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Candace D'Agnolo

The Three Keys to Drawing, Engaging and Keeping Customers

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What percentage of your customer base knows why you do what you do? Can they confidently talk about your business philosophies and areas of expertise to their friends (potential customers for you)?

Imagine how they would introduce your business to them: “Sally — you should check out that dog shop on Main with the giant fire hydrant. Yeah, they have neat stuff” versus “Sally — do you want to come with me to this dog nutrition Q&A on Saturday? I’ve found this veteran-owned, natural pet market on Main where the owner, a certified pet nutritionist, only hires at-risk youth to give them guidance, confidence and a second chance. I can’t wait for you to meet her!”

Which do you think Sally is going to act on?

I think it’s pretty clear.

Words like these won’t get around if you’re the best-kept secret. It’s time you stepped up your game by putting all of your amazing knowledge on your website, sharing it on social media and in emails to customers.

Get a jumpstart by hosting a regular Facebook Live Q&A show, or record 20 quick video responses to your most-asked questions. This type of content can be repurposed over and over — showing millennials that you know more about pet parenting than their mobile device.

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If you’re hiding behind a basic website, boring social media or phrases like “We’re a resource to our customers” and “We help them make confident decisions,” I would ask, “Are you really? Do you really?” Are you proactive with your knowledge or only when asked?

To compete with big boxes, to compete for your customers’ attention, to earn their dollars, they must know, like and trust you. And that needs to be facilitated by you, so you can influence what they think of you before they have an opportunity to disappear.

To get to know you, it’s important to be visible in as many places as possible:

➤ Have a welcome video on your homepage, telling a little bit about your story and what they can expect when visiting your business.

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Fill your business social media with you and your team engaging with products, giving your opinions, fun photos, little videos. Get creative and show off your personality.

Attend chamber, rescue, local and even customers’ events to ensure you always have the pulse of what’s going in on in your area.

Get them to like you through uncovering shared experiences and common interests. Find common ground through asking questions. Show genuine interest in what they have going on and what their needs are. Engage them on a peer-to-peer, pet-parent-to-pet-parent level (instead of being a industry know-it-all). This will win them over a lot faster. One of my favorite books is How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes. Read it.

Then once they trust you, they won’t shop anywhere else. This is where your experience, integrity, honesty and consistency all intersect. Are you showing your customer consistently, what makes you trustworthy? Identify three to five key topics that you want to make yours. Learn everything you can about them, so you can shout your expertise from the rooftops … all over town!

Leverage your experience through all of your marketing channels to increase your sales and in turn create raving fans … like Sally’s friend.

CANDACE D’AGNOLO owns successful pet business Dogaholics and offers business consulting at Pet Boss Nation. For help creating a customized 90-day plan to tackle all your business goals, download a free worksheet, at petbossnation.com/petsplus. Contact her athello@petbossnation.com.

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This article originally appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of PETS+.  

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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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Candace D'Agnolo

3 Key Mindset Shifts to Prepare For and Buy at Trade Shows

It all starts by looking at your inventory.

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WHETHER YOU’RE GOING to Global Pet Expo this month or another buying show this year, in this article I’m going to help you “work it” on the trade show floor, and it all starts by looking at your inventory.

Your store is not a museum. You must move merchandise before it celebrates a birthday with you. But I know you hate giving discounts and don’t want to train your customers to buy only when you’re running a sale, so let’s untrain that motivator for them by having lots of great merchandise they do want to buy at full price!

Bring in the Independent Brands

So many retailers like to get all or most of their products from distributors because it’s easier … fewer invoices to reconcile, fewer mess-ups to handle, fewer people to have to talk to. However, what happens is you start to look like every other store in town and like the big boxes, too. It’s OK to have some items that are your “eggs, bread and milk”-type best-selling basics, but the majority of your items should make you look and feel unique. You opened a retail store. Part of being in retail is hunting for products that your customers will think are fresh and new. Stop waiting for the next best thing to be pitched to you by a sales rep or an email, and go discover what you know your customers will love. And remember, it’s OK if they don’t have a distributor.

Every Item Has to Pull Its Weight

Will it compete with another product on your shelf? Will it cause you to be over assorted in that category? Will it move out fast or slow? Does it require lots of explanation? All important questions to answer before you invest and place an order of new items. On the flip side, look at your current inventory: If an item or category isn’t selling through every 90-120 days, consider getting rid of it and trying something your customers will like better. Analyze this before you go to the show by paying close attention to what your customers have actually purchased in the past (not just told you they like), and buy more merchandise like that. Maybe you’ll find opportunities for things that flew out the door that could develop into larger or new sections in your shop.

Negotiate with Vendors

While you’re walking the miles of aisles, and looking at some of the show specials — which are definitely not as deep as they used to be — don’t pass up the opportunity to ask for additional discounts. This is the perfect time, when you are face-to-face with your vendors, to ask for better prices on their products — permanently.

