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1:36 AM   May 07, 2015
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Low-Budget Marketing

Pet store owners discuss strategies that work in slow times.
By Janet Randall

Courtesy of Chateau Yappy
Making a splash in the marketplace doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars. During periods of economic depression, focusing on organic or more personalized forms of marketing communication seems to be the preferred approach—and there are many inexpensive and creative ways to do that.

Direct Marketing
Tracking customer data plays an important role in effectual direct marketing. 

“Many store owners are aware of the importance of tracking customer data, but say they don’t have time,” says Jim Morgan of Animal Brands in Califon, N.J. “I’m amazed at how many small stores don’t capitalize on this venue. They need to make it a priority and find a way, even if they have to empower their employees to do it. To not do so is like opening a store without putting up a sign.” 

Janet McCulley, owner of California-based Muttropolis, has cut way down on traditional advertising. Instead she is focusing on what she calls “clientelling.”

“‘Clientelling’ is a proactive approach to personalized selling and customer service-oriented transaction follow-up,” McCulley explains. 

Taking a genuine personal interest in the customer promotes loyalty.

“In this digital age where we are inundated with impersonal e-mail messages, the trick is to find a way to follow up and personalize your message without being invasive,” McCulley says.

“Follow up a sale by sending a quick e-mail, making sure your customer is completely satisfied with the bed they just purchased.”

Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs serve as cost-effective forms of direct marketing.

“Everyone knows this is a difficult economy,” says Bill Becorest, director of operations for San Diego-based ASAP, which makes loyalty cards and key tags.  “It is expensive to go after new customers. Instead, we recommend that retail stores focus on their existing customer base.  For small businesses it is crucial to implement some type of loyalty or discount program for customers.”

Michael Dagne, president of Moochie and Co., a 10-store, mall-based chain headquartered in Ohio, has expanded its use of gift cards.  

Courtesy of Muttropolis
“Historically we have only used gift cards during the holidays,” Dagne says. “But we’re using them now for a bounce-back promotion on beds. When customers purchase $50 on beds, they receive a $10 gift card. This has worked very well for us.”

Start-up cost for a loyalty program may not be prohibitive if you do your research. 

Jill Gizzio, owner of Shop By Breed in Exton, Pa., found a source for key tags at 50 percent less than she was originally quoted.

“I recently started a key tag loyalty card program,” Gizzio says. “I later realized that with very little effort the key tags could double as gift cards.

There’s a POS system for almost any budget. Hardware and software accommodate everything from simple loyalty programs to fully integrated systems that keep track of inventory and sales data. 

Becorest points out that if a sophisticated POS system isn’t in the budget, the old-fashioned punch card will work.  

“Before a store launches a loyalty program, they must be prepared to manage the system and meet customer expectations,”  McCulley says. “Not meeting their expectations is counterproductive and will frustrate your customers.”

Community Focus
“Now more than ever we are aggressively seeking local nonprofit events that we can support and, when it makes sense, even attend,” Dagne says. “This weekend seven of our stores are sponsoring events. It’s good for our stores and benefits the community, too.”

McCulley says her well-attended ‘health and wellness’ weekend featured a prominent, local personality.

“Besides being beneficial, events like this generate great media attention,” McCulley says.

Another economical approach to advertising is to partner with local businesses.

“A local storage facility designed a welcome basket for a nearby apartment complex where they were targeting customers,” Gizzio says. “The management allows pets, so it made sense for me to contribute a discount coupon to the gift basket. I also placed an ad with a local diner on their placemat for $100 a year.”

When sales are depressed, retailers may drastically cut or even eliminate advertising dollars. They can consider instead re-evaluating store programs and coming up with creative ways to target the customer base. <HOME>

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