Working-Class Dog

Open dog policies are good for business.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the September 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Tim Smith knew he didn't want to play by corporate America's rules when he launched his San Francisco-based interactive design and production company five years ago. How is he rebelling? For starters, his Red Sky Interactive--a firm that's worked with high-profile clients like Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Lands' End--allows employees to take their dogs to work with them. Here's how canines play in Red Sky country:

Dear Abby: "She's the co-founder," says Smith, 39, of his ultra-friendly Rottweiler, Abby. "She's never been paid, but I'm working on that."

What do clients think? "Quite a few clients actually request Abby's presence."

No bark and no bite: "We actually have a pretty well-thought-out [dog] policy." Specifically, Red Sky pooches must not bark, display aggressive behavior, relieve themselves indoors or roam through the office unaccompanied.

Puppy love in action: "We've got four to six dogs that show up here on a fairly regular basis. You'll frequently see employees lying on the floor with Abby or one of the others for a little dog therapy."

Why all deliveries are special: "I'll never forget, one day we were sitting at the front desk and the Federal Express guy--who was not on his usual route--came around the corner. Abby spotted him and went into this stalking pose, like lions do. He took a long look at her and left. We've joked ever since about how much mail we're not getting. But Abby would never do anything."

Rude Awakening

Service with a sneer.

You know that old adage about the customer always being right? Forget it. That stuff about service with a smile? Absolute nonsense. The latest trend to take hold in customer service is premised on the belief that aloofness is actually appealing.

Well, sort of. As typified by a select circle of swank hotels and restaurants, these days it can be downright chic to be downright cheeky. "There's a slight edge without being disrespectful," explains Jim Eyster, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York. "It's an `exclusive' attitude. It sets [proprietors] apart and makes [customers] feel thankful to be there."

Thankful that hotel clerks never remember your name? Thankful that waiters admonish you to eat a little faster? OK, we concede this approach is unlikely to make much of a splash in mainstream America. Says Eyster, "It probably works for only a very small percentage of the customer base."

Sex In A Beer Bottle?

You bet.

Animated beer bottles jousting on a football field. Scantily clad women partying with a funny-looking dog. Considering the irreverent tone conveyed by the beer industry through its advertising, you'd expect these folks to be at least a little, er, spirited themselves, right? Well, if Philip Van Munching's Beer Blast: The Inside Story of the Brewing Industry's Bizarre Battles for Your Money (Times Business) is even close to the mark, consider your expectations realized--times 10.

As Van Munching writes, "If most businesses are Monopoly or Stratego, the beer business is Twister." Why is this? "It demands odd, often comical, often sexy contortions. And everyone who plays it ends up falling on their ass from time to time."

Written with irreverence, Beer Blast chronicles everything from the short-lived career of Honey Tree Evil Eye (a.k.a. spokespooch Spuds MacKenzie) to the growing presence of entrepreneurial-driven microbrews.

Throughout the text, third-generation beer manufacturer Van Munching makes the same point again and again: When you sell beer, you sell romance. "Beer, whether it's used as a reward, a relaxant or a refresher, is a gift people give to themselves," he writes. And what could be more romantic than Spuds MacKenzie?

Heard On The Street

  • Screen test: Entrepreneurs worried about filling staff vacancies in today's tight labor market are getting a helping hand from Redwood City, California-based employment services company Adecco Inc. Inspired by the popularity of ATMs, Adecco is placing interactive job-search kiosks in shopping malls and universities nationwide. Guess this gives businesses a hire power.
  • How Gap Inc. spent its summer vacation: Betting that consumers really do want their khakis to swing, the San Francisco-based casual clothing giant tested the home-delivery concept "gap to go" in New York City and the Hamptons over the summer. Whether this Manhattan project will be played out in other cities remains to be seen.
  • Chew on this (just not before bedtime): America's love affair with caffeine continues, thanks to Wrigley's recent introduction of caffeinated chewing gum. Add "Stay Alert" to a market that already boasts caffeine-enriched soda, coffee and water. This innovation could very well jolt the gum industry.

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