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11:53 AM   April 25, 2015
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Staying at the Forefront of Customers’ Minds

Make advertising and marketing dollars count in a down economy by using old and new media to get the message across.
By Alison Bour

As pet retailers scramble during the current recession, many believe ad budgets offer one area to slice without repercussion.

Amanda Ciring, owner of Pawhaus Pet Boutique, relies on less traditional ways to reach her customers, such as Facebook and Twitter.
However, successful pet store owners and retail consultants alike offer the same advice: Find another way.

“The thing you don’t want to do is disappear off the radar,” said Mike Gatti, executive director of Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of National Retail Federation. Even though he said predictions call for a 3.5-percent decline in retail sales this year and a decline in holiday revenues by 1 percent, the decision to cut one’s ad budget could make those numbers jump higher.

Gatti even thinks a down economy offers a chance to build market share. Retailers without excellent customer relations are hit hard during slow economic climates, possibly forcing them to cut back on advertising. Others who concentrate on creating an environment that enhances relationships with “regulars” can capture those lost customers, thus growing market share.

Taking a risk might pay off, too. Doug Poindexter, president of World Pet Association, said his organization added money to its promotional budget for a trade show in Las Vegas.

To Survive The Recession Without Sacrificing Your Ad Budget, Use Cost-Effective Ways To Build And Maintain Your Customer Base And Brand Identity.

  • Newer options offer significant bang for the buck; these include Twitter, Facebook and similar social media. 
  • If you have a website, add a blog, coupons or freebies to drive traffic.
  • Focus energy in the community. Sponsor field trips or provide product to schools. 
  • Partner with other businesses by trading coupons, reciprocal discounts or bag-stuffers.
  • Utilize display windows. It offers a 24-hour, seven-day return on the investment.
  • Keep in mind ad representatives struggle during slow economies. Use this as bargaining power.
  • Consider “bring a friend” events, and reward regular customers for responding.
  • If you must make cuts, look to other areas first, such as better inventory controls and staff allocation.
  • Consider piggybacking on the recession. One big-box retailer runs ads telling customers how much packing lunches saves yearly, while restaurants offer discounts to victims of lay-offs. “Don’t try to ignore that times are hard,” said Mike Gatti, executive director of Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.
“We had more stores and people than ever, a 15-percent increase,” he said. “[Ad budgets are] one of those things you don’t want to cut.”

As owner of Canine Creek Pet Wash & Boutique in Tehahcapi, Calif., and founder of Pet Industry Retailers (PIR), Susie Atherton said PIR members report trimming the fat in their ad budgets, “but that doesn’t mean they aren’t marketing their businesses. Instead they are networking with peers to find more low- or no-cost methods of bringing customers in the door.”

 Discrimination and careful tracking of exactly what draws customers in goes a long way toward making every ad penny count.

Amanda Ciring is owner of Pawhaus Pet Boutique, an online business based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Given the entire planet represents her customer base, she relies on less traditional ways to reach them, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, she also maintains a tracking system.

“You should analyze websites and drop those that aren’t best,” Ciring said. Google offers free analysis, and I post a link to my site on Twitter.”

She did end her relationship with a free online classified site called Kijiji as it dropped a link option.

Atherton reported immediate return on Twitter posts. While waiting in line at the bank, she posted a tweet about new dog food. Within an hour she landed a sale, but she advises calculating time spent on social media to accurately gauge the return.

The successful Santa Fe-based Teca Tu, a high-end dog and cat boutique, uses window display setups in both a hotel and an inn to great effect.
Spot, a New York, N.Y.-based store owned by Dan Rubenstein continues to grow, in part, due to savvy marketing. Rubenstein struck a deal with a building management company to get promotional offers in the hands of its residents.

“It makes them look good, too,” he said. “We believe strongly in Google ads. But, we use an expert to manage and develop key words. One positive of the down economy is it will (encourage retailers) to invest in new media that seem to be working for others.”

The successful Santa Fe-based Teca Tu, a high-end dog and cat boutique, uses display windows in both a hotel and an inn.

“We get people everyday coming in from those windows,” said Joanne Buchanan, manager.

The store’s owner, Laurie Wilson said Teca Tu just overhauled its website and added a blog.

Susie Atherton of Canine Creek in Tehachapi, Calif, uses both traditional advertising options, such as billboards, and non-tradtional forms, such as this park bench, as well as community events, including rescue adoption days.
Atherton relies on a host of alternative ads: networking with local chambers, and providing treats stapled to business cards to drive-thru businesses. A program she calls 10/10/10 represents her favorite low-cost idea.

Humane rescuers receive a free bath and a 10-percent discount on an initial purchase, good for only 10 days. In exchange, the store makes a referral donation.

“It’s 100-percent targeted so there’s no waste,” Atherton emphasized. “It requires no upfront money except paper and gives us an opportunity to turn these pet parents into customers before they establish buying habits elsewhere.”

None of these successful stores slashed ad budgets to keep sales on target, although Ciring said she would consider it and Rubenstein spends less now that he established his brand.

Rubenstein offered a sobering thought to those pet retailers who say cutting their ad budgets represents the only option to for staying afloat.

“You probably have bigger problems than you think,” he said. “It’s also probable you weren’t spending wisely in the first place.”

When it comes to more established media, reviews remain mixed.

Ciring prefers upscale magazines. Atherton still uses traditional options, including TV commercials and billboards. In addition, she’s getting good deals on them, too.

“The upside of a down economy is that everything is on sale!”

Alison Bour has been a freelance copywriter for 17 years, and specializes in business-to-business and consumer-oriented features. In addition to Pet Product News International, she has been published in Water Garden News, International Door and Operator, and Lawn Care Professional. <HOME>


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