shopping local


If we go to a sit-down restaurant with professional cooks, we, as it is customary, tip the employees for jobs well done. The staff at these restaurants is incentivized to provide quality service, but it is not the business that rewards their generosity of time and patience. It is the customer. In fact, they are actually owed remuneration, as without our “gratuity” they cannot make a living wage.

The valued and essential concept of financially rewarding great service and information goes well beyond tipping your wait staff at meals. The problem is that not all service-related needs are considered equally.

Knowledgable Assistance Is Not Assured

Let’s relate this to the pet service industry. Customers often enter a pet supply retailer seeking professional service and knowledge. The service of any store clerk generally goes unrewarded and unrecognized. In this sphere of business, service is also demanded, but the customer is not expected to remunerate accordingly. The business pays the wage. Obviously this does not excuse rude or unhelpful clerks who are paid to provide said service, but consider for a moment the ways in which the expectations of each system realistically function to directly incentivize employees.

Customers often complain that customer service is lacking. There is good reason for that. Customers have the right to expect great service and information. The reward for great service and knowledge in retail is the repeated patronage of that business. That takes tenure and time.

What’s happening in 2017, however, is that many people will visit a business, obtain knowledge, buy a few items and then scour the Internet and grocery stores for the cheapest options. The repeat patronage (aka “the tip”) to reward the clerk and the business for services well tendered never takes place. The pet supply store provides the service while Internet merchants and grocery stores receive the repeat business.

The Realities of Business in 2017

Make no mistake – we’re realistic about the difficulties facing modern brick-and-mortar business – but we believe that sharing proper pet care information is essential to the transaction with our customers. We have an obligation not just to our customers but to their animals to provide the best pet care information possible.

Neither the online retailer nor the grocery store provides personal care. The customer often goes to these businesses with false information acquired from flashy television marketing or Internet hearsay.

Consider the difference between McDonald’s and that aforementioned sit-down restaurant. You don’t tip a McDonald’s employee for stuffing a soggy burger in paper, but you do tip a waiter or waitress that serves you repeatedly over the course of an hour, maybe more. They take your order, refill your drinks, bring your food, endure your jokes, check if you need anything, anything at all.

The grocery store is the McDonald’s of pet care. If you want a McDonald’s burger, that’s what you get. It’s not really what you want or what you should be eating, but it’s there and it’s for sale on the cheap. Customers find an inexpensive bag labeled “balanced,” something they saw on the television. They believe that it’s the best because Purina told them so, repeatedly. Nobody can talk back to the television, to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. These companies get away with the kind of misrepresentation that should make us all ill.

Lies and Misinformation Cost More

When something goes wrong with their pet, do these same customers go back to the grocery store for help? Who’s there to help them, hopefully, solve some of their problems? The benefit we get for providing our experience is having you as a customer. That’s all we ever ask. We don’t receive or ask for tips or any other compensation. A customer that uses us for information, but does not give us their business attaches no value to that service – yet this very same customer likely tips 20% at a restaurant without thinking twice. With enough customers like this, they won’t have us around to provide that information for much longer because we’ll be out of business.

Recently a customer sought my help. I have helped her many times in the past. My information saved her hundreds of dollars, and she freely admitted it. She also told me I saved one of her dogs from euthanasia. The only benefit we got was her business, and obviously we asked for nothing more.

After the discussion I made an offhand comment that I hadn’t seen her in the store lately. She said, “No, I’m getting my food from the Internet so I don’t have to carry the bag.” She saw nothing wrong with that, nor did she think twice about telling me.

The Realties of Business in 2017: Part II

Look at this from our perspective. We have to provide a storefront and pay sales tax. Most Internet retailers run a warehouse and pay no sales tax. This is like doing business with one hand tied behind our back. In order to provide service and information, we have to pay quality, experienced people. This isn’t a restaurant where the owner can pay his wait staff insignificant wages. We also can’t be McDonald’s, merely stuffing unhealthy burgers in sacks.

ust because you and your pet are in a good place now doesn’t mean you no longer need service. Consider what’s going on in the pet service industry today. Four of our competitors – PetSmart, Petco, Pet Valu, and Pet Supplies “Plus” – have been opening stores by the hundreds. They also have people with virtually zero education in animal husbandry telling you what to buy and what to do. I wish I could compile a book containing all the dumb things people tell me they were told to do by employees at these stores.

Having a big sign and flashy TV advertising doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. You’re buying stuff off of a shelf without the benefit of service. Grocery stores and companies like Purina and Pedigree rely on the widely held belief that all dog and cat foods are just fine and pretty okay.

I Cannot Write This Next Part Loudly Enough

*ALL* DOG AND CAT FOODS ARE NOT OKAY – just as all dog and cat food suppliers are not equal.

Maybe you can’t afford the very best products. That’s reasonable! But that doesn’t mean you can’t make real, substantive improvements in your pet’s diet without spending a lot of money. A quality, professional pet store provides service beyond that of a regular chain store that hires people with no discernible knowledge or skills. It takes years to learn how to properly care for animals.

Experienced pet people can suggest fresh new products that improve your pet’s wellbeing. An experienced pet person will keep you updated on the latest in practical care. We can be sounding boards for you to tell us about bad experiences and vent frustrations. We can recommend qualified groomers, pet hotels, or any manner of pet professional.

At Burton’s Total Pet, all you have to do is read the reviews on our website to see the difference we have made to pet’s lives. Burton has practiced professional animal husbandry for 45 years. 25 years as a mentor to pets in Pittsburgh, 20 years as manager of large livestock farms and operations manager at the Detroit Zoo. His life has been devoted to animal health from a practical perspective.

Experience Is Not Cheap, But It Is Free (To You)

The staff of our stores has a lot of experience as well. We have a parrot expert at McIntyre. Dog expertise at Cranberry, McIntyre, and Bridgeville. Professional fish expertise at McIntyre, Greensburg, Monroeville, Bridgeville, and Irwin. A reptile expert at Cranberry. To gain access to their experiences all you have to do is ask. We have five managers with over 20 years of experience.

It is for the above reasons and more that make our stores a valuable, community asset. Our existence relies on you shopping at our stores or at least giving us a chance to show you what we can do for your pet.

We are not looking for tips. We survive as a business because people recognize our worth to them and their pet and they bring their repeat business. We believe you deserve more than just a bag of food from our shelf.

Ask yourself what is our service worth to you? You likely think about that when considering 15% or 20% or more at a restaurant, but not when receiving service at a retail store. It’s not easy to put a value on years of invaluable experience, but in our stores you get it for free just by shopping here. Your patronage is your gratitude. Your patronage keeps us in business and allows to continue to serve Pittsburgh-area pets and their people.

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