Category Archives: Retail

The art of retailing.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

January 23, On This Day

On This Day. Facebook memories is perhaps the most brilliantly wicked customer retention tactic in the history of social media to date, I swear. January 23, 2016 “Mark your calendar! Pet World is reopening 1-23!”

Do I remember this date? Um, yeah… you could say that. It was the day I learned once and for all the importance of listening to your community and letting them guide you.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Our business was completely destroyed by fire and our local community made it very clear that they felt the loss and wanted it back. At first, we weren’t sure if we would rebuild. We were devastated. Lost. Another corporate pet store had just opened right before the fire. Anything we sell can be purchased somewhere else or online. It took over 25 years to build that business the first time. There are other exotic animal rescues. How many pet stores does one small town need, anyway, right? But the outpouring of letters and support, explaining what the Pet World experience has meant to so many people…the message was loud and clear. Our community needed PW back. We needed it back. They were right. So we promised to rebuild.

But I said no to a vigil thinking it would be too painful.

Community vigil to honor pets lost in the fire.

Community vigil to honor animals lost in the fire.

The PW community, however, had other thoughts. They said, “We want a vigil. We need a vigil. You need a vigil. We’re having a vigil, one way or another.” So we held a vigil. And hundreds of people came. All walks of life, filling the parking lot – some silent, some weeping, some laughing, some chatting – all sharing in the crazy, bittersweet moments created when people come together after loss. 27 minutes. 27 candles. One for each year PW had been a part of the community. It was beautiful. They were right. We all needed that vigil to let go and move on.

Next the fundraising issue arose. Well intentioned hats were passed. Both honest and not so honest GoFundMe accounts popped up. I said, “Please, no fundraising. We’re fine. We have insurance.” But it didn’t matter. The PW community knew better. Deductibles would have to be met. Uninsured expenses would show up. And then there was the cost of that new sprinkler system. Everyone knew it was a deal breaker and we refused to reopen without one. Plus, people wanted to help but there was nothing yet to do. So we set up the relief fund account at our local bank and the money started coming in.

$300.00   $75.00   $31.00   $12.30    Lemonade stands. Benefit concerts. Fundraiser nights at local restaurants. Fundraiser drinks named for us! We had never seen anything like it. They were right. When people want to help we need to let them help.

But then we had to figure out the best use of these funds. This wasn’t our money; it belonged to our community. Grief clouds our minds and knock us off course but sometimes moments arise that bring us back to our core. We are entrepreneurs, after all. So we asked our tee shirt designer to create a fundraising shirt for us. Having never let us down over the years, he came up with a new design that was perfect so we ordered a hundred of them with the relief fund money.

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

“If you rebuild it, they will come,” on the front. Inspirational. “Rebuilding Team” on the back. Perfect. After most of the first hundred shirts sold, we used that money to order more, and continued that pattern until we had sold nearly 1000 shirts at about $15.00 each. Want to know how much money we needed for the new fire sprinkler system? About $15,000.00.

Yeah.

I don’t believe in coincidences. Never have. I think we often call something a coincidence when we can’t or won’t acknowledge there is something much bigger happening than what we can comprehend.

The night before our grand reopening to the public, we invited everyone who owned one of those Rebuilding Team shirts to wear it to a private, sneak peek party. People shivered outside in the freezing cold to watch a 28 minute lighting ceremony, where my son turned on 24 red light bulbs, one at a time, followed by three yellow lights, and finally one green light. Closed to the public, we opened a secret side door and let in all of our invited guests. Hundreds of people filled the building – mingling, hugging, laughing, crying – wearing the same, matching shirts while they took it all in for the first time. No purchases. No money. The registers were closed. Free drinks and snacks from local places were enjoyed as stories were told and animals were held and children smiled.

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

I’ve seen a lot of beauty in my life but, to this day, I can’t think of a more beautiful scene than what I witnessed that night. The people of the Pet World community were right. I will always remember to trust them.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

Sometimes I see that notification, “You’ve got memories from this day…” and I roll my eyes. I think, Way to go, Zuckerberg. Now I’ll never be able to delete my Facebook account. But then a memory like this pops up and I kinda want to send that dude a thank you card.

 

Soda Blast to the Past: Rediscovering Purpose

I had wanted to share another post-fire update at work but there hadn’t been much to say in the past couple months. Seems like everything in the rebuilding process moves in slow motion. Or perhaps since I haven’t worked a 9-5 for someone else in over 25 years I have forgotten how things work in the real, non-entrepreneurial world.

Since the fire we’ve been reminded that many 9-5 folks mentally check out Thursday afternoon, completely clock out Friday at 5, physically clock back in Monday morning, but don’t actually get back in full swing until Tuesday. Endless meetings crowd the work week and slow progress so much I don’t know how anyone can take it!

Life is nothing like that for established entrepreneurs. We are rarely completely at work, able to handle personal things almost any time, and never completely off work, able to keep things moving with a quick text from two states away while on vacation. Our work weeks have flexibility so we don’t miss our kids’ events or family dinner but we work 24/7, even while we sleep, because we’re always on call. We keep an easy but never-ending pace. We stop when we finish the job, not when the whistle blows. I don’t know that it’s better or worse, harder or easier, but it’s certainly different because small business owners never clock out and always get paid last with whatever is left. Since we work on our own time every minute counts. Perhaps that explains why we are not very patient when others, especially those who get paid every week no matter what, don’t feel the same sense of urgency.

