Posted: September 26, 2013, 2:45 p.m. EDT
By Barry Berman
Today, shopping is often an impersonal experience, with consumers spending their dollars at supermarkets, gas stations and mass market outlets, where they can shop—and even pay—without interacting with a human being.
When shoppers do buy at a store where they know someone, the experience is so unusual that many feel the relationship is one of friendship. Feeling that "I have a friend working there” is even more important than service, selection or price in creating customer loyalty.
Don’t Wait to Be Approached
Encourage the impression of friendship among customers by hiring and retaining outgoing, friendly staff and maintaining their training. Also, work with animal-related groups and other community organizations. If you already do this, great; chances are you could do more. If you work only with pet-related groups and organizations that approach you, you are missing many great opportunities.
Approach a "charity of the month”: groups raising money for youth/school organizations, combating certain diseases, aiding an ailing community member, environmental causes, sports teams and churches.
Offer a "round up” program such as Austin, Texas’ Lofty Dog’s, in which customers are asked to round up their purchases to the next dollar and donate the difference. Many folks (and their friends) supporting these causes own pets; some might not have shopped at your store previously. This could encourage them to visit.
If "round up” turndowns are handled cheerfully by staff, there’s no harm done, and the conversation might make people believe your business cares about the community.
Providing gift certificates to groups raising funds allows Pet Saver Superstore in Rochester, N.Y., to say yes to almost all donation requests. Give groups $5 certificates; share that 5 or 10 percent of all purchases accompanying them will be donated to the charity.
Increase the steady flow of customers by issuing gift certificates in sequential 30-day validities—one is valid in September, one in October, November, etc. The charity will appreciate the help over an extended period. You still might have to donate something tangible, such as a gift basket, but gift certificates allow you to appear generous while giving away only one basket.
If you have a self-service dog wash, distribute six months’ worth of certificates; these, too, will bring additional people into the store, and your cost is low.
A Florida store has a staffer scan the local paper for notices of school, church and other events involving kids in order to offer them a pile of gift certificates for a free betta. The organizers appreciate this, and the certificates bring families into the store.
You’re Local, We’re Local
Secure as much press coverage as possible. Send a release to local press and radio and television stations. When the fundraiser is over, enlist a local printer to create a big "check” for a photo op when presenting the money. Invite the press, and take the photo yourself if necessary. Promote the ceremonies on your website and Facebook pages, and ask the charities to do likewise. During promotions, always emphasize the "locally owned” angle—it’s what you and the charities share in common.
Ground Rules for Guests
Last, ensure that volunteers in your store are trustworthy and will act professionally.
B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala., insists on no eating or drinking on the sales floor, removing aggressive or sick pets, providing proof of liability insurance, spaying/neutering pets up for adoption, using limited volunteers, wearing name tags, and cleaning up after the event.
Barry Berman is president and cofounder of NexPet co-op for independent retailers and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals pet food company. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he is a member of the World Pet Association board of directors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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