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Best of the Best

Give Your Current Customers Treats to Encourage Referrals

Customers become the best ads with incentives to tell their friends.

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IF THE PUPS WHO visit Treats on a Leash could talk, they would tell all of their pals about the store’s tasty offerings. They can’t, of course, so their humans provide the positive word of mouth that has helped make the Ames, IA, business so successful.

Owners Michael and Barb Morris recently gave their top spenders a financial incentive for such high praise. After all, Michael says, “Our best customers are our best advertisements.”

THE IDEA

Rewards for Referrals

Michael and Barb belong to Pet Boss Club, run by Candace D’Agnolo, who recommends sending thank you letters to top spenders.

The couple took her advice a step further in October 2017.

“We wrote letters to our top 25 customers and included two $20 gift certificates: one for them and another for someone who had never been to our store,” Michael says. The goal was to bring in new shoppers while rewarding their most loyal.

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THE EXECUTION

Snail Mail Marketing

Michael and Barb pulled the names and addresses of their top-25 spenders for the year from the Treats on a Leash point-of-sale system. They then sat down and handwrote thank you letters on store stationery.

“For the most part, the body of the letter was the same, but we did personalize them with pet names and a few other details,” Barb says.

They mailed the letters and gift certificates, with instructions to pass along the second one, and awaited their redemption. Certificates were good through Jan. 31, encouraging holiday shopping but allowing for busy schedules.

THE RESULTS

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68 Percent Response

Of the 25 sets of certificates sent out, 17 were used by both the existing customer and the new — a 68 percent response rate. Four sets had one or the other certificate redeemed.

Employees tracked their use and tailored service to suit the redeemer.

“If someone was new to us, we put them in our system and signed them up for our loyalty program. We gave them a brochure about our store and asked questions about their pets,” Michael says. “It was a good opportunity to get to know them and for them to get to know us.”

The couple was especially thrilled when their products proved a match for new shoppers.

“We had a referral come in, and they saw that we carry Taste of the Wild. ‘That’s what we feed our dog,’ they said. Now we have a new pet food customer. We love them because they come back again and again. 

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Do It Yourself: Five Steps to Thank You Rewards and Referrals 

  • Decide when to mail. During a slow time to boost business? During the holidays with the spirit of giving in mind?
  • Determine how many certificates you feel comfortable sending and at what value, considering your store’s markup.
  • Identify top spenders, crossing staff off the list as they already get rewarded via employee discounts.
  • Handwrite letters to customers and their pets, mailing them with pet-centric stamps
  • To tailor service, put existing customer names on both certificates but mark one as the referral.

 

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.

Best of the Best

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.

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Best of the Best

Tiny Bubbles: This Spa Brings In $1,000 a Month Extra with Micro Bubble Treatments

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales.

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BUBBLE BATHS PAMPER and relax. Microbubble baths do, too, but they also deep clean and help to treat a variety of skin problems in pets.

Danielle Wilson of Bath & Biscuits in Granville, OH, has been providing this type of hydrotherapy for more than three years.

THE IDEA

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales

Wilson learned of microbubble bathing systems at a pet industry trade show. Originating in Japan, they use bubbles greater than 2 and less than 25 micrometers to penetrate hair follicles and skin pores. These teeny tiny bubbles attract and bond with dirt as well as with bacteria, yeast and allergens, and lift them to the water’s surface. Oxygen from burst microbubbles also boosts skin metabolism and promotes healing.

“I really liked the idea,” she says. “I was a vet tech for many years and had seen never-ending battles with skin problems.”

Using microbubbles during a groom also reduces the amount of water, shampoo and conditioner needed. All this, combined with her ability to offer 15-minute treatments as an add-on, convinced Wilson to buy a system.

THE EXECUTION

Pick, promote & treat

Wilson researched manufacturers from around the world before choosing NatureBless in Singapore. Her first microbubble bathing system cost just $350, but a year later she upgraded to a $1,100 model. Its bubble-generating unit sits on the floor, connected to two nozzled hoses: One draws in water from a filled grooming tub, and the other returns microbubbly water to the tub. The second hose can also be used to apply bubbles to body areas not submerged.

“The microbubbles make the water this milky color, from the churning action. I tell customers that they’re scrubbing bubbles,” Wilson explains, adding that while effective, they are gentle on skin.

In addition to promoting the treatment for skin problems, she also recommends it for senior dogs.

“The bursting bubbles create heat, which helps with sore muscles and arthritis.”

And for those who encounter a skunk: “It has been tremendous for de-skunking dogs. It gets down in hair shafts and pores, helping us get rid of the smell so much quicker.”

THE RESULTS

Healthier dogs & higher revenue

Wilson points to late Sweetpea the Bulldog as one of her microbubble bathing successes. After years of struggling with skin allergies, the pup came in for a treatment and saw immediate relief.

“Sweetpea was such a happier dog, not having to stop every 2 feet to scratch,” she says. “It was devastating to lose her, but really cool to know that for the last year and a half of her life, she wasn’t miserable and itching.”

Wilson charges $10 to $15, depending on size of dog, for a microbubble bath. (She has yet to try it on cats.) Treatments bring in $1,000 in extra revenue a month, plus provide savings on utilities and bathing supplies.

Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Bubble Treatments

  • Choose the right microbubble bathing system for your business. They can range greatly in cost, to upwards of $10,000.
  • Start by offering the treatment for free. Wilson benefited from positive word of mouth when she did.
  • Promote regular and seasonal benefits, from skin problems to allergies to skunkings.
  • Sell local veterinarians benefits on the treatment. Wilson has one in particular who regularly sends her clients.
  • Promote on social media with cute videos. See instagram.com/bathnbiscuits for Sweetpea bubbling in a tub.

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Best of the Best

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.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

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