These days, independent pet stores are faced with plenty of challenges. From competing with big box and e-commerce retailers to hiring and retaining the right employees, store managers have a lot on their plate.
While attracting loyal customers is difficult enough, one particular challenge that pet specialty retailers face is getting customers to come back as repeat business. Some stores try loyalty cards while others try social media giveaways and discounts. However, maybe there’s more to keeping loyal customers in the digital age than a simple promotion here and there.
In Pets Plus Magazine’s latest edition (May-June 2017), successful retail and marketing experts were interviewed with the seemingly simple question: what would you do if you owned a pet store?
While the answers ranged from completely out of the box to simply common sense, one in particular captured our attention. Pam Danziger, Luxury Marketing Expert and Author, answered with: sell a customer experience.
We were inspired by her answer (which you can read here), and decided to dive into it a little deeper and tell you exactly how you can give your customers an experience that keeps them coming back to your pet store.
Determine Your Why
Too many pet business owners these days are concerned about profit. Why shouldn’t you be? Profit is what allows you - and your business - to succeed. However, money is also what often gets in the way of truly making your store shine in the eyes of your customers.
Don't get us wrong - profit is important. As Microsoft UX design lead Surya Vanka once said, "The intersection of important and pleasurable work is passion, purpose, and profit," and we couldn’t agree with him more.
Why do you do what you do?
Why do you run a pet store or why do you sell pet food? If it’s only about increasing profit margins, then you’re in the wrong headspace.
Maybe you only sell the highest quality pet food because you want to see a drop in pet obesity or you run a pet store to educate consumers on responsible pet ownership.
Your “why” is the essential foundation to creating a pet store experience that will keep your customers coming back.
Make It About the Customer Experience, Not Product
In her answer, Danziger mentions that we are in an era of the experience economy. What does this mean, exactly? Now that consumers are living in an increasingly digital world, they expect more out of businesses than just simply providing them with great products that satisfy their needs.
Daniel Newman, a contributor for Forbes Magazine, says that these days, “consumers seek [...] additional utility from the brands [they] patronize.” In other words, your customers are no longer coming to your store because they need something for their pet - they can get that on Amazon or Chewy.com. Instead, they come to your store for the experience.
Harvard Business Review also explains it pretty well. They said that this phenomenon occurs when, "a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event."
So what does this mean for your pet store?
To be successful, you need to provide more than just the right product at the right place and the right time.
In fact, Danziger suggests that we forget about that notion for a minute and, instead, think about the 4E’s - Experience, exchange, everyplace, and evangelism.
While we’re focusing primarily on the customer experience, you can get inspiration for the other three E’s from her article here.
If you provide your customers with only the highest quality pet food, your staff and your marketing materials also needs to be educating them on why it’s the best. If you’re promoting a pet business with the friendliest atmosphere, you also need to be providing your customers with ways to socialize within your store - even if it’s with the employees.
In the end, remember this: if you’ve made your customer smile, you’re already more than halfway to achieving your goal of keeping them coming back for more.
Examples of Unique Pet Store Experiences
Now that you know you need to amp up your customer's experience within your pet store, where do you start? First, do a brain dump of ideas on a piece of paper.
While some might be completely terrible, out of the box ideas (like balloon popping event for discounts - something that just randomly came out of my head), write them down anyways. Then, you’ll narrow these down to a couple of good ones - who knows, maybe even the really terrible ones will inspire some unique ideas!
In need of some inspiration?
- Danziger suggests the idea of putting a leash-free dog park in store - While this might take up too much valuable shelf space to be realistic, maybe there’s a park or lot near your store that you can sponsor or host events at. Just set up a dog fence, or even a few Pet Gazebos, and let your customers and their pets socialize for a few hours on a sunny weekend.
- Host events - Amazon may have Prime Day, but its size and channel doesn’t allow it to host events for its customers. Hosting events is a great way to stand out from your competitors, and they don’t always have to be in person! With live video growing, you can even do a Facebook Live or Periscope event in your store.
- Create a brand around your why - One pet business, The Green Spot, did this really well. Specializing in organic pet food and eco-friendly pet products, they took that idea and plastered it everywhere - literally. Get inspired with their profile here, covered by Pets+ Magazine.
- Give out samples - Have a favorite brand or product that you or your employees love to brag about in your store? Talk to that vendor about providing free samples to give to your customers once in awhile. We all love Costco samples, so wouldn’t the same idea work for pets? Note that this does depend on the vendor’s budget, but as long as it drives sales, they should be willing to help.
Keep Them Coming Back for More
If you take away anything from this article, it’s this: provide your customers with an invaluable experience that stems from your why, and they’re sure to come back for more.
Matthew Hudson, president of Rick Segel & Associates, told Pets+ Magazine that if you meet a customer’s expectations, they are only 49% likely to come back to your store. However, if you exceed a customer’s expectations, they are 96% likely to return to your store. With those odds, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be striving to exceed your customer’s expectations every time.
How are you engaging with your customers and providing them with an experience they will never forget?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer and writer for the pet industry. Growing up in the pet industry, she has keen insight on market trends and a passion for helping small businesses grow. Her portfolio includes various topics from pet food trends to using technology and marketing strategies to boost pet business sales. When she's not writing articles or working her day job, she's playing with her cat (Chewie), reading a book, or hiking one of Washington's many trails.
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