Help Wanted: Only the Best Need Apply
Hiring top-notch, customer-focused employees is an essential element for success at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif.By Devon McPhee
If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, you’ll find it at Theresa’s,” states an advertisement for Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif. The 28-year-old store, owned by George and Theresa Venti, packs items for a menagerie of pets and livestock into its 12,000 square feet of space—everything from dog collars to live fresh and saltwater fish to wild bird food. It also provides a full slate of services, such as free nail and wing trimming, vaccination clinics, adoption days and teeth cleaning.
Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet, recipient of Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year award for Outstanding General Pet Store, remains open 363 days of the year (closing only on Thanksgiving and Christmas) and offers extended hours—9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday—for its customers’ convenience.
Theresa’s storefront only hints at the vast array of product offerings it carries for all types of pets and their owners.
Yet even more than its wide-range of offerings and long hours, it’s Theresa’s employees and customer service that sets it apart from the competition and pulls in customers from surrounding areas, including Los Angeles and Orange Counties, in addition to local Ventura County residents, said Steve Shalhoob, the store’s general manager for the past 12 years.
“I’m very proud of our staff,” he said. “They work hard and provide the best customer service any time, any place.”
Hiring the Best
Shalhoob guarantees good customer service by making sure he hires the right people right off the bat.
He asks all applicants to first spend a day at Theresa’s observing. If they like what they see and want to be a part of it, they may call the store back and ask for an interview. On the flip side, if they do not like what they see, or if Shalhoob or his staff members feel like the applicant is a bad fit, there’s a “thanks but no thanks” extended and the store moves on to the next applicant.
During an interview, potential team members must answer questions about Theresa’s specifically and the pet industry in general to see if they can “walk the walk” in addition to “talking the talk.” They must also be willing to commit to an 11-week formal training program.
Store owner Theresa Venti and friend.
“Training is an investment in the future,” Shalhoob.
When hiring, Shalhoob said he looks for individuals who are multitaskers, have vision and can think outside the box.
“Our employees wear many hats,” he reported. “Even though we have specialists on staff—reptile, birds, small animals, dogs, cats, etc.—we hire people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty.”
Once hired, new employees get immersed in a “quick-start” training program, which gets them familiar with the store layout, product locations and product differentiation, before starting the formal program.
Employees receive a certificate once their training is complete, and they have their photo posted on the store’s website and hung in the office. This recognition is a way of encouraging employees to complete the program and a demonstration of the store’s appreciation for their accomplishment, Shalhoob said.
A Virtual Expansion
The biggest expansion Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet of Simi Valley, Calif., expects to see will happen online.
With a growing following on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a burgeoning presence on Four Square and BogoPod (a coupon site similar to Groupon), the store’s virtual footprint continues to increase, according to Steve Shalhoob, the store’s general manager. Theresa’s has also capitalized on the popularity of Internet shopping by providing online ordering through its website.
“Customers today are Internet savvy and will go on-line to get the news, find answers to their questions, solve problems, and yes, to go shopping,” said Shalhoob. “Look around, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t have a Blackberry to their ear, an iPad2 on their lap or some other kind of Internet gizmo that keeps them amused or informed. Theresa’s wanted to be a player in that world, so we made the investment and it is paying dividends.” —DM
However, a team member’s education does not stop once new employee training is completed; it continues throughout their employment. Theresa’s encourages its manufacturer representatives to hold seminars about their products on a regular basis. The store typically offers two seminars per month. This ensures that the staff stays up to date on the latest pet industry trends and products, Shalhoob said.
Leave ‘em Smiling
This emphasis on training and education helps Theresa’s differentiate itself from the big box stores.
“If you’re shopping a big box store or a grocery store, who are you going to go to with your problems?” Shalhoob said. “I don’t care if it’s a turtle, snake, dog, rabbit or cat, we can help you with your issue.”
Theresa’s also has a firm customer service policy that attracts a loyal customer base: Never allow customers to leave the store unhappy.
“If they’re not smiling when they come in, make sure they’re smiling when they walk out,” Shalhoob said.
Those customers—white and blue collar, dual- and single-income families—get regular reminders of their value to the store through customer appreciation days, which Theresa’s holds every third Saturday of the month. On those days, the sales floor gets decorated with balloons, vendors hold product demos and customers enjoy discounts as well as free hot dogs and chips.
These regular events bring heavy foot traffic into the store and result in a huge spike in sales—sometimes as much as 120 percent, according to Shalhoob. Pet adoptions also experience an increase on these days.
A scoop-your-own-treat display encourages purchases. Photos Courtesy of Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet
To monitor the store’s customer experience, management started placing “How We Doing?” feedback forms at each checkout station 10 years ago. These simple forms include the store’s name and logo and a space for comments. They’re self-addressed and stamped, so customers can take them home to fill out and mail back.
“We rarely get negative feedback,” Shalhoob said. “And we always respond to our customers either via mail or email.
“When we receive a really good compliment regarding great customer service from one of our employees, Theresa will treat the team to a nice lunch by having one of the restaurants cater in the food,” he said. “That way the entire team gets rewarded for a job well done.”
Considering the successful state of the retailer’s business—a large and loyal customer base, diverse product mix, well-trained, enthusiastic employees—Theresa’s plans to continue along the path that has worked so well since the store’s opening nearly three decades ago, Shalhoob reported.
“I feel good about what we’re doing and where we’re at,” he said.
AT A GLANCE
Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet
Location: 1836 Erringer Road, Simi Valley, Calif.
Owners: George and Theresa Venti
Employees: Seven full time, 43 part time
Size: 12,000 square feet
Years in Business: 28
Products and Services Offered: Stocks products and accessories for a wide variety of animals, including birds, cats, dogs, small mammals, reptiles, horses, wild birds and fish, as well as gifts, pond, and farm and feed items. Live animals sold include birds, small mammals, farm animals, and fresh and saltwater fish. Services include teeth cleaning, pet adoptions, microchipping, vaccinations, obedience classes, free wing and nail trimming, extended hours and free popcorn daily.
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.