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Support Group Helps Those Who Have Lost a Pet, Builds Goodwill Among Customers

Pet owner wanted to empathize with others when she grieved the loss of her own pet.

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Those who attend gather around a coffee table with a burning memorial candle

ON THE THIRD THURSDAY night of each month, customers gather at The Natural Pet Enrichment Center to find and offer support for the loss of a beloved dog or cat. Upwards of 20 people attend the Pet Bereavement Meeting, hosted by owner Christine McCoy and facilitator Margaret Coats.

THE IDEA

Help and connect customers. When McCoy lost her heart dog to cancer in 2015, the grief was overwhelming. “When Bing passed, I was devastated.”

She knew not everyone could provide the support needed. “It’s hard for some people to understand. When you lose a human family member, they get that you have to go through the grieving process. But pets are family members, too. To many of us, they are children.”

McCoy turned to longtime customer Coats, a bereavement facilitator who works for a grief center and who previously facilitated a pet loss group at an animal hospital. Their talks led to the idea of hosting a free monthly meeting at the store for those in the same situation.

THE EXECUTION

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Appoint a facilitator and promote wide. Coats stresses the importance of a facilitator, whether a professional like her or a layperson. “Without structure and someone to guide discussion, pet parents tend to rehash and not move through the pain to heal.”

Each meeting takes place at 7 p.m., closing time, in the store’s education area. Coats gives new participants a folder of educational materials and invites them to share their stories. Regulars can as well and do, especially around the anniversary of their pet’s passing.

She then introduces a topic for discussion, such as the individuality of grief. “Many people have expectations of what grief should look like and how they should cope, but that’s not how it works. Everyone has their own way of grieving, and it’s important not to compare. I tell them to move at their own pace and let the relationship with their pet define how they grieve.”

The meeting ends at 8:30 p.m., but McCoy says she often finds Coats talking outside with someone having a particularly tough time. Participants include not only customers but also newcomers who saw the event listing on Facebook or picked up a flyer at the nearby animal hospital.

THE RESULTS

Value the positive word of mouth. The Natural Pet Enrichment Center carries a variety of memorial products. McCoy doesn’t promote them during the meetings, nor does she track their sales on those nights. “I see this as another service we offer our customers. We want them to know we support them all the way through, from puppyhood to passing. That spreads a lot of goodwill and contributes to our strong word of mouth.”

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Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Pet Bereavement Group

  • CONSIDER HIRING A PRO. Reach out to area grief centers to find a facilitator trained in pet bereavement. Coats charges $75 per meeting.
  • REACH OUT TO OTHER PET BUSINESSES. Ask vet practices and pet sitters to help promote the meetings. Make it worth their while through referrals or other means.
  • CREATE A COMFORTABLE SPACE. If you don’t have the square footage, consider hosting the meetings off-site.
  • MEMORIALIZE YOUR PETS. Include in the meeting area photos of store pets who have passed. Invite participants to bring pics of their own.
  • CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK. In addition to posting the meetings on your store’s page, create a group where participants can support each other throughout the month.

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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A Store Markets Bundled Product Packages for Customers’ New Puppies

Paws on Main offers assistance — with product packages, plus referrals to its sister business.

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DOGS PROVIDE UNCONDITIONAL love and companionship. They also can present challenges that pet parents must overcome, from house-training to destructiveness to a lack of leash and other manners.

Paws on Main offers assistance — with product packages, plus referrals to its sister business, A Place for Paws dog day care and training facility.

THE IDEA

Bundle by Problem

Dani Edgerton founded A Place for Paws in 1999. In 2017, she purchased Paws on Main, a retail store just minutes away. It gave her room to stock and sell personally recommended products for common pet health and behavioral issues.

In 2019, Edgerton took her recommendations to the next level after adopting WhizBang! Retail Training’s Retail Mastery System.

“It talked about bundling to upsell,” she says.

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Edgerton created the New Puppy package, as well as Super Chewer and Training for dogs of all ages, with each one outlined on a card with a product checklist on front and training tips on back. She includes touts for A Place for Paws services on both sides.

Per WhizBang!, prices are not discounted. The card simply lists total cost per size of dog.

THE EXECUTION

Provide Focus with Flexibility

Edgerton created the package cards herself. They sit in a Peanuts-inspired holder at the register, within easy reach for staff who are asking customers how they can help.

Pet parents do not have to buy everything on a checklist, which happens regularly with the New Puppy package. “We ring everything up separately anyway,” Edgerton explains. “The card just gives them a guide as they’re walking around the store. Customers will say, ‘I need this and this, but I already have a crate.’”

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Just as pet parents appreciate the flexibility, so does she. It allows her to regularly change the packages. Edgerton may want to introduce a new toy or take away a product not selling well.

“There may be something that we as trainers know is important, but for whatever reason customers don’t want to use. We had Bitter Apple in Super Chewer, but found that they didn’t like the idea or didn’t think they needed it. In that case, it made them less interested in the package as a whole, so we took it out.”

THE RESULTS

Boost in Sales & Referrals

With the packages, Edgerton says, “The average per sale is higher — double or more because of the suggestions, all coming from experts.”

The cards also create a beneficial loop with A Place for Paws. New Puppy includes an invite to the free bi-monthly Puppy Quick Start class. Super Chewer touts its day care as a way to combat destructiveness. And Training outlines the various training programs.

Once pet parents take the free puppy class, Edgerton says, 85 percent sign up for a training program and return to Paws on Main.

“All of those clients come back to the store. It’s a given that they’ll be back.”

