Tips from Award-Winning Retailers: Several Retailers of the Year 2007-2008 winners offer advice.
Pet Food Express
San Francisco Bay Area
- Talk to your customers and be sure to be a good listener. Grocery, mass and the national chains don’t do this, but you can and should. Customers will appreciate your interest in them and their pets.
- Reward your employees for great customer service. Whenever one of our stores gets a great customer letter or e-mail, we buy lunch for the whole store on the following weekend.
- Be sure to network with your distributors and manufacturers. We work in the best industry in the world. There are many wonderful people out there who want to help you succeed.
Speck's Pet Supply
Karen S. Smith
- Don’t be afraid to put seasonal merchandise out early. For example, we put our pond merchandise out at the end of February, at least two to three months prior to the big pond season push in Indiana. If we happen to get an early spring, then, unlike our competition, we are already ahead of the game. Our sales numbers at the end of that season are always better than if we wait.
- Share sales numbers and other information about the progress of your company and store with employees. It gives them a better understanding as to why certain decisions are made. It includes them in both the successes and failures of the store and opens up a forum for discussion as to how things might be improved upon. When your employees respect you and feel they are valued, there is nothing they won't do to help make your store be a success.
- Promote a special event for at least three weeks prior to the event. We like to start promoting our events 30 days before the event. We feel we reach a lot more customers with our advertising, which gives us a better chance for a large turn out. It also gives the customers the sense that you are excited about the event
Best in Show
Richard Shiu and George Freeman
- Get involved with your community. Being a part of the board of directors for our neighborhood merchant association really gave our business a sense of belonging to the community. The group is extremely influential in what happens in our neighborhood, from passing on business operating advice to holding town hall meetings about critical issues having to deal with the neighborhood and our businesses. Also by belonging, other merchants are reminded with each monthly newsletter who Best in Show is and can refer their customers to the best pet store in the neighborhood.
- Keep your store fresh with a steady stream of new merchandise. Customers don’t want to see the same things over and over again. Rotating merchandise selection keeps customers coming back to see what’s new and what’s exciting for their pets. We spend quite a bit of time sourcing new products for our store. We also love vendors that change out their products a few times a year or introduce new products a few times of year.
- Place a high priority on merchandising and window displays. I can’t count the number of times we sold things right out of our window. It’s the first impression of the store, and a good window display can speak volumes about who you are and what you do. We also keep our store perfectly merchandised so it’s easy to shop. If customers can find what they need, they will buy.
Moochie & Co.
Ohio, Mich. and Ind. stores
Al Bell and Michael Dagne
- Give your employees the feeling of ownership of your business with incentive compensation. We pay our store managers and assistant managers a quarterly bonus based on their store sales, and corporate associates earn an annual bonus based on company performance. Moochie & Co. enjoys the benefits of having owners as managers without the hassles of actual ownership.
- Get managers involved in the teaching process. At a recent Moochie & Co. store managers‘ meeting we asked several of the more experienced staff to make brief presentations to their peers. Each presenter had great credibility with his or her audience. Peer learning is very effective, and enjoyable.
- Help the community. We donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each bag of our own Moochie & Co. brand treats to a local pet charity. We allow each store manager to decide which charity gets the donation so they can form a relationship with them and maybe get some publicity. Our stores make friends in the local pet community while we serve good causes and promote the Moochie & Co. brand.
Most Valuable Pets
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. Ask for help. Hire people to compensate where you are weak to allow you to be more effective where you are strong. No one can do it all, although a lot of us think we can.
- Don't become too emotionally involved. I was told this by another pet retailer at a round table meeting. I think it's some of the best advice I've ever had especially in this industry. You must remember your priorities in life.
- Stay positive no matter what. Whatever the crisis, it won't last forever. Negativity breeds negativity. You, as owner or manager, are the controlling force; your energy determines the energy of the people around you. It is through crisis and turmoil that we become stronger.
Gayle Dalton Smith and Candy James
- Take back items. Because our return and refund policy is so liberal, people love to shop with us and refer people to us. We may have taken a few hits on some items, but the loss is so minimal and the good will so great. If you use vendors that want to work with you, they will always make the refund right, either with a credit or a replacement.
- Support your local animal and community functions. We will give a $20 or $25 gift certificate to most nonprofit groups. The cost to us is so small compared to the return on investment. Rarely, if at all, has anyone come in to use a certificate that did not spend at least twice as much as the original amount given away. Plus they bring a friend.
- Special orders can be your bread and butter. We have a reputation of going the extra mile to get a client what they want. If we cannot get the exact same thing, then we come very close to getting them what they want. It has given us a customer base nationwide, and we do not sell online.
Wag Pet Boutique
Pam Guthrie and Dan Headrick
- Track special orders. It’s not enough just to offer special ordering of hard-to-find or highly specific items for your customers. Following up is key. Implement an in-store system to efficiently track the status of individual special orders and ensure that all employees can communicate with customers about their special orders at any time.
- Provide information re- sources. Your entire staff must be as knowledgeable as possible about current products and trends. In addition, we have found that having current literature available gives customers confidence that they have a valuable resource when questions arise. Create a resource center inside your store that invites customers to read and learn.
- Say hello. We can’t emphasize enough the value of a warm, personal greeting when customers enter your store. Remember their names and, even more importantly, their pets’ names. The reason that customer is in your store is because he values the relationship with his pet. Honor the importance of that relationship by showing how much you value the pet. And share of yourself, if the customer wants that interaction. But be considerate and always try to “read” your customer’s comfort level. Back off and respect their boundaries if they want to browse and be left alone.
Pets Gone Healthy
Sandie and Ken Wheeler
- Providing superior customer service is an absolute must. To us, that means educating ourselves as well as our customers on the products we sell and why. In addition, we stay on top of trends in the pet industry, and we listen to what our customers have to say relative to their product needs and wants. These concepts have given us an effective edge to our ever-evolving retail business.
- Being very selective about the products we purchase for our customers is very important to us and has a direct impact to our customers. We offer a healthy, all-natural shopping experience, so staying focused and true to that goal has allowed us to build a strong customer base and earn the trust of our customers. We have been innovative in the way we present our products and have been able to offer a wide range of products in a small space.
- Effective networking is so important to growing a business and harnessing the high energy required to maintain it. Networking through business channels as well as non-business channels keeps the idea flow both fresh and up to date moving forward. This could mean attending a local business chamber event or holding an in-store event that gives people the opportunity to try something new as well as meet other pet caregivers. The key is making people aware that we exist, what we have to offer and why they want to shop with us across the board.