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A Special Symbiosis


When for-profits and nonprofits partner, the mutual benefits pay off with cash, customers—and karma.

By Kathleen M. Mangan

With the right approach, engaging in community support can benefit your business as well as organizations close to your heart and community without draining your finances.

Smart retailers create and participate in community events, and donate product, gift cards and cash to groups to support their fundraising efforts, reported industry insiders. But constant solicitation requests create what Bob Negen, owner of WhizBang Training in Grand Haven, Mich., calls a “donation dilemma”—retailers want to do good, but they get nibbled to death and don’t see a return.

“Cause marketing” is partnering with charitable and civic organizations, said Negen. How it works, he said, is a retailer organizes a special sales event for an organization and offers members a $5 or $10 gift certificate within a certain timeframe, adding that the store kicks back 10 to 20 percent of proceeds (less the amount of the gift certificate) to the organization, motivating members to attend the event and make purchases. Stores don’t have the responsibility of the initial marketing, but they must convert the new customers into long-term loyal customers, he said.

“Everyone gets something—members get a discount on purchases, the organization makes more money than it would on a donated auction item, and the store gets future potential business,” said Negen.

Be Cause, That’s Why
There are many ways to leverage the cause marketing concept. Print gift certificates for the organization to distribute to members; host a private in-store event after hours for group members; distribute publicity photos to the media handing over a check; and capture email addresses so you can market to the new customers directly, said Negen. Be proactive in going after organizations you want to partner with, he added.

“I like the fact that cause marketing builds in reciprocity and accountability—if the organization wants money, they have to do the work,” said Negen. “Plus you only pay to acquire customers when you actually acquire them. It makes sense to give up a one-time sales margin for a long-term customer.”

AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner of Two Bostons Pet Boutique and Gourmet Bakery, with two locations in Naperville, Ill., combines cause marketing programs with a host of other community programs.

“We use events to promote the store,” Tesene said. “We believe that if we support the community, they will support us,” she said.

Upon receiving a donation request, Tesene gives the solicitor a menu of cause marketing programs from which the group can choose, ensuring the organization supports Two Bostons in return.
First on the list is a one-night party held on a Friday or Saturday night, featuring $5 gift certificates distributed to group members in advance and a donation to the group of 20 percent of sales that night above the $5 certificate. Second on the menu is Give-Back Week, donating 10 percent of sales to the group to drive people into the store. The Weekend-Before-Thanksgiving event is similar, but 20 percent of the sale is donated to whatever group the customer selects from a list.

Additional cause marketing programs at Two Bostons include partnering with rescues and shelters, providing $10 gift certificates to give to adopters and donating 10 percent of the first sale above the gift certificate back to the shelter. The store donates 10 percent of sales to employees at the local hospital to an animal therapy service. High schools host a dog wash outside the shop complete with cheerleaders, and there’s a towel drive for a local shelter.

“We code transactions to measure results,” said Tesene. “We feel good about each check we write to an organization.”

Tesene also hosts feel-good events that don’t have business-building objectives. There’s a child/dog reading program, a food February collection event for shelters called “Share the Love,” a birthday club that allows customers to buy a pet toy during the birthday month and get one free with an option to donate the free toy to a shelter, two free summer ice cream socials and a weekly group dog walk.

“There’s no hidden reason for these events; we want to be involved with the community,” Tesene said.

Jusak Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin, with three stores in the Savannah, Ga., area, lets nonprofit organizations take over the stores’ self-service dog washes for fundraisers. Groups have made up to $500 in one day.

TailsSpin also hosts a pet care/adoption fair with manufacturer support attended by 2,000 people, offers low-cost vaccines, cosponsors a pet cancer awareness run with a running store, posts lost pets on its website, allows the chamber of commerce to hold networking events with pets at the store and provides prizes and dog wash coupons for charity auctions.

Bernhard said they measure event results by the amount of people who attend and their enjoyment.

“It’s not about the money; we aim to enhance customer loyalty,” he said.

