Dog celebrating birthday

Today’s retail pet market is big business, but you’ve got a traditional brick-and-mortar store. How can you compete with free shipping at $49, two-day shipping, and the instant gratification that comes with online shopping? 

Maybe it’s time to look at how you honor your customers for shopping in your store. They are coming into your store when they know they can go somewhere else. They are coming to you because you are a pet expert, but you still have to find ways to keep them or you might lose them to the lower prices and convenience of online shopping. These methods have worked for us:

1 Work with your manufacturers. Customers will forget all about online shopping when you offer them free things. I have a couple great manufacturers that will let me run promos during certain times of the year. One manufacturer is great at letting me give away a free small bag of dog or cat food with the purchase of a large bag. Not only is this a great technique to reward your customers’ loyalty, it’s a great way to move slow product and also to introduce customers to new (and maybe more expensive) varieties. 

Another one of my manufacturers lets me run a $2/$3/$5 special. Last year during the first two weeks of November, we ran this special, and the discounts are off small/medium/large bags. On Election Day only, we doubled the amounts. People saw our announcement on social media that morning and went crazy to stop by and stock up! They were already out and voting anyway, so it definitely increased traffic in our store. 

2 Pick 10 customers to send a thank-you card to each month. The card is a postcard that also functions as a $5 coupon. I found a cute design on VistaPrint.com with dog that looked like he was smiling and wrote the message, “Our customers make us smile.” I randomly pick worthy customers and often my staff will mention people who they think deserve a card. Sometimes we even send them to folks who haven’t been in in a couple weeks, to encourage them to come back.

3 The holiday season is also the perfect time to remind customers what they mean to you and your business. We send Christmas cards to our top 100 to 150 customers (mostly based on sales numbers). We have a customer Christmas card made each year with our store cat’s photo on it, and we hear that some of our customers collect the cards! We put a $5 coupon in there as well.

4 Something unique will always catch a customer’s attention. I had wooden nickels made to hand out at our events. Each nickel is actually $5 and can be redeemed at any time. I had a friend design the nickels and we found a company that makes them, so do be prepared for some initial cost, but they can be used over and over again. We have two styles, one with our dog logo and one with a caricature of our store cat. We use these in place of paper coupons. Sometimes we give them as prizes, sometimes we just give them to people. It’s a fun way to encourage people to return to the store. Some folks even collect them!

5 Interaction is key to keeping a customer. We started a pet birthday club, which we named after our store cat. It’s free to sign up at the store. At the beginning of each month, we send out a birthday postcard to that month’s birthday dogs (and cats). They can bring the card in to redeem for a free birthday cookie. If they bring their pet, we’ll take the pet’s photo in a birthday hat and post on social media. We have found that people look for their pet’s birthday photo and often share it on social media, which is a win for us too.

Stacy Busch-Heisserer owns Busch Pet Products, a holistic pet supply store, and recently opened Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp. She is currently working on a clinical pet nutrition certification through the Academy of Natural Health Sciences. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This article originally appeared in the September-October 2017 edition of PETS+.