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Stacy Wood

Stacy Wood

Seven Proven Marketing Strategies for Independent Pet Retailers

Not every small business has the resources or marketing budget that bigger companies have. In fact, I find that most pet retailers are not even sure where to start when it comes to building their brand and telling their story. Even if you have a wealth of ideas you might not have the team to help put things into motion. Because of this, marketing can fall by the wayside as you tend to the more important tasks in your store. Maybe the answer to your marketing troubles is thinking smaller. Besides, sometimes it is the simple things in life that have the biggest impact. 

Here are a few small (but significant) marketing tactics you can do today, to have a powerful impact on your business and your brand. Why only seven strategies? Well, marketing at it's core is more information than anyone wants to pour through, and I know as a small business owner that your days are busy. I want to give you the best advice possible for your time so let's get started!

#1. Know Your "Why"

In order to market your business correctly, you need to be prepared to explain your "Why" at a moments notice. Why is your business better than the competition? What makes your store unique? Or even easier, Why do you do what you do?

Research shows the average attention span of an adult is about six to eight seconds. That's right... about the same (actually less) than a goldfish. Can you successfully describe in 6-8 seconds why a customer should pick your business over another? It's a tough thing to do, however, your story is so important.

Your story is the building blocks upon which your brand is built, and you should know it inside and out. Please invest the time to craft a killer elevator pitch and have it locked and loaded to share with anyone inquiring about your business.

The Green SpotHere is a great example from The Green Spot in Omaha, Nebraska. This store added their love of pets and dedication to being environmentally conscious to their "why".

Be sure to share your vision with your employees so you are on the same page. Maybe even hold a brainstorming session with them, they might be able to inspire you as well. Having a solid and cohesive message to share with current or potential customers helps establish your credibility as a brand pet parents can depend on. 

#2. Think locally

In the world of small business there is no better support system than your local community. Let's think for a moment... when was the last time your local community had an event? Did your business participate? Did you have a presence at all? If not you are missing out!

There are so many opportunities for small businesses to participate in community events. Here are just a few:

  • Sponsor a little league team in your area. Sounds silly, but supporting local youth sports makes you look really good in the eyes of the local parents. Children and pets alike!
  • Have a booth at a community event or charity walk. Shake some hands, meet your neighbors, tell them your story, let the know your "why".
  • Donate to a local shelter. Hold adoption events. Consumers love businesses that are charitable. Also, it feels really good to give back.
  • Partner with compatible businesses. Maybe Gail the groomer from down the block is willing to give you a referral or put business cards at her register.
  • Welcome Wagon campaigns. These can help you bring in new business. If they are new to the area and have a pet, they are going to need some pet food. Why not send them a coupon and direct them to your store?
  • Community message boards. You've seen these at the local diner or grocery store, post up your business card, maybe a flyer with a take away that can be used as a coupon. Let locals know you are there and welcome their business.

purepetstore-fall-festivalThis post from Pure Pet Store in Carbondale, IL is a great example of how you can partner with a compatible organization and get involved locally. By participating in and promoting this local event they were able to build brand awareness while supporting St. Francis Care a local animal shelter.

There is no better way to build awareness around your business than to get on the local scene,these people are your neighbors, and if they love you, they are more likely to shop with you and share their experience with other local pet owners.

#3 Don't Overlook Social Media

Social media is paramount to marketing small businesses. Interacting with consumers on social media weighs heavily on your credibility as a business, and also allows you to highlight the personality of your brand. Using social media helps you not only increase your customer base but also connect with current customers.

The best part about social media platforms are many of them are free to use and easy to set up. If you are looking to hit the ground running, here is a great resource to get you started.

You should always try to share social posts that make your business easy to relate to. Content that your followers will find relevant and helpful. This will encourage them to share with their friends and family and in turn will extend your reach. Here are just a few ideas to point you in the right direction:

  • Pictures of pets that visit your business. What is their name? What are they buying today? Featuring a pets happy face is sure to grab anyone's attention.
  • Ask customers to tag you on in social posts. This user generated content is pure gold for any business on social media. Be sure to thank them in their post and repost on your page tagging them in return.
  • Let your customers get to know your employees, share what makes them a pet food expert (no pun-intended...) and how they personify your brand.
  • Tips and tricks about pet wellness and nutrition. Establish your store as the go-to place for information on pet care. Pet parents want what is best for their "kids" and your store is where they should get advice.
  • Be sure to highlight any sales or special events in your store. If you want more foot traffic on these days tell everyone what to expect with a great social post. However, try not to be "spammy" with your messaging. Promoting "20% off!, Biggest Sales Ever!, etc..." too often, can actually turn customers away. 
  • Share any big news, donations you've made, kind words said about your business or special awards and recognition. Anything that can support your "why".
  • Lastly, funny pet videos... Cat videos are actually scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve the mood of viewers on social media. There are no shortage of pet videos on the internet and they are a surefire way to get more likes.

Frequency and your ability to supply quick answers are the most important things to remember when running a social media page. If you are a owner or manager finding the time to post daily or even weekly can be difficult. Consider assigning the task to another employee (or multiple) to help you monitor customer questions and post content regularly.

