Customer Service

Sales is in my blood.

If you believe there is a perfect job for everyone out there, mine would be sales. I have been doing it longer than I care to admit, and I like to think I am not bad at it.

It’s strange, though, when the tables are turned on you and another salesperson is selling you on something that you want to buy. I know all the tricks in the book, so I know what to expect. At times I can sympathize with them; I understand how hard it is to do sales.

One experience that everyone can usually agree on that people don’t like is buying a new car. I recently was in the market for a new car and decided to go with a completely different make and model. The first couple of cars I went to check out had very pushy salespeople. They wanted me to pretty much sign before I got to check out the car. It was so stereotypical of how car sales happen, that is was humorous.

I continued to do my own research, trying to find the best car that would fit my lifestyle. When I would find some that I liked, I would go see them in person and see how I felt about them. One day, I went to my local Subaru dealership not expecting to buy anything, when a sales man walked up to me. I expected the same routine and pressure to sign a car as quickly as possible so he can get paid.

Instead, he asked what I am looking for in a car. He wanted to know what my habits were, what was important to me, what I thought I wanted, what I thought I needed. Instead of just trying to fit me to a certain car, he tried to fit the car to me. We talked, we joked around, he acted like an old friend who cared about what I wanted and what was important to me.

I really didn’t expect to buy a car that day, but I knew I wanted him to get my commission. After he explained everything to me, I firmly believed after he explained everything well to me and I felt comfortable with my purchase.

Now, to be fair, his job is the same as everyone else’s; he just has a different approach. It’s something that I like to pride myself on with sales.

Are there times I can be a little pushy? Of course. Are there times where I am an aggressive sales person, absolutely. But I like to think I am never really that pushy car salesperson.

So why do I bring this up? Because I know I personally have to remind myself not to be that pushy salesperson. I need to make sure I am listening to the customer and their needs and not trying to just get another sale. It’s something that I think all sales people, in and out of the pet industry, need to remember

I have to talk to my own sales staff and make sure they are not being that pushy car salesperson; it’s something that retailers have to do on a constant basis. It’s just one more thing to add to the list of things you have to do.

Being at Global is amazing for a salesperson. There are so many possible and current clients to talk to, all under one roof. It’s a great time to remember to take your time with each person, to find out what each person wants and needs. I always like to think of Global as a time to remind ourselves — and our staff — to not be that pushy salesperson, to not just go for the sale, but to provide customer service to the best of our abilities.

If I were to leave you with any advice, and the same advice I give my own sales people: In the end, selling is all about being empathetic toward the customer.


The February 2014 Pet Age Publisher’s Letter as it was printed

With it, your business will face ups and downs and you may have months of struggle but then again, you could be extremely successful against it. Without it, you don’t have the drive to continue to improve yourself and your business and be the best person and business that you can be; and if you produce your own products, there will be less of a drive to improve it.

It’s something that every business, no matter what you do, will face. That’s why this month our cover story is about the strategies independent retailers have used to “beat” the competition.

The competition can be a wide range of things, even though most tend to think of the larger competitors. While those stores may be your main competition, there is also competition online and with other stores in your local area. In the end, you have to do what is best for your store.

We have spoke to several retailers about their store, the adversities they have faced and how they overcame them. Because of this, we have set up the cover story a little bit different, in hopes that it will be easier to read. We wanted you to hear directly from the retailers themselves and not interfere with the advice they can give you. Hopefully from these stories, it can help you think of new and exciting ways to improve your business.

We have also put up on our website a few other retailers that wanted to share their stories. Feel free, and it’s something we strongly encourage, to comment on our webpage, Facebook page or anything you want to, to share your success stories. The more ideas that people put out there, the more people will be willing to share and in return, help you with different ideas of beating the competition. Also, if at any point as a retailer you are struggling with a problem with your store, feel free to post it on our social media channels. We have grown those channels to help network retailers together and we will do our best to help you find an answer.

Pet Age is a small business and we understand the struggles you may face. There are challenges at every turn and we at Pet Age spend a lot of time learning different ways to improve our business. Besides the advice you will read in the cover story, my other big advice is to prepare and prepare early.

