Teresa Kara, owner of Frankfort, Ill.-based Chew On This Dog Barkery—the 2013 Global Pet Expo Customer Service Excellence Award winner—says going the extra mile and staying on top of the latest trends is the recipe for customer service success.
Congratulations on the Customer Service Excellence Award at Global Pet Expo! What does the win mean to you and your staff?
The staff and I could not be more pleased with this recognition. It’s funny, really because we work hard at customer service, and it’s not something you do to get awarded for. However, our customers were thrilled to see us win an award for customer service, so that is the icing on the cake. When we asked for our customers to give us referrals, it touched me how much a little dog store can impact people and their pets on a daily basis. I always knew that the staff is incredible, but to hear it from the customers’ perspective was heart-warming.
How do you define winning customer service?
We strive to stand out in every category the Retail Excellence Awards addressed, but listening to our customers’ needs is a priority for us. We go the extra mile, staying on top of the trends— especially the latest in nutrition. If we can't find it for them, we tell them where to go and get it. I actually don't make a big deal out of all that we do. We are open seven days a week, we deliver and we load peoples’ cars. That is how business is done—good business, anyway.
Our customers and their pets are like family to us. Many of our customers have been with us since we opened nine years ago. As such, we go out of our way to bring in the best foods, treats and toys one can find. Our customers appreciate that we are watching out for them, not just selling to them. Education is a big part of what we do, and we have no problem spending an hour or two with a pet owner struggling with their companion’s health issues, even if it means they have to go home with samples or a referral elsewhere.
Our motto is, “Do what is right for the customer, always,” and it works. I believe in what we do, and I won't sell something to put money in our pocket. I do everything for the benefit of the pets, the community and the employees.
Chew On This Dog Barkery's staff poses with its 2013 Retailer Excellence Award.
What role does employee training play in providing great customer service?
We want our employees to enjoy what they do and see the impact they have on our customers. We have daily, in-house notes to keep everyone on the same page. Monthly, we have formal staff meetings to go over the newest items and latest trends. We have thousands of products—some tried and true—and then the new to replace the old, averaging 40 new SKUs a month. Our employees love what they do, and it shows. Most of my staff has been with me for a number of years, and quite a few started from high school and continue to return until they graduate into their next career, usually wishing they could stay on at Chew On This. I strongly believe in providing a solid, first-job experience to instill a work ethic they can apply wherever they may go next.
All of my employees bring something valuable to the table: Some are incredible merchandisers, have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of canine health and nutrition, and/or can engage successfully with even the most challenging customer. Our employees take great pride in their work; they talk and represent the business as if it were their own. They all know it is a requirement to learn every aspect of the business, as it will only help them understand the business and help them grow in their next chapter.
Chew on This Dog Barkery's food and treat selection.
How involved are you with your community?
We give back big! We support all types of community events, and many don't relate necessarily to pets. Chew on This Dog Barkery hosts or sponsors an event at least once a month and donates over 60 gift baskets to local fundraising efforts every year.
Being able to have the resources to help and get the community involved is a good way for us to use the business as a platform to let the community know what is needed and where they can help. We are a small business, but with thousands of customers we are able to use that platform to get more people involved in the smaller community events that impact hundreds of pets. I hope to someday say that we will do that for thousands of pets, and I think we will.
We care, we want to help the local fundraisers and make a big contribution to the animal shelters, animal rescues and community events. For instance, we recently hosted the annual "Bark Park" Easter Egg Hunt. We sponsored all 1,000 eggs with gifts of $1 to $100. We also invite out local vets, groomers, animal shelters and rescue groups. This is one of dozens of events we do. Networking is great to match up groups that can help keep everything growing.
Along with standard products like collars and leashes, the store also carries a variety of gift items.
What is your favorite part about being in the pet industry?
It's hard to come up with one thing. It is nice to wake up each day loving what you do. It is incredible to know we make a difference, especially in nutrition and supplements. You would think with the prevalence of information and its accessibility that people would know all about nutrition, but they don’t. You can't change everyone, and you may not need to. But it is most rewarding when you help an animal that has been sick for years and is finally back to their optimal health.
Everyone knows I can be an emotional mess when I think of what we have done for animals, and the absolute joy in helping save animals or spoil the animals that didn't start out with a charmed life like our pets have at our homes. Of course, it is always a good chuckle when the cute little two-pound dog comes in for a sweater.
I can't say enough great things about our industry. I believe it makes a huge difference that we have such a great amount of resources, including training materials, seminars, unique products and pet magazines, to help us succeed. The information is there, you just have to go use it! While we all don't share the same opinions, we are all looking out for what is best for any animal out there.