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A Little Help

Help! My Market Isn’t Raw-Friendly. How Do I Convince Customers to Feed Raw?

Readers loved our recent “A Little Help?” feature so much, we’re making it a regular column. We’re kicking it off with insights and advice on the raw pet food and supplements category.

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Editor’s note: For our Sep-Oct 2023 issue, we asked PETS+ Brain Squad members to share which areas of their businesses need help. We then asked members who have found success in those areas to advise. To say we had enough material for 10 features would be an understatement, so welcome to the first “A Little Help” column. It also features advice from leading brands.

Help! How do I convince my customers to feed raw?

Karen Connell has been selling raw pet foods at The Bark Market in Delavan, WI, for 20-plus years. She points to education and first-hand experience as requirements for a successful raw department. “Being informed is critical. Educate yourself on all things raw and, if possible, feed raw! Your credibility will increase exponentially if you can speak to the benefits and experience with your own pets.”

Julie Sterling of Julz Animal House in Marysville, WA, agrees and stresses the importance of letting your passion for the category shine through.

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“Transitioning people to raw is fairly easy for us, as we all feed raw and all have brands we are very passionate about. When you are excited and passionate about a brand, or way of feeding, that is contagious. People want to feel what you’re feeling and will gravitate toward the cause of that passion.”

To open up customers who resist even discussing raw feeding, whether because of misconceptions or veterinary direction, Green Juju Founder Kelley Marian offers this conversation shifter, “Ask them, ‘What animal cooks their food?’”

When talking to those customers, this recommendation from Jenna Harrison of Northpoint Pets & Company in Cheshire, CT, will help: “Ensure your team is well prepared to tactfully respond to common concerns and misconceptions surrounding raw pet food: harmful pathogens, cost, age-specific needs, palatability and sensitivities. Facts and empathy help to ease apprehensions customers may have.”

Taking it slow also makes raw feeding more accessible to resistant customers, Sterling says. “Making the switch from all kibble to all raw can be intimidating for many. We encourage baby steps! Add one meal of raw per week. Once a customer is adding in raw and seeing how much their pet loves it, it becomes less frightening and easier to begin adding more. We also make it clear to our customers that some fresh food is better than no fresh food.”

Marian says raw supplements are an excellent entry point, too. “Suggest a frozen vegetable blend or raw goat’s milk to start, which will enhance their pup’s bowl with nutrition and entice them to eat. Once they see how their pet reacts, they may be receptive to further changes. When you get a dog or cat on raw for a month, it’s hard to go back after you see the drastic health improvements.”

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Harrison agrees and points out that you need not be alone in your raw-boosting efforts. “Find the brands that will actively support your store. Look for brands that offer samples or trial sizes, provide money-back guarantees or product replacements (ensuring you’re not stuck eating the cost of returned goods), and offer frequent-buyer programs.” Also, “Utilize your brand reps! They should be willing to actively participate in store events that can help boost your raw sales. They can also provide trainings for your team. If your sales aren’t growing, ask for tips, sales to pass on to your customers, or refresher training for your team.”

Stella & Chewy’s offers such brand support through its training platform, School of Raw. Associate Brand Manager Gina Nicklas says, “It features various courses for store employees to review interactive content educating them about the world of raw pet food.” And for those customers who prefer to educate themselves, she says, “It’s important to have POP materials available for pet parents to reference and various digital educational materials on your websites and blogs.”

To submit a question to the “A Little Help” column, email editor@petsplusmag.com.

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NASC Media Spotlight

At first it was just an idea: Animal supplements needed the same quality control that human-grade supplements receive. But that was enough to start a movement and an organization —the National Animal Supplement Council — that would be dedicated to establishing a comprehensive path forward for the animal supplements industry. In this Media Spotlight interview, NASC’s president, Bill Bookout, talks to PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita about the industry today: Where it’s headed, what’s the latest focus and why it’s vital to gain the involvement of independent pet product retailers.

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