This past September, four months after the fire, I kinda lost it. I admit it. I even stopped blogging. All summer we saw no progress on the building for weeks at a time. One day of work, two weeks of nothing. Insurance investigators took six weeks to agree on cause but only actually worked three days. The other 39 days nothing happened. Nothing. The property owners never contacted us and it seemed as if nobody was doing anything to move forward. Our questions remained unanswered. We found ourselves not wanting to nag and basically just surrendering, going with the flow, losing the battle with developing a defeatist attitude. Then one day we had yet another meeting that accomplished nothing and I just flipped out.

Up until then I was holding it together surprisingly well, always very kind and understanding, so I feel sorry for those who were totally caught off guard with my make-this-happen-now-or-find-someone-who-can moment. Let me just say that I could never be a general contractor – ever. I could not be an insurance adjuster, an investigator, a city official, a government employee, and no way could I work a regular desk job. I thought managing employees and pleasing customers was challenging. Nah. Helping people is rewarding. But being at the mercy of others to make deadlines and get things done? Now that’s torture. I don’t know how people deal with it. The bureaucracy I have witnessed since the fire has assured me that it’s a good thing I’m self employed. I would not last a week on someone else’s clock. I’ve tried my best to stay kind and patient but we all have our breaking points.

My advice? Don’t ever confuse kindness with weakness, in yourself or others. And always remember the ones who write the checks make the rules.

SODABLASTSo I was watching a part of the cleaning process one day called soda blasting and I had an epiphany. The soda blasting was fascinating, actually. It’s a non-destructive, environmentally friendly process in which sodium bicarbonate is applied against a surface using compressed air. Much like sand blasting, it’s actually more effective for fire and smoke damage cleanup as it removes the soot and deodorizes the surface, also destroying the mold that generally forms after fires are extinguished, while not harming the environment with unnatural chemicals. But it makes a terrible mess. I wondered what inspired the invention of this cleaning process since everything starts with a problem needing a solution. I was captivated by how it took such a huge, messy, excavation process to expose the simple core surface beneath. I remembered that story of the little boy watching an artist sculpt a woman and him asking, “How did you know she was in there?” Suddenly, I found myself transported back in time to how we got here in the first place.

It started with a dream – Tim’s dream to make a living, somehow, working with animals. He had all this intelligence, business savvy, passion, and animal knowledge but needed someone to handle the human and retail elements, so he asked me. After I fell in love with his mission – to foster an affinity for animals and nature in children – I realized my people and retail skills would help, but help him do what, exactly? The world didn’t need yet another ordinary pet shop. What did it need? I didn’t know so I asked the community and the community responded by loving or hating what we were doing which, in turn, guided our actions. The mission never changed but we realized that we’d need to find a way to fill a void in people’s lives, a need that can be satisfied by returning to nature. We recognized we had to listen to what customers wanted to figure out how to give it to them. The customers were financing this mission, after all, so basically they were in charge. After we embraced that concept everything began to fall in place.

During my blast to the past I remembered one of my former employers, Gladys Bachmann, who would always tell me to “kill ‘em with kindness” during tense situations. We called her Glady. I actually used red, silk gladiolas in my wedding to symbolize her teaching. “Be kind,” Glady would say, “no matter how someone else acts. Rise above and be kind.” She and her husband owned a jewelry store and even when customers were snobby she would remind us that without customers writing the checks there were no businesses. Another thing she used to ask was, “Who’s robbing this train?” to lighten the mood anytime things were not going smoothly at work. My coworkers and I would then realize we had lost sight of who was in charge, or failed to put anyone in charge, and that was why we were spinning our wheels.

During this uneventful meeting, I noticed some sand on the concrete, remembered all my previous reflection, and with Glady’s voice in my head I walked myself through the steps.

Who is robbing this train (who’s in charge)? Customers.
What do they need? Tim to reopen his store.
How can he do that? By having me handle the people.

Right now “the people” are the ones in charge of the rebuild but, wait, who writes the checks?

Several years ago a very rude, arrogant sales executive (who had never been self employed or worked retail) was in our store trying to tell my staff what to do. We were his company’s oldest and best independent account yet he felt the need to badger and boss my employees. When I shut him down, explaining that my employees knew their jobs better than he could ever understand, he asked, “Do you realize who I am? Do you know who I work for?” His business card said he was the executive director of marketing for the European division of a pet food manufacturer.

“Yeah, I know who you work for,” I said, kindly. “Me. You work for me.” Oh, the look on his face. “I sell your product to customers and use their money to buy more of your product. I cash their checks to write your company a check then they cash my check to pay you. So I work for our customers and you? You work for me.” And then I politely showed him and his Armani suit the door. That was an interesting day.

So I kicked a little sand with my shoe and prepared to unleash. With renewed clarity I kindly reminded all parties involved exactly who writes that five digit rent check every month, who has been a tenant for 27 years, what it’s costing us every day we’re not back in that building, how the loss of Pet World is affecting this community, what the lost traffic of 1000 people a day is costing the shopping center, and how many other properties were available for rent in Lawrence who would love to sign our next 10 year, million dollar lease. This fire rocked our community and nearly destroyed Tim. He is better with business than me but I’ve been watching him negotiate for more than half my life so I knew how he would handle it if he were at his best. He needed me to call up my inner banshee and, boy, was she ready to surface. We are entrepreneurs whose lives revolve around reciprocity. This one way street had reached its end. Since then we’ve had get-on-board-or-get-out-of-the-way kind of days. And whaddaya know? Things actually started moving forward without weeks of inactive gaps in progress. Now we’re finally getting somewhere and the end is in sight.

