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Lyssa LaCount

Lyssa LaCount

Tips & Tricks to Gain and Maintain Customers In This Market

Local neighborhood pet stores have accounted for approximately 4-5% of the estimated $38 billion dollars spent on pet food and treat sales sold so far in the U.S. in 2020. However small that might seem, independent pet stores still represent the best source for information, premium products, and services for consumers and their pets. One of the biggest challenges in growing independent pet’s share of the industry pie is customer acquisition. Meaning, how many customers businesses are able to gain and maintain walking through their doors, or shopping online with them on a regular and prolonged basis.

The strength of local neighborhood pet has always been in the ability to create a customized and personalized experience for each customer. Making them feel special and sharing expert insights that relate to their pet’s health and happiness is what’s sure to make them come back for more, right? Well, while this still rings true with your loyal customer base, the only way to gain and maintain new customers is to meet them where they are at. Do you have an online presence? Are you offering regular engaging promotions and content? When is the last time you posted on social media? These are all important questions to ask yourself on the journey to gain and maintain long lasting customers. 

Targeting and Attracting New Customers

There are so many ways an independent pet specialty business has the upper hand in their local community, since 82% of pet owners are actively looking to support small businesses. The key to being successful is to make sure the world notices how special you are. Below you'll learn ways to acquire customers from other channels in the industry, or by filling the service gap left by  competitors that may be leaving the market. 

  1. Have the right brand mix. First focus on food, since customers shop for it regularly, can be brand loyal, and are usually resistant to change. Ensure your food assortment covers the categories and full range of price points with a focus on high volume of brands. If consumers are looking to replace a private label brand that is no longer available, be prepared to offer alternatives, and be ready to convert those customers with samples, promotions, etc. Your distributor rep can help guide you with a brand mix and a conversion plan.
  2. Have a conversion plan in place. Determine your recommendations for new consumers coming in the door looking to upgrade their food or transition from a private label brand. Be ready to make an informed recommendation by getting to know their pet's needs. Ensure your team is trained and comfortable making the food recommendations — try role playing with them for practice!
  3. Look into loyalty reward conversions. If you have a recently closed local pet retailer that offered a loyalty reward program, check it out and try to offer the customers of that location something comparable. Reach out to your vendor partners for support in honoring frequent buyer cards or consider offering some points up front to get them started. This will be great for retention, but you’ll need to “get the word out” to let your community know that you are there for them and their pets. This is where social media can play an important role.
  4. Become easier to find. Check vendors’ websites to make sure you are listed on their store locator. This will help connect you with customer’s searching for a new location to shop for their pet’s food. If you are not listed, reach out to your vendor rep to see how you can be included. Also, make sure to check that your business's Google profile is set up with the correct address, hours of operation, and website so customers can easily find you when searching for a local pet specialty retailer. Failure to properly set up your online presence can mean you will be missed in local searches.
  5. Hand out coupons or flyers. You can create a coupon to offer in store to customers as well as advertise it online to get new customers in the door. Another option is to create a flyer to place on windshields in the parking lot of a closing location, at local pet “hot spots” like a dog park, even your local community Facebook page or physical message board would work. 
  6. Check out their real estate. If you are looking into additional locations to expand your footprint, it is worth checking in with the landlord if a larger recently closed pet stores. You may be able to get a great deal, and will likely get a space that is pretty much ready to go. The best part is, there will be customers who are used to going there for pet supplies, so you can grow your foot traffic immensely.
  7. Grow your team. If you are considering investing in your team, a closing business is full of experienced people who represent great potential! If you’re looking for a proven groomer, a manager, or more experienced associates, a competitor closing is an opportunity to add quality people and potentially, a customer following. Additionally, if you have a job lined up for them during this time of uncertainty, they are sure to be very grateful and inclined to encourage their past customers to head your way!

Maintaining Momentum To Keep Growing

With those tips and tricks to target and capture new customers your customer base will begin to expand and it is important you maintain this momentum so you can keep growing. The tips below will help you continue to increase awareness, and become more convenient to shop all while still growing your customer base. 

  1. Use social media. Social media is the fastest and easiest way to increase awareness for your store and expand your reach. Sponsor or boost posts to reach people in your community, even if they don’t already follow your business. Consider contests with your current followers to share posts and expand your reach. The prize can be as simple as a goodie basket giveaway with a couple of items. If social media isn’t your strong suit, there are great resources out there to help you learn the basics and provide you with content options including Promoboxx, AstroLoyalty, eTailSocial, and Pet Boss Nation. Just to name a few. 
  2. Use e-mail or direct mailers. Consider utilizing email marketing by sending helpful information and promotions to your customer e-mail list. You can even ask vendors to help with a direct-mail coupon offer in your area to encourage customers to come in. Always make sure the communication you're sending is relevant and targeted to your recipients to ensure it captures their attention. 
  3. Make your store more convenient to shop. Now, more than ever, customers are looking for convenience through multiple shopping options. In addition to in-store, consider adding online shopping for curbside pickup with an E-commerce platform, such as eTailPet. And, if you have the resources, consider a home delivery option.
  4. Take advantage of vendor programs. Some vendors have invested in technology such as geo-targeting, or are offering boosted positions or additional badges on their website store locators. Take advantage of the work that their marketing departments have already done to get those customers to come into your store. Keep in mind that Astro Offers makes running vendor funded promos easy.
  5. Partner with community influencers. Accelerate word-of-mouth recommendations by partnering with local community influencers. By offering discounts to area breeders, trainers, and groomers, and collaborating with mutual referrals both businesses will only benefit. Consider partnering with local rescues by donating torn or close-dated bags, or work with them to host fundraisers or adoption events. Reach out to your vendor partners to see if they can provide feeding programs, coupons or adoption packs for each adopted animal. You’d be involved from the start with each adoption surely guaranteeing return sales.
  6. Lean on others in the community for advice. Just like in real life, in business you need a good support system. If you're looking for the support of other pet industry professionals, look no further than Pet Boss Nation. Pet Boss Nation's free Facebook Group aligns retailers with their peers and offers the support of like-minded professionals to learn and grow with.

Persevere Through The Pandemic

It's no secret that we've seen COVID-19 create a significant change in market dynamics and customer behavior this year. However, the opportunity is out there for those who take action to gain and retain new customers, strengthening their business for whatever the future holds. Please ask your distributor and vendor representatives for help, and let’s all work together to ensure that the independent pet channel gets more than it’s fair share of the industry pie, staying strong and thriving for years to come! 

Co-authored by, Sarah Daniels, Region Sales Manager

About Lyssa LaCount

After working as a Pet Food Experts Territory Manager for 7 years covering first the Northern NJ territory, and then the Western NY market Lyssa was promoted to Mid-Atlantic Regional Sales Manager in early 2020. She has a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell University and a minor in Agribusiness Management. She started in the industry at a neighborhood pet retailer and has been with Pet Food Experts for over 7 years. In her spare time, she enjoys Hallmark movies and spending time with her German Shepherds Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.