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How 3 Lines Can Turn You Into a Merchandising Pro

Anyone can create great window displays.

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At left, a basic pyramid of dog food bags. Note the additional bags serving as risers. At right, black and white is always impactful and says “fashion.” A scratching post makes a great framework for displaying product.

This story was originally published in the January 2018 edition of PETS+.

IT DOESN’T TAKE a professional visual person to do great window and in-store displays. The reality is, anyone can do it. Visual people all follow the same guidelines, which is how they’re able to do great displays in very little time. You can make professional level displays yourself, if you just learn some of the basic rules.

With the exception of apparel, all merchandise visual is based on the “pyramid concept.” Pyramids are used in windows, on tables and valances.

Arrange three pieces of product in a tiered configuration, with each item at a different level. This is your pyramid; a tall central element with a two of three shorter items around it. The buildup has height and brings the display closer to eye level. This is just the start, as you’ll add additional items later to fill out the display. But it’s always the pyramid configuration you’re going for.

A display needs to read from a distance. Itsy-bitsy items create clutter, and aren’t visually compelling. They can be used however, if they are used in quantity — multiples create a larger visual presence. You can also use risers to increase the height of a product. Simple risers are available from retail supply companies. You can also use common items to serve the same purpose. Crates and baskets are good choices, as are wrapped boxes. But keep it simple. You want the risers to be neutral, and not fighting for attention themselves.

Add two or three items to the original three. These will fill out the display. The fewer items you have, the more impactful the message will be. The key here is focus: Don’t add anything that isn’t right on message.

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It’s OK to leave empty space on a display table or in a window. Empty space is not wasted space; it’s a frame for your display. It also makes the product and store look organized and clean.

Always keep in mind that a display needs to tell a story. The idea or concept is what makes impact. Cleverly combining various items also promotes add-on purchases.

Here are some concepts for displays:

Valentine’s Day. This can be set up right after the new year. Although it seems early, Valentine’s is really about love, and not a specific day. Suspend cut-out hearts above your display. But you want to keep it simple and use three to five hearts maximum.

Think Pink. Pull together pink items from different departments; collars, beds, and apparel. Use watering cans as props. Make this your spring statement.

Senior Pets. Combine products for older animals like special foods, supplements and comfy beds. Perhaps a bed full of supplements!

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“Cats and fish” or “dogs and cats.” Pick up some plush animals from the local toy store to clearly define the characters involved. What about a plush cat looking into an aquarium?

Winter. A great way to sell coats and sweaters is to combine them with artificial snow, and maybe a little prop pine tree.

An impactful display is as much about marketing as merchandising. It’s about lifestyle, and a place to make product shine, whether it’s seasonal items, or new arrivals. And it’s a dramatic way to communicate with your customers. Make each visit to your store fresh and exciting.

Tom Crossman has designed entertainment centers and retail stores for FAO Schwarz, Dollywood and Toys ‘R’ Us. He was a featured speaker at Global Pet Expo in 2018. His work can be seen at tomcrossman.com, and he can be reached at tom@tomcrossman.com.

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How to Keep New and Potential Hires From 'Ghosting' You

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! Lunch & Learn webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Candace expanding on her June PETS+ column on preventing new hires and job candidates from “ghosting” you. Hint: Much of her advice will help you make better hires and keep happier employees.

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The Veterinary Industry Is Set to Explode … Or Implode

Vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table.

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WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Walmart will add veterinary clinics to six of its stores in the Dallas area, what will happen to your friendly neighborhood vet clinic?

It appears the big box giant – like specialty big-boxer Petco and the vet practice chains – has come to the same conclusion I reached years ago: that the vet business is where the legal, cosmetic surgery, eye surgery dental and now other medical industries were not long ago. That is, on the verge of explosive growth, for those smart enough to seize the day.

I have argued that a handful of veterinary practices will strike it rich, making millions of dollars when they come out of the marketing dark ages and begin to aggressively promote their practices using the same tactics that attorneys, doctors and dentists began using a few decades ago.

Back then, advertising among those so-called professionals was viewed as an unethical taboo by the “old guard.” That was until a few practices started doing it anyway and saw their billings fly off the charts.