What community event is the most fun for your store and generates the best customer feedback?
“During the annual ‘Tourist in Your Town’ event sponsored by the Greater Lansing Visitors Bureau we have a scavenger hunt inside the store so people can explore all the departments and learn about the animals. It attracts 3,000 people.”—Rick Preuss, Preuss Pets, Lansing, Mich.
“We host photo sessions for pets with Santa and the Easter Bunny; then owners can download the image to use on their Christmas cards or Facebook page. Dogs get treats and their owners get a chance to win a $100 gift certificate. We partner with groups; one raised $1,600 at Easter.”—AdreAnne Tesene, Two Bostons, Naperville, Ill.
“Our Pawrade, a pet costume parade at Halloween, is fun due to the creative costumes. We block off a street and get over 100 dogs in the event with about 2,000 spectators. We offer prizes and donate proceeds to pet charities.”—Jusak Bernhard, TailsSpin, Savannah, Ga.
“Our K9 Awareness Day has a wow factor. It features specially trained dogs with their handlers demonstrating law enforcement, fire and drug interception skills. Over 3,000 people attend; a radio remote broadcast generates enthusiasm. We produce special bags of heart-shaped biscuits with a picture of each dog-handler team on the bag, and proceeds go to the group. People can have their photo taken with dogs and handlers too. It raises awareness and money for the teams and supports our customers’ love of animals.”—Curt Jacques, West Lebanon Feed & Supply, West Lebanon, N.H.

The Community You Keep
Rick Preuss, co-owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., said any successful retailer must be community minded. However, he admits you often have to be creative to afford it. To fund support efforts, he built a river in the middle of the store, and kids can buy a packet of fish food for a dollar to feed the fish.

The store collects $10,000 a year from this program and divides it among local organizations at the end of the year.

Preuss also believes in educating kids about animal care and encouraging ownership by supporting animals and fish kept in classrooms, and by running school programs. For donation requests, he provides a voucher for an in-store birthday party with a $100 value to bring kids and their parents into his fun store environment and meet various animals.

Community support for Animal Jungle in Virginia Beach, Va., is also focused on school programs. Owner Bob Hames said store staff stock and clean aquariums in classrooms, and bring animals to schools for learning opportunities. They distribute custom coloring books to the kids with coupons for $2 in Jungle Bucks toward a $10 purchase and offer teacher discounts.

Hames said he gets about five donation requests a day. Sometimes he asks manufacturers for prizes to raffle or donates a closeout item for the write-off, $5 gift cards or $2 Jungle Bucks coupons on a $10 purchase. He also donates out-of-date food to a private shelter and provides $5 gift certificates to people who adopt pets from shelters.

“Everything we do we hope to get sales out of it,” Hames said, adding he also aims to enhance image and give back to the community.

Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda & Pet City with seven stores in Western Massachusetts, says community presence is important for retailers.

He recommends participating in every parade, event and home show within five miles of the store. He also advises owners to speak at local business events. His stores participate in school career days, Boy Scout field trips and adoption programs with shelters.

“You are the brand, and your customers need to trust you,” he said.

“Supporting causes increases awareness, makes customers feel good and makes us feel good too,” said Curt Jacques, co-owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply in West Lebanon, N.H. “It’s not a sales/publicity stunt; we care about our community.”

Jacques admits there’s always a bump in sales during events, especially when the store partners with a nonprofit and markets to its list. The organization distributes a sales circular eight times a year highlighting a charity on the cover. A percentage of proceeds during the 10-day sale supports the charity, and the group is present to tell its story and do demonstrations.

At Christmas, local nonprofits post their wishes on a giving tree, and customers can take the tag off the tree and bring it to the register to ring it up, while shelf talkers add encouragement. Its Fill the Truck with Food event cosponsored by the local humane society has a radio remote broadcast, an email campaign, newspaper advertising and bag stuffers to encourage the community to buy food, offered at a discount.

“You can support the community out of the goodness of your heart, or you can use it to build business,” said Negen, who emphasizes you must find what works for you and your market.


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