Posted: Jan. 27, 2012, 1:15 p.m. EST
In-store professional trainers can provide retailers with a wealth of benefits, from specific dog-behavior advice to value-added programs.
By Steven Appelbaum
From this column’s inception, I have focused on the importance of pet retailers educating their staffs about behavior challenges in dogs and cats. Doing so can not only increases product sales, but also customer loyalty and staff morale.
However, there will be situations in which it is best that you or your staff suggest that a client discusses and/or works with a professional trainer.
In addition, a professional dog trainer can further educate your staff about behavior and the best applications for many of the products your store sells. This is a logical extension to promoting behavior modification products.
You should also consider having actual obedience classes taught at the store. Most large pet chains offer this service, and for good reason—they bring in and bring back customers.
Trainers can also offer services such as problem clinics—a free event in which a dog trainer comes to your store at an agreed upon time and answers questions from customers about behavior and obedience. The best problem clinics are scheduled during high-traffic times and often in conjunction with another in-store happening, such as a shot clinic or adoption event.
Problem clinics are advantageous for stores because many of the solutions suggested by trainers involve products sold on site. These events are equally good for trainers as it allows them to meet potential new clients.
I will discuss the ways in which problem clinics and obedience classes can be set up and promoted in upcoming editions of this column.
While there are some clear advantages to working with a trainer, there are some potential downsides. Because any person or service you refer is a reflection on your store and reputation, it is critical that you select the right trainer. This can be a bit daunting, as some people don’t know where to look or what to look for.
What to Look for in a Trainer
1. Professional: The trainer should arrive on time, be dressed in an appropriate fashion and present him- or herself in a way you are comfortable with and that you feel will resonate with your customers.
2. Articulate and Knowledgeable: Much of dog training is really owner training. This means the best trainers are able to express themselves in a clear, understandable fashion. Trainers who can’t should be eliminated. Some trainers like to use behavioral jargon. While an understanding of behavior is key for trainers, those who speak in a fashion that leaves your eyes glazed over are likely to have the same impact on your customers. What you are really looking for is a knowledgeable trainer who is easy to understand and pleasant to be around. If you like interacting with this person, so will your customers.
3. No Conflicts of Interest: You sell pet products. The trainer you work with ought not to. You have specific products in your store. Trainers who don’t like the products you carry and/or suggest different products to your customers are not working in your best interest.
How to Screen
When trainers approach you for business, make it a point to schedule an appointment for them to come back to see you. Why? This will tell you not only how serious they are but also allow you to see if they keep their appointments and are punctual about it. This is a very important point: If a trainer can’t keep an appointment with someone they are trying to impress, do you really want to trust this person with 10 or 15 of your hard-earned customers?
When speaking with trainers, ask them what products they recommend in addressing problems such as chewing, house soiling, digging and obedience training. Then compare what they suggest to what you carry.
Ask a trainer to explain to you how he or she would address a challenge like chewing. Is the explanation understandable? Is it positive? While there are many ways to answer this question, here is an example of what to look for:
“Chewing is usually caused by teething and a natural exploratory period in puppies. In older dogs, it can be a boredom issue as well as a way for dogs to relieve stress. The thing to understand about chewing is that some dogs chew. They might outgrow it or they might not, so the key is to strongly fixate the dog on the right chew toys.
“For example, Kong, Nylabones or Gumabones are great choices. So are interactive toys like Buster Cubes or Premier Pet Busy Buddies, which often help with boredom. A good diet is important and a high-quality kibble is part of this solution. Exercise is another important factor, which means obedience skills are needed to take the dog for walks safely. As such, a sturdy leash and collar are also recommended.”
In the above example, the trainer was clear and addressed causes of the problem along with actions to take that might help address it. He also suggested a lot of products that make sense for you and the customer.
If you are serious about working with trainers, I recommend you do two other things. First, ask for professional references. Does he or she work with a veterinarian or even a friendly competitor across town? Perhaps you know these folks and can get feedback about the trainer from them.
Finally, observe an actual class they teach. Do the students seem comfortable? Does the trainer conduct the class in a professional, positive fashion? Is this a class you would be comfortable attending? Is this a class you feel your customers would like to attend and would benefit from?
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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