B.C. HeNsCHeN, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet
trainer, is a partner in PlatINum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry
makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for
their pet than a bag off a shelf.
By B.C. HeNsCHeN
In today’s tough market, micro independents are doing whatever we can to bring dollars in and keep customers happy. That might mean bringing in products we don’t like selling, or it might mean making some door-to-door deliveries. In my case,
it means doing more special orders.
I despise special orders. My wife thinks it’s because I’m a control freak, but I prefer to say I want to ensure my customer has a pleasant experience in my store. If I’m
special ordering a product that I don’t normally carry, it means I probably don’t know
everything about the product, and I don’t know if the product is normally in stock at the
distributor. I know all about the products I carry and receive every week. I also know
if the product shows up every week or if delivery is, at times, sporadic.
Special orders can be easy money. You don’t have to stock products and market
them; you just call your distributor to have it added on to your order, and when it
comes in, you stick it in a corner and call your customer.
A few years ago, I stopped carrying a brand of cat food. It’s a good food, but I
didn’t have confidence in where it was made, and I couldn’t get answers to some of
my questions about sourcing and ingredients. I pulled it and brought in a line I have
more confidence in and also met my guidelines for transparency. Most of the customers
had absolutely no issues changing to the new brand. I offered discounts and free cans
to get people to switch.
However, one customer said her cats weren’t doing as well on the new food as they
did on the old one. We talked awhile, and I offered her a different line of cat food that
was a little more expensive. I discounted it for her to make it the same price as what
she’d been buying. However, after trying it, she said her cats did not like it. She really
wanted to go back to the line I discontinued. I told her I’d be happy to bring it in, and I,
again, made her aware of my reasons for not stocking it. I told her when I would need
her order by to get it the same week, and because I had dealt with that line before, I
knew it was typically in stock at the distributors. I’ve been special ordering for her for
a couple of years now with no problems. It’s a win-win for both of us.
I’ve also had a few special orders because of my conversations with my clients and
because I spend time perusing the catalogs of my distributors. A customer who has
a couple of horses was in recently, picking up her pet’s food. I also have a couple of
horses, so we always spend a few minutes talking. She mentioned she was struggling
with flies. She had tried everything the farm store had to offer, and it wasn’t working.
She asked me for some suggestions, and I remembered there was a fly spray offered
through one of my distributors in its agricultural line. I made a quick phone call to
the distributor to confirm pricing and availability and relayed that information to my
customer. When it came in on the truck a week later, I gave her a call, and she rushed
over to get it. She loves it because it’s really working for her fly problem.
You’re probably asking yourself right now why I despise special orders because it
seems like they work out well if you do your homework. Let me tell you another story.
A good client comes in for a nail trim and asks if he can leave his dog so he can run
over to the hardware store across the street. As we are a grooming operation as well,
that’s not a big deal because we have kennels available. When he comes back, I ask if
he has found what he is looking for. He says he has not. He is looking for a specific type
of landscape edging and has been to several stores but has not found what he wants.
Once again, the light bulb goes off in my brain. I remember one of my distributors
has a lawn and garden division, and I had seen some edging. I tell my customer I might
have access to something, and I quickly jump on my distributor’s website and locate
the edging. I look it up on the manufacturer’s website and show it to my customer.
It happens to be exactly what he is looking for, and thanks to the distributor’s online
ordering system, I can see my pricing and availability. I figure out my customer’s price
and order it for him. He picks it up the next week, and it seems like it’s another “easy
money” special order.
A few days later, I see that customer pulling into the parking lot, and I immediately think, “Oh no, he doesn’t like his lawn edging and he’s going to
return it, and since I don’t deal with this product I don’t know if the manufacturer is willing to take it back. This is going to cost me.” He comes in
and, much to my surprise, he loves the product and needs more of it. I say
“no problem” and tell him I’ll have it next week. I add it to my distributor order but
when delivery day rolls around—no edging. I call the distributor and am told they
should be getting it in next week. No problem; my customer should be OK with that.
The next week rolls around—again, no edging. This time I make a slightly more panicked phone call to the distributor and am told the product is on backorder. A few more
phone calls later, I find out they won’t have it for several months. I do not want to tell
my customer the product I recommended, and he then installed, is something I can no
longer get quickly. If I do that, he is likely to want to return what he purchased from me
and will be angry at all the wasted time. Instead, I find the product online and purchase
it at full retail and then sell it to him.
Did I mention I despise special orders?
Not So Special After All
Special orders are often a great way to serve pet owners
who are seeking something that is not on your shelf. But
beware: This business practice doesn’t always result in a
happy ending—or a satisfied customer.
PERSPECTIVES & OPINIONS FROM AROUND THE INDUSTRY