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Create Connections: A Dog Festival Attracts Crowds of Thousands

Make use of a dog fest to get to know your local pet store and service providers.

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PATTIE BODEN HELD the first DogFest in 2013. The owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA, set up shop along with 12 rescue groups, veterinarians and trainers at a local dog park. More than 500 attendees played games with their pups and got to know their local pet store and service providers. By 2018, 45 vendors and more than 3,500 pet parents took part in the fun.

(Left) Pattie Boden

THE IDEA

Help Pet Parents Find Resources in Charlottesville

Boden says, “The community grew so quickly. We needed an event to introduce our business to new people moving in and to those who had been here for years but hadn’t gotten to know us.”

She sees DogFest as an extension of her customer service.

“I’ve always wanted my store to be the place where people could find out about dog trainers or holistic vets or animal communicators or other resources. That’s why I called it Animal Connection in the first place.”

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THE EXECUTION

Make a List, Then Mix It Up

In 2013, Boden began the planning process by inviting businesses and groups that complemented her store. In 2018, she even asked two friendly competitors to participate.

“We’re all a part of the holistic pet community,”she says. “We all compete with big-box and online stores. It’s good for us to join forces, to encourage people to shop local.”

Once vendors are set, Boden creates the festival layout. She starts with a Welcome Center at the entrance, where attendees can pick up a map and register for the popular costume contest. Next-door sit four Animal Connection booths, complete with an 18-foot sample bar that offers food, treats and more. Last year, reps from The Honest Kitchen, Primal, Whitebridge Pet Brands and Pet Food Experts also were on hand to answer questions.

She then alternates business and rescue group booths, creating a varied flow and helping to keep the adoptable dogs as calm as possible. Vendors pay a fee to help cover expenses, even the rescues at a reduced rate to ensure they show. Further incentive: A videographer interviews groups and produces a 60-second spot they can use for promotional purposes.

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Humans can dine at food trucks on-site and swing by Three Notch’d Brewery, located adjacent to the park, for a Big Dawg Blonde Ale brewed especially for the fest. In 2018, she also added a live band.

These pups and their tiki bar won top prize in the DogFest costume contest: a $500 gift card for Animal Connection.

THE RESULTS

Boost Awareness, Raise Funds

Boden says DogFest brings Animal Connection increased attention and sales.

“A lot of people who attended didn’t know about our store or were new to the area. Or they knew us as a store, but didn’t know about our services,” she says. “I don’t have exact numbers, but I have noticed far more new customers coming into our store.”

The fundraising aspect also helps Charlottesville’s pet community as a whole. Rescue groups held individual raffles at their booths, and for every pint of Big Dawg Ale served, the brewery donates $1 to Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA — it raised $2,000 in 2018.

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Dog Fest

  • START SMALL. Throw a mini-fest in your parking lot or a nearby dog park as a test run to gauge interest. Have a rain plan!
  • PARTNER WITH MANUFACTURERS. Dozens of product companies provide samples for DogFest, and some plan to have their own booths in 2019.
  • PAY FOR SOCIAL MEDIA. Boden hires an agency to boost visibility for the fest and increase attendance.
  • HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH HELP. Not only are Animal Connection employees scheduled to work, but friends and family get in on the fun. Outfit everyone in store shirts.
  • DRIVE POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS TO YOUR WEBSITE. Boden hires an event photo booth company. Attendees must go to animalconnectionva.com to see and download their pics.

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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Pet Sustainability Coalition

Pet Sustainability Coalition Presents: Critical Sustainability Strategies for Retailers

This webinar, held on November 7, 2019, is the second in a series from PSC discussing how retailers can establish sustainable practices in their business. Moderated by PSC’s Andrea Czobor, the webinar unveils data behind the increasing consumer demand for sustainable products, what retailers have to gain from connecting with these purpose driven consumers, and a new PSC program that makes finding these products easier for retailers.

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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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