unwelcome. I try to take care of my store, the same way that you take care of your home. Do you normally throw tennis balls in your living room, kitchen or dining room? I have a lot of merchandise for sale, and I like to keep everything in good condition. Unfortunately it’s not designed like a playroom. Some of the merchandise is fragile. Even if the stuff doesn’t break, people like to purchase new things that appear to be in excellent condition. If I offended you or your son, I’m sorry. Please accept my apology. I simply asked him to refrain from playing with a ball while inside of my store. A display was knocked over and it took some time to fix. Thankfully nothing was damaged. Please feel free to visit whenever you want something new for your pet.

Nancy G.

Fredericksburg, VA

First, she should respond to the customer within the first 24 hours. The longer people wait for a response, the worse it gets. I have had this exact scenario, and I responded immediately by calling the customer personally. I apologized to the customer and explained that I was sorry she felt that my employee was rude to her and her children, but I also explained that sometimes we have to ask children to not throw things or pull on items because we don’t want them or other people in the store to get hurt. If I were in this exact situation, I would have also pointed out that she may not have seen that he threw a ball directly at me. This is where cameras come in handy because I’ve also sent a video clip to a customer to let them see what actually happened in our store. Usually an apology for them being upset and explaining your side solves the issue.

Trace M.

Houston, TX

We provide a little free library, and I invite energetic kids to help me put things away or do a quick section of inventory. In this case, the online response should be the same or similar to the personal response: “Thank you so much for your feedback. I can tell how much this means to you, and I’m sorry I upset you with a tone that was unintentional. We operate with a grade-school philosophy when it comes to kids: I don’t go to your house and break your toys; please don’t break mine. When it happens, just as I would expect my child or your child to feel upset, we get upset. Our customers are like family, and so we address and move through an upset and then hopefully past it. Please come back and enjoy alternative activities to keep your child busy while you shop stress-free.”

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