In my next fire update I’ll explain the timeline for the final stages and announce the official date when we will reopen in our old location. In the meantime, I’ve got to remind myself every day to never confuse kindness with weakness, identify who is robbing the train, and always remember the person writing the checks makes the rules. It might get messy, but I think sometimes you simply gotta blast your way back down to your core and reflect on the past in order to navigate the future.

Snake Snuggles? Post fire love from the limbless.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Last week we shared some social media posts about this fabulous, local festival called Confabularryum! The event founder, Ben Smith, messaged me to thank me for sharing and he mentioned his desire to include Pet World in the event but his hesitance to reach out because of the tragic fire. Understandable. We actually have an interesting history with Ben and Callahan Creek, the marketing agency he works for. We had been following Ben on twitter but ended up going all the way to Orlando before meeting him in person, at a pet industry trade show, of all places. He gave presentations that really motivated pet business folks, especially those who can’t resist his British accent. Crazy we all live in Lawrence but had never met. Who knew our paths would cross again just down the street at South Middle School?! I told him I would like to run it past my staff just in case someone could bring over a critter or two.

In our employee group thread I asked if anyone was free Saturday and would be interested in sharing animals at Confabularryum. Most of our employees have been laid off since the fire and not all of them have replaced their PW jobs so I had no idea what response I’d get. Amazingly, not only did several of them offer to help, one in particular even offered to bring Goliath to the festival and then to our temporary location for a visit!

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath is our large, rescued Burmese python who instantly became famous on social media when rescued by fire fighters. Folks love to tell us the story of how they saw a firefighter cross himself before entering the building then emerge a few moments later with this 13 foot snake. The funny question was whether his crossing was because of the fire risk or the snake risk. Locals know and love Goliath from his travels to schools to teach kids about Rain Forest animals. He also helps us teach customers what not to buy when it comes to appropriate pets.

The visit was fun for everyone even though many of us got emotional, customers included. At the festival, many children and adults shared how Goliath was the first snake they had ever touched. That concept of touching a snake for the first time is one I had completely taken for granted. At Pet World, we have shared that moment with folks every day for the last 27 years. Literally. Every single day. Human-animal interaction is a critical part of our mission.

The Pet World Mission: Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

The Pet World Mission:
Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

Until the fire, I had forgotten how many people would never have that opportunity without PW. We joked about it with Ben, in fact, teasing him until he, too, touched his first snake. We even laughed as we took his picture. But after he walked away, I thought about how his unique, first experience is something we do every day. I observed all the other first timers and marveled at their faces. It’s always the same reaction. “It’s not cold and slimy!” Nope. Smooth and shiny, like a basketball. We’ve said that more times than we could possibly count. What interesting jobs we have.

We weren’t even old enough to legally drink when Tim announced he wanted to buy a pet store. I thought, oh no. I’m going to be poor the rest of my life. But it was his dream — and he was my dream — so I was all in. And when I think about all the smiling faces who have passed through those doors, I’m incredibly grateful Tim had such vision and I’ve been blessed to help him see it through.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Watching Goliath at the festival was fun and felt normal but seeing him at Pet World brought back a lot of memories and stirred up powerful emotions. I thought about when Luke Welton, our reptile manager at the time, assured me that rescuing Goliath was a good idea and me standing there with a kid on each hip, wondering what in the world we were going to do with that big ol’ snake (and wondering if he could actually eat my twins). I laughed about the day we convinced Kansas University basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden, to pose with Goliath. I remembered a fire fighter asking us how they could tell if Goliath was still alive, the best way to get him out of his enclosure, if he would bite as they rescued him, Tim asking if he could just go in himself, and then Tim lying, offering assurance that, no, Goliath wouldn’t bite. Several of us looked at each other and actually smiled, knowing that our scripted, trained response is always, “Any animal with a mouth can bite.” But who could blame him. They were wearing heavy gear, they’d be fine, right?

Man, those firefighters were awesome. I mean, seriously, firefighters are truly amazing people.

Also last Saturday I watched my employees, closely, and felt so much pride. Morgan, graduated from KU, supposed to have “launched” from PW a success story this summer, yet there he was, still around, helping with Goliath. Then Navid, who volunteered to transport Goliath to and from his visits, laid off from PW, yet there he was, helping again like he has done so many times this summer. Then Mariah, our reptile department manager, helping out on her day off, holding Goliath.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

I could still picture Mariah on that dreadful day, in her nice, clean sundress after completing that muddy 5K, just weeping as she held on to Goliath in the parking lot, gently bathing him, washing away the soot. For hours she cared for him that day and kept him safe and here she was again, caring for him, keeping him safe. At one point, I realized Goliath appeared to be snuggling Mariah. Never in my life would I believe a snake could exhibit emotions like that but I watched him curl up on Mariah’s lap and frequently look up at her then rest his head back against her. The longer I watched, the more I was convinced he felt genuinely at peace in her lap. It had been three months but I swear, I think he recognized her touch. Neither Mariah nor I are ones for anthropomorphism but we reached a point where we couldn’t even maintain eye contact without crying. What an ordeal this has been.

BabaDioum_QuoteThose close to me know I don’t believe in coincidences. The paths we cross, the lives we touch, and those who touch us — I don’t necessarily believe it’s all part of some master plan but I do believe there is higher meaning in every interaction if we just take time to look. I would give anything for this Godforsaken fire to never have happened but it did. And I must admit we have since encountered some beautiful situations and learned to truly appreciate every human-animal interaction we experience and the life lessons we are fortunate to teach.  What a truly amazing journey this has become.

