Rewind your mind back to the ’90s for a moment. Two of the biggest fads were those Magic Eye posters, which held a three-dimensional image hidden within a seemingly random distorted pattern, and the Where’s Waldo series of books, wherein the titular red-and-white-clad traveler hid within vast landscapes of cartoonish ridiculousness. If nothing else, children of the ’90s learned one important skill: observation. And, truth be told, the skills of observation needed within your store may be much more headache-inducing than any amount of 3D posters or search-and-find books.
Within your store, you likely carry hundreds—if not thousands—of individual items, arranged in all manners of configurations. And, while any number of store manuals and guides have likely aided you in the initial setup of your store’s rows and aisles, both the arrangement and the upkeep of your store requires continual and keen observation.
For lack of a better term, take a literal tour of your store. Start at the very entrance with a ‘shopping list’ in hand; perhaps you need to pick up dog food, cat litter, a new heat bulb for your turtle, a bottle of dechlorinating drops for your fish tank and a gift card for your brother’s birthday. As you walk through your store, look specifically at your signage: are your rows and aisles clear in what they contain? Are they accurate and up to date? As your employees stock and restock items, have things shifted from your original intent? Take notes as you go, particularly marking empty spots where items have yet to be restocked, as well as items that seem to be in nonsensical or illogical locations. While you may personally be able to find a given item—it is your store, after all—think from the perspective of a first-time customer who’s never been in your location.
But once you’re done walking in the shoes of your customers, take a walk in the steps of your employees. Are their designated areas clean, easy to navigate and contain easy-to-follow instructions? Do they have everything they need to optimally perform their tasks at their disposal? Are instructional displays clear and easy to read? Are care sheets and the necessary items to actually execute those care instructions available and easily used? Keep your eyes open and you may find a number of items that will make your employees both happier and more productive.
However, the absolute most important time that observation comes into play is when dealing with live animals. Both you and your staff must always keep your animals in close, clear vision, ever vigilant for the telltale signs that something may be wrong. One of the first signs you may notice is a change in behavior. This could be as simple as a bird not following its normal morning routine by refusing to take a nut or an animal staying in a corner of its habitat. Lethargy is also a sign; regardless of animal, if the creature seems sluggish, it may be a sign that the animal has some greater health defect or disease. In lizards, particularly geckos, skinny tails might demonstrate that an animal has not been eating properly or has had some other digestive issues. In furred animals, patchy or rough coats or a “hunched” body position can be indicative of a number of health issues. In all animals, eyes can often tell a story all their own: sunken, cloudy or bloodshot eyes might mean an animal is particularly sick.
When such an animal is spotted, both you and your staff must take action immediately, putting that animal into quarantine. While the word ‘quarantine’ often brings to mind several dramatic images—hazmat suit-clad orderlies, thick gloves and decontamination showers within the pet trade—it keeps our animals safe by isolating and observing new animals as they enter your facility. Ideally, a proper quarantine procedure starts with physical isolation. Incoming reptiles must absolutely be kept as far away as possible from already-extant animals. In an ideal case, this might be an entirely separate facility or a different wing of a building, though this may not always be physically possible. However, providing as much physical separation as possible ensures a much lower risk of exposure, particularly for air-, blood- or water-borne microbes.
Dr. Thomas Edling, who has spent many years in the pet industry and now runs Edling Consulting, says to think of the quarantine room as a wellness area for the animal. Do everything possible to make the animal’s environment comfortable and stress-free by paying attention to details such as substrate (bedding), temperature, humidity, light (intensity and duration) as well as food and water. Most ill animals want to be left alone, so disturb them as little as possible while they are recuperating. Work with your store veterinarian when you first notice the problem to make certain you are providing the best medical care for the animal and follow up as necessary. We all love animals and it is our duty to ensure we do the best for them while they are in our care.
Record-keeping during quarantine must be meticulous. Your operations should include a running database of animals, constantly being updated with when an animal enters quarantine, necessary veterinary notes and treatments, and when that animal is scheduled to leave quarantine. During this time, of course, there should be absolutely no motion between the quarantined animals and those within your normal rotation. This means that not only should the animals themselves not move, but staff members moving between those two areas should thoroughly wash and sanitize their exposed surfaces and change any sort of safety clothing used in handling either set of animals. Gloves, in particular, should be changed every time and sanitized properly between usages.
However, cross-contamination is not limited to individuals and clothing. All of your staff should adhere to proper washing procedure—both in terms of hand-washing and in washing the utensils used in caring for animals. Cage accessories and any metal or plastic tools should be washed with reptile-safe soap, then either boiled or otherwise disinfected to eliminate any extant microorganisms. Items such as sponges and other porous items are of particular note within your quarantine protocols. Ensure that you have a properly labeled—perhaps color-coded—rotation of porous cleaning implements, with one designation for cleaning, one for rinsing and one for disinfecting. These implements should have absolutely no crossover; each must be used for its own designation and nothing further. And, of course, replace those limited-use items on a regular, timely basis.
Keeping your eyes open might sound like elementary advice, but much like those Magic Eye posters, being able to actually see what your store truly looks like can sometimes make your eyes go crossed. Keep a clear focus and wide gaze, and you’ll be able to keep an eye on everything.