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6 ‘Gotcha’ Ideas to Lure New Customers

Freebies? If not, consider starting now.

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DO YOU OFFER REGULAR DISCOUNTS? How about freebies? If not, consider starting. Such offers serve a variety of purposes for your pet business:

  • They attract new customers and show appreciation to existing ones.
  • Freebies give pet parents a risk-free way to try a new product or service, with discounts reducing the financial risk.
  • They bring in business during predictably slow periods.
  • Shoppers who save in one area are more inclined to spend in others.
  • They create buzz, with word of mouth about certain offers earning goodwill and brand loyalty with different groups in your community: animal rescue, military, senior and student, just to name a few

To get you started — or to inspire new regular discounts and freebies — we talked to six pet business owners who have found success when going beyond the tried-and-true loyalty programs. They share details and encourage replication in your area. 

Manhattan Mutt MANHATTAN, KS

Active military families and full-time college students get 15 percent off dog-walking and pet-sitting services by Manhattan Mutt. The discounts bring repeat business, with students in particular.

“It has driven a great deal of loyalty, as we have many vet students in the area who appreciate reliable, flexible care for their pets,” owner Robin Brown says, pointing to Merlin & Finn (pictured here) as examples. Their human was a client from her freshman year until she graduated and moved away.

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Fido & Stitch GRAND RAPIDS, MI

Fido & Stitch takes part in the 616 Lofts Pass program. Residents of seven mixed-use buildings in the city get discounts at participating local businesses, which benefit from the built-in customer base. The store offers 10 percent off retail and a one-time 15 percent off grooming.

“The residents who live in our building use it the most, but we do get several regular customers from other loft buildings,” owner Alli McDonough says. “It has definitely led to repeat customers, for grooming and retail!”


Cats N Dogs  PORT CHARLOTTE, FL

Owner Nancy Okun welcomes new puppies and adult dogs with a gotcha gift. Young ones get a bag filled with puppy chews, training treats and a toy, while those older get a bag of treats or chew picked out just for them.

“In most cases, Cats N Dogs becomes their go-to store for all things — food, treats, natural remedies, toys, etc.,” she says.


Bath & Biscuits GRANVILLE, OH

After adopting, many pet parents bathe their new dogs as a rite of passage. New home. New smell. For some, it can also be an immediate need if coming from an animal shelter, where risk of parasites and sickness can exist. Bath & Biscuits offers a free self-serve wash to pets adopted within the previous 30 days. To get the word out, owner Danielle Wilson partners with Licking County Humane Society, which hands out cards advertising the freebie.

“It’s led to a lot of repeat customers for us,” she says. “Plus, most start purchasing their pet food and supplies from us. We love having that initial introduction via the adoption, which begins a great relationship.”

To encourage orders for its newly launched in-house bakery, Wag Central sends out treat samples quarterly. “The sample box is about the size of a coffee mug, too big to be discarded like a postcard mailing,” owner Angela Pantalone says. “The package is addressed to our four-legged clients. This way, our brand-new biscuit selections can be sampled by the pup, and the client gets to see that all of our ingredients are human-grade and a healthy choice.

“Additionally, we can put in a newsletter, coupons or referral card to entice our clients to continue to use our services. This endeavor is not inexpensive, but the feedback has been great. Many people sent us videos of their pups opening the boxes, which we then used for social media. Many people are using our referral cards, and have been reminded that we are here ready to offer services to their pups. I’m hoping this personalized approach will further connect us with our clients and increase our client base through word of mouth and appreciation of a concierge level of care.”

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Wag Central STRATFORD, CT

To encourage orders for its newly launched in-house bakery, Wag Central sends out treat samples quarterly. “The sample box is about the size of a coffee mug, too big to be discarded like a postcard mailing,” owner Angela Pantalone says. “The package is addressed to our four-legged clients. This way, our brand-new biscuit selections can be sampled by the pup, and the client gets to see that all of our ingredients are human-grade and a healthy choice.

“Additionally, we can put in a newsletter, coupons or referral card to entice our clients to continue to use our services. This endeavor is not inexpensive, but the feedback has been great. Many people sent us videos of their pups opening the boxes, which we then used for social media. Many people are using our referral cards, and have been reminded that we are here ready to offer services to their pups. I’m hoping this personalized approach will further connect us with our clients and increase our client base through word of mouth and appreciation of a concierge level of care.”


Birds unlimited WEBSTER, NY

Feathered friends need grooming, too, and Birds Unlimited offers it for free three times a year to customers who purchased their pets at the store. The promotion began as a way to attract regulars on Black Friday.

Owner Paul Lewis says, “We realized Black Friday seemed to be a mall thing. People weren’t coming to standalone brick-and-mortar stores. Most people buy something, too, and we make sure the holiday toys are available. We put a couple of things on sale at the counter, and it has turned out to be a busy day for us now.” 

