At the DC Paws Rescue in Washington, D.C, the organization received close to 300 foster applications over a four-day period in the last week of March 2020. Usually, it has about 60 homes that are regular fosters. In Chicago, another animal shelter reportedly ran out of adoptable animals for the first time ever. 2020 was a year that changed the landscape for everyone, but for pets, it was a great year in many ways.
Currently, 54 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet, representing 68 million households across the country, according to a recent report from market research firm Packaged Facts. It also predicted that pet ownership would increase another 4 percent in 2020, bringing the total number of U.S. households with pets to over 71 million.
For pet retailers, this is great news. It means lots of potential new customers who are caring, feeding, training and playing with their new family members. Here are four strategies you can employ right now to attract, retain and market to first-time pet owners.
1. Start Advertising
Sounds straightforward, right? It’s so obvious that some retailers will miss this. Before you start thinking about stocking the new toys, snacks, leashes and more that a new pet owner needs, you need to make sure they know about you first. These aren’t your pet owners who already know who you are. These are new owners, who may not know who’s who and what’s what. Whether you’re doing Google or Facebook ads, or using some other channel, make sure it’s the right avenue for you, and then start telling the world about what you can do so new pet owners know how to find you.
2. Use Your Existing Base of Customers
Distribute coupons or postcards to existing customers, who can then share them with the new puppy owner they met on their walk or a neighbor who just adopted a kitten. These handouts can serve as great incentives that will drive pet owners into your store.
3. When You Find New Customers, Ask Them to Subscribe
If you don’t collect customer emails for newsletters and sales promotions, you really should, and now is as good a time as any to start. A new pet owner is the perfect recipient for a newsletter. They need everything—accessories, training tools, toys, snacks, clothing, beds ... You name it, they need it, including your expertise. They’ll be thirsty for ideas. Be sure you’re the one supplying them.
4. Start Building Combos
Combos are where the retailer in you can get creative with the knowledge you have. Use your expertise to assemble interesting packages that will delight and educate your customers. When you’re building combos, think about putting together a collection of training toys, snacks and a “secret” or “surprise” item that may not be an obvious purchase for a new pet owner. For example, a potty training spray may be a familiar item to an experienced dog owner, but to someone new, this is invaluable knowledge. Don’t forget to include items that will encourage return visits, such as product samples, coupons or brochures that promote services owners may be interested in.
This is a great time for pets, pet owners and pet stores. Retailers have a chance to help an entire generation of new pet owners grow and evolve with their new pets. In this time of instability and unprecedented unpredictability, this is truly a delightful side effect. These four tips may help you reach this new generation of pet owners and cultivate them into lifelong customers.
As a retail industry expert and co-host of “This Commerce Life” podcast, Phil Chang tracks emerging trends and insights that could impact businesses engaged in commerce. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Chang helps brands and retailers adapt to the new realities of retail and the next generation of commerce. With three kids, he’s more familiar with gen Z than he’d care to admit. A frequent speaker at industry events in Canada and the U.S., across multiple verticals, you’ll find him searching for unique local businesses everywhere he goes.