With the new calendar year, we prepare for the different trade shows and open houses we are going to visit. It’s something we start to plan out months in advance and continue to work on until the day it happens. We constantly think of things we can do at shows, such as Global Pet Expo, to give you the full experience.

For retailers, start making plans and figuring out who you want to sit down with at Global, whether it is current companies you work with or ones you hope to work with soon. Figure out your schedule now, before the hectic schedule starts.

The more planning you can do ahead of time, the better, because it’s only going to get crazier as we get closer to that March date.

In the Pet Age office currently, I am planning out the different companies and friends I will see at Global, not including the time I enjoy walking around the showroom floor saying “hi” to everyone I pass. Also, our sales and editorial staff have been planning on whom to see and the new products to check out.

I could go on about this forever but the long story short, start planning now it’s going to save you a headache or two down the road, trust me.

Craig Rexford

Work, Life, Balance

The Publisher’s Letter as it is printed in the January 2014 issue of Pet Age

Every day, my wish is to win the lottery. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but enough to retire.

After I see that I haven’t won, once again, I snap back into reality, I have to carry on with my busy life and my busy work day. Every year I think I have a grasp on what’s going on in my life, but it’s hard to.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the New Year. While everyone likes to make resolutions or different changes in their life, for me it’s a reminder to make sure my life and my work is always in balance; that no matter what, you can’t be too far on one side.

I spent a lot of time this past year traveling, it’s something that takes up a lot of my time. But it is also something that I enjoy, being able to see so many people all over the country.

Though, at the same time, I have to make sure to spend equal parts of my time at home.

Recently, I took a class to be able to time races at my daughter’s swim meets. Even though I work constantly, I also try to be involved in as many things as I can with her, simply because of how fast she has grown up. I also try to help my wife out as much as possible, since she is running the whole household, and our family, pretty much by herself.

Now, I could go on all day about my family and the way I balance my life out, or at least try to, but why I bring it up is because it’s something we all need to think about constantly. It’s something I have to constantly remind myself. It’s something that we all try to remind ourselves at Pet Age. It’s something that my sales representatives sometimes forget, sometimes our editors forget and our designers forget. While it’s great that we are all hard workers, you need that balance.

We all have moments of just being in the working mentality and we push everything else aside.

I know running a store takes so much of your time, just as it takes so much time for me to run a magazine. But I find myself having to reevaluate priorities on an almost monthly basis. I want to travel more, I want to work longer hours, I want to do more, but it would be unfair to my personal life and my family. At the same time, there are days I want to spend all my time at home.

There are days though where it can’t be avoided. I just simply have to work late or go away for a long time on travel. Throughout the day though, no matter how long it is, you need to take a few minutes a day away from work. During that time, call your family if you can but also take time out for yourself. If you don’t recharge your batteries a bit, then your work is going to suffer from it.

So as we all come up with New Year’s Day resolutions of exercising, eating right, losing weight, whatever it may be, let’s not forget to continue the things we may forget about time from time.

Let’s continue to strive for that perfect work, life balance. Even though it continues to elude us at times, we can’t let that stop us from being the best person we can be and the best business owner we can be.

– Craig Rexford

We’ve Come a Long Way

The Publisher’s Letter as printed in the December 2013 edition of Pet Age magazine

One year. I can’t believe it.

Being the publisher of this magazine has been an amazing ride so far, and it’s one I am happy I have been able to share with so many friends.

The opportunity has become a dream come true and one extremely long work in progress.

In this time we have been able to go to shows such as Backer, Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo.

But we have also gone to numerous open houses all over the country and been able to visit different manufacturers and see what they are doing in the pet industry.

We have gone to store openings to tour them, and see what retailers are doing to better their business. Our staff has attended pet writing retreats, blogger summits, reptile shows and aquatic conferences, just to name a few.

I personally have flown thousands of miles to meet with distributors and manufacturers from around the country, and that’s doesn’t include the places our editors and account executives have been.

What does it all mean?

It means we are preparing for an event better year next year. We are proud of what we have done this year, but we are not resting, we are always looking for ways to become a better publication, and we believe with all the knowledge we gained in 2013, it has set us up well for 2014.

We hope to provide even more information to the retailers, as well as learn more from them and the manufacturers. We want to become even more engaged in every available medium that we can get our hands on. We want to continue to make a better product that services you even better.

