This Store Manager Helps Train Service Dogs to Connect With His Community

What does it take to differentiate your #RetailForward store? Store Manager Stephen provides a safe space for veterans and service dogs, and it’s making the difference.

For his entire career, Stephen C. has worked at complex stores. But when he came to Neighborhood Market 4275 in Peoria, Ariz., he faced something new: “It was the best store I’ve ever been in. Processes, delivering on metrics—the team was on point.” For the first time, he was able to think beyond store operations. So he began looking for ways to give back.

Stephen heard about an organization called Soldier’s Best Friend that pairs rescue dogs with U.S. military veterans who have combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury. The veteran and the animal train together to provide therapy so both can participate in society in positive ways.

The organization was already using the store to help train their veteran–service dog teams, and Stephen took the partnership to the next level. He submitted a grant through Walmart for $2,000 and took some associates to the organization to get training from the experts on hosting service animals and veterans with PTSD in the store. 

“It just goes back to human kindness,” he says. “How awesome does it feel to be able to help that veteran—or even help the animal—find a better life?”

Their service also engages customers. “We’re not thinking about it just because of the bottom line,” says Stephen. “But, if the community knows that our store really cares about the community, that could be a deciding factor. Word gets out.” 

Training a Service Dog

Vietnam War veteran Terry has had PTSD for 40 years. Then, his wife put trained rescue dog Benny into his arms. “He’s been my best friend ever since,” says Terry. “The support, the bonding, is beyond what I even thought possible.”

Benny is trained to get his leash every morning and give Terry a look that says, “You and I are going for a walk.” “After a good walk,” says Terry, “it’s a day I’m glad to be in. It’s given me a huge reason to live and be a human being again.”

Terry says training with Benny is not just for the dog. “It’s as much for us veterans. It teaches us it’s OK to be out in public.”

Store 4275 is one of their favorite spots. “The associates ask us when we walk in the front door, ‘Is that a service dog?’ They thank us, and we go about our business,” Terry says. “We shopped at the competition until I started training at Walmart, and now we do all our shopping there. We feel welcome, and that’s a big thing for people with PTSD.”

Follow @SoldiersBestFriend on Facebook or on Instagram @Soldiers_Best_Friend.

Why a Market Manager thinks community engagement is important

Jerry P., manager of Market 510, Phoenix, Ariz., once led a market with two similar stores in the same city. Only one really embraced community engagement. “In very short order,” says Jerry, “that store started to outpace the other in customer count and sales. I can tie it back to community involvement as the differentiator. It’s the right thing to do, but there’s also a return on that investment.”

Here are Jerry’s tips for community engagement:

  • Jerry encourages stores to get operations tight in preparation for community engagement. As Stephen says, “You can’t water the grass when your house is on fire.”
  • Get out in the community and listen. Find out what’s most important—maybe a food bank or helping veterans—and then respond when your assistance can have the most impact.
  • Don’t make community engagement a directive. Encourage it by connecting a store with other associates and stores that have found success.

For more stories, advice, and inspiration, download your copy of the Winter issue of Walmart World here!

 
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