Here at PETS+, we understand that the best business advice for pet pros often comes from other pet pros. You know the industry well and generously share your expertise and experience. Independent pet retailers and service providers, in particular, excel at boosting each other up. After all, indie successes only strengthen the ability for small pet businesses everywhere to compete against big-box and online-only retailers.
With that in mind, we asked the PETS+ Brain Squad to tell us about promotional efforts that have proven highly effective for them, both in terms of brand awareness and sales. Even if you’ve tried something similar to one of the 25 ideas shared here, consider that there may be a fresh spin or fine-tuning that could help you achieve greater success.
And if after reading this story you feel like joining the 1,300 pet pros from across the U.S. and Canada who take part in our monthly Brain Squad surveys, we’d love to have you. Join at petsplusmag.com/brainsquad.
1 While Jeff Jensen and Matt Brazelton were renovating a historic building in St. Louis, MO, for their store, Four Muddy Paws, they also were partnering with the city and St. Louis Animal Rights Team on a beautification project. They invited local artists to turn decommissioned fire hydrants into colorful creations, which were then auctioned off during the store’s grand opening. About 150 people attended the event, with the $2,000 in proceeds funding 36 sets of animal-appropriate oxygen masks for every fire truck in St. Louis. “It was an outstanding way to introduce new people to our shop and show them our dedication to the community and their animals,” Jensen says. “People still talk about this evening and it was over 15 years ago. Absolutely a night to remember.”
tip: Alert the media well ahead of any such project. Such a story lends itself to multiple features, from announcing it to the local artist community through coverage of the celebration.
opt for an in-
2 While a virtual wishlist certainly helps a rescue or shelter secure supplies, the partner store misses out on opportunities to fully engage and turn supporters into customers. Barkley’s Marketplace in Flemington, NJ, created an in-store wishlist for Outcast Rescue with that in mind. A table held products the organization needed, available at a discount and to be donated. Manager Michele Saharic shares, “We ended up with over $500 worth of items for the rescue. We also collected monetary donations from customers and matched the total, donating $1,200.”
tip: Extend a smaller discount to
purchases that supporters want to make for their own pets. Saharic did that with non-food items, and those sales “increased 20% for the month we ran the special.”
HELP A GIRL
3 This promotion was a win for everyone involved: When customers purchased a 5-pound bag of Wellness food at All Pet & Equine Supply in Mountain Home, AR, they received a free box of Girl Scout cookies. The store purchased the cookies to give away, but received a credit on its Wellness order to offset the cost because the brand rep’s daughter was the Girl Scout. “Customers loved it,” manager Joanna Shaw says, adding, “We saw a marked increase in sales of the brand during the promotion and an ongoing increase due to new customer trial.”
tip: Do this to help build awareness and sales of a new brand. Wellness had only been on the store’s shelves for six months, Shaw says, “so it really helped get customers aware that we carried the food and to try it. We more than tripled our usual sales of the food during the promotion.”
GIVE ZOO ANIMALS
4 Giving trees that benefit dogs and cats in need are a beloved holiday tradition for many pet stores, but what about other animals in need? Wings Wags & Whiskers in Amarillo, TX, helped lions and tigers and bears, literally. The Amarillo Zoo Giving Tree featured photos of animals and discounted gifts. Customers who participated were entered into a drawing for a store gift card. “We raised about $1,000 dollars for the zoo in toys, treats and gift cards,” owner Stephanie Steelman says, adding that cross-promotion between the store and zoo benefited both.
tip: If you do holiday bingo, dedicate a square to this promotion to further encourage participation.
5 EuPAWria Holistic Pet Center in Owega, NY, hosted “Paws for the Law,” a fundraiser for the Owego Police Department’s K9 officers. The parking-lot event featured K9 demonstrations and raffles, drawing more than 100 attendees over six hours. It was a success, owner Brett Foreman recalls: “We raised enough funds for a K9 tactical vest, a K9 gas mask, and a heat alarm system for a police cruiser. And doubled our sales for a typical Saturday.”
tip: Host instead of organize. EuPAWria provided space and promotional support, but event organizers scheduled the demonstrations and managed the raffles, from securing donations to putting together baskets and picking winners.
6 At Nature’s Pet Market Sherwood in Sherwood, OR, customers will find a regular display of Weruva cat food cans with a sign that says, “Add $2 to your purchase, and we will donate a can in your name to Hazel’s House Rescue.” Owner Jennifer Flanagan explains, “At our normal cost, the specialized can the rescue prefers retails for $2.30, but when Weruva gives us 15% off, we are able to add $2 to a purchase and throw a can in their donation bin. It’s a huge win for the shelter, as they can get more specialty cans for kitties with health issues, and at zero loss to us. So far our customers have donated hundreds of cans.”
tip: Choose rescue partners with a local focus to also create new customers. Flanagan points out that Hazel’s House sits in between her two stores. “They have many local fosters who shop here, and as a result, lots of adopters come in to get the food the foster has been feeding. I love to hear our customers say they adopted through Hazel’s House!”