So, make sure you’re talking with the right person, the one with the authority to give you improved pricing. Have margin goals for the department or store and negotiate with that goal in mind. Ask everyone. Make asking for discounted pricing part of your conversation with every vendor. Don’t assume some are too big, or too small, to negotiate with. You never know until you ask, and the worst they can do is say, “No.”

I’ve been in your shoes … no matter if you are just buying until your credit cards are maxed out, or if you’ve got your sales figures and vendor data at your fingertips. Both can make a show exciting, but it’s definitely more powerful when you can leverage what you learn, what you do and who you talk to at a show all year round.

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Candace D'Agnolo

10 Questions to Ask Yourself to Ensure Perfect Vision for Your Pet Business

Because authenticity counts.

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IT’S THE BEGINNING of a new year, so you’ve probably been bombarded with media and people talking about your vision and goals. Especially since it’s “2020.” Get it? 20/20. Perfect vision?

I’m not sure that in business a vision can be “perfect” because we never know what roadblocks lay ahead and what pivots we will make. But having a clear vision will motivate your team, inspire you and your customers, and help you make decisions as you scale your business. I’m here to tell you that finding your authenticity is critical to your vision being a success.

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Dictionary.com defines the word “authentic” as:

  • Not false or copied; genuine; real
  • Having an origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified
  • Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified

Authenticity has never been more important than it is in today’s hyper-connected world where your customer’s voice is louder and more influential than ever. You’ve likely experienced that to be true with reviews, customer comments in your store and how they act on social media.

There’s something very special at the core of what you do. While many can carry the same products or offer the same services at similar price points in a similar neighborhood with a look and feel that mirrors yours, no one can effectively copycat an authentic business self.

Answer these questions to ensure you’re interweaving authenticity into your business:

  1. Are you always “real”? And honest with your customers, team and vendors?
  2. What makes your company memorable?
  3. What’s one thing you could change/enhance/feature that would make your company more memorable?
  4. How do you make people feel?
  5. What unique traits/skills/talents do you personally contribute to your company?
  6. Are you consistent in your customers experience?
  7. Are you responsive?
  8. Can you back up why you carry what you do? Or back up why you hire who you do? Or why you run your business the way you do?
  9. What are three key words that would describe who you truly are? Can you incorporate them into your business more?
  10. Have you gotten clear on who you serve? Not every pet owner is your customer!

Customer trust is never bought but earned. Their B.S. meter is strong. The more you can convey your company values and beliefs as well as live all of the questions above, your bigger picture vision for your company will come to life! As Maya Angelou said “People may forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel.” Authenticity will carry your vision a long, long way.

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Candace D'Agnolo

Boost Staff Morale with These 3 Holiday Sales Games

It’s important to first identify what your goal is.

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WHEN I WAS running my own pet retail boutique, I found that as the busy days of December rolled on, our team would become more and more run down. Every day gets longer and longer. It becomes harder and harder to keep the team motivated. I needed to find a solution, and I discovered that one of the best ways to perk up everyone was to play games.

Using “gamification” in your business is a really hot trend right now because it creates engagement, connection and results.

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When it comes to using games as a tool in business, it’s important to first identify what your goal is. Perhaps it’s to move out your holiday-specific merchandise. Maybe it’s to ensure that all the new customers coming in are being added to your database. Or you want to get the team to add on one more item over $10 to each sale. Whatever it is, make sure you pick a specific purpose for your game. Play the game only for up to one week. Games that last longer tend to lose their magic. You can play multiple games throughout the month, too. At my store, we had a different four-day game that would run every Thursday through Sunday. Each game’s tactics were different, and each game’s purpose was different.

Here are a few of my favorite games to play to help you sell more stuff, motivate the team and keep that register ringing to make the most of December.

The Dollar Tree

Tape fake dollar bills on a wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. Encourage your team to ask each customer: “Does your pet have a present under the tree this year?” If the customer says, “No” (or even yes) and that question leads them to purchase a toy, then that team member gets to pull a fake dollar from the tree. At the end of your game, they get to turn their fake dollars into you for real dollars.

Staff Santa Sack

Every time you beat your daily sales goal, each person who worked the floor gets to pull a card from the Staff Santa Sack. The sack can be filled with notecards or something similar, each with a reward, gift or surprise written on it. They can turn their cards into you whenever they want during the months of January or February. The rewards could have ideas like, “Skip my turn to clean the bathroom,” “Go to Lunch with the Boss,” “Pick one item from the store under $20,” “Get a 30-minute paid break.”

Staff Bingo

Play Bingo! Make your own bingo board by filling in the boxes with product names, tasks or questions instead of the typical bingo number. Keep them all the same or make a variety of boards. Hand them out to your team and have them try to get bingo in order to move toward your objective. When they have a completed board, they get a prize.

These are just a few examples of games you could play with your team to keep things interesting and to increase your sales at the same time. If you give one a try, make sure to share your results with PETS+.

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