We encourage you to check out our ever expanding website, updated daily with news as we receive it, to help everyone in the industry.

We continue to interact with our readers through social media to keep you current with everything going on.

Look for our digital media section to continue to expand as we provide more Up Close With videos and Behind the Scenes.

Retailers, we continue to work with top manufacturers and distributors on exclusive stories that will only be found at Pet Age, like this month’s feature on PetSafe and our story on PetPaint’s appearance on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

We at Pet Age are not resting on what we did this year. To us, it is just a start of the great things to come. We believe that there are always constant improvements that can be made to the magazine, online and off.

As the 2014 publication year starts, look for Pet Age to continue coming out with new material, articles, events and information for you to use to help your business.

While we gear up for 2014 we also wish for another, and even more, successful year for the retailers, manufacturers and distributors out there. We hope your year was just as good as ours.

– Craig Rexford

Slow Down

The Publisher’s Letter as it appears in the November issue of Pet Age.

The times are changing and everything is faster.

We live in a world where email is expected to be answered in minutes, text messages in seconds and phone calls immediately. Society as a whole is moving at a faster pace every day.

It’s no different in our industry. Consumers want the fastest service possible, while expecting it to be the best experience possible and everything be correct.

Manufacturers or distributors come to retailers with promotional opportunities that are expected to be decided on right away. Members of the media expect manufacturers or distributors to quickly come up with quotes, photos, information at the drop of a dime.

It’s a nonstop cycle of work for all of us. While, it’s an unfair situation for everyone, unfortunately that’s the world we live in. And as many retailers know, it’s something we must adapt to. The best advice I can really give for this, is you have to roll with the punches.

It’s understandable that while working your extremely long day as a retailer, you have a lot to do already. You have to manage workers, help customers, stock shelves, keep inventory, any loss prevention and just general work. It’s understandable that when a manufacturer or distributor comes in, or calls, with a promotion while you’re in the middle of trying to run your store, you may want to push it off for a week or two, or you may want to ignore it.

There is no easy way to handle it but I want to really strongly suggest, that even though it may seem like a headache in the beginning dealing with manufacturers or distributors or the media, it is completely worth it.

We are in an industry where everyone always wants to help everyone. No one is really out there to get at anyone. If retailers don’t do well we suffer from it, the manufacturers or distributors suffer from it.

When we call you for an interview, we know we are taking time out of your extremely busy day and we will try to be as fast as we possibly can but I promise you we are doing it to help you. Manufacturers or distributors are going to stop by with promotions and while it may take time for them to explain it all to you, but I promise you they are doing it to help your business. They want you to sell more and make more money so they make more and you can both prosper from it.

Now, I know I have picked on retailers a little bit, but we are all guilty of it. There are times that manufacturers or distributors or retailers email or call our editors and they don’t have the time to really hear a story or a pitch, and they push it back or don’t call back right away. We are all guilty of it and no one group is to blame. But it’s something that we have to get better with.

I love this industry, and it has not only survived but thrived for this long, and the best part is, we can all do better and this industry can continue to grow. The next time someone comes to tell you about a promotion or a story idea, we know it’s going to take time out of your already crazy busy day, but I promise you they are doing it to help you, so hear them out.

– Craig Rexford

Easy Access

Publisher’s Letter as published in the October issue of Pet Age.

What is the preferred method in which each one of your customers wants to talk to you?

I am going to guess that each one of your customers likes to communicate with you in different ways. Some prefer email, some by phone, and others by fax and a few by letters. Whichever it is, why would you want to limit your customers? Especially in a service that we are all in, that is about making it as easy as possible for your customers.

If you pick up any Pet Age magazine, flip to the fourth page, every way you could want to contact us is there. You want to talk to me, there is my number. If you want to shoot me an email, that’s there, too. You want to talk to editorial, the number of our editor-in-chief is right there, same with her email.

Are you not sure who you want to talk to, our general number is there. Fax, mail, website, it’s all there placed for our customers to communicate with us.

Now, I understand I am very old school with the way I do things. If I can’t talk to you in person, I prefer the phone. I love to talk and I love to hear what you have to say. When emailing, you don’t get that same interpersonal communication. You can’t express excitement over a product, build a close relationship, I believe, none of that really happens over email.

