Playing to Your Strengths

Pet Store Pro helps smart independent retailers capture a smart market.



Despite all the talk about how the low prices and convenience that e-commerce delivers is putting many brick-and-mortar retailers out of business, there is a whole generation of savvy consumers who still value quality over convenience—especially for purchases that matter. In fact, a recent Zulily survey found that 86 percent of millennials, many of whom see their pets as starter children, prefer to shop in-store for pet food, toys and treats. Also, they favor small local pet stores because they find large chains lacking in expertise.

Winning this lucrative market would be a great get for a small independent. But to do so, you need a skilled team. Today’s pet parents tend to research online before they buy, and they expect your associates to be able to answer detailed questions. They can tell when your employees don’t know or don’t care how to help. They’re willing to leave their purchases and never return if they have to wait too long for the information they need.

That puts a lot of pressure on your staff, especially associates who are new to retail. It also means that, among your many other duties, you have to make training a priority. Pet Store Pro can help you get started. The free program is a cost- and time-efficient way for busy pet store owners to prepare their people to face customers.

Pet Store Pro was developed by the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) to provide independent retailers with consistent, reliable training resources. Launched in 2008 with a focus on business basics and pet care for entry-level employees, the online program now offers 30 associate- and management-level courses and remains 100 percent free, thanks to continued full funding by PIDA’s distributor members.




Used alone or to supplement an existing program, Pet Store Pro is designed so you see results fast. Fact-based content applies to any pet retailer and does not promote specific brands. Chapters use examples that relate directly to pet stores, so employees can quickly put what they’ve learned to use. Students can study independently from a computer or tablet, whenever and wherever it works for them—and for you.

The online format gives Greg Gordon, owner of Dog Patch Pet & Feed in Naperville, Ill., a flexible way to start new hires out with a solid knowledge base. He uses Pet Store Pro as part of a comprehensive program that includes face-to-face training, such as shadowing and role-playing.

“Pet Store Pro provides good basic information that associates can learn on their own. That’s important, especially when we’re short on people,” Gordon says. “It complements the other training we do without taking additional staff off the sales floor.”

Pet Store Pro lets you tailor training to your business by selecting courses based on what your store sells and on individual skill levels. Gordon teaches staff members how to care for the rescue dogs they foster directly, but he also includes Pet Store Pro’s pet care chapters for the other animals they carry. Assignments are based on the associate’s experience.

“Even new hires who come to us with a big-box background have a lot to learn about how to take of care of pets and customers at a specialty store,” says Gordon.




People shop at independents to make important choices, such as the right starter pet for their children or the best diet for their pet. They expect to get reliable advice from any associate they ask.

“We don’t want customers walking out with conflicting information from different staff,” says Kim Lechuga, owner of Your Pet Experts, a mall store in Wyomissing, Pa., and Zoomania, which recently opened in Harrisburg, Pa. “Our associates have to prove they have the right knowledge before they can move to sales,” she says.

To ensure that everyone has consistent expertise, Lechuga uses a mix of methods, including Pet Store Pro, verbal training with a senior employee, and in-store training from manufacturers about specific products.

“My desk is in front, so I can observe and listen when employees talk to customers,” she says. “Trainees retain more of what they learn when they study Pet Store Pro first.”

Lechuga assigns the Suggestive Selling chapter and the pet care chapter sections that apply to the animals sold at her stores. New hires are typically given an hour of each shift to study, and 60 days to complete all the assigned chapters.

“We originally tried to have them work on Pet Store Pro at home, but even though we offered a cash bonus, everyone procrastinated,” Lechuga says. “Employees tend to whine about training at first because they think they know it all already. Once they get into it, they realize it benefits both them and the store.”




Training builds the confidence associates need to enjoy and excel at their jobs, says David Bankowski. He owns Brother’s Country Supply, an independent chain of three pet stores in Morris, Ottawa and Oswego, Ill., with his brother, John.

“Knowledge is the key to success,” says Bankowski. “When associates know they’ve been given the right tools, they’re more comfortable helping customers and motivated to sell.”

Brother’s Country Supply uses Pet Store Pro to train across all of its locations, each of which is 100 percent employee-run at the store level.

“Pet Store Pro is a huge help,” Bankowski says. “It tackles all the categories that get associates set to go on the sales floor.”

Training managers set aside time and schedule staff accordingly, so trainees can study at the store, on the clock. New hires complete all of the business essentials chapters first, then they are assigned pet care chapters based on the needs of each store.

“We reassign certain chapters to everyone from time to time to refresh knowledge,” says Bankowski. “It’s a big reason why our add-on sales are so high.”




Pet Store Pro’s color-coded dashboard makes it easy for training managers to review and assign chapters, set deadlines and check progress.

“It is a good way to learn about a new hire’s motivation and commitment,” says Lechuga. “If they take the initiative and follow through, you know they’re going to be good employees.”

Test results help to identify employees’ strengths and weaknesses, so you know if they need more hands-on coaching.

“One of our favorite things about Pet Store Pro is that we can track how our people are doing,” says Bankowski. “We can see how well they do on tests and determine if they need more help in certain areas or if they’re just not taking the training seriously.”

“I always tell our associates, ‘our customers can shop anywhere, but you’re the ones who make them want to shop here,’” says Gordon. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for new hires to catch on, so it helps to have systems in place to make sure they know their stuff.”



NEW IN 2019

Because offering exceptional, personalized service is the best way for smaller pet stores to compete, Pet Store Pro is refining and expanding its business catalog. Throughout 2019, Pet Store Pro will introduce updated versions of its full-length fundamental and advanced customer service and sales chapters for associates, and a brand new chapter on managing customer service and sales.

Customer Service & Sales Fundamentals outlines how associates can prepare themselves with the knowledge they need to sell, engage with shoppers and transform them into loyal customers.

Advanced Customer Service & Sales helps associates assess their own sales personalities and their customers’ needs so they can offer trusted solutions.

Managing Customer Service & Sales explains how to set goals, develop processes and evaluate performance to build a service culture that increases sales.

Pet Store Pro has also partnered with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council to develop a new chapter on zoonotic disease prevention, which will debut in late 2019. Lessons will include how to:

• Recognize the symptoms of viruses and other microorganisms that can be transferred between pets and people.

• Take the necessary steps to prevent them from spreading.

• Report and follow up when disease is suspected.

• Explain safe pet handling and hygiene to customers.




A panel of independent retailers will share tips and tricks about how they use Pet Store Pro during two events at Global Pet Expo on Thursday, March 21. Discover best practices for implementing and managing the program and for incentivizing and motivating your employees to use it. The Training Best Practices Roundtable will take place from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. in room W206; the GPE Academy Seminar, Employee Training Made Simple, from noon until 12:45 in room W204A. No pre-registration is required for either event.

You can also test drive Pet Store Pro at PIDA booth 2301 today, or visit any time to learn more about the program.



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 its launch in 2008, almost 34,000 pet store owners, managers and sales associates from more than 6,600 stores have used Pet Store Pro. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit to register and begin using the program.


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