7 In addition to owning Dusty’s Den in Sonora, CA, Jennifer Pastorini volunteers with local rescue Friends of the Animal Community. She gives all adopters a coupon for 10% off their first purchase at her store and reports a high redemption rate. Pastorini says, “I’ve also got a loyalty card, so it’s a great opportunity to get folks started on that, and that keeps them coming back.”
tip: Such partnerships work with other organizations, too. The local kennel club has asked Pastorini to provide coupons for new students. And many stores partner with trusted local breeders.
CREATE A HOLIDAY
8 At Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, WA, customers find multiple ways to help adoptable dogs and cats in December. Owner Allen Larsen shares, “It’s turned into an annual tradition for folks to bring in the family, look at our giving tree, and then pick a special cat or dog to sponsor.” Customers can also donate money or buy a gift bag for an adoptable pet. In 2022, Larsen donned a Santa suit to deliver 380 bags along with the monetary and giving tree donations to OkanDogs Rescue and the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society. He points to the benefits of these efforts, above and beyond attracting customers, “It warms our hearts and brings a beautiful joy to the community. We’ve been able to garner support from local media outlets, too.”
tip: Be strategic about what you donate. Larsen has liquidated excess and close-coded stock, but says, “We do make sure everything is desirable, so no junky clearance. We also look for advantageous buys.”
BE IN A COUPON
BOOK (OR APP)
9 Aardvark Pet Supplies in Thornwood, NY, put a 10% off offer in a local school’s Fund for Learning coupon book. There was no fee to participate, and the store gained new customers. Owner Barbara Clemmens says, “We got back a stack of coupons.”
tip: Go digital. Entertainment’s app boasts 14 million U.S. and Canadian members, with 83% saying they visit a business for the first time because of an offer, and 72% saying they revisit without a coupon to redeem.
10 Rawktober celebrates raw feeding during the month of October, with Bend Pet Express in Bend, OR, embracing this promotion each year with 20% off all in-store stock. “Raw is one of our best growth categories, and it’s where we focus our passion. Rawktober is a way for us to share that passion, and get more awareness and accessibility to our customers,” shares Stephanie Wright, purchaser for the store. “We do see an increase in our raw sales for Rawktober, so the promotion is definitely growing year over year.”
tip: Ask your raw brands for support. Wright says that Instinct, Stella & Chewy’s and Primal have all been generous over the years. “Having support from brands via bill backs, samples and training has made this much easier to handle on our end and much more successful on the consumer side.”
11 Exotic Pet Birds in Webster, NY, strives to support its pets from birth to beyond. Owner Sal Salafia says, “We feel it’s our moral responsibility to make sure we educate new owners and continue education throughout ownership.” Customers who buy their birds at the store receive free behavioral training and grooming, and discounted priority boarding. These efforts along with social media graphics and Lives featuring available birds have helped create an ever-growing customer base that also includes those who bought their pets elsewhere. “They look to us for advice on products and stay loyal to the brands we believe in. We strongly believe educational promotions are the path to success for any pet business.”
tip: Rotate who hosts your Lives. Salafia says, “I have team members who have been with me for years give their personal experiences of success, which gives many voices for our clients to learn and benefit from. People love hearing from different perspectives.”
12 Customers who attended the “Love Is a Work of Heart” event at Treat Play Love in Grand Forks, ND, and purchased a West Paw Toppl or SodaPup Lickmat, could then create a wonderful treat for their pet using a free toppings bar featuring products from Bark Bistro, Bones & Co, Fromm, Primal, Vital Essentials and more. Owner Kelly Hilzendager reports, “We found it very successful as people learned about different toppers other than just peanut butter, and they bought toppers, enrichment toys and just other unrelated items.”
tip: While some pups came with their people, follow Hilzendager’s lead and have plastic bags to protect take-away creations.
13 Humor can help deliver even the most serious of messages — and often do it more effectively and with greater impact. Nancy Guinn of Dog Krazy stores in Virginia understands this and created a TikTok video about a particularly touchy topic: the mistaken idea some people have that their dog should be able to meet any other dog in public. Guinn role-plays with her dogs, Tala and Pork Wonton, and marketing manager Emily Young, combining education with hilarity. (We don’t give away the joke — watch it at @dogkrazyinc.) Guinn says, “Most of our customers follow us on social media, so we wanted to add some humor behind how to approach a dog-selective/dog-aggressive dog when out walking in public, as most people think it’s OK and say ‘Oh, but my dog is friendly.’”
tip: Don’t be afraid to have fun, as it might help you reach a much larger audience. Dog Krazy has around 3,700 followers on TikTok, but the video has more than 46,000 views.
