Networking Defined: Develop, Build, & Foster Lasting Relationships

By Khris Berry

Ginny the Groomer walks into the local grocery store and leaves with two new request clients and the promise of referrals for an entire neighborhood. We all know her—and marvel at the ease with which she introduces herself to prospective clients, strikes up conversations with strangers, and solicits her Pet Styling services. Ginny is a natural Networker.

Acording to Merriam–Webster Dictionary, a Network is defined as an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system. We create many networks around us to navigate our personal and professional affairs. Identifying your own networks and how you can use them for success can offer vast opportunities for developing, building, and fostering long term relationships with clients and their pets.

Identifying your existing networks is a great place to begin understanding the value of individuals and their place in your professional chain. Facebook has attempted to define the sections of your web for you—it offers groups based upon your interests, family and friends, and even where you went to school or live. Begin to think about how many different networks you belong to and what your role is in those.

Family and Friends is an easy place to start. Many new groomers rely on these networks to help them by word of mouth and referrals. If you are anxious about speaking to strangers about your services, practice by telling people in your closest and most trusted network what you do. Often we focus on our challenges rather than our strengths—tell people what you are good at!

Once you become comfortable singing your praises to your close networks, it’s time to branch out. Networking is about allowing people to know you and learning about them in reverse. In our workplace, I often challenge staff members to learn three new facts, not related to pets, about their customers in a day. This request is often met with a white–eyed look of panic, since, as pet professionals, we are so focused on the pets that we forget there is a human attached to them.

The give and take of casual conversation becomes easier with practice. Developing deep and lasting relationships with clients comes from knowing them better, and vice versa. This is not permission to tell your favorite client all the details of your nightlife or your recent car repair. There is a fine line to sharing and oversharing—learn it!

Now you have mastered Networking among your close circles of Family and Friends. You are ready to tackle the next ring of your web. Existing customers offer valuable information about you and your services. Ask your most loyal customers if they know someone who could benefit from your services. While you are at it, ask them if there are any ways you could improve their experience—customers really enjoy feeling as if they have input.

New customers equal new opportunities. Hopefully you have become comfortable delivering your personal commercial to your existing circles. Now it’s time to try it out on your newest clients. It’s a sad day in our organization when we hear a six month (or longer) client say “I didn’t know you offered that!”

When we hear this statement, it means that we did not do a great job with our personal commercial. Either we didn’t tell them about ourselves or the customer changed the channel on us mentally while we were doing so. Either way, we missed a networking opportunity. Clients are the most excited about us when the relationship is new and that is our best time to share ourselves, our education, and our information with them.

The Stranger circle is typically the most difficult Network circle for people to dive into. For salespeople, it is the equivalent of cold–calling. Approaching a stranger is daunting for many groomers. Every person knows someone with a dog. Ask them for their favorite dog story. I carry business cards at all times. Anyone who looks remotely as if they have a dog, like a dog, or even looks for two seconds at my dog will be presented with one. If they say “I’m sorry, I don’t have a dog,” I typically respond with “Do you know someone who does?”

We live in a culture where pets are increasingly becoming a lifestyle choice; pet owners wear dog gear or have their faithful friend alongside for more and more activities. Go meet them! Smile and be polite—you may be meeting a future loyal customer.

Network can be identified by the dictionary as a noun and a verb. Both are correct and should apply to your grocery store trips. A network is a group of people that you have connections to: you already belong to a broad network of pet lovers; get to know them one at a time. As a verb, to network requires the action of making a connection. Get busy, there are a lot of connections to be made! ✂

Khris Berry has been involved in the Pet Services industry since the early 1990’s. She has owned grooming shops, boarding kennels, and obedience training schools and is a Certified AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. She is the co-founder of See Spot Grooming & Daycare which currently operates 3 locations in 2 states. Her vision has led her to create a Groomer-centric company which provides education, a positive work atmosphere, and benefits for all Spots. She owns and competes in a variety of events with Wirehaired Vizslas including dock diving and obedience.