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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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