FIRE UP THE
14 To boost sales and introduce Bark Bistro’s Pooch Pancakes mix, Lakeshore Pet Boutique in Douglas, MI, held a Saturday Yappy Hour. Owners Randy and Anna Walker (above) got behind the griddle and served pups freshly flipped pancakes with toppings such as whipped cream, Bark Bistro’s peanut butter, blueberries and strawberries. Their people enjoyed mimosas and coffee cake. Randy says, “We are in a small, tourist town, which means the winter months are very slow.” Thanks to the promotion, which drew 42 people and 27 pups, she reports, “Sales for that day were up 149% from the previous Saturday. That day helped make February the best winter month we have had since opening.”
tip: Make this a regular event for your slower months. Randy found the ROI well worth it: “The cost of the snacks, pancake mix, champagne and OJ was just under $100. We will likely host this event once per month in January, February and March.”
HAVE A HAPPY
15 Lake Dog and Their People in Eufaula, OK, invites customers to celebrate its birthday each year. Owner Shari Wilkins says, “We decorate the store like a big birthday party, balloons everywhere, a selfie station and prize wheel! We have customers come back and ask, ‘When is the next birthday party?!’” Every dog who stops in gets a free birthday bone, and purchases are not required to spin the prize wheel. Those party favors, along with a variety of brand-supported specials and samples, helped the store see a 19% increase during its birthday month in 2022.
tip: Get your vendors to celebrate with you. Among the many freebies Wilkins received for 2022’s party were an Up Country collar and leash set, and picture frames, plus Northwest Naturals treats.
OR A HAPPY
16 Unleashed in New London, NH, celebrated its 15th anniversary with 15 days of free or discounted products. Among the specials were brand-supported “Free Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Morsels” and “20% Off Canada Pooch Coats.” Owner Penny Murano says, “It was a great 15 days. Our average customer count increased by 20% per day, and we definitely got customers on some products that they had never tried! And they continue to buy them!”
tip: Build customer excitement with video. “We made absolutely ridiculous videos each night to let everyone know what the next day’s deal was. The customers loved it and came in to get the deal or free product and laugh about the video!” One such ridiculous video: Murano modeling one of the dog coats — on herself.
SERVE PETS THEIR
OWN HOLIDAY MEAL
17 Fetching Dog in Scottsdale, AZ, recognizes that pups are an important part of holiday gatherings and should get a special dinner, too. Owner Becci Scott feels so strongly about this that she recently took over the space next door to open The Fetching Dog Barkery & Cafe, with its full kitchen putting out pet-friendly, human-grade versions of traditional holiday meals. “I made 50 Thanksgiving Ultimutt Feasts, which sold out in about three days,” she says. “People loved the idea and were immediately asking for the next one. The same amount of Christmas Holidog Feasts sold out in just over 24 hours.” The Thanksgiving meal cost $14.99 for regular or $19.99 for large, and featured Turkey Loaf made with ground turkey, cranberries, carrots and kale; Sweet Potatoes with Ceylon cinnamon; Green Bean Casserole topped with freeze-dried tripe; and Apple Pie in an almond-flour crust with applesauce and Bones & Co Goat Whip.
tip: Follow Scott’s lead and make available only by pre-order through your e-commerce site to ensure you know exactly how many to make and not get stuck with leftovers.
18 For the Dog Mom Day and Mother’s Day weekends in 2022, House of Paws Pet Boutique in Regina, SK, handed out 80 free heart-shaped keychains. “The goal was simply to recognize our Dog Mom customers,” owner Carly Patryluk says, but she shares that the effort brought in $1,500 more in daily sales year over year for those weekends.
tip: Such a promotion need not be expensive for you. Patryluk found the keychains for just $1 each on Amazon, resulting in an impressive ROI.
CHANGE UP YOUR
PICS WITH SANTA
19 Many businesses invite customers and their pets to pose with Santa each year, as revenue generators and/or fundraisers. Those who have found great success with St. Nick-centric events share advice here.
tip: Up the appeal and community feel by inviting local pop-up businesses to join in on the fun. For its Santa Paws last year, Pupology in Georgetown, TX, also had Bean’s Bandana Company and Mary Kay on-site, among others. Owner Janet Cesarini says sales at the store doubled during the event, and more importantly to her, donations to the partner charity continue to increase. “This past holiday season, we raised $4,000 for Living Grace Canine Ranch. They can choose to take the cash or buy food at a discount. They purchased canned food: 160 cases, a two-month supply!” She also recommends allowing those without pets to pose with St. Nick. “We have taken photos of first Christmases, last Christmases, and even pet parents who no longer have their pet, but still want to be part of the tradition.”
tip: If you hire a professional photographer, choose wisely. McKenna Burzimati, owner of Roxie’s Barkery in North Adams, MA, says about her 2022 Santa Paws, “I was sure to pick a photographer who regularly photographed dogs so they would be experienced and have a following of people who own dogs as well.” She also recommends using a booking system such as Calendly for appointments and requiring a deposit. And do multiple days over multiple weekends instead of just one. “We were booked back to back, and it was a really long day without breaks.”
