Phillips Gets iT
Phillips Pet Food & Supplies offers independent pet retailers a variety of valuable business resources in its iT Kit program.
As a company whose success has long depended on serving a healthy customer base of independent pet specialty stores, Phillips Pet Food & Supplies understands that its fortunes are irrevocably tied to the strength of this retail channel. That is why, in early 2014, the company decided to transcend the traditional role of a pet product distributor by expanding its offerings to include a variety of valuable business resources in its iT Kit program.
“Phillips has the independent channel in our blood,” says Jessica Farina-Morris, vice president of marketing for Phillips Pet Food & Supplies. “We really want the independent channel to stay healthy.”
Running the gamut from discounted insurance to mobile marketing platforms to payment-processing services, each of the business solutions offered through the iT Kit is specifically tailored for independent pet stores and designed to help these retailers succeed in an evolving marketplace. “We started seeing the independents’ competition changing,” says Farina-Morris. “Big-box and e-commerce competition are popping up everywhere, and the way consumers are shopping is changing, particularly among the new generation of target consumers—Millennials.
“So, it was a very good time for us to look at the independent retailer and come up with ways to keep them healthy by focusing on three basic principles—drive, enhance and retain. The components of the iT Kit help retailers drive consumers into their store, retain customers in the store, and enhance the shopping experience and make it relevant to that target consumer everyone is after today.”
The program is broken down into nine components, which Phillips’ retailer customers can choose a la carte:
Understanding the growing importance that mobile marketing has and will continue to have in engaging consumers, Phillips Pet Food & Supplies invested in proprietary mobile marketing software called Petzmobile, which the company offers to retailer customers for free.
“Essentially, Petzmobile allows retailers to have a store loyalty program on a mobile platform by handling text messaging to consumers,” explains Farina-Morris. “A consumer who goes into the store can opt into the retailer’s mobile loyalty club, and each week, they will receive [text-message-based] offers, depending on the type of animal they own. So, dog owners only get dog-related offers, and bird owners only get bird-related offers.”
Citing research that has shown pet owners will shop in many types of outlets for their animals’ food and supplies—a combination of grocery stores, independent pet stores and big-boxes—she says that a pet retailer’s ability to stay top of mind with consumers and drive them back into the store is critical. And marketing through text messages on mobile devices can be a great help on this front.
“It keeps the store top-of-mind for the consumer,” says Farina-Morris. “We know that this is a very important component to keeping independent pet stores healthy and relevant, particularly with Millennials.”
Whether or not a retailer offers an e-commerce component, having a well-designed website that is regularly updated to keep it engaging for consumers is a must in today’s selling environment. Unfortunately, accomplishing this is often no easy feat for most independent pet store owners, who typically wear many hats in running their businesses.
“We know that a lot of independent pet store owners are doing everything—placing orders, doing payroll, taking inventory and paying taxes,” says Farina-Morris. “So when it comes to doing marketing for the store, sometimes they need assistance. Designing a website and constantly keeping it up-to-date can be particularly hard, so we found a partner—Pet Store Websites— that will design the retailer’s website and keep it fresh.”
Through the partnership with Pet Store Websites, a retailer simply participates in a 20-minute monthly call with a company representative to provide information about anything new that is going on in the store, and the company will update the website for them. In addition, Pet Store Websites can handle social media for retailers, including posting on Twitter and Facebook.
According to Farina-Morris, there are a variety of packages available to meet retailers’ specific needs, all of which are discounted for Phillips’ customers.
While digital marketing is all the rage today—for good reason—there are still some traditional forms of advertising that still resonate with customers, and Phillips’ iT Kit has retailers covered on that front as well.
“In a world where we have so much going on with digital marketing, there’s something to be said about that occasional postcard that you get in your mailbox,” notes Farina-Morris. “Consumers tend to look at these cards because they’re just not as frequent these days.”
With this in mind, Phillips has partnered with what she describes as the largest direct-mail company in the country to help retailers send post-card messages to local pet owners based on demographics. “We can do a post-card drop to pet-owning consumers with a certain median household income that live within a five- or 10-mile radius of a store,” she says. “We can target, for example, females, age 35 to 44, that own a pet and have a median household income of $75,000.”
In addition, Farina-Morris says that Phillips can help retailers co-brand their direct-mail campaigns with special offers from vendors to further help drive customer traffic into the store.
Communicating through email can be a great way for pet specialty retailers to position themselves as a source of valuable information on pet care and drive shoppers into the store again and again. Now, through a partnership with Constant Contact, one of the world’s foremost email database companies, Phillips is helping retailers engage pet owners via e-mail using their stores’ customer database.