Now the reason I bring this up is because I look at ads, a lot. I glance through the ads the way a retailer would. I see something that catches my eye and I get excited about it, then I realized, I can’t contact you.

There is no email, no phone number and sometimes there is only a website. Through my years of experience, I can tell you, the more work you make me go through to get your product, the more I am going to lose interest fast.

Here is an example from personal experience with a non-pet company. I have a case for my cell phone that charges it also. It broke the other day. It happens. So I went through the packaging and the instructions, no contact information. I went to the website after a fair amount of searching online for it. Then after digging through the site I finally found an email address to contact them at, and that’s it.

I sent them an email and never received a confirmation or a response from them. I tried against a few weeks later but still no word.

Now, you could assume that your company would never do this but it’s easy to overlook emails. I have done it, people on my staff have done it, it happens and I do understand that. But, I could have easily been a customer for life for that company, buying their products yearly, if I had talked to a representative on the phone or by a different method I preferred. But now because of not being able to communicate with me, they lost me. If this happened to anyone else, they probably lost them, too.

When running a business, every sale should count and should be important. So I beg you, put in all your contact information online, or in your ads. Make it easier for the customer to reach you, to get your product in the store.

Then when it’s easier for them, it’s easier for you to make money.

– Craig Rexford

Surviving a Trade show

Publisher’s letter as published in the September issue of Pet Age.

Wow, what an absolutely wonderful, amazing, tiring, exhausting SuperZoo show we had.

SuperZoo, and tradeshows in general, are quite the beast to tackle. It’s something I truly enjoy going to and I really wish it was longer. It’s not often you get to meet face-to-face with people from all over the country that you had previously only interacted with via email or phone calls, and now you can meet them and really build a relationship with them.

At 3 p.m. on Thursday I had a final staff meeting with everyone from Pet Age and I could tell they were absolutely worn out.

After talking to my staff, I decided to write a letter about some tips and tricks I have learned in my 28 years of experience in tradeshows.

First off, you need a schedule. There are two parts to your schedule. The first is during tradeshow hours.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you should have a good idea where you are going and when. But also build time in there to walk around and let yourself be distracted.

After 5 p.m. SuperZoo keeps going unofficially and should be one of your strongest networking opportunities. Retailers, you should be trying to get dinners with manufacturers. Grab a quick drink with them, go to the cocktail hours and meet new people. When running a store, you work countless hours; it’s the same when you’re at SuperZoo.

During your day if you feel stressed out or overwhelmed, go outside, get some fresh air, grab a bite to eat. Sometimes your body just needs a quick getaway and you will feel a million times better when you get back on the show floor.

Get in a day early. With tradeshows a lot of people are crossing different time zones, give your body at least a day to catch up to this adjustment. Get yourself settled in, time to prepare, time to set up, time to make sure you have everything you need. Being prepared will give you one less thing to stress about.

Also, on the final day, a lot of people want to rush back home. I know after the show I just want one night to unwind. I usually go out to a nice relaxing dinner with my staff, and then leave bright and early the next day after I am well rested.

Stay hydrated, eat well, take vitamins.

It seems that after shows, people get sick or extremely worn down. While at a show, you’re not eating the same food you usually would. A lot of people, including myself, are used to a certain diet and we tend to abandon it while out at these shows. Lots of times people are eating quick snacks, or are not getting the same amount of fruits and vegetables that they are use to.

Take your vitamins and drink lots of water, stay healthy so you can be your best the entire time.

Know your limits. As much as I hate to admit it, I am not as young as I use to be and I can’t go out all night having fun, and be expected to be at the top of my game the next day. Keep in mind what you, and your body, are capable of and don’t try to push it.

Rest is important.

– Craig Rexford

Tough Decisions

This is the Publisher’s Letter as published in the August issue of Pet Age.

Expansion is a tricky thing. It’s something I am a part of now with Pet Age and it’s something we hear from retailers.

We continuously want to write articles to help retailers with their day-to-day lives. While expansion isn’t something that happens to business owners every day, it’s something that crosses most people’s minds.

