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Pictures, Perfect

They really are worth a thousand words ... or more.

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HERE’S A LITTLE SECRET.

Yes, a business has to be well rounded to win or place in the America’s Coolest Stores contest. Yes, it ought to have unique physical elements, out-of-the-ordinary marketing strategies and collateral, a firm grasp on technology, and a distinctively awesome approach to customer service.

But you know what really helps? Great pictures.

Most of our judges will never set foot in the businesses whose entries they evaluate. (We’d love it if they could, but sending half a dozen people to visit 50 to 100 pet businesses scattered all over the U.S. just isn’t economically feasible.) So the only way for them to get any sense of what it’s like to physically wander into your shop is to provide them with top-notch, truly encompassing photographs of the space.

What does that mean? It means:

  • Large, high-resolution digital photos of your exterior and interior. The bigger the picture — file size — the better we can see the details contained within. There’s a practical reason for this, too, which is that if you place in the contest, we need to be able to print the photos in the magazine. If your entry photos are too small or low-res, we’ll have to ask you to retake them all anyway. So might as well start things out the right way from the get-go.
  • Images that give us a sense of the whole space. We need to see more than just one picture of the showroom, taken from just inside the front door. We want close-ups of great displays and windows. Shots from a wide variety of angles. Pictures of the ceiling, if you have a cool ceiling. If you have a great-looking, well-decorated restroom, we want that too. It’s not silly — it shows that you go the extra mile.
  • Pictures whose context is immediately obvious. For better or worse, the contest entry form doesn’t allow you to upload captions with each photo. So we need a sense of what we’re seeing. And shoot stuff that matters — we don’t want multiple pictures of the random art hanging on your wall, unless somewhere in the written portion of your entry, you’ve explicitly highlighted why it makes a difference to your business.
  • Pictures without a lot of people in them. Mainly, what we’re looking for are images that let us see the business as a physical space. It’s difficult to do that if there are crowds of people around (as is often the case with otherwise great pictures taken at an event), and there are legal considerations too that don’t always allow us to use pics featuring people without their permission. As for your employees, they’re important — but we’ll get a much better sense of why from the things you write about them than we will from random portraits.
  • Pictures of the cool stuff. This should be obvious, but nonetheless, all too often we get entries that boast about the beautiful fountain just inside the entrance, or the fabulous dog park, or the coffee and wine bar with all the bells and whistles … but then there are no pictures of these things to accompany the bragging. Here’s a good tip: If you write about it, include a picture of it.

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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Stores: Fine-Tune Your Online Presence

We’re looking for great things in the “Online Presence” section of your contest entry.

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TECHNOLOGY MOVES FAST, so now’s a good time to make sure your online presence is up to speed.

Here at PETS+, we pride ourselves on being up on technology, and we try to devote a portion of every issue to showing pet pros how to use new media to their best advantage.

So it should come as no surprise that we look for great things in the “Online Presence” section of your America’s Coolest Stores contest entry.

The section itself is pretty self-explanatory, so here are a few extra tips that may help as you fill it out:

  • If you’re redesigning your website, link us to a preview. If your new site will be up before the contest deadline on March 15, just give us the standard URL. But if it won’t be ready, chances are your designer can provide you with a preview link, so judges can see what’s in the works. Just make a note in parentheses after the URL, so we know what we’re seeing.
  • Make sure you tell us specifically what’s cool. While our judges take a careful look at entrants’ websites, you’ll improve your chances of winning if you explicitly mention any awesome digital features. (Do you offer online ordering? Post testimonial videos from satisfied clients? Or maybe you’ve just received great comments about how useful your site is.) Alas, there’s no box in this section to make such notes, so make a note of them now to remember to include them in a later section (“What’s cool about your business?” “Provide three fun facts about your business,” or “Tell us one of-of-the-box idea you’ve implemented this year.”)
  • The internet moves fast, so there’s still time to improve things. We love to see great reviews on Yelp or Google. It’s a plus when we see a business has a strong Facebook or Instagram presence too. If you need some work in any of these areas, the good news is that it’s not too late. There’s nothing wrong with asking a few reliable clients to leave you nice reviews, and if you do that now, they’ll be posted before the judging begins. Same goes for asking for Facebook likes. (If you’re especially enterprising, consider setting up a laptop or tablet on the salesfloor, so willing folks can do it right then and there.) It’s certainly not cheating — these are things we think you ought to be doing regardless, so consider the contest a useful kick in the butt.

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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Thank You Page 2019

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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Stores: The Rest of the Story

We’re looking for stories that capture our attention.

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IN TIP #7, we started in on the text portion of your America’s Coolest Stores contest entry. This time, we’ll finish the rest of those sections.

Our 2019 entry form allows you to select three or more of eight questions. We’re trying to get to know your business as well as we can without setting foot in it, so we’re looking for specifics.

Important note: Make sure you select the checkboxes for the questions you wish to answer. Once you do, the text boxes for those responses will appear. (See sample below.)

Here are the questions:

What’s cool about the physical design of your business?

We realize you may be limited by such things as rules of a strip mall, local ordinances, etc., but what we want to know is how is your physical design, inside and out, different from other pet businesses?

What’s cool about your staff? What cool things do you do for them?

Do you have staff members with any exceptional talents or abilities? Do you train your staff or encourage them to seek out learning opportunities?

What’s cool about your digital presence? (Including website, social media, online ordering, texting, etc.)

Everyone has a website anymore; we’re looking for what makes yours — and your social media — different from other businesses. Tell us about online initiatives that have worked for you.

What’s cool about your marketing?

In the age of the internet, marketing can mean everything from a Yellow Pages ad — which is so old, it’s new again — to radio, to social media. Let us know what has really worked for you.

What’s cool about your community presence?

The coolest businesses are often integral parts of their communities. Let us know what sorts of community outreach you do, even if it may not be pet-related.

What’s cool about the operational or structural part of your business?

Here’s a potentially wonky question. We’ve heard of some businesses that have novel pay or commission structures, that provide insurance even to part-time employees, that hire high school kids seasonally, that go high-tech when it comes to inventory, that build sustainability into all their business practices. Here’s you chance to fill us in on what might be boring minutiae to anyone but us here at PETS+!

What’s cool about your customer experience?

We’re not just talking friendly service with a smile or helping someone take bags of dog food out to the car. Tell us what you do to make your customers want to keep coming back.

What’s one out-of-the-box idea you have implemented in the past year?

This could be a sales event, a promotion or ad campaign, a business policy, a training push, a sweet new product or service you’ve introduced. And remember: We value success, but we also admire courage. Maybe you tried something and it was a bust. That’s OK. If it’s sufficiently out of the ordinary, we’d love to hear about it — and why you think it didn’t work, and what you’d do differently if you try it again.

One final piece of advice: As you’re figuring out these answers, email the questions to your staff and ask for their input. This is the sort of project that is made to be crowdsourced.

That should just about bring your contest entry to a close. As ever, if you’ve got questions, concerns, or suggestions, email us at coolstores@petsplusmag.com.

 

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