Hope (and a Little Mascara)

2015-08-09 17.33.00Today I wore makeup for the first time since before the fire. Not a lot, but mascara and some powder foundation. That might not mean much to some people but for women like me it reveals everything you need to know about where I am in the grieving process and life in general.

Nearly three months have passed.

Three months.

Sometimes it feels more like three days; other times more like three years. The pain is often as fresh as three hours while the fog occasionally mimics the safe illusion of three lifetimes.

May was busy, as usual, with finals, proms, high school and college graduations, schedule changes, employee launches, and summer camp preparation.  Excitement about our Memorial Day trail run and five upcoming summer camps filled my days. The Kitten Pit proved a huge success with seven adoptions the very first weekend of the new program. Business was great, continuing its steady, record setting growth and our staffing was as good as it’s ever been. 27 years of hard work was paying off and many, many of us from the Lawrence area were enjoying Pet World’s success.

And then my phone rang. Two hours into the event, I was getting more PW5K tee shirts out of the back of our car when I heard Tim’s phone ring first, reverberating in the cup holder. I remember thinking, “Who would be calling right now?” It seemed like all the folks who call us had either just left or were at the tortoise farm with us and most were on the trails running or drinking post race PBRs. Service is terrible at the property, too, but I had parked in a high spot to avoid the mud, a spot that apparently has decent reception – not that I had any intention of using my phone. Nor did anyone else since many of them were tossed in my car for safekeeping. No sooner had Tim’s phone stopped ringing than my phone started, and then other phones started ringing. At that point I decided I better answer.

The rest, of course, is history.

They say everything comes in threes. Three hours to get the fire out and determine cause. Three more hours to deem the place a total loss. Three hours for fire to destroy someone’s entire life’s work in the worst possible way. Three weeks to open a temporary location. Three days to clean out the contents of the building. Three weeks to schedule the big investigative meeting with representatives from three parties only to decide they needed three more weeks to meet again and take three days to agree the initial cause was exactly what the local experts said three hours after the fire. Three weeks of delays for nothing. Three months I aged at least three times faster with not enough optimism to even throw on a little mascara. I’ve had plenty of threes. I’m done with threes.

So after cancelling and altering three different summer travel plans we decided to take our kids on a much needed family vacation to Cozumel, one of my favorite places on Earth.  We enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and every day made a conscious decision to embrace life (while we thanked God we had already paid for this all inclusive stay last spring).

"I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared."

“I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared.”

At one point I remember lounging by the pool, feeling hopeful, yet fearing that perhaps I was just going through the motions and not as okay as I wanted to believe. I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared. I snapped a photo and started giggling uncontrollably, knowing everyone around me assumed intoxication – which may or may not have been a contributing factor. If nothing else, at least I knew in that moment I was definitely not numb and perhaps the hope was real after all. I think I actually felt happy.

On the way home, Tim and I stayed an extra day in Dallas to meet with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department just one year ago. Fully rested, I popped right out of bed and grabbed that familiar, pink mascara tube. We toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, made plans, and revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Our temporary location has offered reprieve for many of us but it’s just not the same. Finally moving forward toward this next chapter, though… Hallelujah.  As for the rebuild, all I can say is that if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers.

Our employees are like our kids and laying them off ripped my heart out. My God, what they’ve been through. Customers miss seeing them and they are all still feeling lost. On the plane ride home, Tim slept while I imagined my employees’ faces as they help rebuild, knowing once again their jobs will be secure and meaningful. I pictured the smiles and hugs from our customer family and tried to inhale the inspiration that only children can provide. No matter how crazy things get, happy children always make our efforts worthwhile. Pet World kids give me hope for humanity. I accepted that rebuilding will be exhausting and we’ll have days we question everything and want to quit, but, we won’t quit. We can’t quit. And as I closed my eyes to imagine the joy and relief we’ll all feel when we reopen those doors for the first time I felt my mascara run down my cheeks, carried by tears – happy tears. For the past three months I hadn’t worried about ruining my makeup because I had been too heartbroken, too busy, too stressed, and too numb to even bother with makeup. But tonight’s streaked face served as proof that I was, in fact, feeling hopeful, and that I finally felt good enough to care at all.

Who knew enlightenment could be found in a pink tube?

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us
 — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments —
can see a possibility of hope.
                              ~Maya Angelou

 

 

Pet World Dilemma After the Fire

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

Our family business had a devastating fire on May 25, 2015. Please click below for background info leading up to this post. To expand comment potential, I’m hosting this particular post on my personal site so folks who don’t use Facebook or Twitter can participate.

http://www.petworldlawrence.com/component/content/article/42-news-items/450-official-statement-regarding-the-fire-.html

UPDATE

June 20, 2015
Live Animals and Fire Prevention at Pet World Express

The new, temporary Pet World location (across the parking lot by Bikram Yoga) is open and running. Well, crawling is probably a better word. But we didn’t want to wait any longer to reopen. You need our staff, our feeders, our water, and you’ve made it very clear you want to spend your money at “PW Express” in order to facilitate rebuilding. We appreciate that very much and the truth is, we need you more than you need us. We need to see your smiling faces, pet your dogs, test your water, trim your bird’s wings, count your crickets, and answer those pet questions. Every time you come in, even just to pick up a pig ear for your pooch, you are helping us heal and move forward. Thank you for that.

