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Boost Business at Your Pet Store With These Ideas


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In the spring, independent pet specialty shops faced increased challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. While most states deemed pet stores essential businesses when stay-at-home orders took effect, many retailers were forced to reduce hours or furlough employees, and ultimately, experienced sales declines. Fortunately, there are many avenues retailers can take in an effort to boost sales as the U.S. reboots, and how brick-and-mortar retailers adapt is key to overcoming the obstacles they continue to face, according to retail experts. 

“It takes a combination of resiliency to move faster than the big retailers, ingenuity arising from being forced day in, day out to solve unexpected problems with creativity and inventiveness, and resourcefulness learned from operating a small business when everything seems stacked against them,” said Pamela Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Pa.-based company that specializes in providing business insights on affluent consumers. 

Wag Heaven Pet Supplies and Self-Serve Dog Wash in Georgetown, Texas, is one such retailer that reacted quickly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the store remained open, it shuttered its dog washes, which are instrumental in fundraising for community nonprofits, said co-owner Jusak Yang Bernhard. 

“That aspect of the business helps our retail side,” Bernhard said. “Big-box retailers and online players can’t provide the personal assistance that we can. It opens doors and helps grow our business into a multistore concept.” 

A dog wash promotion is in the works for when Wag Heaven’s business returns to normal, he added.

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, author and founder of Retail Minded, a Denver-based blog and publication for independent retailers, said that retailers should consider ways to generate sales outside of their physical locations. 

“Brick-and-mortar stores that haven’t offered online sales need to identify ways to reach consumers online and gain sales in new avenues,” Leinbach Reyhle said. “One selling avenue generally isn’t enough. Being customer-centric is—that means being where your customers are even if it’s outside your comfort zone.” 

Beyond offering curbside pickup and complimentary local deliveries, Wag Heaven waived purchase minimums and offered a 10 percent discount to those making online purchases for the first time.

Desperate pet owners turned to Wag Heaven when online orders from other retailers were delayed, so Bernhard seized that opportunity to augment Wag Heaven’s email distribution list. To boost sales, Wag Heaven plans to advertise specials via its e-newsletter.  

Discounts and special pricing can help attract consumers as the U.S. recovers, industry insiders expect, and retailers should turn to their manufacturing and distributor partners during this time to inquire about special offers they might be offering. 

Concern over unemployment and spending on non-necessities prompted Pet Palette, a national distributor of treats, supplements and hard goods, to launch its Together We Stand promotion in April, said Robin Kershner, executive vice president of the Skyesville, Md.-based company. The promotion offered retailers a 10 to 20 percent discount on orders. 

“We had a really good reaction,” Kershner said. “It kept us in the game.”  

Kershner predicts that summer could be strong for sales of USA-themed products. 

“We’re working hard to come together,” she said. “More attention at the store level to patriotic items could lift spirits and show our love and support for each other and our country.” 

Liz Illg, owner of Puff & Fluff Grooming & Pet Sitting, which operates five locations in Arizona, called this time “a catalyst for growth.” 
Illg, who doubles as a business consultant, advises clients to redesign their websites, overhaul marketing efforts, brainstorm creative new services, streamline systems and pitch local media. 

Illg also suggests that retailers focus on relationships. 

“Stay in touch and show how you can help,” Illg said. 

To respond to a flood of cancellations for her Staten Island, N.Y.-based pet sitting and dog walking business, Nicole Zaleski, owner of Whiskers and Leo, did just that. 

“In a mass email, I explained that there are ways we can still be there for clients,” said Zaleski, adding that she fostered trust by encouraging staff and clients to express concerns via phone or text. 

“Successful retailers understand that retail is primarily a people business. Customers can buy just about anything from Amazon or other online sources, but they come to you for the experiences and services that only you provide,” Danziger said. “So go ahead, pick up the phone, send handwritten notes and offer small giveaways.”

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