Boosting the Bottom Line
Experts from all across the pet industry offer up 50 strategies that independent pet retailers can use immediately to make more money.
Want to make more money? Well, who wouldn’t?
How an independent pet store can go about making that extra cash, however, is a much tougher question—one that requires careful consideration, and sometimes a different perspective. With this in mind, Pet Business canvassed a broad cross-section of industry experts, including pet specialty retailers, distributors, manufacturers and marketing professionals, to uncover their suggestions on how independent pet stores can improve sales.
What was revealed was a varied list of 50 actionable strategies—covering everything from merchandising techniques to community outreach to marketing ideas—that every pet retailer can implement in their stores. Some of these ideas may seem obvious, while others might not have occurred to most pet store owners and operators. However, when properly executed, all of the tips offered on the following list can be a boon to any retail pet business.
1. Encourage customers to bring pets to the store.
“Encouraging people to bring in their pets allows for a better sense of community and encourages socialization,” says Bryan Neiman, brand director at Fromm Family Foods. It also gives customers the opportunity to see how their pet interacts with a product. For example, it allows a customer considering a harness to try it on the dog for the right fit before they buy.
2. Connect with pet owners and their pets.
“Develop an emotional attachment between the pet owner and the store,” says Teresa Kara, owner of Chew On This Dog Barkery in Frankfort, Ill. “We take a picture of all the pets and post them behind the register, and now years later, people come in to find their pet.” Chew On This has roughly 2,500 pet photos posted.
3. Stay connected.
Building and maintaining an established contact list of your customers by email or physical address is a solid start for ongoing communications, says Erin Terjesen, managing partner at Propel Communications.
4. Create loyalty.
Enroll regular customers in a store-exclusive rewards program, through which they are offered discounts or rebates based on frequent purchases and recent transactions.
5. Understand your customers.
“Pet specialty retailers often have months of purchase history through frequent-shopper-card data, but don’t spend the requisite due diligence to analyze the baskets or history of transactions,” says Alyssa Guertin, associate brand manager of consumer animal products at Lambert Kay. “Use your preferred vendors or category captains to provide analytics.”
6. Think ahead.
Anticipate customers’ future wants while accommodating their existing needs, says Jeff Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin in Savannah, Ga. Monitor the pulse of the industry by researching trends frequently. “Equipped with knowledge of customer demographics, retailers can make more intelligent predictions regarding new products and offerings,” Manley says.
7. Attend distributor open houses and trade shows.
At these events, retailers can see the latest new products, network with key suppliers and take advantage of promotional pricing opportunities.
8. Invest in a point-of-sale system.
Look for a system that has extensive inventory control features, suggests Pete Risano, president of New England-based Pet Life, a retail chain with 13 stores. “Having the right products in stock for your customers while eliminating the ones that don’t turn will have a major impact on your bottom line,” he says.
9. Change the way you think about margins.
For example, says Stephanie Boone, founder/CEO of Wondercide Natural Products, “If a product is $14.99 and you have a 50 percent margin, you make $7.50. If a superior product is $24.99 and you have a 40 percent margin, you make $10. Would you rather have $10 or $7.50?” Push the superior product with higher dollars, Boone suggests.
10. Look for volume discounts from suppliers.
Distributors and suppliers offer a variety of deals to their retail partners. Take advantage of these deals, which could include a buy 10 bags of food, get one free deal, or a discount if a retailer purchases a certain volume of products, says Ron Smith, owner of LADS Pet Supplies. “To keep our retailers competitive, we offer specials,” Smith says. “It’s an opportunity for the retailer to buy the products on special and pass that discount onto their customers, which is a great way to keep customers coming back to the store.”
11. Ask distributors about closeout deals.
Distributors want discontinued items out their door, says Rachel Besch, marketing and sales coordinator at Southeast Pet. “Check out what is on closeout, and see if you could put together a give-away basket for an event or a dump bin full of cheap toys for an extra impulse buy,” Besch says. “Ask your sales rep if they will give you an even greater discount on a large order or by purchasing the rest of what is left in stock.”
12. Improve the store’s traffic flow.
Set the store up so customers walk through impulse or discretionary items before they arrive at the destination categories. “A clean, neat and well-organized store improves traffic flow, better presents product, and allows for more strategic merchandising, the utilization of POS materials and more,” says Nieman.
13. Brand block.
Merchandise a suite of branded products together. “This helps drive consumer brand trust and makes them think of other items they need but probably weren’t looking for,” says Boone.
14. Think seasonally.
Create sections or endcaps for products that are in season. “For example, in the spring, people are more likely to start training programs and get outside more,” says Jason Hart, director of marketing at PetSafe. “It would help to create a secondary display near the front of the store or on an endcap of products that are great for outdoor time with your pet.”
