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Make Them Fall in Love

Create the emotional bond with customers that keeps them coming back.


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If your customers don’t look like this when they shop your store, maybe it’s time to rekindle the love affair.

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If you can make customers fall in love with you and your store, you will reap the benefits of increased traffic, higher margins and a higher average ticket. Once a customer feels an emotional bond with your business, you can influence them to buy what you want them to buy—for example, items you make the most money on and exclusive brands they have to come back to you to buy.

The best way to create this emotional connection is for all your staff to be charismatic and lovable as well as knowledgeable about pets and pet products. To accomplish this, don’t focus on hiring people from other pet stores. Instead, hire people because they impressed you with their personality when serving you at a coffee shop or other establishment.

You can train people about pet supplies, but you can’t train them to improve their personalities. Even if you have people like that on your floor, with more than 70 open hours a week to cover, not all of them might be endearing at all times. 

Unique, Memorable Feature
One way to make up for this gap is to have something nobody else has. A gimmick? Yes. Saks Fifth Avenue in New York once had an entire floor of handbags, ensuring that almost all female visitors to the city stopped into Saks. Visitors to any Cabela’s outdoor stores enjoy museum-quality wildlife dioramas and huge aquariums representing fishing venues.

Some pet stores have made their own versions. You might not have the space or budget for installations such as Preuss Pets’ (Lansing, Mich.) reef wrecks or Pet World’s (Natick, Mass.) enormous cat condo/adoption center. But “the world’s tallest cat tree” is something you could buy and promote, and it would not take up too many square feet. A constantly changing gorgeous display of yummy dog cookies, even if you can’t bake them in each store as does Treats Unleashed (Chesterfield, Mo.), also can be promoted this way, especially if you can give one away to every visitor. One great thing about displaying dog cookies is that, unlike baked goods for people, they can be exposed without covers, so they look especially appealing. If you don’t have cookies, empower your staff to give away treats to customers—something chains rarely do.

Communicate a Unique Vision
Another essential part of creating an emotional bond is to craft a unique vision for your business and communicate it to the market. A pet store used to be able to state as its mission, for example, “our mission is to bring a wide selection of all-natural pet foods to Jefferson City,” or “we’re the only place in the area with the most carefully selected fish, reptiles and small animals.”

But too many competitors are doing the same thing—if not now in your market, then soon. This is one aspect of marketing where many small and medium-sized manufacturers do a better job than retailers. Many of these companies promote the stories of how their founders came to start the business and how their vision helps customers and pets now.

You as a retailer should start with that story, emphasizing your love of pets, your concern that some pet owners could be steered wrong by others, and your commitment to and involvement with the local community. When you make a flier with coupons, include “10 Reasons Why You Should Shop With Us,” and post these in your store. Promote yourself, the person or couple, as the owner. Considering how appealing consumers find these personal stories, I’m surprised that more pet store owners do not brand their businesses with their names. Include this background in all of your communications and in-store signage.

The design of your store and your merchandise selection should express your values without shunning all commonly sold brands. These brands draw customers who you can try to switch to what you think they should be buying. Don’t wait until you do a major remodel or reset to implement these tactics—do it now by creating a new sign or two with these messages. Buy some small chalkboards on which you can hand-write messages about nutrition, pets, your philosophy or specials that change every few weeks.

Tie your marketing tactics to this strategy. Have a “round up” program, as does Mighty Pet (Menominee, Mich.). To do this, you suggest to customers that instead of receiving change when they pay, they let those cents be donated to a local animal shelter.

On your favorite brands of pet food, place stickers saying “this product exceeds the pet nutrition standards established by this store,” as does PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore (Rochester, N.Y.).

It’s great to have sales or other programs where a portion of the ticket is donated to a favorite local animal charity. Do better, by offering a list of such charities, or allowing each customer to select her own.

All these tactics will help your customers develop an emotional bond with you, your staff and your store. You need this bond to keep them driving the extra mile to shop with you. 

Barry Berman is president and co-founder of NexPet co-op for independent retailers and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals pet food company. Contact him at barry@nexpet.com.


This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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