With Pet Store Pro’s free online training, retailers can help their staff build the skills needed to increase growth.
Would it surprise you to learn that wages are a pet retailer’s second-biggest expense, accounting for nearly 13 percent of revenue? Relatively speaking, that’s higher than for supermarkets and mass merchandisers, according to a 2016 IBIS World Industry Report. That’s because, unlike the competition, your employees require specialized knowledge to help pet parents find quality products, foods and services that meet their specific needs.
Small independents often simply don’t have the resources to offer steep price discounts, wide inventories and home shipping to boost sales. Instead, you rely on your people to make a profit. Customers who can count on your team for dependable advice about their pets’ health and happiness are less price-sensitive and more likely to return to and tell others about your store.
That makes providing your employees with structured training a great growth strategy that maximizes the return on your labor investment. Fortunately, there’s a free resource designed specifically for independents like you. Free online training from Pet Store Pro is the cost- and time-efficient way to improve your team’s skills and build the expertise that customers expect from a specialty retailer.
Connect With Customers
Pet Store Pro was developed by the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) to address independent retailers’ need for consistent, reliable training resources. Courses focus on essential skills for any pet retailer, whether or not your store sells live pets. The content is fact-based, brand-neutral and industry-specific, so employees can quickly put what they’ve learned to use.
Launched in 2008 with a focus on business basics and pet care for entry-level employees, the program now offers 29 associate- and management-level courses and remains 100-percent free, thanks to continued full funding by PIDA.
Keep Your Team Consistent
Many pet store owners who used to piece together training from a variety of sources now count on Pet Store Pro to ensure that everyone who works for them has the knowledge they need to excel at their jobs.
“Before I saw Pet Store Pro demonstrated at the Pet Food Experts Buying Show last summer, I wouldn’t have even known where to go to find this specific type of training,” says Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, Wis. “I immediately thought: ‘This is the answer for us.’”
Previously, Conell just kept written materials from suppliers handy to keep her employees familiar with the pet food and supplies they sold.
“Training had been trial and error, and a lot of information would get lost in the shuffle,” she says. “I come from a pet retail and veterinary background and sometimes take expertise for granted that new employees feel is out of their league. Pet Store Pro provides the ‘finesse’ I need to build their confidence.”
Phil Ray is the owner of Best 4K9, which has two locations in Greensboro and Oak Ridge, N.C. Like Conell, he has a long history in the pet business—working in both retail and distribution—and struggled to compile a training program from a variety of sources.
“We used vendor literature, websites and in-store visits. It was very fragmented and difficult,” he says.
Ray started using Pet Store Pro when it first came out, not only at his previous store, but also to help personnel at his distribution business understand their retailers’ perspective. Now it’s part of his starter kit for every new hire, most of whom are college students or recent graduates and new to retail.
“You can never train enough,” Ray says. “Pet Store Pro is a great overall start. We use it to familiarize new staff with what our business is all about so they can convey our expertise to customers.” That’s especially important, he says, because his stores are new to the area.
Melissa Sturm used to rely mainly on her managers to train her team of nearly 20 staff members at two Agri Feed Pet Supply locations in Knoxville, Tenn. She began using Pet Store Pro several years ago as a professional-level training program that, as a small business, would be costly and time-consuming to develop on her own. Though most of her managers have been with the company for more than 15 years, she hadn’t been confident about the consistency of information they conveyed to each new hire.
“Sometimes people who are very familiar with the business need to dial it back because it’s easy to forget that new hires don’t know what we know,” she says. “Now I can be sure that all of our associates start with the same foundation, rather than relying on verbal training alone.”
Train for Different Needs
Used alone or as part of an existing program, Pet Store Pro is designed to let you start training and see results fast. The online format is easy to navigate from a computer or tablet. Students can study independently at home, at the store during downtime or from anywhere. You can customize the curriculum by assigning only the chapters that apply to your business or to the skills your employees need to develop.