15. Use props to create a memorable display.
Jamie Idzi, proprietor of Yuppy Puppy in Bethany Beach, Del., displays Bosco & Roxy’s hot dog and hamburger treats in a mini tabletop grill instead of a basket or bakery case. “Sales increased dramatically, and customers found amusement in the creativity of the display,” Idzi says.
16. Color block.
Showcase colorful products on a wall display. For example, arrange a brand of toys by color vertically from lightest to darkest, and then reverse the order in colder months, suggests Idzi. “It really catches the eye and allows a customer to focus,” she says. “An array of color placed randomly can look too busy.”
17. Rotate displays frequently.
“Switching up displays every one to two weeks helps regular customers see products that they may not have seen before,” says Katie Pottenger, co-owner of Parker’s Naturals in Chicago.
18. Cross merchandise.
Double-check the adjacencies of the store’s various departments. For example, put treats near stuffable toys, place beds near crates, food near bowls and placemats, etc.
19. Invest in merchandising fixtures.
“They are worth every penny,” says Idzi. “The upfront cost can be high at times, but you will find that your product sell through rate will increase greatly.”
20. Use POP displays as a silent salesperson.
Cristen Underwood, director of marketing at Quaker Pet Group, says the Sherpa Shipper does just that. “It lets customers touch and feel the product—a sample carrier is placed on top of it out of the packaging—with shelf talkers that help consumers understand Sherpa’s Guaranteed On Board program, how to measure their pet accurately, etc.,” Underwood says. “It helps retailers promote the various features and benefits of each style of carrier.”
21. Display “mannequin” aquariums.
“Mannequin” aquariums should be well-maintained tanks that display the latest technology and livestock the store has to offer, says Dave Chai, president of Aquatop. “Mannequin aquariums are like new cars on the showroom floor; without them you are just a parts store,” he says. “The tanks should be designed to attract newcomers to the hobby, as well as inspire existing hobbyists to upgrade to the latest and greatest.”
22. Inspire impulse purchases at the checkout.
Have point-of-sale material near the register with items that grab attention, says Ahdee Abramson, president of Pet Ventures, Inc. “For example, our chicken feet come in a POP display box and have a low price point of 99 cents,” he says. “Having these types of items that grab a customer’s attention may induce trial at checkout.”
23. Take big items out of the box.
Deborah Feng, director of sales and operations at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), says it is best to have two representative items on display for customers that are considering big items, like beds or carriers. “It’s like buying furniture or a mattress,” Feng says. “You would want to touch and feel the item instead of buying it just off an ad.”
24. Sample, sample, sample.
Contact treat and food vendors for samples, and give them away liberally, suggests Pottenger. “I not only give them to dogs when they visit the store, I also put a sample with information on the treat in their bag so they can try it at home,” she says. “Once they see their dog loves it at home, they’ll be back to buy them.”
25. Run happy-hour specials.
Promote specials on livestock, nutritional treats and accessories during the slowest days and times of the week, suggests Chai.
26. Sell packages.
Offer aquarium, cage or herptile habitat setups complete with necessary accessories for a package deal.
27. Celebrate “holidays” while promoting related products.
“We partner with our vendors to feature specials that tie into nationally recognized events, such as Dental Health month in February, Earth Day in April—where we focus on earth-friendly products—and Be Kind to Animals Week in May,” says Kara.
28. Add services.
Offering high-margin services like grooming, self-serve dog washing stations, pet sitting, pet boarding and training classes can be a great source of extra income for pet retailers. Strategize the best add-on service for your market by talking to customers and create a plan to make it happen.
29. Offer home delivery.
Curb stiff competition from online retailers by offering home delivery services. Customers will appreciate the convenience of having bulky food, or heavy tanks or cages delivered directly to their doors.
30. Align with brands that reach the consumer.
A supplier that has its own comprehensive consumer-marketing plan will go a long way in complementing a pet store’s own marketing efforts.
31. Look sharp.
Maintain the store’s façade and be sure it is clean. Remove litter near the entrance, and double-check that signage is visible from the street and in working condition.
32. Invest in the store’s website.
In the digital age, it is imperative for small businesses to have an easy-to-browse website, but retailers don’t have know code to have a functioning website. Look to a third party or even your distributor for help. Phillips Pet Food & Supplies, for example, offers retailers a set of turnkey technology and marketing resources called the IT Kit, which includes a web component. Phillips’ Web IT provides retailers with access to discounted website design, content management and search-engine optimization.
