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10:27 AM   April 25, 2015
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Pets Welcome, Children Must Be Leashed

Creating a kid-friendly store ensures a better shopping experience for all and can increase sales while generating future hobbyists.
By Gina Pijanowski

How do you deal with the little critters running amok in your store? Oh, I’m not talking about the ones that make the occasional messes on the floors, or try to sneak treats when you are looking the other way. I’m talking about the unruly children who wreak havoc on your displays, put their hands in your fish tanks and poke at the store cat, while their parents pretend not to notice. A toddler is lying on the floor, kicking and screaming while the mom is trying to pay; a group of teenagers arrives to hang out at your store without supervision.

I’m sure these situations rank high on your pet-peeves list. We want our customers to get the best experience possible when they walk through our doors. At what point do you step in to ensure a welcoming and pleasant experience for everyone?

Your store may be a pet-sitting service, but it is not a free babysitting service. Watching unattended children is not in your employee’s job description. This is an issue you will need to address: Politely discuss with the parents that you can’t have unattended children in your store. If a responsible adult is not accompanying a child, it turns into a safety concern. Unattended minors are a liability. Post a sign on your front window or door: Adults must accompany all children.

It’s up to the parents to make sure the next generation knows about manners. Parents should not be offended when you correct their children for destroying your merchandise. You must address the children when they are doing something unacceptable. Children need boundaries. It doesn’t hurt them to know what the boundaries are in your store. Instead of poking the cat, teach them the correct way to pet a cat. Let them know why they should not put their hands in the fish tank. Step into the role model position if the parents are not. Your interaction with the child may make all the difference.

Most of us try to get these disruptive customers out the door as quickly as possible; however, you might want to try something different. Create a Kid’s Corner where the children sit and play while the parents shop. Place tables and chairs in a small section of your store, and provide the children with coloring books and crayons. Make a library with animal-related books for them to read, or turn on a TV with cartoons for them to watch. This will not only help reduce your staff’s stress, but the parents will appreciate it as well.

Besides having a Kid’s Corner, consider selling retail items related to children. There are many educational items, such as games, puzzles, stickers and books, which you could offer in a Kid’s Section of your store. You can also sell T-shirts, hats, bracelets and stuffed animals.

Making your store kid-friendly will show in increased sales. Children can be your best customers if you provide them with exciting items, services and events, such as the following.

  • Start a Kid’s Club: Develop a children’s humane education program where they meet animals and learn how to interact with them. Teach children respect, kindness and compassion toward animals in fun and interesting ways; include a craft and a snack during your meetings.
  • Conduct Field Trips: Invite students to visit your store or ask permission to visit a classroom. Educating children about animals is the key.
  • Host Birthday Parties: Besides having Doggie Birthday Parties, get the children in on the action. Pick an animal-related theme, play games and send each child home with a betta fish. (Please ask parents first). This is a fun and easy way to increase your business. Once one child has a party at your store there, more will follow. Your store will be the talk of their schools.
  • Offer Santa and Easter Bunny Pictures: Include children and pets for these seasonal picture-taking events. 
  • Start Donation Drives: Get the children involved with local rescue and shelter groups. Hold a donation drive of wish-list items at your store.
  • Assist Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts: Help theses scouting groups earn their badges—e.g., get them to build a pet pantry in your store.
  • Sponsor a School Event: Set up a table at seasonal fairs or carnivals at your local schools. Provide hermit crabs or a booth for a ping-pong toss for fish. (Make sure the fish are not in the bowls, because the balls will stress them out). Instead of handing out fish, provide a coupon redeemable at your store.
  • Conduct Fish Classes: Provide a beginners’ fish class to those youngsters who want to set up an aquarium. This is your chance to get them interested in aquatics.
  • Host an AKC Safety Course: Offer dog safety classes for children.
  • Attend School Career Days: Get involved with Career Days at local schools and preschools. Teach them about animal-related jobs.

Also let them know classes they should pursue to run a business. Most high schools have senior projects or community service projects students must complete before they graduate. Help them with this effort.

The next time a child terrorizes your store, use any of the aforementioned tips or brainstorm new ways to turn the experience into a positive situation and acquire a repeat customer—for life. <HOME>

Gina Pijanowski is the co-owner of The Pet Shoppe, located in Shrewsbury, Pa., and a Retailer of the Year Runner-Up.

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