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Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda & Pet City, Agawam, Mass.

| 12.14.2015 |

With seven Dave's Soda and Pet City retail outlets and a nationally marketed line of high-quality pet food for dogs and cats, Dave Ratner is a successful entrepreneur, author and sought-after speaker about business, leadership and creating customer loyalty.

 

Q: What inspired you – and who encouraged you – to become an entrepreneur?

 

Dave Ratner: If I may rephrase the question by way of asking, “Who encouraged you to expand your business or, why did you strengthen an already successful enterprise by carrying a new line of merchandise?” - I have a simple (albeit unconventional, from the standpoint of a business school professor or corporate consultant) answer: Women. That is, while running my soda business, since renamed Dave's Soda & Pet City, I realized that life in Western Massachusetts – despite the nearby environs of several colleges and universities, including Smith, Amherst, UMass Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke – could get, and it did get, very lonely without someone to date.

 

Knowing, too, that dogs and cats can attract the attention of the opposite sex – call it Diversion through Cuteness, or Puppy Love (pun intended) – I not only got a dog, but I started selling pet products.

 

I now have seven Dave's Soda & Pet City stores, in addition to a nationally marketed line of high-quality pet food for dogs and cats.

 

My strategy was a success – obviously – as I am a proud husband and father, and now, a grandfather. The point: Creativity can, if nothing else, be its own reward; it can inspire you to do things, for personal or professional reasons, that lead to unexpected but positive outcomes. If you can satisfy an opportunity, and do so with ingenuity and fun, pursue that mission with energy, optimism and an unyielding commitment to first principles.

 

Q: What have been the greatest challenges in being your own boss? And what have been the greatest triumphs?

 

Dave Ratner: My greatest challenge is the cause of my greatest triumph: Creating customer love, which is the basis of my book of the same title, where I explain (in an engaging and practical manner, I hope) how to establish an emotional bond with consumers; I write about the love people have for certain brands, based on virtues like authenticity, leadership, exceptional service and unrivaled quality.

 

Love is not a disposable commodity. It is one of the highest ideals – it defines a person's humanity – and I use that word with respect and caution, lest I cheapen something of such significance and integrity.

 

I believe entrepreneurs should strive to create that love by earning that affection through words and deeds. The latter says more because you have to do more – you have to honor your promises, and uphold your values – by proving, time and again, that you are sincere and trustworthy.

 

Love may not be the answer to every issue, but it can always help when courting current and prospective customers. Make that rule a priority, and you will be a better person for it.

 

Q: What does it take for those seeking to start a business to be successful?

 

Dave Ratner: Passion and patience are, despite being more often mutually exclusive than beneficial, indispensable assets. A business does not become a brand overnight, as if there is some magical process that allows you to avoid the work and time necessary for building a brand of lasting value, and loyalty among workers and consumers alike. You cannot accelerate the rules governing time, so patience is indispensable regarding the power of word-of-mouth marketing and the slow but steady ascent of a brand's reputation within a particular community.

Remember, too, to apply a sense of passion to everything you do. Put a different way, you cannot enjoy the love your customers possess, and you will not be privy to the incalculable influence a brand contains, by accepting anything less than excellence. Mediocrity is unacceptable, and the pursuit of shortcuts is a waste of time.

 

Q: What advice would you give to people seeking to start their own businesses?

 

Dave Ratner: Be yourself! You need to exude enthusiasm, knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. You need to convey, with your body language and overall demeanor, the passion described above.

 

Whether your business thrives, falters or fails, you must not think of yourself as a loser because, well, you are not. You are one of the blessed – one of the merry few – entrepreneurs with a chance to revolutionize an entire industry. Be brave, and be honest, so you may be true to yourself.

 

Dave's Soda & Pet City is online at http://www.davessodaandpetcity.com/.