33. Engage customers on social media.
When placing an order, retailers should tell their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Retailers can also utilize social media to announce in-store specials, upcoming events and other retail happenings, in addition to gaining customer feedback, says Mike Kiertscher, director of new customer and trade marketing at WellPet.
34. Send E-newsletters.
Send a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly e-newsletter to shoppers. Be sure to include a calendar of in-store and community events, educational materials, sneak peeks at new products and exclusive promotions or discounts.
35. Partner with vendors for social media content.
Rely on vendors that are exemplary at social media, and share their content, suggests David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications at Halo, Purely for Pets. “It’s literally the push of a button,” he says. “Or if you have an extra minute, add quick phrases like ‘Here’s a great pet care tip from one of our favorite brands, available here at Main Street Pet.’” Look for brands with social media content that educates, inspires, entertains, engages and sells.
36. Set media coverage goals, and plan in advance.
“If you can earn positive, consistent mention in the media, over time your brand awareness will increase and more people will understand who you are and what you offer,” says Kerry Sutherland, agency principal at K. Sutherland PR.
37. Be available to the media.
In addition to writing their own press releases and providing photos of special store events to local media, retailers should offer themselves up as a resource to media covering animal-related stories.
38. Host customer education events.
Invite a manufacturer into to the store for educational seminars. All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., hosts events sponsored by pet food manufacturers to educate employees about certain food lines and alternative ways to feed like raw or dehydrated.
39. Adoption day.
Invite a local shelter or rescue to have an adoption day at the store. Partner with a variety of organizations and, if possible, host adoption events once a month.
40. Invite a wildlife expert to give a lecture.
“Our local stores invite our wildlife sanctuary to come in for lectures,” says Kathleen Hillman, president of Piddle Place. “The sanctuary brings their animals, and offers lectures on environmental issues and wildlife.”
41. Connect with local pet professionals.
Pet groomers, chiropractors and acupuncturists can provide services right in the store, says Leslie May, owner of Pawsible Marketing. Pet trainers can offer training advice and classes, while veterinarians can provide advice to customers on food, treats and supplements.
42. Support the local pet community.
Retailers should support community efforts to increase dog-friendly places, like dog parks. “These efforts help in two ways,” says Hart. “The first is that a pet-friendly community will attract more pet owners who want those amenities, increasing your potential customer base. The second is that in supporting/driving these initiatives, your store will be established as the neighborhood store and consumers like supporting their local retailers. Your name will be top of mind in a very positive manner.”
43. Offer fun gatherings tailored for the local market.
“In Palm Beach, I see stores offering yoga classes with their dogs,” says Hillman. “At my home in North Carolina, stores offer hunting dog events. Know your market, and cater to their needs.”
44. Work with local schools.
Be the class field trip by offering guided tours of the store. If a class cannot make it into the store, offer to visit the school with animals and have a discussion with students. Another idea: Promote the Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom program in the store’s local community. Let teachers know where they can apply for a grant to have a pet in their classroom—those teachers will be likely to come to the store to buy products for that pet, says Steve King, president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA).
45. Hire the right people.
“Take the time to do multiple, thorough interviews to avoid hiring folks who aren’t the right fit for your company in the first place,” says Risano. “Then, take the time to train those carefully selected new hires to be better and more knowledgeable than you.”
46. Go with the Pros.
Train new hires and seasoned veteran employees with Pet Store Pro, the free online training program created by PIDA. “Pet Store Pro is a great way to educate and re-educate staff on pet knowledge,” says Manley. “Being a Pet Store Pro certified store is always a great public relations opportunity.”
47. Utilize manufacturers’ educational materials.
Give employees access to printed and/or digital educational materials provided by manufacturers, so they can familiarize themselves with new products. Loving Pets, for example, is a manufacturer that communicates with retailers via educational e-newsletters. The Treatfinder feature on the company’s website also helps retailers offer treat solutions for each customer’s individual needs. “Engaging and educating your staff about great product-solutions to recommend, as well as key features that make certain brands or products stand out will help you sell more through earned trust and personalized service and attention,” says company president Eric Abbey.
48. Have regular staff meetings.
Use the meetings to motivate, inform and involve employees. Be sure to listen to employee concerns and suggestions—after all, they communicate with customers every day.
49. Create category experts.
Have a different team member on the floor that specializes in a particular product category. For example, says Boone, for a team of four, have well-trained employees in the nutrition, flea and tick, toy and cat categories. “I have seen stores that have a team specialist do very well with driving premium products at a higher price point,” she says.
50. Employ mystery shoppers.
Alison R H Schwartz, store manager of All Pets Considered, uses mystery shoppers to test employees’ customer service. “We have secret shoppers twice monthly and get back detailed reports answering specific questions to make sure our customer service remains up to par,” she says.