When should I expand? Where should I expand to? Should I even expand? These are the questions that float around the mind of someone who is contemplating the expansion of their current location or opening a second one. It’s a tough situation to be in, and not one I idolize. But it is one I can sympathize with.

When Pet Age magazine came to Journal Multimedia, we had to do a lot of startup work, just as retailers would with opening a second store. It’s long hours, it’s dedication, it’s overworking yourself but it’s being a part of something you believe in. It is not an easy task, at all, especially when you have no idea where to turn.

It also reminds me of my dear friends in South Miami who owned a children’s clothing store. At the time they were doing fantastic, then Hurricane Andrew hit the area and the people who were devastated by it received their insurance money and came to shop at my friend’s store. They had so much business they decided to triple the size of their store. The problem is, after the insurance money ran out and people didn’t need to shop there anymore, they had all this overhead and were not able to make enough.

From it, I learned to never expand just because sales happen to do well for a certain point in time. In publishing, it’s the same thing, we have to keep track and see where all of our income is coming from. If it’s a surge and has no staying power, then we know not to count on this money later on.

Our hope with this issue is to spread some light on the subject We hope that it makes it easier to first decide, if you should be expanding your business, but also how to expand your business if you choose to.

Even if you read the article and decide that business expansion or opening a second location isn’t the best choice, that’s OK.

Maybe if you just want to renovate your current location to give it a new look, that’s also covered. Even though you’re not getting bigger, it is a big event that will change your store.

We spoke with experts that have dealt with expanding businesses, not just in the pet industry, but also outside of the pet industry. We have alternative financial advice in case you don’t want to go to a bank.

We also spoke to several different pet retailers who have gone through this process or are about to, and also people that are in different stages of the process. They also talk about the importance of where to build. How it’s important to have complete market saturation of your current location before moving onto another one, also, where to plan your future place.

We truly hope this helps you out if you are planning on expanding, opening a second store, or if this article helps you realize that you are content with what you have now.

– Craig Rexford

If I Can Do It, Anyone Can

This is the Publisher’s Letter as published in the July issue of Pet Age.

A short 12 years ago when I had just moved back to the New York metro area I had a calendar where I would write all my appointments in, along with all the information I needed for them. It was the system I knew best at the time and it worked well. Then my wife suggested that I get a Palm Pilot. It changed the way I kept myself organized and started my journey into the world of technology.

Since then, I have gone through three Palm Pilots, three Black Berries, three iPhones and two iPads. It’s amazing how everything works together so seamlessly and goes straight to the cloud. It has made my life vastly easier, except for the occasional computer crash, or two.

In this month’s cover story we write about how technology has changed the pet industry. How companies like PetSafe, Kurgo and many others are using technology to not only enhance and better the lives of pets, but to help the pet owner. The second section of the story covers how technology helps the retailer.  In the past few years, so many different POS systems, alarm systems, scan able QR codes and different types of technology have come out to help the retailer not only to sell more, but to do it more efficiently and effectively.

Along the lines of technology, social media and digital media is something that we at Pet Age strive hard to achieve a level of excellence.

I have been on Facebook for years, and it allowed me to connect with friends, keep in touch with clients, manufactures, retailers and other people around the pet industry.

LinkedIn has been one of my primary social media outlets. Through it, I have kept in touch with thousands of people and it is one of the best networking tools out there.

Most recently, our editor talked me into trying my hand at Twitter. I’m starting to get the hang of it by tweeting two or three times a week and reading up on different little news bites from different pet retailers and manufactures around the country.

So why do I bring this up? Because if I can do it, anyone can; and it’s something I would strongly encourage pet retailers to use. Even if it’s something that takes you out of your comfort zone, try it anyway. Take a chance.

In May we went to the Halo pop-up store where we not only used social media, but digital media. We uploaded photos, did real-time status updates — all the small things on social media to get a large amount of impressions. Also, we took video while we were there that allowed us to show our followers and website visitors what Halo was doing.

It goes to show, that while print is still the main way of reaching our readers, social media can have a big impact. It has allowed me, and many others, to connect with others in the pet community on a regular basis, whether at my desk, on the road at a hotel, at the airport waiting for a flight or at the doctor’s office. It lets me stay in touch with my calendar, clients, emails and friends.

You may not need all the different technology, or social media outlets I use, but you can use the ones that make  the most sense with your clientele, because you better believe they are using some form of it.

