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Business Builders: Sell Your Story

Posted: June 30, 2014, 10:05 a.m. EDT


By Cheryl Reeves

Many pet retailers are finding that lots of customers seek more than just a store where they can dart in and out for a fresh bag of food and other supplies.

"What clients want most is a highly social, interactive place to shop where their pets are pampered like kids,” said Laura Bednarczyk, owner of Lulu & Luigi in White Bear Lake, Minn. "It’s no longer just about selling products. There have to be events, education and fun. Customers want to feel that they belong in a store and that it reflects their lifestyle.”

More independent pet retailers should be focused on building a brand story around the concept of an emotional connection to family and pets, said Joe Bona, president of retail and environments at CBX, a New York-based brand agency and retail design firm.

"A retailer can do this on so many levels: store design, displays, the layout of aisles, signage, interaction with customers and events,” said Bona. "Overall, think in terms of pulling in clients and their pets with a lifestyle-driven brand story that delivers an enriched, modern shopping experience.”

Design a Compelling Shopping Journey
Calling her store "the ultimate pet lifestyle center and destination,” founder and chief creative officer Janene Zakrajsek has grown Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar from its first Los Angeles store to include three additional stores in Southern California. The LA store features a comprehensive pet lifestyle setting with its Wellness Spa, Training Lab, Social Club, Meat Market and Pawbar in-store café, where pets can feast while their owners engage with pet experts about nutritional care.

"From the very beginning, I envisioned creating a lifestyle vignette, a store that incorporates fully how to live with one’s pet,” said Zakrajsek. "The key to presenting that image is making a first impression with the way the space looks, and we launched first in an edgy downtown area, so I wanted to reflect that kind of energy.”

Unite Your In-store and Online Brand

Retailers’ online presence should reflects the experience customers find in-store, said industry experts.

"Many new customers research online before shopping, so retailers must constantly showcase and repeat the in-store experience to their online viewers,” said Lynn Switanowski-Barrett, the founder of Creative Business Consulting Group in Boston.

Don’t assume customers already know about your store’s programs; they need to be informed online about the products a retailer carries, customer referrals, loyalty programs and more, she said. Keeping a store’s story line constantly evolving and connecting to new business is key to delivering a seamless brand experience, said Joe Bona, president of retail and environments at CBX, a New York-based brand agency and retail design firm.

"Make your brand personality about embracing family—and that your store is the place to go as a pet lifestyle destination,” Bona said.—CR

Working with a professional design team, Zakrajsek created a color scheme that consists of shocking lime green, black, white and charcoal.

Because of the consistency of color design and attention to detail, customers wondered if Pussy & Pooch was a franchise. 

However, she urges fellow retailers to not make the mistake of thinking that they can do everything themselves.

"To do space planning the right way requires dedicated hours and partnering with other professionals. If you’re on a tight budget, design in stages and recruit local student designers to help.”

Dave Figueroa, owner of Scraps Dog Bakery in Seattle, said he put his love of design to use when he first opened his store.

"The building I moved into was a cold shell in a downtown mixed-use project. We have condo towers, a luxury hotel and retail plaza all situated above a Whole Foods.

"All of this, in one of the most up-and-coming neighborhoods in the city,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa custom designed many of the fixtures in his shop and had them made by a local metalwork artist.

CBX’s Bona also advises retailers to get more creative with design and reimagine their stores to move beyond a traditional ‘sea of aisles’ and orchestrate a more engaging customer journey throughout the entire retail space.

"Remember the word ‘lifestyle,’” he said. "Evolve your aisles around the concept of life areas, such as play, health, exercise and fashion. Do this with signage and by creating ‘points of disruption’ within an aisle—for example, a display of new products or a themed display that adds fresh energy, fun and repeated emphasis on how your store reflects pets as an extension of family. Create pet-friendly areas of engagement, such as a place where pet parents can sample new products or get advice from a staff member.”

Make With the Fun Events
Retailers can deepen the bond with their customers and strengthen their brand image through the power of rituals, according to Laurent Francois, founder and executive creative strategist at Re-Up Agency, a brand marketing firm with offices in Los Angeles, London and Paris.

"A brand is all about rituals. The more you create rituals, the more you create a shared language with your customers the way families do with each other,” said Francois. "For example, the ‘specials of the day’ at a restaurant, that’s a ritual. Give your customers a social reason to visit your store.”

Special events are a very popular draw at her store, said Lisa Conrad, owner of Dogadillo Dog Boutique in Austin, Texas.

"We host several events during the year,” said Conrad. "Every month we have a Yappy Hour in the store. It’s always a lot of fun.” To continually engage with the community and seek out new customers, Figueroa said he frequently holds events at downtown residential high-rises.

At Pussy & Pooch, the Mutt Mingles and Meow Mingles, featuring snacks for pets, cocktails for humans and lots of special guests, are extremely popular, said Zakrajsek. "Customers love our events that feature vendors customizing products,” said Lulu & Luigi’s Bednarczyk.

Displays Sell a Brand Story
Retailers said that creative displays are key in promoting products and making a store’s personality shine.

"We change our window display every month and will get comments from customers and people walking by,” said Conrad. "One of the most popular was a Lady and the Tramp-inspired display.”

Enchanting customers with displays adds so much entertainment value to her store that she is always planning creative new ideas, Bednarczyk said.

"They really loved a display I put together of a garden party gathering of dogs,” she said. "Last July, we brought in real sand and some beach umbrellas to display summer-y products, such as floating toys, life vests and more.”

The displays at Scraps Dog Bakery change frequently, said Figueroa, and keep to the brand’s urban lifestyle look and feel.

To make his customers feel even more a part of the Scraps family, Figueroa keeps client profiles within a customer relationship management system to track buying history, contact information, a pet’s dietary restrictions and any other tidbits of information customers might need, like their dog’s collar size.

"Many of our customers are part of dual working households, and I find having historical buying information on hand for them can help a spouse who might not be familiar with an item usually purchased by the other spouse.”

A store can have innovative products, creative eye-catching displays and lots of engaging events—but one of the top ways to build an emotional bond with customers is the simple act of being a place, like the bar in the classic TV show Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name.’”

"To be honest, I find it easier to remember the dog’s name than the owner’s name!” said Conrad. "And I never forget the personal touch of knowing what treats each dog prefers ... and I give them one each time they come in so they will always be eager to return.”

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