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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.
Our pets are becoming more like family every year. Almost 70 million people own dogs in the United States. And for some, what they feed their pets is just as important – if not more important – than what they feed themselves. Paws on Chicon Owner Keith Zeiler had a beloved dog who was feeling unwell, and as he explored ways to improve his pet’s life, he delved deeper into dog food. He later took an extensive pet nutrition course and then decided to share his knowledge through his boutique pet store in East Austin.
For Keith, it’s all about the pet. “I’m so well educated on nutrition, I just really wanted to pass that on. And as you can see from so many of my reviews, it’s all about nutrition,” he said. “I look at it this way: Every person that walks through this door and all my employees that I train, it’s about helping that dog. It’s not about making that dollar on them because if we can help their pet, it’s about helping that dog. “That builds on loyalty, and that makes me and my staff feel like we’ve done a great job. There’s nothing better than letting customers come in and tell them how much we’ve helped their dogs, without costing them thousands of dollars.”
The myriad of choices in pet products are sometimes both a blessing and a curse. Just having so many dog food choices can be downright intimidating. When reviewer Nicole B. walking into the pet store for the first time, she felt overwhelmed, but only for a moment.
“I have to be very honest. The first time I walked into the store, the staff had a big button pinned to their apron and it said, ‘Ask me why the brand X-dogs is bad.’ And that was the brand of dog food that I fed my dog,” she said. “And I was so scared and nervous that they would judge or say that I would kill my puppy or feed him McDonald’s equivalent in dog food. But at the end of the day, they weren’t under any pressure. I said, ‘Listen, this one food recommended by our vet when he was a puppy. I’m not switching but what else can I do? Are there supplements? And if we are weaning him to adult food what would you recommend?”
“And it was just so nice that they took that to heart. They weren’t judgmental. They said, ‘Fine. Do what you need to do. Listen to your vet. We’re here to give you other information that you may not have. considered.’ That felt like such a relief that they were really a trusted partner and not just pushing me from one food to theirs.”
Keith works hard to train his staff so that they have the latest nutritional knowledge to hand, but he also wants to make sure that they are equally compassionate to the dog owners.
“My approach isn’t about the money. It’s about healing and giving the best for the dogs. But people who come into my store and feed them food that I don’t have with me, I’ll look it up online and we’ll I can’t tell you how many people I tell, stick with that food. That’s good food. There’s no reason to change that food. The price is right. The quality of the food is good. Don’t change it .
“Because again, that’s none of my business. I want their dogs to live the longest, and if they get good food, I’m going to tell them. All my staff are trained in a lot of things. We’re not vets. We’re not saying that we are veterinarians, but we know a lot about pet food and how we can help with those issues.”
The trust built between customers and staff is crucial to building a long-term relationship, and when it comes to caring for a pet over many years, the purchase cycle for customers like Nicole can be quite lengthy.
“I feel like having someone around that you can trust is like the equivalent of a big brother, big sister asking for life advice. You really know they know what they are doing because they care about them and this is their So that’s such a relief because I navigate through different seasons with my pet whether it’s his age or health issues or maybe even getting a second dog what that would be like. They know and they’ve been there while as a first time dog owner, I don’t. So I really trust them,” she said.
Most small business owners know that employees are on the front lines as the face of the company. They represent your brand and culture when you can’t be there in person. With two stores, Keith can’t be in two places at once, so he’s created training for his staff to make sure they’re all sending the same message to their customers.
“We go through extensive four-week training with our staff, which, as far as I understand, is the most there is in the pet industry, in pet stores. We try to be very careful because we don’t want to make pets that parents feel like they’re doing something wrong,” he said.
“We try to give them the tools to educate themselves when they don’t have time to talk to us in the store. They know we’re not here to shove anything down their throats. When I opened the business, I wanted to find the best quality product for the price. I want them to have a good experience when they come in and know that we are literally here to help their pet because we love the pets.”
Sometimes your company’s added features can also make it stand out from the crowd. When Keith expanded his first store, he added dog wash stations. Anyone who has ever cleaned their own bathroom after bathing a dog knows that while the dog walks away clean, you and your bathtub take a hefty hit.
“There are a few things that make us a little bit different in Austin. One of them is the dog wash and how we set it up. We have a system that’s easy. It’s like a car wash. So the shampoo, conditioner, everything comes off the hose. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. We have small hoodies for the dogs so when they’re blow-dried it won’t hurt their ears. We’ve upgraded with a peanut butter licking mat that they can lick while they be washed and then the owners get a free drink while they also wash their dog.
Keith says the dog wash is a huge hit, so he’s expanded the amenities to include soft-serve frozen yogurt for dogs with a toppings bar. On weekends, he has a waiting list for available spots.
That feature was so important to Nicole — she mentioned it in her review — because when she reviews a company, she wants to make sure others have a complete picture of the company.
“When it comes to the content of my reviews, I try to think about what I would like to know if I were reading a review. If this is a pet food store and maybe it’s more science based or prescription available more of a medical thing, that wouldn’t really be what I was looking for,” she said.
“I just wanted to make sure it was clear to say, these are all options… so kind of a general snapshot. And then if something stands out – the customer experience or the selection or something that surprises me – it makes sure usually always make its way to the assessment.”
Responding to reviews can be a great way to extend your customer experience beyond the physical storefront. Keith says he prioritizes responding to reviews, even though the negative ones are sometimes hard to receive.
“I take reviews very seriously, and sometimes a little too personally, which I had to learn to distance myself from because it ruined my week before. I feel like the business owner should always pay attention to the reviews. They should always respond back. There has never been one of my reviews that I haven’t personally responded to. Good reviews, bad reviews – I can respond right away and take care of it when I need to take care of it right away.
“And sometimes things happen, you know? No, one is perfect. I aim for five stars for everything. I occasionally get bad reviews, but when you look at those reviews, you’ll think, okay, I can see why this review was so i think as a business owner and just thinking on the other side of it if someone takes the time to write a review for you the least you can do is acknowledge the least you can do , is to say thank you.’
Reviewers like Nicole value small businesses and judge them purposefully. What may seem like a small thing — a simple thank you for a positive review — can go a long way, and clients like Nicole are the people who keep small businesses going. They are some of the best advocates for your business.
“If there’s something local or really cool, like Paws, I want people to know about it. I’m going to write a really good review. And I also feel like I’m helping the company because of my elite status. I know people will see it.” And so it’s very important to me if I care a lot about them getting that good review so other people can find this hidden gem too.”
Check out some of these other tips from Paws on Chicon:
- Respond to reviews, good and bad. Think carefully about how you react and, just as importantly, what action you take next.
- Find what makes your business stand out and take advantage of it. It can be as simple as an extra feature, such as Paws on Chicon’s dog wash stations.
- Keep things consistent across multiple storefronts. Opening another location is a great way to grow your business. Just make sure that the level of customer service remains consistent across locations.
- Your employees are the front line between you and your customers. Well-trained and trained staff can build loyalty and trust between your company and your customers, as they are an extension of your company’s personality.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Keith and Nicole, and subscribe to Behind the review for more information from new entrepreneurs and reviewers every Thursday.