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Navigating Dog Trainer Partnerships

Posted: Sept. 4, 2012, 6:45 p.m. EDT

Allying with behavior modification specialists can drive business and build customer loyalty.
By Steven Appelbaum

There are many different kinds of relationships you as a pet store retailer can forge with a dog trainer. These range from something as simple as trainers leaving cards or brochures in your store to having trainers work for you as employees or independent contractors teaching classes.

Material Advantages
Allowing trainers to leave promotional materials at your store can create a win-win scenario. The trainer wins by having the chance to offer services to customers. You win when the trainer educates these customers about the behavioral applications of numerous pet products you sell.

This in turn makes customers better-informed shoppers and increases sales. It can also create customer loyalty toward your store. Possible downsides to this kind of relationship can occur if you don’t properly screen the trainers you wish to refer. Remember that referrals obtained through your store will reflect on your reputation.

Dog training
Asking dog trainers to help educate customers and staff can drive sales.
As such, I suggest you ask any dog trainers wishing to develop a business relationship with you for one or two references of other stores or veterinary hospitals they currently work with. Also, please take time to speak with trainers wanting to leave cards. If you have a hard time understanding them or don’t feel comfortable after your discussion, does it make sense to introduce them to your hard-earned customers?

Some retailers might wish to offer dog training classes in-store. This takes a page from the some of the larger pet chains. Classes generate revenue from several sources, including the cost of the class and products each student typically needs to take the course.

Average class prices in the United States and Canada vary by region, but generally run between $69 to $110 for anywhere between five to seven sessions. Stores capable of filling one or two classes a month can turn this into a nice profit center even before they factor product sales into the equation.

Those stores without the space for actual dog training classes can offer problem-solving lectures. These are single-session offerings with just dog owners, generally costing between $12 and $20. Class sizes for both types of programs will, of course, be determined by the size of the store.

Pros and Cons
Retailers can choose between contracting with a trainer to teach these classes or lectures as an independent contractor (IC) or hiring them as an employee. Generally, the challenge with ICs is that they will be less motivated to actually promote the classes, leaving that up to you. Employees may have a stronger interest in promotion, especially if they can earn more when they teach the class. However, since many trainers can earn $25 to $100 per hour, it becomes tough to convince them to work at a pet store for a fraction of this.

In some cases, retailers can overcome this challenge by allowing the trainer to generate private lesson business on the side, although there is risk here as trainers need to be careful not to “up-sell” customers who would otherwise be satisfied with simple group classes. The question of whether to use ICs versus employees involves tax ramifications for you, so make sure you speak to your CPA before deciding which way to go.

Regardless of whether you hire a trainer, contract with one as an IC or simply allow them to leave promotional materials in-store, make certain the dog trainer takes time to educate staff about behavior and especially about the applications of pet products in training. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Staff members who understand dog behavior are far more effective at selling products and are often more proactive in signing customers up for dog training classes. These are big wins for your store.

Cross Promotion
Many stores offer a variety of pet-related services to their clientele. These include grooming, pet photography and vaccination clinics. Dog-training classes are an excellent way in which to promote these other services.

For example, groomers looking for additional customers can give tips on simple brushing and care at one of your dog obedience classes, and even distribute discount coupons for grooming services. Groomers wishing to promote training classes can include information on upcoming programs in literature they hand out to their grooming customers. Training classes can also be discounted if they mention at time of purchase that they were referred by an in-store service.

If your store offers photography, obedience classes are a natural place to promote it. Photographers can show up at graduation and take every graduate’s picture. This costs next to nothing in today’s digital world, and at least some of the class members will purchase the photographs.

Trainers can also suggest vaccination clinics to all participants in a class, and while the dogs enrolled will already have their required shots, some of the students will likely have other dogs that will still be in need of vaccines. Obedience classes can be promoted very effectively at shot clinics, because often those availing themselves of this type of service own younger dogs that will benefit from a little training. I have known many trainers who filled classes by simply showing up at these clinics and offering harried dog owners some much-needed assistance as they attempted to control their unruly pets while standing in line waiting for the vaccines.

The point to this is simple. If you use various pet services to promote other services you offer, you have the potential to see benefits to your bottom line.

Steven Appelbaum

Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.



The Education Series: Training & Behavior Modification column is brought to you in part by Farnam.


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