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Meet the Reptiles: A 2-Day Event Introduces Customers to New Types of Pets

It aims to change people’s misperceptions about reptiles.

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REPTILES CALL 4.5 MILLION U.S. households home, according to the 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. Feeders Supply aims to up that number with its annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail.

THE IDEAEDUCATE & ENTERTAIN
“Owning a reptile can seem intimidating. Many people have the perception that they are scary or can be challenging to care for,” Amanda Lambert, public relations and marketing strategist for the stores, says.

“Talking about these misperceptions spurred the idea to do an event with Exo Terra,” a brand Feeders Supply carries. “It would allow customers to see reptiles up close and ask questions.”

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The first Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place at the Louisville, KY, location in September 2018. It hosted again this year, with the Jeffersonville, IN, store also getting in on the fun.

THE EXECUTION

PLAN, PARTNER & PROMOTE
Lambert chose the two locations because they are 25 miles apart, and each has an event space. She asked Steve Sotelo, a reptile specialist with Exo Terra, to plan the program and bring a variety of species. Lambert posted event listings on social media and sent press releases to local newspapers and TV and radio stations.

The second annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place on a Saturday in September in Louisville and on the following day in Jeffersonville. During the two hours, Sotelo introduced attendees to a ball python, Parson’s chameleon, blood-red bearded dragon, Malaysian horned frog and red-footed tortoise, among others. He talked about their origins, life cycle and care in captivity, and answered questions about them. Attendees could even hold certain reptiles.

Lambert and another corporate staffer were on hand to manage the event and hand out free Exo Terra backpacks and lanyards.

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THE RESULTS

MEDIA COVERAGE, NEW CUSTOMERS
Lambert and Sotelo appeared in a segment on the local ABC affiliate, which helped draw more than 75 people to the events.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how many parents brought their children,” she says, adding that families left with an interest in owning a reptile.

To give them time to discuss adopting a new pet, Feeders Supply ran its 50-percent-off reptiles sale with purchase of a terrarium kit for nine days at all of its locations.

The stores also gained new customers within the existing reptile community.

“A lot of people brought their own pets, ball pythons, several bearded dragons. Reptile people loved it. It was a chance for them to show off their scaly family member and for people not be freaked out,” Lambert says. “And it was a chance for us to provide an experience that can’t be had elsewhere, to let them know we carry reptiles and supplies and have knowledgeable, trained staff.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Reptile Event

  • Partner with a brand that has an education program, so you can bring in species different than those customers can see anytime at your store. For example, Feeders Supply sells bearded dragons, geckos, turtles and other reptiles, but not snakes.
  • If you don’t have an event space, considering holding a reptile event off-site. Lambert suggests setting up chairs to keep attendees from getting too close to the presenter and pets before the designated touch time.
  • Promote to the media. They love critter stories!
  • Invite local reptile enthusiasts to attend and bring their pets.
  • Run any sales long enough to give attendees time to think about adding a reptile to their family. Follow up with sale details.

 

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Pet Sitter Offers In-Home Hospice Care to Dogs with Terminal Illnesses

In the final weeks of a pet’s life, they may have special needs.

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IN THE FINAL WEEKS of a pet’s life, they may have special needs. Their people also may need help. Those living in Chicago, IL, can turn to the hospice services provided by Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting.

THE IDEA

Assist with end-of-life care, provide support. Julia Rohan founded Rover-Time in 2012, and soon she met the dog who would inspire her to offer hospice services. Cujo the Pit Bull was an existing client when diagnosed with terminal cancer. His humans worked long hours.

“They were the first to ask if I could help in this way,” Rohan recalls. “They wanted to do right by their dog.”

She spent middays with Cujo, giving him meds, taking short walks and providing company.

“All of the things a pet parent would do for their dying cat or dog if they could stay home and away from their normal life.”

Rohan always handled Cujo with care.

“As they are dying, animals can get snippy. I read his body language and made sure not to overstep. We had peaceful visits that left him feeling content.”

They also gave Cujo’s family peace of mind.

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“Many people fear coming home to a dead pet. Having someone there a good chunk of the afternoon helps them walk through the door at the end of a workday.”

Hospice became a permanent addition to Rover-Time’s services after Cujo passed.

Julia Rohan

THE EXECUTION

DIY and multitask. Clients in need of hospice services meet with Rohan to go over their situation and to customize care. She handles all of these assignments herself, as opposed to tasking one of Rover-Time’s 15 employees, for multiple reasons.

Busy with operations, Rohan misses the hands-on work.

Also, she says, “It’s a wonderful gift” to be able to support pets during this stage of their lives and their people.

Rohan can multitask during the visits as well. She typically spends several hours at a client’s home, the majority of time simply sitting with the dog or cat and working on her laptop.

“It’s not as labor-intensive as it might seem,” Rohan says, pointing out that client communication makes up the bulk of the work. “During that first conversation, I create a safe place for them to share what they need, how I can provide comfort to everyone, and then I ride those ups and downs with them until they make the difficult decision to help their pet cross over.”

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Rover-Time hospice services cost $35 to $50 per hour, with a $25 new client fee if warranted.

THE RESULTS

Positive word of mouth, client retention. Rohan may see only four to five hospice clients a year, but the impact on her business is significant.

“I see the bigger picture. Walking with the customer through this process, building intimacy over time, saying goodbye. Showing that I care and that the loss impacts me creates a brand ambassador who speaks very highly of Rover-Time’s purpose and pride in what we do at all stages of a pet’s life.”

Clients often return to Rohan when they bring a new dog or cat into their home. Cujo’s owners now entrust Rover-Time with their their current pups, Lulu and Tator Tot.

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