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Early Adopters: Kids’ Education Programs Drive Parents to Buy

Started with that one lucky python.

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ROBERT H. SMITH ACHIEVED cool dad status in 1996, when he brought an 11-foot Burmese python to his son’s school for show-and-tell. They were a hit! Several parents even asked Smith for his contact info, with the hope of hiring him for birthday parties and other events.

“I was just one of the dads at the time,” he says, “but I thought, ‘Maybe I have something here.’”

Smith did, and he has since put on 1,000-plus educational programs, first as an enthusiast and breeder, then from 2008 as owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World.

THE IDEATurn kids on to reptiles — and into customers. With his presentations, Smith has always aimed to clear up any misconceptions young attendees have and ease their fears.

“There is a need for people to better understand these animals,” he says of the not-slimy-at-all snakes, lizards and turtles he keeps as pets and sells at his store.

Smith now splits program duties with staff, and in recent years he has seen the importance of not just bringing showstoppers like the python and his now-famous Cuban rock iguana, Castro.

“We also introduce them to reptiles they can actually own. Like a bearded dragon, which doesn’t get too big and is naturally calm, or a corn snake, which makes a fantastic pet.”

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THE EXECUTIONCustomize and plan. Requests go to Jungle Bob Education Director Susi Resner, who helps to customize a presentation for the setting and audience. She then confirms that necessary licenses, permits and insurance are valid to transport and show the animals.

“Liability insurance covers us if someone gets injured,” Smith explains. “In all of these years, we’ve never needed it. We have had a few defecations gone wrong, though.”

Resner also outlines where to park and check in once at the location, important information when visiting schools in particular. Presenters have guidelines they follow, as well, to balance education and entertainment with safety.

THE REWARDSAdditional income, free advertising. Smith and staff put on around 100 programs a year, with rates varying from $300 for 45 minutes at a local birthday party to $1,000 for an entire day that also delves into geography and natural history.

After 20-plus years, word of mouth has long ago replaced the need to advertise Jungle Bob presentations. And the presentations themselves serve as free advertising for the store. Many an attendee has visited after with their parents in tow.

“We did a birthday party last month,” Smith says, “and then one of the families came in for a $500 bearded dragon setup.”

Do It Yourself: Develop 
Your Own 
Education Programs

  • OBTAIN any necessary licenses, permits and insurance.
  • CREATE a plan for presenters. Outline every step to ensure all goes smoothly.
  • DECIDE which animals will present best. Don’t sell reptiles, birds, hamsters or the like? Perhaps your store dog or cat could star in a presentation about pet care.
  • TAKE OUT ads in local newspapers and magazines, especially any for kids and families. Tout on social media.
  • HAND OUT cards with your store information and an incentive to shop, and have stickers on hand — kids love stickers.

 

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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 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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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 EXECUTIONPlan, 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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A Day Care That Offers Dogs Hikes and Swims in the Ocean

It’s adventure time!

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CERTAIN DOGS DON’T do well in day care. Andrea Servadio, CEO and co-founder of Fitdog in Santa Monica, CA, explains: “They need more activity or different mental stimulation, or they get overwhelmed in larger play groups.”
Or all of the above. To give such pups the best possible care and a fun-filled outlet for their energy, Fitdog offers Adventure Classes.

THE IDEA

Fun-filled alternatives. Two types of classes are available: Canyon Hikes and Beach Excursions. Three hikes, 4 to 6 miles each, happen every weekday in the Santa Monica Mountains. Dogs get to explore the trail, stopping mid-hike for a break.
Fitdog offers one trip to Huntington Dog Beach every weekday.

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“The dogs who know how to swim go out into the ocean,” Servadio says. “The ones not fond of the water stay in the shallow end, digging and playing fetch.”

Pups come from seven neighborhoods with pickup and drop-off included in the cost. Hikes are $40, and beach trips are $49. Staff-to-dog ratio runs one to six.

THE EXECUTION

Coordination and expertise. Pet parents whose dogs have met behavioral requirements can book Adventure Classes through the Fitdog app. Reservations go to the Sports Coordinator, who groups dogs geographically and by activity level, then chooses appropriate trails.

A Sports Leader picks up the pups between 8 and 10 a.m. in a company van. Servadio uses the fleet-management system Samsara to create efficient routes and to maximize safety, the latter as it monitors driver speed and phone usage. The system also gives location information.

“We can update pet parents in real time, ‘The van is only 15 minutes away,’“ Servadio explains.

Once at the destination, dogs approved for off-leash fun are given that freedom. Otherwise they stay on leash with the Sports Leader or assistant. Drop-offs happen between 1 and 3 p.m., with notes and photos from the day arriving soon after.

Sports Leader Scott Korchinski gets ready to lead pups on a canyon hike.

THE RESULTS

Happier dogs, more bookings. Adventure Classes give pups the opportunity to expend both physical and mental energy, and to socialize with a small group of dogs in a fun setting.

“Once people start incorporating these types of activities into their dog’s schedule, they become addicted because their dogs are a lot happier,” Servadio says. “By doing something a little bit different, mixing up their routine, it makes time in day care a lot better.”

The classes have grown to 18 percent of the overall Fitdog revenue since being introduced in 2015. In addition to having a positive impact on day care bookings, they also lead to training referrals.

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“If a dog is pulling on a hike constantly or not responding to their name or reactive to other dogs on the trail, we recommend that the owner take some of our training classes. Approximately 25 percent of dogs in training classes were referred from Adventure Classes.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to Adventure Classes

  • Survey dog-friendly recreational areas nearby and determine which are good fits for your business.
  • Draw up procedures, agreements and waivers that cover all aspects of travel and activities.
  • Purchase dog-friendly transportation and a fleet-management system.
  • Dedicate and train staff accordingly. Fitdog assistants spend two months with a leader and must pass a practical exam before they get promoted.
  • Create a supplies kit for classes that includes water bottles and a first aid kit, plus protective gear such as paw wax.

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