Color-coded progress bars on Pet Store Pro’s dashboard show the courses assigned to each employee, which ones they have completed and how they fared on chapter tests. With just a few clicks, training managers can review and assign courses, set deadlines and check progress whenever and wherever it’s convenient.
Sturm appreciates the feedback that Pet Store Pro provides. “We’d never tested our employees before, so it was sink or swim once they were on the sales floor,” she says. Now, students must successfully complete each chapter they’re assigned, usually before they start shadowing a manager, but definitely before they go it alone. “Pet Store Pro gives me, my training managers and my associates a level of accountability.”
“We consider an 80 percent or above to be a passing score and go over the incorrect answers to assess what they don’t understand. Some may need to retake a chapter, depending on which questions they missed,” says Sturm. “A few tried to take the tests first and failed miserably—so they learned they had to study because they knew less than they thought.”
All of Sturm’s new hires are assigned the Pet Retail Basics, Suggestive Selling and both Customer Service and Sales chapters. Other chapters, such as Cashier Service Basics, are assigned if needed.
“Pet Store Pro lets us adapt to different learning styles and levels of experience,” she explains. “Some employees find the training to be a lot to take in at first, but they end up realizing that it really helps.”
Conell agrees. All of her employees for the past 10 years started out as clients. Her main hiring requirement is that they own a pet. “My current full-timer doesn’t have a pet retail background, but is in front of customers every hour that our store is open. So, I assigned her a few of the Pet Store Pro associate courses, starting at the top of the list,” she explains. “We both found the program very easy to set up and use. The self-taught, online format lets us pick up where we left off if we have to stop to help a customer, which is very important for a small business like ours.”
Conell offered her employee a dollar incentive to finish the assignments within a set time frame, which was taken as a challenge. “It’s fun! She completed two chapters with a passing grade right away and asked for more,” says Conell, who plans to use Pet Store Pro to refresh her own knowledge as well. “I’ve been in this business for 21 years and it’s always changing. Just because I own the store doesn’t mean I don’t need a tune-up.”
Ray assigns all of the Pet Store Pro chapters that are relevant to his business, which he describes as “specializing in high-end pet food, treats and toys—like a GNC for dogs and cats.” These include all of the retail skills courses and the pet nutrition chapter, which they use to supplement additional vendor training.
“We engage in lots of dialogue with customers about the relationship between pet diets and pet health,” he explains. “Pet Store Pro’s Pet Nutrition chapter gives my associates the basics so they better understand brand-specific training from manufacturers.”
Deadlines to complete chapter assignments are based on the skills his people need to learn first, starting with the Pet Retail Basics chapter. He adds his own spin by contributing additional tips.
“The lessons stimulate me to add my own knowledge—such as, never retreat behind the counter when a customer walks in,” he says.
Build Knowledge and Confidence
Sturm, Ray and Conell each stress how training with Pet Store Pro helps their employees gain the knowledge and confidence essential to win customers and earn great word of mouth.
“Pet Store Pro is a valuable opportunity to enhance my business by giving my people the tools they need to be successful at their jobs,” says Sturm. “We have a recent high school graduate starting her very first job who, after a week of shadowing, hadn’t really caught on. She asked to take a few extra pet care chapters and her confidence talking to customers just took off!”
“Training empowers my people and prepares them for the unexpected,” says Ray, who recently heard an associate quote Pet Store Pro directly to a customer. “I see the results through the comments on my Facebook page—such as ‘Quality products and knowledgeable staff makes this an easy choice on deciding where to shop.’”
“We don’t just hand out bags of pet food. Individualized customer attention is our focus,” says Conell. “My people are eager to share their knowledge with customers, the bulk of whom learn about us through word of mouth.”
Try it Yourself Today
Since its launch at Global Pet Expo nine years ago, more than 28,000 pet store owners, managers and sales associates from more than 5,700 stores have taken advantage of Pet Store Pro to grow their business.