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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PETS+ Live with Candace D'Agnolo

This North Carolina Pet Business Thrives by Creating Unforgettable Customer Experiences

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle, NC. Learn about ways to combat the big boxes and online — the key is to give your customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else — and learn why the business was honored in the 2018 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest.

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Haul Out the Holly — and Maybe Even Yoda — for Snappy, Happy Holiday Decor

For a snappy, happy ever after, get those decorations up now.

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IT’S THE MOST wonderful time of the year. Customers are picking out gifts, and booking extra grooming appointments and boarding stays. Best of all, you get to deck the halls to further boost the holiday cheer and spending. These pet businesses shared how they do exactly that.

Southern Barker
LEXINGTON & LOUISVILLE, KY

On any given day, Southern Barker looks pulled from the pages of a decorating magazine. The holidays are no different. Special touches like the countdown calendar pickup truck and faux snowballs add festive charm to displays, those of holiday and non-holiday products alike.

Paddywack
MILL CREEK, WA

How sweet is this giving tree? Customers are able to purchase an item off the tree for a specific forever foster or adoptable pet, with the lineup changing each year with the organization. White tinsel and snowflakes also decorate this store, with Christmas and Hanukkah items adding pops of color throughout.

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The Dog Store
ALEXANDRIA, VA

Forget the Grinch! The Dog Store favors another green creature, Yoda, in one of its holiday displays. Making an appearance in the front window are Santa Snoopy and seemingly every single holiday dog toy on the market. Passersby can’t help but stop to take it all in, and then head inside for more.

Wagging Tails
WEST HARTFORD & WOLCOTT, CT

Pet-centric holiday paintings are a running theme in the lobbies of these boarding facilities. Santa holds a puppy, giving him a candy cane to lick. A kitten plays with ribbon on a wrapped gift. And a Westie looks out a snow-dusted window, with a Christmas tree in the background. All creating a merry mood for clients dropping off their pets.

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Bark On Mulford
ROCKFORD, IL

Festive items mix with year-round gifts to give both categories a boost during the holidays. Dog breed ornaments decorate Bark on Mulford’s Christmas tree, along with those representing other pets.

Paws on Main
COLUMBIANA, OH

This store took full advantage of last year’s town Christmas parade theme: ugly sweaters. It devoted the front window to holiday sweaters for pets, and threw a Snuggly Paws and Ugly Sweater Party. Not only did Paws on Main sell a slew of sweaters, it won the Best Dressed Animals Award at the parade!

Woof! Woof! Pet Boutique & Biscuit Bar
BRISTOL, RI

Treats remain a priority during the holidays at this store, with the famous biscuit bar and bakery cases getting a festive makeover. And look at the bone-shaped tree lights and garland with moose ears. Adorable.

Captivating Canines
WESTERVILLE, OH

This store takes part in its neighborhood’s annual storefront holiday decorating contest. White twinkle lights hang from the awning, helping to light the window displays that feature festive holiday decor. Good luck this year!

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6 Pet Hotels That Will Make You Kind of Wish You Were a Dog

This is high-end boarding for dogs!

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AT FIRST GLANCE, you might think some of these accommodations are for people. But look closely — at the size of furniture at Chateau Poochie, the water bowl at Yuppy Puppy and the video-chat camera at Bark Life Market. This is high-end boarding for dogs! Also, the pups in other pics give it away.

Wagging Tails
WOLCOTT & WEST HARTFORD, CT

Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw has staffed cage-free boarding with toddler furniture as lounging and bedding options. Among the playful offerings are a pirate’s ship, racecar and train.
Krista Lofquist buys Little Tikes and Step2 beds new, but also finds them gently used on Facebook Marketplace.

NIGHTLY RATES: $50 (includes daycare)

Yuppy Puppy
O’FALLON, MO

Each of the Plaza Suites at Yuppy Puppy pet spa and resort features a tempered-glass door, garden-view window and outdoor fenced-in area for suite guests only, plus raised bed, couch and included amenities such as bacon-and-egg brekkies in bed.

Jessica Cooke expanded boarding options to include suites when moving to her current location. “I was quite nervous that I would end up upgrading dogs for free to utilize the space. But the suites are full every day, and I have clients booked in them into 2020. We are opening a second location, and the rooms will primarily be these.”

NIGHTLY RATES: $55

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Barker’s Lane
DAVIE, FL

Grooming clients can also board at this salon, in one of four stylishly appointed rooms worthy of an Instagram-famous pup.
Julianna Reese offers this advice for those inspired to use similar decor. “You have to know the dogs to determine what can be left in the room. We do put down pee pee pads at night, but the rugs and bedding are washable and bought at places like Ross, Home Goods, Tuesday Morning.”

