As the United States inches closer towards herd immunity and life starts resembling some sort of “new” normal, the moment provides us a rare opportunity to take a look at the state of the industry and self-assess, even as we inch out of “crisis mode.” As your stores return to full staff and more typical hours, this moment opens the door for new changes in policy, new products on your shelves and new ways to approach your customer base.
One point to assess might be the staffing necessities for your location. As you start to resume normal hours, look for trends in when your store has the most customers, when your store processes the most and the largest transactions. If possible, consider segmenting those data points based on which animals are being served in those transactions. If you can successfully identify a trend – maybe your Wednesdays are particularly crowded days or perhaps your Saturday afternoons tend to draw more dog owners – you’ll then be more able to staff appropriately for those days.
Furthermore, the inverse can be true: if you know that your Thursday mornings are particularly slow, you can utilize that time for deep cleaning activities, veterinary visits, staff training and development or other animal care activities while providing minimal disruption to your store’s daily activities.
You should also consider, as you add additional staff hours and staff members to your store, that training for those staff members is absolutely paramount. Your staff deliver your store’s message and values directly to your customers; while you may never see a given customer, your staff provide that customer with their best and clearest view of what you value. A well-educated, properly trained staff exudes professionalism and subject expertise, showing the customer that you and your employees are the experts on a given animal or product. If you can carve out a single morning of dedicated training per month for your full staff, you’ll quickly see dividends on increased sales and better care of animals while within your store. An ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure.
That additional time could also be leveraged to branch your store into new markets. If you have yet to consider adding sections for fish, reptiles and amphibians or invertebrates, the continued expansion of this subset of our industry should provide a massive driver to pull the trigger on this change. As a starter point, consider expanding the materials to support such a species in advance of actually stocking that species. This way, you’ll have an opportunity to test the waters and find out the depth of market for that type of animal in your area, while simultaneously ramping up to have the necessary materials to support those animals while they are in your store. This could easily fold into a new staff-training regimen, as those staff members will require education for care requirements, handling and feeding instructions, and suggestions for follow-up sales.
Develop New Policies
It may be worth your time to examine which sort of COVID-era policies might be worth continuing into the post-COVID era. Hand sanitizing stations, for one, are an easy “keep,” particularly if you have an area where customers might handle animals directly. Arrows and social-distancing spots can help dictate a “flow” through your store, exposing customers to animals or display elements that they may not have considered in the past or are otherwise new to your store. Further, social distancing guidelines may allow you to reformat your store’s layout in ways that deviate from the traditional long, narrow aisles of most stores. Opening up your floor plan with additional displays both can serve as a natural ‘buffer’ for customers in your store while simultaneously showing off featured enclosures, terrain, and animals while simultaneously making your store into a destination for pet owners.
While the past two years have certainly been rough on everyone involved, the opportunity for your store to emerge stronger and more profitable than ever certainly remains. While change might seem scary, the unique weirdness of the COVID-era still provides you the chance to implement those sweeping alterations that you may have just been putting off in favor of the ‘day-to-day’ operations. Don’t be afraid to strike while the iron is hot.