“Tell us what you have done wrong since starting your business.” This rolled across my screen when I was doing a Facebook Live event recently. I know this is a common question, but no one had ever really asked it of me.
My first thought was: everything. However, the more I thought about it, the more I decided I have done nothing wrong. I look at where I am right now—working with my wife and us making a living working for ourselves. There are struggles that come from being in business with your spouse, but I would not trade it for the world. She is yin to my yang and, when needed, yang to my yin.
We also have a great staff and wonderful customers. We have rolled with all of the punches thrown at us and made it to where we are today. So, it is hard to look back and say we did much wrong. But yes, we did make a lot of mistakes.
The real first mistake I would say was when we started hiring help. We were slow to fire people who should have been let go quickly. Quite frankly, that was out of desperation. We needed help, and we took anybody who would work for us. When we started having problems with attendance, tardiness and work ethic, we had meetings and wrote the employee up if needed, but if the behaviors continued, we just turned a blind eye out of desperation. It really was not fair to our good team members. It was not fair to us, and it was not fair to the faltering employees. We were not helping them become better employees.
Today things are different. I just had a new hire call out last minute for some things that were not emergencies, and I let that person go. If the employee is calling out at a job they have only worked at for a week, what do you think the future holds? More attendance issues for sure. I even had a good employee who worked for us for more than a year on Saturdays steal from our cash drawer. I told my wife that I did not want to fire this person because that meant I would have to work Saturdays until we filled the spot. Luckily, I listened to my spouse and we did let the thief go. I did end up working some Saturdays, but we found a replacement, and it was amazing how many customers told us they were happy this person was gone. Nobody had mentioned to me she was not taking care of customers in addition to being a thief when she was working for us.
Another mistake that comes to mind is all the failed attempts with museum pieces. Museum pieces? That comes from a saying that “we are resellers, which means we shouldn’t be buying things just because they will look cool on our shelves.” My store owner friend in Texas was just doing a Facebook Live about this, and she said, “No matter how much you think those purses will sell, they will not,” and I had to chuckle because about eight years ago we brought in a line of cool, hip purses the groomers thought everybody would love. We sold one—to my wife. Luckily, I had made a deal for this company to take back our unsold inventory; otherwise, the purses would have been given away at some point. My wife still uses hers, but the people walking into my store to buy pet food did not have the mindset to look at any purses.
It does not just have to be items that normally would not be in a pet store. I came back excited from a show once because I was going to sell the most expensive can of pet food made. We pride ourselves on our premium selection, and we have canned pet food that can go as high as $6 a can, but I brought back a line that retailed for around $9 a can. Nine dollars! Wonderful marketing, good product, but not worth $9. I thought I would use it as a conversation piece and that way I could bounce people to the $6 cans. That is not how conversations went. I highly doubt the shelter dogs we donated the cans to when they became short dated appreciated that they were eating a $9-per-can pet food.
There are always mistakes that you can see looking back but that would have been impossible to see in the moment. At one time, we were selling one brand of pet food 10 times more than anything else we sold. We joked about being a “Brand X” only store. We did not rotate manufacturers as we do now; so when Brand X took a dive, so did our store. I had to do a lot of dancing to switch customers after spending years telling them that I only sell this brand because I believe in it and I trust it. Now we rotate manufacturers, and I can easily switch brands.
The brands rely on the micro independents to build their sales while getting their name out there for them. Then they get big enough that they either make changes micro independents do not like or start actively working against the micro independents by going into the larger chains and making deals we simply cannot compete against. It is nothing to be mad about; it is just the normal evolution. We just need to make sure our business philosophies allow us to adjust quickly and not lose the trust of those that have been buying the brand. Your customer needs to trust you more than any food that they are feeding.
We all are going to make mistakes, but hopefully those will be relatively minor mistakes that we can overcome in time to become better, smarter, more fluid retailers as the years pass.
B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.