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Shop Talk:Growing Your Business by Giving Back to Your Community

Saying yes to donation requests and doing community events
By Tamara Lewis-Benson

How many donation requests do you have on your desk today? Whether you have a few requests or a few dozen, consider using your store’s contributions to charities and individual groups as a way to market and advertise your products and services. Most small, independent pet businesses will see a half a dozen requests each week from individuals and organizations looking for donations for their particular cause. These requests vary from kids in 4-H asking local feed stores to buy their livestock at the county fair to animal rescue organizations needing gift baskets and gift certificates for their raffle tables.

Rivertown Feed & Pet Country Store has found a niche in creating donation gift baskets with different animal themes for their customers’ favorite charities and organizations. This one was for a Valentine's fundraiser held in Rivertown's old Liberty Stables barn.
Saying yes to these donation requests gives your business an opportunity to stand out as supporter of your community’s favorite pet-related causes. Moreover, by saying yes to your customers’ donation requests, you create goodwill ambassadors that go out into your community and promote your business to their friends and associates. In addition to considering donation requests, you might want to think about designing a special event for your pet-loving community that showcases your store.

How costly is it to say yes to the donation requests and to doing special events? Well, when you look at how much of your business is through "word-of-mouth," building up goodwill in your local community by donating goods and services can be extremely valuable to increasing your clientele and your bottom line. However, you do need to start thinking about the criteria for your word-of-mouth budget.

Use your criteria as a guideline for which organizations and groups you plan to donate services, product and gift certificates to. In the pet industry, we often limit our contributions to local animal- or pet-related causes, schools and community events, and prefer to give product instead of cash. The donation criteria can also be based on what type of pet-related business you have, and how much you budget for traditional advertising, such as print, internet, television or radio ads.

Here are a few ideas that can create a buzz about your business while also giving back to your customers and community:

Raffle and Silent Auction Donation Requests 

Rivertown manager Jennie Frey has built a solid relationship with the store's many vendors and is able to get product donated for fundraisers and donation baskets.

Consider having specialty gift certificate frames made up that have your logo and business name on them. It’s a great way to showcase your gift certificates when they are sitting on a raffle or auction table. Gift cards and gift-card holders can also be personalized with your logo. Gift cards and certificates are a great addition to any gift basket, too.

You will want to create and customize a gift basket that says, “Wow!” First, pick a theme for your basket. The basket’s theme will depend on the type of event or organization. Baskets we’ve had success with include a sporting-dog basket, a fancy boutique feline basket, a travel-with-your-pet basket, a welcome-to–the-family basket and an equine-grooming basket. There is any number of other types of interesting baskets as well—your imagination is the only limit. Once you know your theme, you need to select the types of products to put in it. A good way of getting product for your baskets is by working with your vendors. A store’s “regular” vendors are often helpful in giving free product and samples for baskets and events. Giving such merchandise is a way of highlighting the company’s products. It’s also helpful for the vendor to have an outlet for getting some of its new-to-the-market items out to consumers. Some vendors even create their own gift baskets for events and fundraisers, and will be glad to donate a canine or feline basket for a pet-related cause.

Another good way of getting product for your baskets, events and raffles is to look at some of the merchandise that is just sitting on the shelves, taking up valuable retail space. There are many products that do not have much “curb appeal” to the consumer, but once the consumer tries the product they tend to become a fan of the item. Therefore, instead of marking down these slow-to-move items, select a few of them and add them to a great basket. Then watch how many customers come in and say, "Hey, I never thought to buy those liver treats for my dog, but I won a great pet basket from your store and my dog just devoured the treats that were in the basket so I am back to buy some more!"

Promoting Your Business Through Special Events & Fundraisers

Store owner, Don Benson's transformation into Santa Claus each year is a hit each December with both old and new customers.

Animal Adoption Days: Help some of the homeless animals in your community get forever homes by hosting adoption days with your local rescue groups and shelters. Your customers will have a chance to adopt a great pet and get supplies for their new addition at your store.

Annual Fundraisers & Educational Events for Local Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups
Santa Paws Days can include:

  • Refreshment’s and holiday music
  • Pet photos with Santa that are free with a donation to local animal charities
  • Vendor booths and free product handouts
  • A holiday-theme raffle featuring gift certificates and animal related gift baskets
    (Consider using the same format for other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day or Easter)

Halloween Parade:

  • Give out door prizes for customers who dress their dogs up for Halloween. Categories can include most scary, most beautiful and most unusual costumes.
  • Everyone loves a parade, so have your customers’ line-up at a designated time in front of your store and parade with their dressed up pooches on a leash around the block.
  • Have vendors give out treats for both human and fur kids.

Celebrate Pets Days - If you have the space these can be wonderful events for your community.

  • Create a special pet event and invite your vendors to bring free samples to give out
  • Have dog trainers demonstrate agility, obedience and canine free-styling training techniques 
  • Have booths for canine and feline adoptions, spay and neuter programs, and exotic bird and reptile clubs; you can also have artisans who specialize in animal art at your event.
  • Set up interactive activities for people’s pets, such as bobbing for hotdogs in a kiddie pool. For the kids, think about pony rides and face-painting activities.
  • Have your local 4-H, FFA or a high school group barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers at your event. They make money for their organization while providing your event with food. 
  • Make up a dozen gift certificates and pet-themed baskets and have a raffle with all proceeds donated to pet rescue groups.

Partner with Your Local Animal Shelter to Create an Educational Program for Children

  • First contact your local shelter and ask if they would like to work with you on creating a special pet-education day at their shelter for children. Shelters often have some type of educational programming already in place and may have funds for your educational day.
  • Next decide on what age group you will be designing your program for. You might want to decide on an age range such as ages 7 to11, and a maximum class size of 10 students. 
  • Contact local dog trainers and other animal groups that specialize in different animals to be presenters.
    An example of a formula that could be used for a Saturday’s kids' camp might look like this:
    • Time frame - 10:00 a.m. 3:00 p.m.
    • 10:00 a.m.  Introductions & a tour of the animal shelter
    • 10:30 a.m.  Dog safety demonstration
    • 11:00 a.m.  Feline grooming & learning about rabbit care.
    • 11:30 a.m.  Party with the Parrots: interactive learning experience with our avian friends (local bird clubs often have outreach educational programs that provides avian education).
    • Noon Pizza and refreshments.
    • 12:30 p.m. Decorate cupcakes with animal faces for dessert.
    • 1:00 p.m. Visit with a local veterinarian
    • 1:30 p.m. Animal art activities and giving out the certificates of program completion to each child. (Art activities you may want to incorporate include painting pet rocks and creating a safe habitat for the pet rocks using empty shoeboxes. Or you can take a large foam board--3x5 feet--and cut it into 10 puzzle pieces. Have each child draw an animal that is inspired by the shape of his puzzle piece. Once finished, have the children put their animal puzzle together.


Tamara Lewis-Benson is the co-owner of Rivertown Feed & Pet Country Store and the recipient of a Pet Product News International Retailer of the Year Runner-up award for 2008-2009.

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Shop Talk:Growing Your Business by Giving Back to Your Community

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Reader Comments
Giving gift baskets has helped me build up my clientale, for my grooming shop. With the ecomony the way it is, everyone is trying to support local small business. I appreciate and support the community whenever I can.
robin, richmond, VA
Posted: 10/20/2009 3:09:11 PM
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