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What Camaraderie and Networking Can Do For You and Your Retail Business


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When I started in business, the buzzword seemed to be “networking.” You want to grow your business? You need to network. Need help with your business? You need to network. If you get involved in all these networks, you will find people and businesses that can help you.

That sounded great, so I attended a few small-business networking meetings and hated it. There were a lot of people there, so it must work for some, but it wasn’t for me. Looking back, I now realize it’s because those people weren’t in my “tribe.”

I know it sounds like I’m using another buzzword, but I have really embraced the tribe philosophies. Oxford Dictionaries defines tribe as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.” Compare that to the relevant Oxford definition of network: “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.” Both those definitions are pretty accurate as to what I had in my mind.

The only change I would make is about having a recognized leader—my tribes don’t really have a recognized leader. At best, I might say my tribes have leaders who rotate. For my pet lovers’ tribe, some days Dr. Karen Becker is the leader. On others, it’s Rodney Habib or Tazz Latifi, owner of a micro pet store in New York.

In the olden times—you know, before Facebook—it was harder to find your tribes. Social media makes it a lot easier to find tribes, but not easier to find tribes that are a good fit. For example, there are many groups for people who feed their pets a raw diet. However, those people might not have the same philosophies you have about the subject. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, but some of them might not be right for your tribe.

I keep mentioning tribes in the plural, because you need more than one tribe. I have a tribe of micro independent businesses. It’s just a group of us trying to struggle through the trials and tribulations of having a micro independent business in today’s world. We lean on each other, we toss ideas back and forth, and we are just there for each other. That tribe has nothing to do with pets; I’m not even sure if they all have pets. That tribe came together organically because we all had similar philosophies about small business and entrepreneurship. When we chat, it’s not about trying to take over the world or make every dime out there because that’s not why we’re micro independent business owners. I’m sure those types are out there and they have their own tribes. Another tribe is a group of my customers. I have a lot of customers, but only a few of them are in that tribe. Those in the tribe have worked to have a relationship with the businesses they support, and, in turn, I try and learn more about them. If we click, they are in!

Tribes really aren’t about membership. It’s not like the tribe gets together for meetings or goes on trips together. There are no dues to be in a tribe. For me, it’s actually who’s not in my tribe that makes them so important to me. I don’t want to spend my energy with people whose philosophies are the polar opposite of mine. It doesn’t mean I don’t like other people. It’s just that I’m not going to spend what little time I have listening to them. Sometimes, tribes can remind you of your high school days. You really want to be friends with the quarterback because everybody will think you’re cool, but when you spend time with the quarterback, you realize he’s a jerk.

You have to be honest with yourself and others in your tribe. Don’t let your ego get involved at all. Tribes shouldn’t be about impressing each other. As long as you are throwing away your ego, you might as well leave out your judgmental side too. If you decide to discard someone because they are different from your sense of normal, you might pass by the person who could have given you the next great idea that would’ve helped your business.

I know it all sounds confusing, but the most important aspect of building or belonging to a tribe is feeling safe and free to communicate. Be clear on your passions and honest about your own needs. When I talk about like-minded, it doesn’t mean a clone of my thoughts. One of my favorite quotes is: “If two people think the same thing about everything, one of them isn’t necessary.” Just because someone might have different philosophies about raw feeding doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be in my tribe. If deep in their heart they want to do the best for their pet, then I want to hear their philosophies. I want to hear their passion. That’s where we have great back and forth and can learn from each other. But if they are a jerk or seem to have different motives, then I’m probably not going to talk to them very much.

You have to work to build your tribes or join a tribe. When you meet someone who inspires you, tell them. Don’t be shy about your respect. If someone out there thinks you are doing a great job, wouldn’t you want them to tell you? If you find someone who seems like a good fit for your tribe, ask them if they are on one of the social media networks or ask for an email address. You have to follow up, and, essentially, that is the invite to be part of your tribe. If you find yourself surrounded by people who challenge you, respect you, and add value to your life and you do the same for them, you’ll find yourself in a pretty special world.


B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate at Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), serving on the Pet Food Ingredient Definition Committee, and is a director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.

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