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Business Builder: Breakthrough Promos and Prizes

Posted: Jan. 29, 2013, 7:30 p.m. EST

Using contests and direct engagement to pump up business can garner stores attention and brand new customers.
By Keith Loria

Promotions and giveaways are conduits through which pet speciality retailers can connect with new and existing customers, either in the store or online. When every dollar of income counts during difficult economic conditions, attracting customers might mean the difference between success and being forced to close shop. In-store events also can help build brand awareness and attract loyal customers and advocates.

Increasingly, store owners are focusing on building buzz to ensure they are reaching customers in the most effective manner possible. Pussy & Pooch owner Janene Zakrajsek labeled her Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., stores “promotion-centric.”

“For us, the goal of promotions is customer connection and retention, so we do monthly in-store shopping events as well as product spotlights and social events, which have a theme and are synced to the season,” Zakrajsek noted. “Many times [we] partner with a product vendor or other local businesses to create a truly awesome experience for all. We’ve also done some social media promotions focused on a particular product or service to drive in-store sales.”

Use pet parades to boost business
Holding unique and beneficial events throughout the year brings retailers attention, new customers and good will. Courtesy of TailsSpin
Focusing on holiday-centric promotions might pay off as consumers come out to shop for gifts. Lisa Conrad, owner of Dogadillo, a dog boutique in Austin, Texas, holds a 12 Days of Christmas event, where a different item is on sale every day, such as nine bouncing balls and five Tuffy rings.

“Everyone is doing promotions and giveaways,” Conrad said. “You need to keep your name out there and make customers want to come to your store. By making it fun and a little different than just a normal sale, you will stand out to the customers more than other stores.”

Dogadillo also takes 17 percent off green items on St. Patrick’s Day, discounts pink items the day of the local breast cancer run and puts eco-friendly products on sale for Earth Day.

“We also started a rewards club about two years ago,” Conrad said. “We keep track of customers’ purchases in our POS system, and when they have spent $500 they get $25 off. The customers forget about it, and then they get very excited when you tell them they reached the reward.”

If retailers are well-known in the hobby—or if they happen to have made a name for themselves in the industry—they can leverage their persona to build awareness and reach customers via speaking engagements or public events. “Jungle” Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, N.Y., made 120 public appearances in 2012, and people left knowing about his store and its mission statement.

“It has been our most successful strategy, and we plan to add more presenters in 2013,” Smith said. “We have had a banner year here and promotions are a part of it.”

Being the Standout
Thinking outside of the box allows store owners to design promotions that potentially can engage customers with a store’s message and pique their interest. Novel promotions also distinguish stores from larger pet retailers, as an unconventional approach helps draw attention to a business in the sea of marketing promotions and advertising, industry participants reported.

Sometimes, offering customers an opportunity tied to their needs, or their pets’ needs, will serve a retailer’s business purposes. TailsSpin, which has three locations in Georgia (Savannah, Macon and Pooler), has several unique promotions throughout the year, reported Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner.

“We host a low-cost vaccine clinic three times a month, offering vaccinations, heartworm testing and microchipping at a significantly reduced cost,” he said. “This event is geared toward area students, seniors and members of the military, though it is open to anyone on a fixed budget. The proceeds from our clinics are donated to local pet rescue agencies.”

TailsSpin also hosts a Pet Care and Adoption Fair event every spring to bring together local veterinarians, groomers, trainers, pet rescue agencies and other pet professionals to inform the public of their products and services. 

Several retailers reported using health and nutrition topics in promotions to help sell basic needs items, such as food. For example, Pussy & Pooch holds an annual “What’s in Their Bowl?” campaign, spotlighting healthy pet nutrition and wellness.

“This is our largest and most comprehensive promotion,” Zakrajsek said. “It runs roughly six weeks and is featured in-store, on our website and blog, and is heavily promoted in our social channels. Throughout the campaign, we host a series of events as well as a photo contest where pet parents enter to win free food for a year. Customers love it, entries grow each year and the photos get more and more creative.”

Over at Theresa’s Country Feed & Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., the store runs a promotion where the first 25 customers to bring in an empty grocery store brand bag that they’re currently feeding their pet will receive a free 4-pound, highly nutritional premium name brand dog or cat food that the store is promoting.