According to Farina-Morris, in addition to providing discounted services, Phillips’ relationship with Constant Contact has made it easier than ever for retailers to create an attractive email format to get their message out. “Part of the partnership includes assembling pet-store-specific templates that retailers can easily use instead of worrying about spending time creating [the email layout],” she says.
Most retailers that utilize a point-of-sale (POS) system in their stores can attest to the inherent versatility of these tools in managing inventory, customer engagement and other business operations. Yet, there are many pet stores that either do not employ this valuable technology in their stores, or simply do not have the right system in place to take full advantage of what is possible.
Once again, Phillips has stepped in to help its retailer customers with the formation of a strategic partnership with POS system provider Lightspeed. “We know that a good POS system really allows a pet store to run smoothly,” says Farina-Morris. “These systems do so many things—they can be used to manage inventory, place orders, do CRM [customer relationship management] and manage payroll.
“So, we found a good POS company that was interested in the pet industry and willing to tailor their program specifically for pet stores, and that is exactly what Lightspeed did. And they offer it at a discount for our customers.”
Keeping a pet store’s merchandising scheme fresh and engaging is a must in today’s highly competitive pet products market, but when it comes time to replace display fixtures or get advice on updating the layout of the sales floor, who can retailers turn to? Apparently, it’s the iT Kit, through which Phillips’ customers can find valuable guidance on store design and fixture sourcing.
“A lot of our customers’ stores sometimes need new racking or shelving or some display units, and they don’t know who to go to,” says Farina-Morris. “We found a great company based in New Jersey, and they pass along a discount to our customers.”
Whether it is in the form of liability insurance, workers’ comp or even insuring a pet shop’s livestock, the need to insure their stores against worst-case scenarios is a fact of life for pet retailers, and a necessary cost of doing business. But it does not have to be an unmanageable cost, provided that retailers take the right approach.
“They say that you should shop your car and homeowners insurance every couple of years, and the same is true of business insurance,” says Farina Morris, noting. “We approached some major insurance providers to create an independent pet store program with reduced premiums. We’ve done all the negotiating, so our customers can call and get rates that are typically discounted from what they’re paying today. Our broker shops all the different insurance companies for the retailer and comes back with the option that is the best fit.”
One of the newest additions to the iT Kit is the partnership that Phillips has forged to help its customers with loyalty programs. Working with what is billed as the most popular loyalty company in the pet industry, retailers engage regular customers with perks like birthday cards for their pets or reward them with discounts and free products based on the volume of business they do with the store.
According to Farina-Morris, this component of the iT Kit can be particularly attractive to retailers that are happy with their stores’ POS systems, but need a loyalty program component that isn’t included in their current setup.
Today, allowing customers to pay for their purchase with a major credit card is a necessity—one that comes at a cost for merchants, which have to pay fees to have those transactions processed. Of course, these fees are open for negotiation, and this is where Phillips can help.
“Oftentimes, you can negotiate that fee, depending on what type of volume you’re doing,” says Farina-Morris. “So, we partnered with the largest merchant fee company out there, and the program allows retailers to partner with the most reputable payment processor and receive a discount for being a Phillips customer.”
In addition to helping keep their credit-card processing fees manageable, working through the Phillips Process iT program will ensure that retailers are on top of the latest technological and legal developments related to credit card transactions. For example, many retailers might not know that new laws regarding the handling of credit cards with enhanced security features and fraud liability go into effect this month.
“A lot of people don’t know about that big change that is coming,” says Farina-Morris. “And this is the type of company you want to be partnered with because they will make sure you are compliant with those changes that are coming up.”
The Bottom Line
Because of the variety of programs encompassed within the Phillips Pet Food & Supplies iT Kit, just about every independent pet retailer is sure to find something in the kit that can help drive success for their business. In fact, many already have.
“The reception has been great,” says Farina-Morris. “Retailers have been really appreciative of what we’re trying to do with the program. And since all of these options are offered a la carte, our customers can pick and choose which components they want, they don’t have to choose them all.”
She says that taking advantage of the many resources offered through Phillips’ strategic partnerships is akin to working with a franchise model, only better. “We’re giving a franchise-like experience to our independent customers, without a franchise fee,” explains Farina-Morris, noting that the company can accomplish this because of its significant size as a national pet products distributor. “A common theme throughout the iT Kit is that Phillips has used its size to negotiate savings with all of these companies, and we’re passing 100 percent of that savings right down to the retailer.
“Yes, Phillips is big, but that is a benefit. We use it to be a positive force for our customers. We’re passionate about independent pet stores, and we want to help keep them healthy.”