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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Influential Listening

By Patrick Donston

Owner, Absolutely Fish

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About 12 years ago, a mom came into our shop with her little boy to buy an aquarium. While answering her questions, the little boy tugged on his Mom's sleeve, and made a gesture that he had to go to the bathroom. Glenn, my manager, took the little boy to the restroom so his Mom could continue to shop. When the little boy opened the store's restroom door, the boy looked up, down and all around, and said, "What happened?" Glenn knew what he meant. The restroom was atrocious. There was mold on the walls, the tiles were missing on the floor, the sink had debris in it and I won't even mention what the toilet looked like. The little boy handed over his Power Ranger action figure so he could do his thing as he continued to look around in amazement.

After Glenn told me the story of what happened, we were enlightened (and a little embarrassed) and decided to do something about the bathroom. We overhauled our restroom and, today, it's somewhat better, but we still love to recall the reaction of that little boy.

I've told the story to my wife, customers and colleagues because it always makes me realize how many people have influenced us, one way or another. Even negative comments on the Internet have helped us look at the way we do business. The trick is to let them influence you in a positive way, and not always take the negative view.

Over the years, we have seen the mom of the little boy who had the issue with the bathroom. She has purchased numerous aquarium set-ups.

We've even told her the story about the bathroom incident, and how much her son's reaction helped us see something we had grown accustomed to and were no longer affected by.

About a week ago, she came in with a tall young man and said to Glenn and me, "Do you remember him?" We looked on in amazement and said, "What happened!" The little boy had grown into a young adult. I then proceeded to tell him the story of how he reacted to the bathroom when he was a youngster. Although he didn't remember a thing about it, he told me he was considering marine biology when he goes to college.

It touched me to think that through us, and his frequent visits to the store, we inspired him to pursue aquatic sciences in his future endeavors. As I walked out the door that night, I couldn't help but think, “What a great job we have as retailers.” To be influenced by strangers and, with a little luck, maybe influence their lives in a positive way as well.

We just have to be open to the messages, from cleaning up our bathroom to cleaning up our act. All we need to do is listen.

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