“For years, we thanked our customers for their support and patronage by celebrating [every third Saturday of the month] Theresa’s ‘Customer Appreciation Day,’ where we offer vendor demos, raffle prizes, free popcorn and free hotdogs throughout the day,” said Steve Shalhoob, general manager of the store. “We’re very involved with community events. For 15 years, as members of the Chamber of Commerce, Theresa’s sets up 10 booths at their annual street fair, Simi Valley’s largest event of the year, drawing over 25,000 attendees.”  

Prizes and Giveaways
Consumers have so many commercial messages vying for their attention and time that it’s hard to get noticed, reported Barry Berman, founder of NexPet, a co-op of pet stores headquartered in New York City. Promotions and giveaways are ways to stand out, he added.

To get the most of it, retailers might have to dedicate time and resources to these marketing tactics. Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas, has run a “Most Patriotic Pooch” contest for the Fourth of July, music-focused Facebook and Twitter promos where pets have to finish a line from a song, Spin the Wheel events, raffles, photo contests and fashion show competitions.

“Most of us smaller retailers do not have a lot of marketing dollars to spend on traditional print or TV and radio [ads], so out-of-the-box promos and giveaways are great ways to engage clients with little cost,” said Veronique Michalik, owner of Lofty Dog. “Events and fundraisers have always been successful for us. It creates goodwill, raises funds for rescues, and helps in bringing new clients to your store.”

Drawing new clients is often the underlying goal of promotions, regardless of their nature. And creating a draw for customers sometimes requires incentives in the form of prizes. TailsSpin gives away many prizes in conjunction with its events.

“At our fall event, Savannah PAWrade, we hold a pet costume contest that offers a one-year supply of food to the first place winner,” owner Bernhard said. “Events feature drawings for prize packages as well, so that anyone at our events has the opportunity to win great prizes.”

The three stores also offer an Adoption Care Package to help new pet owners get started off on the right foot. The package is available to anyone adopting from local pet rescue agencies and includes a free engraved ID tag, a bag of food and 10 percent off their first purchase, he added.

Successful retailers often come up with derivations on traditional raffles, contests and fun games where customers can win prizes.

“We have an outdoor education center called ‘The Outback,’ where we do lectures and feature guest speakers on a variety of topics, not just reptiles,” Jungle Bob’s Smith said. “We always have a door prize and giveaways for kids, with the occasional raffle for larger items.”

Theresa’s Country Feed & Pet holds pet photo contests every month via its monthly email broadcast, Shalhoob said. Winners are asked to come into the store with their pet to receive a free bag of dog or cat food and have their photo taken.
Social Media
In-store promotions can be especially important for independents that don’t have a deep online presence, as they can help keep customers in the store and differentiate their experience from what they would find with competitors, retailers reported. But that doesn’t mean they can afford to ignore the Web, and reaching out and building an online presence often pays dividends.

The Internet, social media, GPS and other technological developments have played and continue to play a big role in making promotions, prizes and giveaways more interesting and relevant, reported Karin Lui, premium content director for, a London-based trend reporting service.

“Checking-in to a place on Foursquare and receiving a deal is more fun than cutting a voucher out of a magazine,” she said.

Online and social channels provide an extra layer of marketing that supports overall messaging and can help drive promotions, as well as enable stores to engage directly and instantly with customers.

“We use Facebook and Twitter for lost and found pets, consumer education, product spotlights, promoting local rescue agencies [and for] special offers and sales,” TailsSpin’s Bernhard said. “We also offer weekly prizes to those who win our online challenges, such as ‘Name That Breed!’

“Social media encourages a dialogue between customers and businesses, and this exchange helps us offer better products and services that are of interest to our customers,” he added.

Combining social media with contests can boost promotional power even further.

“We have people email us photos of their dogs, and then we post them to Facebook and people vote which photo they like,” Dogadillo’s Conrad said. “After a week of voting, we announce the winner, and they receive a $25 gift card. It is fun to see all the photos, and it gets more people to our Facebook page and more ‘likes’ for us, too.”

Social media presents an effective medium through which to keep a pet business present and active in the community.

“Our events are posted on our Facebook page and our website, which even offers a ‘virtual tour’ of the store so people can see first-hand all the services we offer,” Shalhoob reported. “We offer free services including nail and wing trimmings, low-cost vaccination clinics, low-cost anesthetic teeth cleaning, daily pet adoptions, low-cost microchip clinics and dog obedience training. We’re also a pet licensing facility for the county, and we provide free popcorn to all our customers every day.”


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