Everyone wants to know when we’ll have pets available at PWX. The building is up to code but not currently equipped with any fire prevention system – not even a smoke detector. We have emergency lights, lighted exit signs, and fire extinguishers but that’s it. A sprinkler system is not an option in the temporary location for a variety of reasons beyond our control. But we just found out that our insurance will pay for monitored smoke detection in the temporary location. Not just landline monitoring (which we all know is worthless when the landline is destroyed), but 4G cellular, wireless monitoring! That is very expensive but it’s the latest in monitored alarm communication and goes above and beyond most professional recommendations. I hope this is not inappropriate but I must say that American Family has done an outstanding job in assisting us and guiding us since day one when our agent (Ron King since 1988) was on the scene right away.

Here is the dilemma: live animals or no live animals in the temporary location? Pet World will not reopen permanently in the former location or any other location without the latest in fire safety, including sprinklers. If we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all and, quite frankly, a sprinkler system is a deal breaker for us. No sprinkler system? No Pet World.

But what about in the temporary location for the next 3-6 months? The system we are installing at PWX goes above and beyond what is being proposed in fire safety code revisions. We’ll have 14 smoke detectors monitored by a non-stop 4G cellular alarm communicator with battery backup. Response time will be virtually minutes because the alarm will activate in mere seconds. 14 smoke detectors in this 2400 square foot space is basically the same as one detector per 9’ x 9’ room – except there are no walls so it’s even more effective. Overkill? Maybe. But without a sprinkler system we feel like it’s the next best thing. Are we being too paranoid? Yes, but we all know why. PWX is small and we can’t house very many live animals but unnecessary risk of even one animal is too much.

So please talk to us. One reason our customers feel the loss as much as we do is because you all are an integral part of PW and you know that. You speak, we listen. We ask, you answer. Pet World is yours more than ours. So here is my question to all our tangible customers, current and former, who actually shop with us in Lawrence and understand exactly what PW means to the Lawrence community: How do you feel about us having live animals in the temporary location after the new fire prevention system is installed, even though it will not have sprinklers?

Please comment via facebook, twitter, or on this blog post. Your feedback is very important. Thank you.

No Memos

Memo Moratorium: Think You Should Send? Think Again.

MANAGEMENT MEMOS. We can’t avoid them. No Memos
But, I assure you, we can reduce them tremendously if we simply take a moment to think. When something goes so wrong that a manager feels the need to address it with one reprimanding, blanket, team memo that’s usually the very time a memo should not be sent. Corrective blanket memos are rarely, if ever, needed. In our company they are not even allowed because they do more harm than good. Our managers have to work harder than that.

 

Public praise? Sure. Education and training? Absolutely. But keep criticism private and accurately directed. If you’re a manager, always consider the math.

 

Good LeadersIs this an isolated issue? Are only a few people involved? Then why should the entire group be addressed? A blanket memo addressing an entire group is about as immature as a subtweet and will garner about the same level of respect. Passive aggressive anonymity appears weak and transparent, even snarky. Savvy readers know who you’re talking about and get irritated with you wasting their time, requiring them to read a memo that has nothing to do with them. Even using “we” won’t hide that you’re addressing others, not yourself. Plus the offending party will likely think it’s about someone else anyway. Or worse, they’ll resent you for calling them out in front of the team while the other team members learn to distrust you for that practice. Corrective group memos either cause bad energy or get ignored. Good leaders get to the source of the problem and deal with it directly.

 

Is this a total team fail that you think warrants a group memo since everyone was involved? Think again. When everyone on the team makes the same mistake, including managers and trainers, you need to look for a system flaw. And who is in charge of the system? You, the manager. Team FailTake a little time to go over the routine and consider the possibility of some systematic failure – a gap somewhere, a missed step maybe, distraction perhaps – some reason why something bad would go unnoticed or be mishandled by an entire team for so long. Good leaders get to the source of the problem, remember? The source of a total team fail is always the system put in place by leadership.

 

My husband, who is also a coach, once told me he never understood coaches who publicly reprimand players after the fact for not doing something they didn’t know to do. He said that just exposes what the coaches failed to teach. A good coach teaches before the play, recognizing that a player’s mistakes reveal what still needs to be taught.

Mistakes

When addressing problems, remember, people support what they help create. So rather than cracking whips and breaking employees down, try collaborating. Maybe start with something surprisingly vulnerable, like, “Hey guys, I need your help.”

 

If you push something on me I will push back in reaction. Shove someone and they’ll shove back. So pull instead. Pull the blame on yourself. Be honest. Say, “My system has failed,” and offer supporting details. Their natural tendency will then be to pull the blame back on themselves. Hmm, that might not be the manager’s fault. Surely we knew better. Tell your team what happened on your watch and invite suggestions for improvement because the responsibility is yours, not theirs. If they could do everything right without you, they wouldn’t need you. Or, more likely, you’d be working for them. Ultimately, it’s the manager’s job to ensure the success of the team. If they all screw up, it’s the fault of the leader. So set the example and take responsibility yourself.

 

Deal directly with the source and spare everyone else the stress. When you discover the source of the problem is you, own it and be honest. Your team will realize (without you telling them) that as part of your team they are collectively to blame. What’s more, they won’t get defensive or resist correction because you didn’t heave the blame on them. They’ll respect that you were strong enough to hold yourself accountable and follow your lead. In the end, you still get what you need – they know where they failed and the correction happens anyway – but it’s handled as a team with a leader who is confident enough to accept responsibility. Rise above the corrective group memo and go straight to the source of the problem, even if the problem is you. Correction: especially if the problem is you.

Choosing Your New Pet

New pets can bring endless joy and create priceless memories for almost any family when a good, solid people-pet connection is made. A little research can go a long way. Before bringing home a new pet, families should first consider their lifestyles and assess who is home at what time and for how long. New pet owners need to know their patterns and schedules before they can make an educated decision about a pet. A family must match their new pet’s needs to their commitment level and time at home is a major factor in determining how committed they can be. Maintenance expenses are another factor.

