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Darwin man writes hilarious book about pet shop business

November 12, 2007

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Steven B. Barton of Darwin wrote a book, “And They Keep Coming Back,” that is side-splittingly funny.

It is about his experiences running his pet store, Aquaria Pets, in Hutchinson. The book is named for what happens when non-customers, people who don’t buy anything from the store, threaten to never return and make all future purchases elsewhere. They come back to annoy him, his wife, Deb, and their employees anyway.

“It is not the customers that wear you down. It is the non-customers,” Barton says repeatedly in his book.

What makes the book so laugh-out-loud-funny is how familiar the characters in the book are. Even if you’ve never worked in retail or with customers, you will recognize these people. Maybe you have seen them in action when you were in a store with them.

“I am not making fun of my customers. I am making fun of humanity. When most people go shopping, at some point, they do something weird, including me,” Barton said.

A book signing will be Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, and Nov. 23 and 24, noon to 5 p.m. at Aquaria Pets in downtown Hutchinson.

The book is organized into four parts. The first part is about customers and non-customers alike who don’t read signs, ignore posted store hours and try to get into the store too early or too late, expect the store to baby-sit their children for free, sign contracts and then try to ignore the terms of the contract, demand free information and education about the care of animals, expect refunds on nonrefundable items, and other annoying behavior.

It is truly amazing how many non-customers freely admit to Barton and his wife that they have no money, and no intent to buy anything, and are there because they are bored or killing time.

There are also chapters about irresponsible employees and wholesalers.

The second part of the book is about a scary incident in which the Bartons’ pet Italian Greyhound is stolen from the store, in broad daylight. It also includes a sky-diving incident in which emergency response personnel thought Barton had been killed. He also tells how Barton met and fell in love with his wife.

The third part of the book is a collection of many inspiring stories about customers and kind people from Hutchinson who helped the Bartons and their store.

The final chapter is a glossary explaining terms. The definition of a badger, for example, is a person with a problem, concern, or warranty or repair issue. Instead of giving Barton time to solve the problem or repair the item, the badger calls every 10 to 15 minutes to see if he’s done yet.

Although Barton makes fun of the non-customers, he loves Aquaria Pets and Hutchinson, and it shows in the book.

“The problem customer really comprises 1/10 of 1 percent. Most people are marvelous,” Barton said.

“The problem customer is a small percentage of people, who act the same no matter where they shop. One day, I was talking to a restaurant owner. To his amazement, I could name the people he was talking about within seconds. He could also name mine,” he continued.

In the 38 years he has been in the business, whenever something silly happened, he wrote it down. A woman put 100 pounds of aquarium gravel into her washing machine to clean it, for example. Of course, it wrecked the washer. Her husband tried to make Barton pay for the machine.

In another example, a business woman bought an aquarium from Barton for under $59, and thought Barton was obligated to clean it for the rest of his life, for free.

Another woman, after being told repeatedly to keep a ferret away from her face, had the ferret sink his teeth into her nose and dangle there, while she ran around the store screaming.

About seven years ago, Barton and his wife were trading stories with sales reps who had worked in retail and now service pet shops.

“Suddenly, one of the reps said, ‘Someone should write a book.’ Everyone looked at me. I guess I was the spokesman,” Barton said.

Barton also is in the process of writing a second book. It is called “The Perils of Puppies,” and has a more serious theme.

When asked if he is concerned his books will make people angry and cause them to stay away from his store, Barton said he hopes his books keep the problem customers away. Barton considers his thousands of good customers his trusted friends.

Here’s how you can get ‘And They Keep Coming Back,’ by Steve Barton

• Aquaria Pets, 30 S. Main St., Hutchinson.

• online at Publishamerica.com, amazon.com, borders.com, and Barnes and Noble.com.

• in print, RR Bowkers Books, Ingram Beker and Taylor, and The Brodart Company.

A book signing will be Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, and Nov. 23 and 24, noon to 5 p.m. at Aquaria Pets in downtown Hutchinson.