NIGHTLY RATES: $45 and higher

Bark Life Market
SEMINOLE, FL

The all-inclusive Penthouse at Bark Life Market’s newest resort measures 10 by 13 feet and includes sliding patio door, resort decor and music, a queen-size bed and flat screen with DogTV, as well as private web cameras and a Petchatz video chat and treat dispenser. Also included, egg and cheese omelet for breakfast, salmon or beef fillet for dinner, and tuck-in treat at bedtime.

NIGHTLY RATES: $99

Chateau Poochie
POMPANO BEACH, FL

This doggie day care, spa and pet hotel has multiple levels of accommodations, including its most luxurious: The Tea Suite. Measuring 14 by 14 feet, it has seating and sleeping options throughout, a crystal chandelier, flat-screen TV and webcam, plus additional included amenities.

NIGHTLY RATES: $250, and pet parents can pay an additional fee to have a staff member spend the night in the suite.

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Wag Central
STRATFORD, CT

At Wag Central, staffed slumber parties are one of the higher-end boarding options. Pre-screened day-care regulars can stay together in a room that has four custom-made bunkhouses. Angela Pantalone says they cost about $800 each, including beds.

“It’s a great upsell for pups who are anxious or first-time boarders. The human-interaction aspect is a big draw for owners who are concerned about their pup as they travel, too.” She adds, “We are able to multitask the use of this room for dog families who insist on keeping their pups together when we are not opening it to sleepovers. It’s a nice puppy nursery, too, for daycare. Overall, it’s been a hit!”

NIGHTLY RATES: $68 (includes daycare)

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Tout Your Own Brand with Custom Merchandise, Branded Freebies

Swag those tails!

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE SWAG? Offer up a free button or ball or other small promotional item, and your customer will say, “Yes, please” and “Thank you.” Some even love your business so much they’ll pay to wear or use its branded products. Now that’s success — revenue and “free” advertising. These six businesses have achieved exactly that.

Fetch RI
RICHMOND, RI

Humans and dogs alike can show their love for this store — in a variety of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and bandanas. Johnna Devereaux offers this advice, “People love buying our shirts and sweatshirts because they are super-comfortable. Work with your local embroidery shop and have them order samples so you can decide which materials feel the best, and carry only those!” As to pricing, she says, “Because we are getting free advertising when people wear our branded items, we only charge a 25 percent markup.”

T-SHIRT COST: $13, SWEATSHIRT COST: $35, HAT COST: $12, BANDANA COST: $4.50, DOG T-SHIRT COST: $8 | SOURCE: Local embroidery and screen-printing shop

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Crossbones Dog Academy
PROVIDENCE, RI

New training clients get their very own clicker to use, not only during class but when out and about practicing new skills. When hung from a wrist coil, they serve as walking advertisement for the business. Katherine Ostiguy says, “Branded clickers are worth the investment if your store offers positive dog training services.” She also sells them for $3.29.

COST: $1.15 | SOURCE: The Doggone Good Clicker Company

Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center
SHORELINE, WA

In their welcome packet, new patients get a three-step can lid with the clinic logo on it, and they also are available for $1.39 at the on-site store. Manager Amanda Bass says, “Carrying can lids when you sell dog and cat food is a must! Merchandise them near the canned foods as well as by the checkout stand.”

COST: $.049 | SOURCE: Pawprint Promotions

Animal Connection
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Branded merchandise at this store features its tag line, “Bark Local.” Patricia Boden sells T-shirts, toys and magnets, but also gives them away — along with “Bark Local” and “Purr Local” buttons — at certain events and to valued customers. She even rewards those who wear the gear: “If I see someone wearing a pin or shirt, or a car with a magnet, they get a prize on the spot!”

SHIRT COST: $14 SALES PRICE: $20 SOURCE: VistaPrint | TOY COST: $9.50 SALES PRICE: $16.99 SOURCE: Hugglehounds | MAGNET COST: $1.50 SALES PRICE: $3 BUTTON COST: $0.44 SALES PRICE: $0 SOURCE: Sticker Mule

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Wishbone Pet Care
MISSOURI CITY, TX

Tammi Bui worked with an Etsy artist to create a custom, hand-painted dog collar with brand colors and logo. She sells them for $22.99, but also gives them as gifts to her most loyal customers.

COST: $11 | SOURCE: etsy.com/shop/merryjaneandthor

Yuppy Puppy
O’FALLON, MO

Jessica Cooke says, “I smack my logo on anything I can!” Some items she gives away, such as bandanas to new grooming clients, but uses others as incentives. Customers who book a 30-day play-camp package for $515 get a free towel they can use on Splash Days, and those who buy a filled treat jar for $6 can refill it for $3. “We also use these in our donation gift baskets, with a note telling them to keep the jar and come see us for a refill!”

TOWEL COST: $11, TREAT JAR COST: $2.50 | SOURCE: AnimalsINK

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