 

This child is convinced a tarantula would make a great pet for him.

This child is convinced a tarantula would make a great pet for him.

For example, a young family with a parent who spends a lot of time at home and has dedicated, pet-passionate kids might be well suited for a high need, long term pet like a rabbit. A family with parents who work a lot outside the home and busy teenagers who are frequently away and leaving for college soon might choose a low maintenance, short term pet like a betta fish. Personally, I happen to find parrots fascinating! However, the only reason I own one is because I have a full time staff to care for her along with hundreds of fans who give her the endless daily attention she needs. My busy lifestyle is not conducive to having a pet parrot at home. Discerning which pet is right for which family at which time is absolutely essential to the success of the family-pet connection.

 

Once a good family-pet match is determined, I encourage families to start at the beginning with pets, exactly as if the new pet is a baby, even if it’s an adult rescue. Starting at the beginning will expose any issues that need to be addressed and affirm healthy boundaries and behaviors that are already present. Acclimate all new pets in small steps, maintaining proper care and boundaries from its first day home. New pet owners are tempted to go overboard with a new pet at first but it’s actually better for pets to experience their typical routine from day one, just the way it’s going to be for life.

 

Determine who takes care of which needs and when. Maybe one person is in charge of morning feeding, another evening feedings, and another in charge of cleaning. Rotating a schedule of responsibilities might work for some families while for others, perhaps the person with the most predictable schedule is in charge of the most important daily tasks, while someone else is in charge of the more variable tasks. The important thing is that a schedule/routine is established before the pet comes home so adjustments can be made right away. Sometimes simply setting up the schedule exposes the fact that a pet’s needs exceed a family’s possible commitment level and a failed connection can be avoided before it occurs.

 

Only purchase the basic necessities for a pet (in small quantities) before actually bringing the pet home. Learning a pet’s less predictable needs may take a little observation time. For example, we always suggest only one of each type of dog toy until it becomes obvious which type of toys your dog prefers. If he’s a hunter then he might need extra toys to hide, seek, and fetch. If she’s a destroyer, she might not need a retrieving toy at all and the budget might be needed to frequently replace soft, destructible toys instead. Temporary phases (like teething) need to be considered, as well.

 

Lastly, pet proof your home along the same lines as you would when toddler proofing. If your new pet will spend time roaming the home, start at the floor level and literally crawl around to get the correct perspective. Remove tempting or hazardous items from the floor up until they are out of your pet’s reach. Look for potential risks and educate your family regarding potentially harmful substances.

 

Caring for pets is an important part of life. Spend time in responsible shelters and high quality, independent pet stores where you can handle the animals and ask questions. Notice which pets appeal to you then evaluate your potential commitment to narrow your search. Matching the right pet to the right family at the right time makes for successful people-pet connections to last the life of the pet!

Pet Store Puppies

Modified from my business blog entry at www.PetWorldLawrence.com

Scrappy, our most recent rescue mutt, found abandoned.

Scrappy, our most recent rescue mutt, found abandoned in an old outbuilding.

Since 1988 I’ve owned and operated a huge pet store and education center with my husband, Tim. Almost daily I am asked, “Why doesn’t Pet World sell cats and dogs?” 

The short answer?
There is no short answer.

Truth be told, Tim and I have never entirely agreed on the issue of pet stores selling cats and dogs. All pet stores are different, so a blanket approach makes no sense. One perspective is that the world has too many unwanted dogs and cats so perhaps selling them could inadvertently contribute to that population or, at the very least, give this perception. That doesn’t seem very responsible. The other perspective is how lame it is to be this industry leader, influential among pet hobbyists, and not show the world how to responsibly handle the number one and two pets in the U.S. when it’s not like it can’t be done. It can. Although, selling dogs and cats according to our high standards was not exactly cost efficient, I must admit. Not a money maker at all. In fact, it was so cost prohibitive I’m surprised my frugal partner would do it.

Maybe Tim just did it for me because I like dogs and cats so much. I mean, I was sleeping with the boss after all. 😉

The whole not-selling-dogs-and-cats thing initially seems like the responsible choice but you know what? Self imposed bans are a very slippery slope. Some pet stores sell puppy mill puppies – which is flat wrong. Puppy mill dogs should be illegal across the board in any venue. But some pet stores are inspected, licensed, regulated, and go to great lengths to sell quality, responsibly raised puppies, purchased directly from local, hobby breeders. Nothing wrong with that. So the idea that no pet stores should sell any puppies ever is based on assumption and stereotype, only treating the symptom, and not addressing the real problem.

Principled Transparency
At our shop, we focus all our energy into education. We know that teaching by example with full disclosure regarding responsible pet ownership is the right thing to do. All of our pets are handled and sold without pretense. We tell customers the truth and regularly redirect them from one pet to another, depending on their situations, until we make the best connection for both human and pet. Sometimes the best pet is no pet, using weekly visits, instead, to scratch that itch. Since we’ve applied this principle successfully across the board, for 25 years, with all the pets we sell, why not dogs and cats? Good question.

Brief History
For our first 10-15 years we did sell puppies and kittens on occasion – more so in the first 10 then increasingly less from years 10-15 when we became even more active in adoptions. We never had the big Wall of Shame full of sterile kennels and sad looking puppies. That was never our style. But we did bring in purebreds sometimes. Mostly we offered mixed breeds and entire litters from local, hobby breeders who let their pets have one litter a year. We vehemently opposed puppy mills from day one and never purchased from them or brokers, leaving us with no consistent supply of dogs and cats. Not a great business practice but at least we knew our sources.

