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The Key to Model Employees


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The Yuppy Puppy in Spokane, Wash., uses Poop Pesos like this to boost employee morale

Are your staff members engaged and motivated in the workplace, or do they drag themselves through the doors? Are peals of laughter a hazy memory? If so, it might be time to evaluate your employee morale. 

Enlisting simple, creative approaches to engender a positive atmosphere is key to being an effective leader, said pet specialty retailers. 

Often, a culture of dedication and team spirit begins with a good fit.

Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., noted that her interview process is extensive and includes the open-ended question, “Why do you want to work here?” 

The answer can take precedence over a stellar resume, she added, and while experience is crucial, enthusiasm, commitment, and the ability to embrace and foster store values can be equally significant. 

“We have a lovely youngster here, aged 16, who approached me one day about a job,” Boden said. “I almost said no because of her age.” 

Intuition prompted Boden to dig a little deeper. 

“Turns out, she is extremely motivated and came to my store to learn more of the holistic approach to pet care before heading to vet school,” Boden said. “Thirsty for knowledge, she’s a self-starter, knows our product line inside and out, and is a real asset.” 

The turnover rate in a small business can be high, said Aquila Brown, co-owner of The Yuppy Puppy in Spokane, Wash. As such, a supportive environment can make or break staff-member longevity.

“People don’t leave jobs—they leave bosses,” Brown said. “If you are your staff’s biggest cheerleader, they are not going anywhere.”

Boden agreed with this philosophy, adding that benefits are another cornerstone to keeping good employees on the job.

“I provide a high pay-scale, generous store discount, health care and paid vacations,” she said. “Plus, a fun environment.”

At Dee-O-Gee, which has two locations in Bozeman, Mont., a “gain share” bonus, paid out quarterly, is allocated to staff members, said Holly Allen, co-owner.

Heidi Neal, owner of The Loyal Biscuit Co., which has stores in Maine, said that creating an atmosphere of fun on the sales floor is first and foremost to maintaining morale. 

“We all have a great time at work and strive to forge relationships with our customers,” Neal said. “These connections contribute to a warm, family-type atmosphere.”

Staff get-togethers at Dee-O-Gee often center on educational experiences while promoting a good time. The retailer recently hosted at Cook Like Your Dog event during which staff members assigned a dog food’s ingredient panel as inspiration and created a human dish using the same contents. 

“It was lots of fun,” Allen said.

Encouraging individualism can also go a long way in sustaining dedication, said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas.

“We do not ask our employees to wear uniforms,” Redwine said. “There is something degrading about matching polos and nametags.”

Instead, staffers wear industry shirts provided by various pet food companies.

“They can also wear a shirt with a dog or cat on it,” Redwine said. “This way, they can wear something different every day.”

Encouraging communication strengthens connections and serves to motivate, retailers said. 

When Loyal Biscuit staffers convene, discussion is not limited to business.

“We celebrate things like college graduations, births, new homes,” Neal said. “We also strongly support each other during the hard times too, like death and illness.” 

Redwine noted the importance of conversation in maintaining a supportive atmosphere at Odyssey Pets. “We try to create an open, transparent environment where employees can tell us what’s on their mind without any repercussions.”

Cultivating positive dialogue is a crucial element to bolstering staff relations at The Yuppy Puppy. 

At monthly training events, staff members are handed Poop Peso coupons. During the course of the next month, co-workers might share a Poop Peso for a job well done or to open a discussion before a minor issue builds into a larger complaint. 

“Instead of our people becoming passive aggressive and internalizing their frustrations, they can express their feelings in a perpetually upbeat environment,” Brown said.  

Brown encourages employees to handle difficult situations in their own way, and uses Poop Pesos to recognize a job well done.

“My employees are perfectly capable of dealing with a confrontational customer, so I don’t jump in unless they ask me to,” Brown said. “Later, a Poop Peso from me acknowledges their expertise and puts a fun spin on it.” 

At Dee-O-Gee, awards for monthly promotions take place at staff meetings. 

“We pick a sales goal or a product-specific goal,” Allen said. 

The objective might be as simple as greeting every customer that walks in the door, or engaging a customer in a real conversation.

Rather than a prize, winners are presented an experience. For a collective goal, the entire staff will participate in the awarded adventure.

“It’s important to reward ‘try,’” Boden said. “It’s little things, like noticing an associate going out of their way to tweak a display or help a customer.” 


This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Pet Product News.

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