For over 20 years, my father had an African grey parrot in his pet store; and like many greys, “Cher” was a great talker. People would come in just to talk her, and as the mascot for the store, she sparked many customers’ interest in owning a bird.
Every pet store needs to have something special about it—something unique about the store in general, and if possible, about each department individually. Mascots are great and livestock brings in many customers, but that’s not the only way for a pet store to distinguish itself. A unique assortment can also make store shine.
Of course, the success of this strategy is dependent on the use of strong marketing and merchandising techniques, which need to be employed often if a business is going to grow or, in hard economic times, even survive.
What’s Old is New
If you have been in the pet business for a long time, one of the hardest things to do is to learn and use new marketing techniques. It’s also difficult to look at things with a fresh eye, but there are some simple steps retailers can take to grab customers’ attention.
Moving products and departments around the store once in a while is a great way to make the assortment seem “new,” even if the store has been stocking these same products for years. If customers can virtually make a beeline to the parrot food section and then to the counter with their eyes closed, it’s time to move stuff around. If possible, move the whole department. If this is not possible, try to rearrange the products in the area.
A great marketing tip is to place products customers purchase regularly (like bird food and litter) in the rear of the bird department, and then put the toys and birdcage accessories in the front. This forces customers to see more of the store’s assortment before they find the products they came in to purchase.
Point-of-purchase (POP) merchandising tools also help sell more products. Most major manufacturers provide POP materials, such as signs, shelf talkers, posters and banners, and they are usually colorful and eye catching. Customers may not buy the item or group of items being promoted, but it may get them to stop and look, creating an opportunity for the customer to see something else they want or need for their pet.
Signs are particularly effective marketing tools, and not just for products—informational signs are something that should be in every department. The best signs are ones that are short and informative. Having wordy signs that don’t get to the point quickly will not capture a customer’s interest. Above the bird toy area, place a sign that says, “Did you know that pet birds need to be given different toys every two months to keep them happy?” And avoid negative messages such as, “If you don’t give your pet bird new toys every two months, it can go insane!”
Keep the messages upbeat and humorous when possible. A sign that says, “Your bird will go crackers for our new bird toys!” may generate more sales than a sign that says, “Check out our new bird toys!” Also, be sure to change the signs out at least every two months to keep them fresh.
Holidays are the perfect time to market specific products. Put to use the colors that correlate to each holiday to help market certain items. For example, place all the bird toys that are orange together in their own area for Halloween, red and green ones at Christmas, red ones at Valentine’s, and green ones for St. Patrick’s Day. Decorating for the holidays around the store is great, but go one step further by including the products that will work with the holiday theme.
Going to trade and distributor shows is a great way to get ideas on marketing products and see what’s new out there. Show are also a great place to talk with other stores, as well as manufacturer and distributor reps, about ways to add excitement to the store.
Visit other stores in your area, and not just pet stores, but places that seem to do well with marketing, and use what you see to give the store a “mini-facelift.” Rarely is it necessary to do any large renovations, which can be expensive, time consuming and difficult, especially in a pet store setting, but small changes can make a huge difference in sales. New lighting, paint and moving things around, even a little bit, can have a dramatic effect on the look of the store and the attitudes of the employees and the customers.
When possible, ask someone you know and trust who has never been in the store to come assess what he or she thinks about the look of the place. Or, when a new customer comes in, offer them a 10- or 20-percent discount off any purchase, if they are willing to give an honest first impression. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the store, and what draws their eye. Question them on all their impressions and then get another person to do it—and then another. The more opinions you can get, the better the information will be.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.