In many cases we’d bring in the whole litter at 7-8 weeks, allow customers to hand select their puppy, then have the puppies stay together until they were all sold – usually around 10 weeks. New owners would come in regularly for play time then pick up their new pups all on the same day so the litter mates were never left alone. Also, this extra time with litter mates helped puppies through their biting phases as they learned appropriate mouthing while practicing on each other.

We had our share of drop off puppies and kittens left in boxes on the doorstep but we didn’t mind. We’d take care of them, get them vaccinated and ready for new homes, and sell them for just enough money to offset our expenses. Personally, I loved having dogs and cats and helping people with their commitments to them. I really miss seeing all the kids sitting on our floor, inside the playpens, playing with the puppies. I miss the kittens climbing their cat trees and finding my oldest daughter asleep in the cat pen, covered in exhausted piles of fluff.

*Sigh* I do miss those puppies and kittens. They brought so much joy to Pet World!

Sounds ideal, right?

Difficult Decision
So why not continue to sell dogs and cats? That’s tough to answer. We never actually declared a moratorium, per se; we just, sort of, stopped. We would sometimes go months with no dogs or cats so those sales weren’t a big part of our business anyway. And Tim’s acute radar regarding public perception started going off. Our adoption days slowly got less and less attention. Each time we brought food and supplies to our local shelter, we’d see more unwanted dogs and cats and, even though we never saw any who came from our store, the increasing numbers bothered us. We worried that having puppies and kittens available in our store might detract from the adoptions we were promoting, so, little by little, we just stopped selling them.

I was opposed to this decision and the staff was split right down the middle. Half agreed with Tim that the potential risk was too high to remain in line with our mission; half agreed with me that it was our duty to demonstrate self regulating and responsible selling of America’s favorite pets. But the pet store itself was Tim’s childhood dream, not mine, and his business sense has always been keener than mine, so we went with his gut and let go of dog and cat sales.

Sad Truth
As it turns out, we were the first of many. In fact, fewer pet stores sell dogs and cats now than ever before in history – only 3% of all dog and cat sales in the U.S. – yet the unwanted dog and cat populations are at an all time high and increasing every year. And now, with the vast majority of dog and cat sales happening online, we are losing ground with no way to regulate breeding or sales, having removed ourselves from the loop. Inspectors can’t keep up on all the breeders because they now sell direct to individuals through web sites and online ads, bypassing pet stores and subsequently bypassing regulation. What seemed like a good idea at the time actually backfired in many ways. Not long ago I was discussing this over drinks with our local shelter’s director. We both agreed, in retrospect, we should have put all our effort into stopping puppy mills directly as opposed to taking the easier, human pacifier route and just eliminating one step in the process – a step that actually drove the mills even further underground. Live and learn.

The Future
Undoubtedly the issue of selling dogs and cats remains complicated but who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to offer carefully selected dogs and cats again. Tim still doesn’t think it’s feasible but I’m always optimistic. Until then, we hope customers understand and will continue to bring in their dogs and cats to visit! We encourage folks to always support your local shelter and spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering. And if any of you have ideas or thoughts on this issue, we welcome you to share!

 

Reciprocity in the Workplace

My first post in the “Owners Blog” section of www.PetWorldLawrence.com.

ReciprocityRecently we’ve been discussing how the link between dedication, loyalty, and success is genuinely reciprocal in thriving companies. The harder employees work, the more employers invest in them, and the more they improve. The better employees get, the happier they become, & the more success they achieve. And when employees succeed, companies succeed, and then find themselves in a position to invest even more back into employees.

And so it goes. Reciprocity at its core.

But it doesn’t stop there. Reciprocity includes customers. In fact, it can’t work without customers. Because successful companies don’t worry about the short-sighted quick sale and take time to improve customers’ lives long term, customers support them. Our company focuses on improving our customers’ lives by improving the lives of their children and their pets. To support our mission, our customers keep their business local. That investment extends to our community outreach which makes a positive difference in Lawrence. This strong, Kansas, community supports us so we can then invest in our employees who then invest in our customers who are the very community that supports us. Everyone wins.
Luke1248B
Over the course of the last year, after realizing Tim and I were answering more questions than asking, we’ve had to consider that perhaps it’s time to accept our roles as mentors in the spirit of reciprocity. We’ve been asked to mass market our staff training program, sell our store, expand Pet World, franchise, hit the public speaking circuit, offer seminars…you name it. Tim coaches, I teach, we both manage, so that all makes sense. But here’s the thing. For us, it’s not about money or popularity or rapid, financial growth. It’s about responsible stewardship. “From he whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48. Perhaps it’s financially unsound to offer up a quarter century of free entrepreneurial wisdom to anyone with an internet connection. But frankly, we’re not too concerned about the risk. Since 1988 we’ve been trying to do what is right regardless of cost and this philosophy hasn’t failed us yet. I don’t think it will now.

We’ve learned that life isn’t just about money and getting ahead at all cost. It’s about growth, hard work, and active participation. It’s about being part of a team, something bigger than yourself. I’m not sure our society is consistently reinforcing the importance of good work ethic & I’m as concerned as the next guy about young adults subscribing to the fallacy that life is fair & easy. A false sense of entitlement concerns me as much as it concerns you. Bad influence surrounds us. Our young employees see some of their friends under achieving, taking shortcuts to get ahead, trading principles & life skills for short sighted advancement. Plenty of businesses lack ethics and fail to understand the essence and importance of hard work and reciprocity. Shortcuts and scams seem to be the norm now. I get all that. Which is why we’ve decided to choose the high road of reciprocity and even add mentorship into the mix. Our hope is for young people to shape their life paths with big picture focus, understanding that life is as much about the process as it is the end goal. If we help you win, you help someone else win, and they help more people win, and in the end, all who participated win.

