Posted: Sept. 18, 2009
Pet boutiques find fun opportunities to bring in holiday customers.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Good holiday planning starts early. Some boutiques begin planning their holiday winter events as early as January. Others wait until late summer. Either way, nothing they do is impulsive or arbitrary.
At Paw Prince, in Anchorage, Alaska, owner Melissa Robokoff lines up all her events by early fall.
“We start doing pictures in October,” she said. “We have contacts with several local professional photographers, and we get one to come and take portraits with Santa or with a holiday background. Customers bring their dogs or cats and get pictures made that they can send out with their holiday cards.”
Holidays are an excellent opportunity for specialty pet boutiques to create marketing buzz and bring in new customers with fun and interactive holiday-themed activities for pets and their owners. Photo Courtesy of Sloppy Kisses
This year, Robokoff said, a local theater is preparing a musical called “Bark,” and the store is planning to run a contest for a “poster dog” for the production.
“The musical runs in December, so I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of customers coming in this year,” she said.
Robokoff said the store doesn’t get involved with ordering photos or collecting money for orders; that’s strictly between the photographer and the client.
“We just make the facility and the photographer available,” she said.
Last December, Robokoff had an after-hours, invitation-only VIP sale for some of her best customers.
“That let us spend a lot of time with them,” she said. “Most of them we know well, and we know their pets, so we were able to pick out special things to show them.”
Paw Prince also stayed open extra hours during December.
“Normally we’re closed on Sunday,” Robokoff said, “but the whole month of December, we’re open seven days a week. We also stay later if there are customers in the store past our normal closing time.”
Robokoff always creates a big holiday window display and includes a few Hanukkah decorations for customers who don’t celebrate Christmas. Last year, the local SPCA included a “wish tree.” Customers who made donations at the register received paper ornaments on which to write their donations and hang on the tree.
Stocking stuffers for pets and their people can include:
- Holiday and party collars
- Handmade beaded collars
- Charms for collars, bracelets or necklaces
- Pet-themed jewelry for people
- Christmas and Hanukkah treats
- Stuffed animals
- Pet clothing, especially for cats and small dogs
- Christmas sweaters for pets
- Pet-themed T-shirts for people
- Velvet Christmas “ruffs” for dogs with bells
- Christmas scarves for dogs
- Gourmet baked treats
- Pet-themed Christmas ornaments for the tree
- Pull toys for dogs and their people to share
- Catnip toys for kitties
- Paw print magnets for the car or fridge
- Interactive puzzle toys for dogs (from Sweden)
“We made several hundred dollars for the SPCA in just three weeks in December,” Robokoff said.
Joanne Buchanan is the manager at Teca Tu in Santa Fe, N.M. She starts planning her holiday events during January, so she has everything in place by the beginning of the next holiday season.
“We’re in a small, high-end shopping mall, and we do a big holiday bazaar the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” she said. “We have local artisans who make collars, Southwestern pet clothing, people T-shirts, ornaments and other items. We set up outside the store in the mall. We usually have about 20 vendors, including a couple artists who do dog and cat portraits. We get a lot of traffic from that.”
Decorations are a big deal at Teca Tu, both in the mall and within the store, and some of the mall events bring increased traffic into Teca Tu.
“We do a lot of wreaths and lights, especially on the armoires where we have products displayed,” Buchanan said. “We also use a lot of small Christmas trees for displays. In fact, our Christmas merchandise itself decorates our store.”
Every year, the mall has musicians play and sing carols several times during December.
“They set up right in front of our store,” Buchanan said. “It’s nice for the ambiance of the mall, and it brings in customers.”
Melanie Dallas, owner of Sloppy Kisses in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., orders her holiday merchandise during the summer, but she doesn’t start putting out the holiday products until November.
“I have two locations, one in an affluent downtown area that’s my hub and a second store in a mall about half an hour south of the first store,” she said. The downtown store has a heavy summer season because it’s close to a horse track and has a lot of track customers, so she doesn’t start getting ready for the holidays until that part of her year starts to wind down.
“I tend to concentrate more on general winter merchandise rather than just Christmas,” Dallas said. “I carry a lot of sweaters and coats, and I include a number of holiday items, but I don’t give a lot of space to specifically holiday displays. The biggest holiday displays in the store are in the gourmet bakery, where there are a lot of holiday treats in big glass cases.”
Two years ago at the main store, Dallas did a “Christmas with Santa” event.
“It was in a beautiful old Victorian inn in Saratoga that was dog friendly,” she said. “We rented the space and brought in Santa. People were allowed to have breakfast with their dogs in a beautiful ballroom with chandeliers, and they got their pictures taken with Santa.”
Sloppy Kisses charged a flat fee of $14.95 that included breakfast and a photo. Last year, Dallas used the idea at her new store location, providing finger foods and donating the fee’s proceeds to a local animal shelter.
“It was a totally different spectrum of clientele,” she said. “The first one was very panache and classy, and this one was totally different. The management set up 8-foot tables for us, and we decorated them between the Bath & Body Works and the other stores. The mall management allowed us to come in on a Sunday morning. People had to reserve space in advance, and there were so many calls we had to turn some customers away because we didn’t have room.”
Dallas also arranged with the mall Santa to take pictures with the dogs that morning.
“We always do something like that at Christmas because it’s so much fun,” Dallas said. “It also helps incorporate pets into the community and builds loyalty to our store.”
With a little planning and a lot of creativity, retailers can take advantage of the holiday season. The promotional opportunities are as unlimited as dreams. <HOME>
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