Others soon followed, and the marketing bug hit other professional practices. Now all kinds of medical practices are jumping on the bandwagon, including specialists in modalities like stem cells, which are either just beginning to garner acceptance by insurance companies.

But vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table – far slower than their human practitioner counterparts. As a result, most veterinary practices are stuck at a level of mediocrity and financial stagnation that frustrates the owners.

Walmart – of all companies – has seen the light of exceptional opportunity and is piloting a program that, if successful, will undoubtedly spread to many of its stores all over the country.

If successful and expanded, the Walmart experiment could prove disastrous for the neighborhood veterinarian. Some will go out of business. Others will find it difficult to hire associate vets as Walmart brings its attractive pay and benefits package to the table.

Downward pressure on pricing will also hurt practices that do survive in the face of this new competition.

Of course, many will argue the Walmarts, Petcos and chains will never be able to provide the level of comprehensive, experienced and expert care to pets that “a real veterinarian” can.

And they’ll be right. But what difference will that make as the big boxes rake in the big dollars and “the real vets” starve?

On the upside, perhaps the entrance of Walmart into the vet market will serve as a wake-up call to smart veterinarians who finally see the dormant potential in their own industry and their own practices.

Forward looking vets who see both the pros and cons of this near-future reality and take steps to exploit the opportunity will be able to insulate themselves against the big box invasion, while gaining substantial competitive advantages in the short term. And again, the smart, aggressive vets will literally get rich.

Right now, neither Walmart nor Petco nor the vet chains fully exploit the opportunities inherent in the pet marketplace. Veterinary clinics who decide to aggressively market their practices may see those practices explode, while those who don’t may see theirs implode.

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Shawna Schuh

To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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3 Ways to Develop Relationships with Local Customers Via Instagram

Instagram is great at some things but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

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HOW DO I GROWTH-HACK a local audience on Instagram for my pet business?

We get this question a lot and, first, our answer is always a question:

“What are you trying to do?”

The fact is that Instagram is great at some things (raising awareness and building brand loyalty, especially for local businesses), but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

The reason why is simple:

Instagram lacks one thing: an easy way to link from a post to buy — unless, of course, you pay for an ad. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram gives you only one link off the platform — on your bio — making it much less likely to drive traffic to your website to buy now.

However, my team and I often see strong success for local pet brands looking to develop relationships with current and potential customers on Instagram. In some ways, the lack of direct sales appears to create a stronger bond with those individuals because they sense that selling is not the brand’s main objective.

Creating and developing a relationship with your customers becomes the main objective for a local business using Instagram. (And then driving them to your email list or store for direct sales.)
Your local pet business’s feed then becomes a refreshing way for local people to connect with your brand — making it a great channel for building customer loyalty and awareness.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Use hyper-local targeting when you’re interacting with others on Instagram. For example, if you’re using Instagram to grow, then focus on leaving comments on local hashtags like #upperwestsidedogs. This builds on the community who uses #upperwestside and draws out the dog-lovers from there. Don’t worry about spending time interacting on national or massively used hashtags, like #catsofinstagram or #greyhounds. In most cases, that will just attract a lot of spammers.

2. Create hyper-local content that shows off your brand. While you may write or do a video about puppy training, spring grooming or the great new pet treats in stock, look for ways to slip in information about local dog-friendly places and landmarks in all you do. This constantly reminds people they are interacting with a real person in the area.

Post about the best dog-friendly parks in the area. Or post about the best time to practice loose-leash walking at those parks using those new treats. More broadly, post about the top behavior challenges you see local people struggle with when parenting a dog. Regardless of what you post, frequently end with a call to action to have the person sign up for your email for tips on how to solve the issue.

3. Post using local hashtags, mixing in bigger ones occasionally. On Instagram, try looking at your neighborhood’s local “places” and seeing what people are using when they’re posting in your area. Typing in “upperwestside” and looking at the related tags may give you things you didn’t know about to try. Finally, look at other local businesses (even ones in different industries) and see what tags they’re using that aren’t industry-specific. There could be some fairly popular tags you could incorporate with your posts.

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