Reciprocity is about the trust, loyalty, hard work, & dedication of each person involved. It’s about truly caring enough to improve each other’s lives and our existence as a unit. Improve the parts; improve the whole. That’s how life works. It’s reciprocal. So maybe to some people our blog seems like us giving away the farm. That’s okay. We know reading our free advice and actually implementing our philosophies are two very different things. As for us, we’re just being responsible stewards. We will continue to grow and foster our reciprocal relationships for as long as our customers will let us and offer nothing but support in return. That’s been the Pet World way since day one. And we’re not about to change now.

Lights! Camera! On the Job Training!

Real employee training begins after the trial period.

At Pet World, we hire twice per year. The process takes about six weeks. After completing the first nine steps of our non-traditional hiring process, applicants are narrowed down from hundreds to usually less than a dozen.  New hires shadow trainers and work up through three levels. At Level 1 they merely shadow, observe, and ask questions.  This is where we test their ability to pay attention, memorize procedures, and keep pace. At Level 2 rookies demonstrate procedures with a trainer supervising closely and correcting as needed. This is how we discern their retention skills. At Level 3 they demonstrate while supervised from a distance. This is where we observe initiative and independence and either add them to our set schedule or cut them loose. New hires are given a minimum and maximum number of hours to complete the three levels. For the first few weeks this system is intense and our trainers maintain great focus.

Upon completion of the three levels, new hires are added to our set schedule, alone in the easier departments, and with a trainer where needed.  They attend weekly training seminars and, even when they have a trainer present, always have a back up manager on duty who is also a trainer. At this point our trainers tend to exhale and relax when, in reality, they should take their training up a notch. They push rookies to be independent but sometimes at the expense of the customer experience. About six weeks into this process, we usually find the need to regroup.

The memo typically goes like this:

Trainers, as we settle into the new set schedule I need you to ask yourselves something. Are you still training? Because, as you know, employees can’t learn everything in the Education Room. All we can accomplish in there is a solid foundation on which to build. The real training happens on the job. You know this. We’ve laid down the law that employees cannot share anything they haven’t learned at Pet World so are you still maximizing their opportunities to learn? Teach them to use their Pet World resources – more experienced coworkers, trainers, managers, breeders, vendors, books, etc. but not at the expense of the customer experience. Remember, once that open sign is flipped and customers are in the store, it’s show time. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. Is the employee’s question not something you can answer? Aren’t you the expert? If so, answer it right away. The task at hand is always the customer. Yes, employees need to learn independence but never at the expense of our customers.

ComeToSeetheShowWhen the issue can’t be handled by the employee, don’t stand there and tell them what to say. Instead, have them listen to how you handle it. The fact that rookies are seeking your help means they are not yet ready to fly solo. Praise them for recognizing that they need assistance. Have you forgotten how it felt to be new and inexperienced? I understand your intentions but trainers must remember who they’re dealing with. Has your rookie completed sixty hours in that zone or only sixteen? Sometimes Tim and I will have a manager handle something instead of doing it ourselves as part of their training but these are managers we’re talking about. They want to do it on their own. They need to prove they can fly solo. Expectations are higher for seasoned veterans and managers. In no way can rookies be expected to handle much of anything without help. Not only are they not yet capable, they’ve been told not to say anything beyond the scope of their training. When you handle something for them, with them or in front of them, you are training them and the customer not only gets the better employee, they see how much we care to train the newer employee. Then, next time, the rookies will know what to do and, perhaps, instead of asking you for help, they’ll ask you to supervise while they attempt to do it on their own. Independence is the goal but only when they’re ready. Set them up to succeed, not fail. Remember, our success depends on their success.

Letting rookies privately flop on projects is one thing. Letting them fail in front of a customer is quite another and, frankly, a total fail on the part of the trainer – not the rookie. The customer deserves the best person for the job. Getting rookies trained is not the customer’s problem; it’s ours. The audience doesn’t pay to watch a rehearsal; they come to see the show. Sacrificing good customer service in order to train someone the hard way not only demoralizes the rookie, it makes us all look bad. The trainers appear arrogant and rude, too busy for the customer, too distracted to help the rookie, giving off the perception of condescension and disinterest which is actually nothing more than personal incompetence. This approach – especially with the added pressure of the customer’s presence – sets the rookies up to fail. And when they fail, we all fail.TrialByFire

As a trainer or manager, I expect each of you to hold yourselves to a higher standard and set the example for the rookies. Your job as leader doesn’t end when their trial period is over; it ends when you pick up your last paycheck. New employees need to see you immediately drop everything for a customer. Immediately. Everything. Every time. No task is more pressing than the customer. Without the customers, you have no tasks. Everything else – and I mean everything – can wait.

Now, when you find yourself repeatedly bailing out the same employees in the same situations you can deal with that after the fact, back stage, during follow up. We’re looking for employees who never need to be told twice. But when the moment is live, it’s show time. Until the closed sign is flipped and the curtains are closed, it’s lights, camera, action and you remain in the spotlight. Positive, encouraging training can and should happen in front of customers while you have the employee watch you work. Everyone wins with that situation. But employee trial by fire has absolutely no place on the retail stage.