Posted: August 30, 2013, 11:45 a.m. EDT
By Barry Berman
If you own a pet supply business, you’re probably thinking one of two things: "Business is pretty good, but it could be better,” or "Business really needs to be better.”
With hundreds of millions of Wall Street dollars committed to expanding both pet specialty chains and general retailers with pet supply departments, irrespective of where your store is located, you can be sure at least one new nearby competitor will pop up in the near future.
Is your business in fighting shape for the challenge?
Because pet store owners must effectively manage so many aspects of their businesses, seeking outside help might be a wise decision. However, where to find that assistance might prove tricky.
Consultants are everywhere but can be expensive and may not know much about our field. To cater to the pet industry’s specific needs, the World Pet Association and NexPet formed a committee of retailers to determine the resources that offer the most potential to help improve business performance.
General Retail Aids
A great source of marketing ideas for any store is Bob Negen’s Whizbang! Training (www.whizbangtraining.com), which includes seminars, books and an annual meeting. Negen, who really understands how small shops work, has lots of free or low cost ideas to help increase customer loyalty and sales. His "Retail Mastery System” covers all aspects of store management.
I’ve attended many of Bob’s talks, all of which were both fun and helpful, and I know a number of pet store owners who are satisfied users of this training.
Jon Schallert’s programs, good for both small and large operations, focus on making a business a "destination,” which means drawing shoppers from a wider area and creating a unique customer experience that competitors can’t duplicate. Destination University (DU) (www.destinationuniversity.com) is a monthly subscription to more than 100 webinars conducted by experts in most aspects of retail management, live and accessible from an archive on both computer and smartphones.
DU offers an online user group that allows store-owner participants to share implementation ideas and offers a boot camp where retailers receive thorough training in how to differentiate their business from the competition.
Tops in Sales Training
The Friedman Group (www.thefriedmangroup.com) specializes in sales training for store staff and making store owners better sales managers. Its principles are outlined in Harry Friedman’s book, "Sorry, I’m Just Looking,” which for me is the best how-to book for teaching staff how to sell.
As in a Friedman sales training program, readers are taken through every step of a sale, from the moment a shopper enters to overcoming objections to following up with customers. Friedman also offers great ideas about motivating employees to sell more.
The formats are online self-study for staff and three- and four-day seminars for store owners/managers and those who need to learn more about managing many stores.
The National Retail Federation Foundation (www.nrffoundation.com) offers certification programs in all aspects of retail operations and sales, including retail economics, customer service, loss prevention, merchandising and management.
Completing these programs is like earning an inexpensive MBA in retailing for both the owner and staff members. If you have a growing business, are looking to increase the number of long-term staff and employ someone who can devote time to training staff, these programs are ideal.
The federation also offers inexpensive pre-employment exams that can help a store of any size determine whether a prospective hire possesses the right retail personality or may have a tendency to steal.
Pet Industry Programs
Several programs are designed specifically to help pet stores improve performance. The best known, Pet Store Pro, is available at no charge courtesy of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (www.pida.org/petstorepro/retailers.cfm). It features five sections: animal care, customer service, merchandising, nutrition and manager training.
These modules are delivered online and provide certificates of completion. Most of the sections are quite thorough; according to our committee member who reviewed it, administering it can be confusing at first, but once it’s mastered, it’s easy to track staff progress.
This program has a weak link when it comes to products; because Pet Store Pro is published by an industry association, it doesn’t train staff to advocate one product over another.
After 12 years and in its fifth edition, NexPet’s FlexQuiz focuses on training staff how to sell the products specific to specialty pet stores, including accessories for dogs, cats and exotics; premium pet food; and aquatics (www.nexpet.com/pet-store-employee-training-is-important/). Its 43 self-study quizzes cover general selling skills based on Friedman Group principles and are available in bound workbooks and online to members of the NexPet Co-op.
Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) (www.pijac.org) provides three programs: Animal Care Guidelines assists stores in implementing best practices in animal care; Pet Store Guide is a general "how to succeed” introduction for store staff; Certified Avian Specialist is a certification program.
Well-trained staffers exhibit better results, higher morale and lower turnover. Only a knowledgeable and stable workforce can develop the personal relationships with customers needed for a store to weather the more intense competitive battles that lie ahead for us all.
Barry Berman is president and cofounder of NexPet, a co-op for independent retailers, and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals, a pet food company. He has served in executive positions for Central Pet and Brinks, and entrepreneurial positions in the home furnishings industry. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he is a member of the World Pet Association board of directors. Contact him at 888-653-8021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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