– Craig Rexford

Going Natural

This is the Publisher’s Letter as published in the June issue of Pet Age.

The topic of health is becoming more prevalent now-a-days, than ever before. When you open up a magazine, turn on the TV or read the news, usually you can find something about a health related study, or how you should eat healthier. It’s a conscious choice we are starting to make as individuals, to help better our lives. Now, that we have helped ourselves, we are starting to turn our attention to our pet’s health.

The natural segment of the pet industry has continued to grow each year. It’s something that we feel is so important that we have devoted a pullout supplement in our June issue of Pet Age to just natural products. In it you will find information about natural nutrition, treats, grooming and bedding. Each one of them is about some of the top products you can find in that category, and other information you may need to help sell your natural products.

All-natural products are something I am extremely passionate about, not to just do the right thing, but to keep myself healthier. I personally do a 90 percent organic diet, do yoga and exercise every day.  All of the cleaning products in our house and laundry detergents are organic and contain no VOCs. The things I do, a lot of people do and they are bringing their lifestyle to their pet.

The nutritional section is about the different organic, grain-free, raw, frozen and vegan pet food options that are now available. It covers the different high-quality ingredients that can be found in different natural food.

The treats section covers the expansion of the treat industry. It also features a couple of companies that put their own different homemade touches on their treats. The natural bedding section covers its recent expansion and the different materials that are used to make all-natural bedding products.

Finally, the grooming section covers the ever expanding natural options that are available in this segment. Also, how the products continue to evolve as more scientific studies are being discovered.

The natural section in the pet industry continues to be an extremely interesting, and evolving, area, as more research is done on how to give pets the best possible life. It is one that excites us, being able to show you several different options to have in your store and to give a little background on each of them. While there are so many all-natural products out there that we can’t get to all of them, we hope this shows a small, interesting portion of it.

If you haven’t started selling natural products in your store, this is the push to do so, as it will only continue to grow. If you’re already selling natural products in your store, then we hope this either pushes you to expand your selection, or it helps you to learn more about the products you already have on your shelves to give better information to your customers.

We hope this supplement serves to educate you and provide you with information that you didn’t know and you could share with your customers.

– Craig Rexford

Two of a Kind

Publisher’s letter as published in the May 2013 issue of Pet Age.

Half way between Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo is the beginning of open house season. While some retailers believe in going to just open houses or just national pet trade shows, it is important to know that they complement each other, and you should be going to both.

Open houses started out as a way for pet companies to show off their facilities for pet retailers. It allowed many of the retailers to get a behind the scenes look at the products they sold, or were thinking of selling, in their store. Nowadays, they have grown into large regional events held at resorts and conference centers.

The national trade shows, including: Global Pet Expo, SuperZoo and the Backer Show, are all good for showing the general overview of the pet industry. Nowhere else can you see such a wide variety of pet products. At open houses, retailers get to spend more quality time with products or companies that they really want to get to know.

If you’ve never been to a large tradeshow, an open house is a good way to get your feet wet. The national trade shows can be overwhelming at first, so by taking your time at the open house, and learning everything, it gets you in the right mindset. Then you can go to the larger shows and get that much more out of it. You will already have built a trust and friendship with certain companies.

When you have a few go-to companies that you can go see at the larger shows, it makes shows like Global, SuperZoo and Backer seem a little less intimidating, and gives you the confidence to make your rounds and see all the products. There you can also interact with various industry lobbying groups, such as PIJAC, as well as industry organizations, like APPA, WPA and PIDA.

In addition, the national trade shows offer a ton of educational courses. There is everything from sessions on merchandising and employee retention to management issues and using social media to connect with customers.

If you are a retailer who has only gone to the national trade shows, you should also check out the open house circuit. There, you get more one-on-one and personal attention from the companies, and learn more about their products that you sell in your store, so you can relay that information to customers.

Open houses have been around for as long as I have been working in the pet industry, and trade shows have been around for even longer. They both continue to get better each year, and become must-attend events.

Whether you start with an open house or with the national trade shows, what matters is that you attend both of them to better equip yourself with knowledge, build relationships and make more money by providing your customers with the best products on the market.

– Craig Rexford


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