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Shop Talk: Drawing in Customers

How to increase retail sales in today’s economy.
By Heidi Taiger

In this volatile economy, everyone is concerned about maintaining their market share and increasing sales and profits. A business must continue to market itself, even during a period of declining sales. Whether it be print brochures, magazine or newspaper advertising, or radio and television ads, promotion and marketing are extremely important. However, how does one achieve this on a tight budget?

Get As Much Free Publicity as Possible
There are many ways to market your company for little or no money. Having a website is just the beginning. Start with the Internet and search “free business ads” on Google. Numerous sites will list your company for free. They may wish to link their site to yours in exchange, or ask you to upgrade your ad for a fee. You are not obliged to pay for anything you do not want. You can also do an Internet search on a company similar to yours that you admire to see where they appear and follow suit.

You should market your website much like your store. As many social networking sites should be joined as possible, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter. The pages should be updated regularly—they do not cost anything to run. It is another useful tool to reach potential customers.

Word-of-mouth promotion is extremely important. Satisfied customers will recommend you to their friends. Constantly talk about what you do and always have business cards with you. Carry a photo album of what your store looks like and the latest dog fashions. You can simply change the photos when the styles change. If you have a dog and sell dog clothes, dress your dog up. Put it in a stroller and go to the mall. Someone might ask where you bought the clothes and you can give out your card.

Send Out Press Releases
When you have something to promote, such as an in-store event, party, fashion show or contest, send out a press release. It does not have to be professionally done. Simply search “press release” on Google for formats. Use it to notify local newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations about your store.

Create an E-Mail Newsletter Lists
Ask all who comes into your store to join your e-mail list, whether or not they make a purchase. This allows you to contact them to promote parties, events and sales. Consider offering special promotions only for those customers on the e-mail list. Those shopping at the store who are not on the list would not have access to the promotion.

Offer Parties and Market Them
Dressing up dogs is more than just selling clothes and accessories. Taking one’s pooch to the boutique has become a social event. Create parties that celebrate holidays, such as Halloween or Christmas, as wells other special occasions, such as Dog Massage 101 or Doga. Always offer a gift basket, as well as a gift card to your store, in a drawing or raffle. This allows you to obtain customers’ information without having to ask.

Get Involved in Community Events
Promote the fact that you are giving proceeds to charity. Link your business to a charity that is important to you. When asked to provide a gift basket or raffle prize for a charity event, ask for something in return for added exposure, such as allowing dogs to participate in an existing fashion show. Represent your store represent at charity-walk events by giving your customers hats or T-shirts with your logo on it. Provide your customers with a supply of cards to give out at the event.

Cross Promote
Visit veterinarian offices, pet groomers, dog walkers and dog runs. Hand out free gift certificates worth $5 each. If the potential customers do not come to shop at your store, you have lost the cost of the paper. If they do, you make a sale. At Christmas, provide free gift certificates to your contacts to give to their customers as gifts.

Train your Staff
New staff must be well trained in your company’s philosophy. The salesperson must be a great communicator and understand the products extremely well. If the salespeople believe in the products, they become more enthusiastic about them. Customers notice this confidence. Cross-selling, up-selling, and being proactive must always be stressed. The salesperson must ask open questions (such as “What breed of dog do you have?”) and must be given the tools (knowledge, training, etc.) to overcome objections.

Maintain Existing Clientele & Attract New Ones
Develop and maintain a relationship with your customers. Make a note of their e-mail addresses, write down special requests and try to fulfill them. Show them around your store and explain the items you carry and why they are different. Offer them a seat, a glass of water, a candy. Welcome their dogs and give them treats from a sample tray. Make them as comfortable as possible. They are more likely to purchase something the longer they stay in the store. Create a mailing list and contact your customers regularly. E-mail out store events and new-product-arrival announcements. Even if customers are not interested in the event, you are reminding them that you are still here.

Tighten Up Expenses
Keep your prices as competitive as possible while still making a profit. Try not to compete on price alone. Big-box stores do that the best; concentrate on what you do best instead. Research your competitors to see what they are selling, and maintain your individuality by purchasing items they do not carry.

Have an Attractive Store
Make your store as physically attractive as possible. Keep it very clean and bright. Change the light bulbs and make sure your store is odor-free. Try to encourage people to stay and linger. The longer they stay, the more likely they will buy something. Create an attractive window, making all displays neat and accessible. Make the products and shopping experience so appealing that customers want to purchase something.

Be a Resource
Visit dog breeders and call local veterinarians and popular groomers so you can make knowledgeable referrals for your customers. Every referral is a reflection on you so take it very seriously. Customers appreciate the time and effort necessary to make a good referral. Make a list of people wanting to adopt pets and research local rescue groups to help make a match for them. 

Stay Current
Know what is happening in your industry and research new products on the market. Be passionate about what you do. You must love pets and adore the merchandise you sell. You must believe your selection is the best out there and be eager to explain that to your customers.

Opening a retail store and waiting for customers to find you while crossing your fingers and hoping for the best will not make a successful business. You have to go out and get the customers to come to you—and you have to get them to keep coming back. <HOME>

Heidi Taiger, a Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year Runner-Up, is the owner and founder of Poochey Couture in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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Shop Talk: Drawing in Customers

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Reader Comments
These are practical and affordable tips that any retail establishment can, and should be following. I own a marketing and design consultation firm that specializes in pet-related business promotions and I'm amazed by the lack of energy and ideas that most owners of small(er) pet-related businesses have.

Every available industry metric and survey result indicates that the pet industry (especially dogs), is still growing at a fast pace, is solid, and is virtually recession-proof. There's really no excuse for a pet-related business to be having difficulty growing and maintaining profits.

Like all B2C businesses, great customer service is the key! Pet-related businesses--all of them!--have the distinct advantage of being able to capitalize the pet industry boom. It just takes a little imagination and consistently good customer service.

Networking with other pet industry players in your area is probably the second most important aspect of this article. Pet owners take referrals and word-of-mouth (the very best form of advertising!) more seriously than other consumers.

Great article! Keep up the good work.

Chris DiAlfredi
Creative Director
All Creatures Studio
Chris, Chagrin Falls, OH
Posted: 7/15/2009 1:50:31 PM
I think this article covered many areas that can be applied to just about all retail pet outlets. As an Aquatic retailer, I give out small free samples of new foods or even established foods if the customer has never purchased them. Many vets offices or specialty dog/cat businesses will gladly trade website banners or business card space near their registers. I think if you look at the info provided there are many ways to cross these ideas into just about any retail store type. Thanks for providing helpful articles that provide resources for continued sales during a stuggling economy.
Marcye, Orlando, FL
Posted: 7/15/2009 10:23:33 AM
THis article has lots of fantastic recomendations if you're a dog store! However for the rest of us out there, while the theory remains the same theres little to no specific recomendations for other pet related businesses.
Unsatisfied Reader, Detroit, MI
Posted: 7/14/2009 10:25:30 AM
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