20 From the week of Thanksgiving through Christmas, customers at Fifi & Fidos Pet Boutique in San Antonio, TX, can play the “Pick-a-Stick” game. It involves, well, picking a stick from a jar for the chance to win a discount on their purchase. There are 60 sticks in the jar, most of them plain, but some have different colored tips not visible through the jar. “We have one red (20% off), three purple (15% off), seven green (10% off) and eight orange (5% off). People are allowed one pull per day. We always have at least two to three winners a day, usually the 5%,” owner Diana Farrar says. “I love it when someone wins the 20% discount, especially when it’s one of our best customers! It’s really inexpensive to do, too, and takes up a very small amount of counter space.”
tip: Decorate the jar for the season or time of year you offer the game. Farrar wraps it in festive paper and adds a bow for the holidays.
21 All Things Pawssible in Charlottesville, VA, used a crossword puzzle to increase customer engagement. “I came up with dog-related questions and clues, and then used an online program to create the crossword for me,” owner Jennifer Hall says. Everyone who completed the puzzle and returned it to the store earned the chance to score a free day-care session. “People loved it, and it was an easy way to get active and inactive customers engaged.”
tip: Make it easy for customers to turn in their completed puzzles. Hall made the puzzle available as a PDF and accepted them in person or via email. She got back 70!
UP YOUR MYSTERY
BOX (OR BAG) GAME
22 Bark On Mulford in Rockford, IL, began offering mystery BOMBOXes more than two years ago, starting with 10 each and growing that number to 76 this past Christmas. Owner Kaye Busse-Kleber has learned much over that time.
tip: Use the boxes to build product buzz. She says, “One of my selling points is that I don’t put toys in the boxes found in my shop, giving customers a first look at new merchandise.” Get products to include on sale and ask brands for free samples. Don’t feel you have to use the subscription model. “Customers love the local connection and that they can order them when they want. When they come in to pick up their box, we can usually get them to sign up for the next one.” Do small dog and big dog versions if you don’t want to offer a subscription. Create a fun display of the boxes in-store to encourage sign-ups for the next box by those who missed out.
23 Three Happy Hounds in Fernley, NV, puts a pet spin on National Nutrition Month each March with its Kibble Swap. Pet parents can bring in any dog or cat kibble that the store does not carry and swap it for a 4-pound bag of a brand it does — for free. Owner Elaina Stanley says, “We want pets to eat healthier food, and this is a way for us to start having conversations about nutrition.” Pets Global, Open Farm, Victor, Fromm, Earth Animal and Primal all took part in the promotion this year, replacing the bags given away. It was a success, per usual. Stanley says, “We had a 54% increase in kibble sales for March 2023 over 2022 March. We gained 46 new customers. Almost everyone purchased additional items with the Kibble Swap. And we accomplished our goal of upgrading the food dogs were eating and having nutrition conversations with their parents!”
tip: Don’t leave out any current customers. Stanley says, “For our customers that are already feeding our food, we give them $10 in store credit for any referrals they send us.” The participating brands also provided credit for those $10 credits.
24 Hot Diggity in Hyannis, MA, has run eight giveaways with Capeology, an Instagram account that focuses on the Cape Cod area. Owner Ashley Lancaster says, “To enter, people have to like Hot Diggity’s and Capeology’s pages, like the post and tag two friends. Extra entries are given to those who also share the post.” She says the contests are a great way to reach the 145,000-plus residents and tourists who follow the account and are already interested in the coastal products her store carries. “Foot traffic and online sales both see a boost, with interest in the featured items.”
tip: When putting together such giveaways, include items for people, too. Lancaster says, “The posts with the most interactions incorporate something for humans and dogs, like a Bogg bag filled with dog beach gear.”
ON BLACK FRIDAY
25 While most pet businesses focus on product promotions the Friday after Thanksgiving, Albany Pet Hotel in Albany, OR, puts its day-care packages on sale. Clients can buy a 30-day pass and get a five-day pass for free. Natalie Kramer says, “We sold 17 day-care packages in 2022, which surpassed $10,000 in sales.”
tip: Don’t let a services sale get lost in the Black Friday madness. Kramer says, “I post to our social and put a flyer in our lobby about a month before.”
And don’t put expiration dates on the passes as they might discourage purchases by clients who have upcoming travel or other plans.