Posted: March 26, 2012, 3:10 p.m. EST
Offering behavioral classes in-store can bring in customers and boost sales.
By Steven Appelbaum
In a previous column, I discussed how on-site obedience classes can provide retailers advantages. The two largest pet chains in the country have such classes, and there is no reason why independent retailers shouldn’t offer this important service as well.
However, adequate space is a problem some independent stores face when offering dog training classes. Since seasonal considerations in many parts of the country make conducting training classes outside impossible except for a few months during the year, most classes need to be conducted indoors. A typical obedience class involves one trainer and four to 12 students with their dogs who meet once a week for anywhere from five to eight weeks.
These sessions are really about training owners how to properly teach their dogs to listen to obedience commands, which are sometimes called cues. Aside from teaching obedience, many classes also include limited information on how pet owners can address simple behavior challenges.
Teaching up to 12 dogs and their owners can require a fair amount of indoor space, which is why the idea of dog training classes is a nonstarter for many stores. This is unfortunate as it doesn’t take into consideration the types of training classes that will work for smaller stores.
A problem-solving class focuses on one thing: problem behavior. Store owners can offer these classes as single sessions or a series of sessions. Dogs do not need to be in attendance because this is really a class for owners. The advantage to problem-solving classes is they don’t require remotely close to the same amount of space a regular obedience class does.
Also, these types of classes are relatively inexpensive to put on, which in today’s climate is an additional advantage. Class prices can be as low as $12.95 to $19.95 per session. In fact, some stores find the product sales aspect so powerful and desirable, they actually offer the problem-solving classes free or at minimal charge.
All you need to set up this type of class are the requisite number of chairs and an area of the store where they won’t get in the way of customers. Of course, you will also need a trainer who is well versed in teaching people to address these types of behaviors. In addition, you need to take the time to educate your employees about this valuable service and how to enroll people.
Most stores that offer this type of program set specific dates for classes and encourage customers to pay in advance to reserve their spot. When all spaces are filled—and space allotments are generally based on the room each store has—the class is closed. Some stores have two or three classes a night, although this can be somewhat seasonal, with January through April being busiest.
As noted above, problem-solving classes can be powerful sales tools. The typical attendee is an involved dog owner with some discretionary income. What’s more, after a class, trainers can distribute handouts listing some of the products they recommend for addressing that specific challenge.
For example, a class on house soiling might involve a trainer suggesting Vari Kennels or crates from companies such as MidWest Homes for Pets or General Cage. The instructor can also recommend an odor neutralizer to deal with accidents, such as Nature’s Miracle or one of the many products from manufacturers such as The Bramton Co. If a dog is crated, toys such as Kong or Premier’s Squirrel Dude will keep it from becoming bored. Suggesting a 6-foot leash for taking the dog on walks and promoting a good diet to prevent loose stools are also part of the equation. And this is just one problem behavior.
Dealing with chewing is another good example of a product-rich problem-solving class. The solution to most chewing problems is to focus the dog on chewing the correct toys, items that you sell. Kong, Nylabone and other various interactive chew toys all fall into this category.
Let’s not forget, you have the chance to sell chew repellents such as Bitter Apple or various private-label products to assist in deterring chewing on inappropriate items. Proper exercise is also part of the solution, which means taking the dog for walks and involves a training leash, collar, etc.
It is not unreasonable for a store to offer three to six different lectures depending on the time of year and specific client requests. Seasonal classes on holiday safety and keeping dogs safe in winter or summer can be taught as well.
You can also offer classes on the proper use of electronic collars, bark collars and various electronic containment systems. These are important because, while many stores sell these products, there can often be confusion on the part of owners as to how to properly use them, which can lead to higher levels of returns.
Problem-solving classes can be promoted using fliers, which can be left by the register or bag stuffed. Classes can also be suggested to customers by educated staff. Some stores hold contests with the winner being the employee who signs up the most people.
Placing informative signs in the window and near the products often used in training will help make these classes a success. However, the most important element is an educated staff.
With a little work and preparation, small, independent stores can offer a variety of behavior-based lectures that will allow them to add another layer of customer service, while stimulating product sales and customer loyalty.
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.
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