#4. Ask and You Will Receive

More and more consumers are looking for great reviews on companies they do business with. In fact, studies have shown that consumers are likely to spend around 31% more on products and services from businesses that have excellent reviews backing them up. If you don't have any reviews online (Facebook, Yelp, Google, etc...) then chances are you are missing out on sales.

If you already have a following of loyal customer advocates, don’t be shy about asking them for a review. The majority of people say they are willing to provide reviews if asked, but very few actually take the initiative to do so on their own.

Give a Dog a Bone Customer ReviewsHere is a great example from Give a Dog a Bone in Evansville, Indiana. It is pretty clear that they are loved by their customers, and they go out of there way to support each other.

Reviews make it easier to get in the door with new customers, it's actually said that the majority of consumers now trust online reviews as much as they do the word of a close friend, and it weighs heavily on their decision to do business with a company. Next time Jenny and her golden retriever Buster come in for a bag of food, ask her if she would be willing to say a few kind words about her experience. I'm sure she will jump at the chance.

#5. Build Relationships Built on Data

Establishing strong relationships with your customers is crucial. One way you can do this is with email marketing. Email marketing is a no-brainer for pet retailers, and can easily be set up with a little planning and strategy. Some services such as MailChimp or Constant Contact even offer free use of baseline features. Which is all you should need to get started.

Of course to send emails you will need email addresses, so where do you get those? Some businesses may have POS systems which house data on their customers already. If not, you might gather emails on your website or during one of those community events. Something as simple as a sign up sheet at checkout can also be effective.

Once you have a collection of great data on your customers, and they have opted to receive emails from you (this is important!) you can use this data to your advantage. Craft personalized custom emails. Make your communications informative, helpful and professional — something your customers will look forward to receiving.

Don't send your dog loving customers, emails about cats! Use the data to understand the customer, what products do they buy regularly, what is their name, maybe even their pets name. Feeling as if you remember them personally and have taken the time to handcraft a message just to them will really make an impression and is sure to gain you repeat business.

#6. Offer Coupons

Everybody loves a good deal, and coupons are a good way for small businesses to share deals with current and new customers alike. Research shows that people will go out of their way to use a coupon, proving that this method is successful and a driving force in consumerism.

Coupons can also generate return visits. For example, if you give a customer a coupon for a discount to use on future business, there’s a high probability they’ll be back.

pvpe-couponsOffering coupons customers can print out on your website to use in store will drive traffic to your website and encourage customers to come in. Perk Valley Pet Eatery in Trappe, PA does a great job of updating customers through social media about new coupons found on their website.

With modern technology you can even have customers flash coupons from their smart phone at checkout. This not only cuts down on waste, but it is also more convenient, which makes customers very happy. Actually 82% of consumers say digital coupons are a more convenient option compared to printed coupons, this is especially true among millennials, who are 76% more likely to spend money on their pet's than themselves.

#7. Give it Away

If someone has the opportunity to experience your product or service, chances are they will want to purchase more. If John, is looking for a new food for his overweight pug Roscoe, but is conflicted on what will work best for his pet. Offer him a trial period with free return if Roscoe doesn't like it.

Returns are rarely convenient to deal with on the retail side, and often retailers won't offer them to save them time with restocking issues. But just for a moment think about your own experience as a consumer. Don't you feel great after of good customer experience? Don't you want to continue to do business with that company that made the experience so pleasurable for you? Of course!

Don’t be afraid to give someone a free trial or a sample to try something new. In today’s economy, people are more comfortable purchasing something they have been able to experience first. More often then not Roscoe the pug will love the food you recommend and you won't see a product return at all.

wholistic-pet-icelandic-samplesThis is a great idea from Wholistic Pet & Equine Center in Bedford, NH. Doing something like this every week is a great way to encourage new customers to come in and to get your regular customers to try something new.

You can also give out samples at one of those community events you are attending, contact pet food manufacturers if you are looking to support a specific food. They are usually very happy to supply a few trial bags for potential new business, some even offer reps that will come in on the weekends to do demos. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to know when it comes to marketing, and it can at times be overwhelming to someone who isn't familiar. If you take away anything from this article I hope it is that you shouldn't be afraid to experiment with different methods to find out what works best for you.

With a little trial and error these marketing strategies will help you engage customers, build relationships, and ultimately keep your brand top-of-mind. It’s not always about the money you have to spend on marketing, it’s about the time and effort you put into it and above all, the relevance it has for your customers.

Have a question about marketing in your pet store? I love talking about this subject! Please leave a comment below and start the conversation.

About Stacy Wood

Stacy joined the Pet Food Experts team back in 2008 as their first full-time marketing employee and has been working in the pet industry for over 16 years. On the job, you can often find her obsessing over the latest in marketing technology and looking for ways it can help empower independent pet retailers to compete and thrive in a fast-growing market. She currently lives on a large property in rural Massachusetts with her family, where you can often find her taking a hike in the woods with her rescue mutt Ripley, or in her garden flexing her green thumb.