3 Ways Pet Stores Can Build a Community Amidst COVID-19

From social media to good, old-fashioned customer service, community-building activities are a great way to build your business.

When it comes to retail, nothing helps build store longevity like a strong reputation. Yet building a reputation is not a solo effort. No matter how hard store leaders may work, the reality is that they need a community to truly help the store become a profitable, accomplished business. And let’s face it—having a strong reputation helps to keep merchants relevant during competitive and challenging commerce times, such as the one we are experiencing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to build a community to drive retail success. Among them: 

1) Get to Know Your Customers 

Want customers to remember you? Remember them. 

"Most days of the week, I have the opportunity to visit any store I want to because my work keeps me in my car and constantly on the go within my hometown. But no matter what, I always return to Bentley’s Pet Stuff on Southport Avenue in Chicago because they know who I am. They have a history of what I’ve previously purchased and are always willing to help me grab what I need if I’m in a rush," shares real estate agent and dog owner Laura Rahilly. 

Rahilly isn’t the only one that the team of Bentley’s Pet Stuff knows, however. Almost more important, the team knows Rahilly’s dog, Boca, who is a 3-year-old bulldog with food sensitivities. 

"The fact that the team at Bentley’s knows my dog and genuinely seems excited to see her means so much to me," Rahilly adds. 

Furthermore, when COVID-19 forced a citywide quarantine in Chicago, Rahilly was able to adjust her shopping habits and drive by and pick up her purchases with Bentley’s curbside service. 

"I simply call, and they know what I need," Rahilly says. 

With Astound Commerce reporting that a significant percentage of U.S. customers want contactless experiences in their day-to-day routines as a result of COVID-19, curbside pickup is a smart option for any retailer to consider. Another smart option? Good, old-fashioned customer service. 

When California-based Crystal Vilkaitis—who is the proud "mama" of French bulldogs Barry and Florence—first got her puppies, she knew she needed help in identifying the right treats for her then 4-month-old Frenchies. 

"I went to Kahoot’s in Carlsbad, Calif., and I was spending a fair amount of time looking at chews and rawhides," Valkaitis says. "I didn’t have a clue what would be best for my Frenchies. But their team was so helpful and offered clarity [as] to what was good for my puppies, what wasn’t and why. I felt like I was the only customer in the store." 

The best part? Valkaitis said she has shopped there ever since as a direct result of this experience. 

The connectivity between a customer and a store is undoubtedly important for many reasons, but, ultimately, it will be the connection a customer has to a store that keeps them returning. As you evaluate your own business and the team members within your store, consider how to strengthen personalized customer care to ensure your community grows, one loyal customer at a time. 

2) Share a Digital Newsletter 

Consumers like trusted insight from the brands and businesses they shop with and, likewise, they want to be informed and educated about the purchases they make. Keeping this in mind, creating a digital newsletter is a great way to consistently stay in touch with your audience while also building loyalty among your customers. 

If you offer a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly newsletter, customers who opt in to receive your email updates can look forward to receiving it. This, of course, is only if you commit to making your newsletter valuable to your audience. To achieve this, offer educational insight on the products you sell while also sharing details on store events and experiences.

Having this trusted resource is beneficial all year long, but in times of crisis, such as we have experienced with COVID-19, it offers a powerful and necessary connection between consumers and stores. In particular, retailers can leverage digital newsletters to share updated store hours, new ways to connect with retailers and even clarity to unexpected challenges such as COVID-19.

A newsletter is also a great place to highlight customer pets, store employees, adoption events, donation opportunities and other community-minded experiences. By creating a dynamic, engaging and informative newsletter, you welcome the chance to build loyalty among your consumers, strengthen partner relationships and, ultimately, build community with your brand. 

3) Create a Facebook Group 

Nothing screams community like an organized group of like-minded people—even if those people have nothing in common other than having pets and shopping at your store. 

Vilkaitis, who, in addition to being the owner of two French bulldogs, is the founder of retail digital consulting company Crystal Media, believes that all social media is valuable.

But Vilkaitis believes Facebook Groups, in particular, can help merchants strengthen their customer community goals. 

"I think it’s important now more than ever to connect with your customers, your community," Vilkaitis says. "It’s important to create conversations by sharing, but also asking questions and listening to others. Facebook Groups are a great way to achieve this. Through these groups, retailers can share immediate messages with their audience and even offer important store updates such as those that came from COVID-19."

Expanding on this, Vilkaitis explains that "informing customers of new product deliveries and sharing knowledge about inventory and store events are all ideal ways to utilize

Facebook Groups in real time. Another idea is to promote local businesses in your area, as well, and even consider co-sponsoring an event or giveaway through your Facebook Group with these businesses. This can help you reach new customers while also supporting your current community."

Finally, remember that when incorporating Facebook Groups into your community goals, it’s not just about sharing on Facebook, but also listening. Make sure you provide an interactive experience where your members want to participate in the group, ultimately enhancing their experience while also enhancing the experience of everyone else involved.

Invite them to post pictures of their pets, share feedback on recent product purchases, comment on favorite pet treats and even organize an event meet-up for pet owners to connect at a local park. Collectively, these efforts will create a community that will want to continue to stay connected with your store beyond its walls. 

The World Pet Association (WPA) brings the pet world together so quality interaction and education between and among product suppliers and pet owners can create healthier, happier pets and a healthier, more productive pet industry. Founded in 1950, WPA brings thought leadership, innovative thinking and best practices to the pet industry, working to inform and educate the general public in order to ensure safe and healthy lifestyles for our animal friends.

Building a community takes a community. The National Retail Federation (NRF) is offering a routinely updated resource page on COVID-19, which you can find here, while SuperZoo is the perfect destination to gain the connections, experiences and education you will need to do this. With more than 75 sessions and 40 speakers at the upcoming 2020 SuperZoo show, attendees can look forward to learning ways to boost their business through creative yet realistic marketing efforts, from in-store events to social media to digital marketing and more. Join SuperZoo Aug. 31 – Sept. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. Gain more details here