Leadership Essentials

There are four important dimensions to leadership in a service environment such as a pet store: creating a shared vision, developing teamwork, leveraging change and encouraging personal authority.



As a pet store owner, your challenge is to exceed customer expectations and gain a competitive advantage in your marketplace. To do so, your entire team must be committed to excellence in every aspect of the shopping experience.

Although technical skills focused on day-to-day operations are critical to your success as a manager, they are not enough to create a quality service environment. You also must provide enthusiastic, forward-thinking leadership that encourages employee independence while enforcing tough standards of accountability.

Leadership is important to foster a commitment to quality service for two reasons. First, the quality of your pet store’s customer service is increasingly a differentiator in the market. Marketing and merchandising strategies—such as what products to carry, how to price them and how to present them—are still keys to retail success. However, now more than ever, it is equally important to get your team to be consistently committed to service.

Second, customer expectations are always evolving. Maintaining the status quo in terms of service only gives you a competitive advantage for the short term. More and more, in the pet retail industry, sustained success depends on management’s ability to provide service leadership and commit to continuous improvement.

The Fundamentals
Leaders share a number of fundamental characteristics. True leaders challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, empower others to act, model the way and encourage the heart.

Effective managers successfully develop employees and maximize profits for their store. Great managers add these leadership qualities to what they are currently doing, allowing them to inspire and motivate others to achieve their potential.

A manager who leads:


  • Acts as a coach,
  • Encourages independence,
  • Acts as a sounding board for ideas,
  • Is easy to talk to about issues,
  • Is enthusiastic,
  • Sets a good example,
  • Budgets time to lead, and
  • Enforces tough standards of accountability.


There are four important dimensions to lead in a service environment: creating a shared vision, developing teamwork, leveraging change and encouraging personal authority.

Creating a Shared Vision
A shared vision sets the direction for your pet store. Managers who lead create a sales and service vision for the future, along with strategies for encouraging the changes needed to achieve that vision. They communicate this vision to employees and take steps to ensure that everyone is committed to achieving it.

For example, say your vision to improve customer relationships and profitability includes enhancing the in-store experience. One way to get your team on the same page is to invite them to help determine how you will accomplish this objective. 

At your weekly staff meeting, describe your overall vision, then facilitate a brainstorming session on ways to improve your customers’ shopping experience. Start by having team members suggest as many ideas as they can, then come back to discuss each one in detail and decide which are worth implementing or further investigation.

Setting the overall direction, then asking for ideas, will help your team feel like they are part of the solution. Plus, their experience on the sales floor means they likely know more than you do about specific customer frustrations.

Developing Teamwork
Once a shared vision is established, individual employees must work together as a team to make it happen. Managers who lead establish guidelines and communicate them clearly to their team. They also encourage collaboration to maximize the group’s productivity and buy-in.

In the example above, getting your team to share ideas is one way to develop teamwork. As you facilitate the conversation, encourage associates to build on each others’ ideas to make them even stronger. Be sure that everyone has a chance to speak and that the tone remains collaborative.

Remember that you don’t have to solve every problem in a single session. Consider setting aside some ideas for a later meeting to allow more time for discussion and to make your vision for your store an ongoing part of conversations with your team.

Leveraging Change
Managers who lead know that to remain competitive, their stores need to embrace change. Effective managers are always looking for new opportunities to exceed customer expectations, build customer loyalty and achieve their service vision. This usually calls for making changes to current ways of operating.

Being able to maximize and leverage these opportunities for change is a leadership challenge. Managers who lead are committed to continuous improvement and ensure that employees feel ready to handle it. 

Preparing your employees for change should include explaining the rationale behind it—and the risk or potential opportunity cost of not changing. In addition to any needed skills training, be sure to address any fears or concerns that may keep associates from committing to the change.

Encouraging Personal Authority
Effective leaders understand that they cannot achieve their service vision alone. They believe in their team’s abilities to contribute to their store’s goals. 

Managers who lead encourage individual associates to take personal responsibility for delivering exceptional service. They provide employees with the direction, resources and training needed to make decisions that push the current boundaries of service while still keeping the store profitable.

Managers who lead also recognize the importance of positive reinforcement. Be sure to praise associates when they go above and beyond to improve customer satisfaction and accomplish your service goals. Be specific in describing the behavior you witnessed and how it benefited the store, so team members understand what they did well and are motivated to do it again.

Why Leadership Matters
Exceeding shopper expectations is critical to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and profitability—and to gain a competitive advantage in today’s market. To engage your entire team in accomplishing your service goals, become a manager who leads by creating a shared vision, developing teamwork, leveraging change and encouraging personal authority.

Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, more than 5,700 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers.

This article was adapted from “Leadership & Team Building,” one of 28 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover the manager’s role in providing leadership, building a team to achieve customer service goals, creating and living a shared vision, fostering teamwork and leveraging opportunities for change.


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