Doing a Year-End Review

A few months back I wrote about the importance of having a marketing plan for your store. These plans help us identify who our business is, who our target consumers are, who our competition is and how we are going to achieve our goals for the year.

December is a great time to sit down and review that plan as well as the actual marketing activities you participated in for the past 12 months to see if you achieved the goals you set. It is also the perfect time to start planning your goals for next year as you will identify the activities that did very well for you this year and you will most likely want to replicate them again.

You will want to start out by identifying all of the marketing activities you participated in for the year by putting them into a list. Once you have all of the activities listed out, ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers for each one:
•    Did this activity support me in driving new customers to my front door?
•    Did this activity support me in retaining my existing customers?
•    Did this activity increase my store sales and/or daily cash register rings per customer?
•    Did this activity support the brand portfolio my store offers?

Depending on the response to each of these for each of the marketing activities you performed throughout the year, you will either want to continue to do them and incorporate them into your plan for the upcoming year or cancel any further investment in them.

The next thing you will want to do is review the goals you set for each activity. Did they achieve what you set out to achieve? If not, were your goals too aggressive? Or maybe the marketing activity was just not right.

Remember, your goals should always be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, results-driven and timely. It’s ok if you did not hit all of the goals you set, you can certainly fine tune them for the coming year.

Now that you have completed reviewing your individual marketing activities, review the SWOT analysis for your store to make sure it is still applicable. Remember, that one of the most important components of a marketing plan is the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

As part of this process, be sure that you are in tune to what your competitors are doing. You do not want to fall out of touch of your competitive environment. Make sure that you are looking at your competitors down the road as well as the dot-coms. Anybody selling pet food and supplies should be considered a competitor. It is important to complete this regularly as your competitive landscape often changes year to year.

Finally, you are now ready to redeploy your newly designed plan for the New Year. Be sure to include any new marketing activities that you have not done in the past. You don’t want to get stuck doing the same activities just because you are comfortable with them. Being able to compete and claim your share of the market is making sure you are keeping up on the latest marketing techniques.

For details on how to prepare a full marketing plan, please refer back to my article in the August issue of Pet Age.

The Appeal of a Clearance Section in Your Store

What is the appeal of a clearance section in a store? Well, cheap prices for one. It could easily be left at that, but it’s not the whole story. Clearance sales are enticing because people feel like they know they are getting a good deal no matter what. Huge price cuts at 50 percent off, 75 percent off, and even 90 percent off are very enticing to shoppers. Even if the end price is still hefty, if an emphasis is put on how much is saved there’s a sense of victory for the consumer. And, for store owners, clearance sales can often rake in some nice sales dollars to your bottom line. Whether it’s clothing, shoes or pet food, the principles remain the same. So, make sure you are featuring this special section in your store.

Peoples’ drive to get a good deal (or to win a good deal, as the mentality goes) can be used to a business’s advantage, especially when it comes to getting rid of old inventory that might be thrown out otherwise, in order to make space for new products.

Here are some suggestions on how to make a clearance section work for you:
•    Clear out old inventory quickly with price cuts and advertise these cuts
Left over inventory takes up valuable space, and what better way to clear it than to slash prices dramatically and make it the focus of your next big sale? Give a second chance to items that may have been overshadowed by another big release.
•    Bundle things and offer a discount
Bundle deals on toys, different flavors of pet treats, etc. to give people the best deal while moving more product at one time. You can accomplish this by offering a buy-one, get-one on these skus.
•    If product is being discontinued by the vendor, mention that in your signage.
People don’t like missing out on the last chance to get a product. Many customers come to rely on or become fond of certain products, and if they are being discontinued, those who are used to using them may take advantage of the deal and buy them in bulk.
•    Shopping can feel like a competition where in order to win, one must take advantage of the discount.
Use language to encourage this, again emphasizing the “missing out” factor. People feel good when they get a deal.
•    Ask your distributor for close-outs to help design your clearance section.

Many distributors have a discontinued list of skus at a deep discount already, so why not take advantage of buying in on the cheap and making a little bit of extra profit on the sale? With the right products, you can stand to make some decent margins on these types of items. And, if you plan to purchase all that the distributor has on hand (which is sometimes not much), you can typically negotiate a little added discount. Don’t think that you cannot buy these types of items just because you didn’t stock it in your store originally. Think of it as buying these types of items to help design out your clearance section.

Email Marketing Is Still Relevant

With all the focus on social media these days, it’s not hard to forget that certain older ways of communication are still just as effective. In fact, in certain cases they may be even more effective than social media. For example, email marketing provides a unique set of features social media doesn’t, and used in tandem, makes for a solid online marketing force.

If you have a POS system, hopefully you are already in the habit of collecting your customer’s emails and have an email database on file.  Some of the newer POS systems allow you to run email campaigns right from your POS system. But, if your system does not allow this or you wish to use a company that specializes in email campaigns, there are some great options out there for you to choose from.

Constant Contact is an industry-leading service that makes it very easy for you to incorporate email campaigns into your marketing strategy. They have predesigned templates for you to choose from, and they will even train you for free on all of their features. They track the analytics for you in an easy-to-use portal and allow you to customize your messages. You simply load your email list into your account and manage your privacy settings right from there.

Note that having privacy options for your customers is very important and using a service like Constant Contact allows you to adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act which protects consumers from having their email spammed. It says that you have to allow your customers an opt-out feature on your emails, and a service like Constant Contact manages this for you.

Email has more staying power and privacy, among other features that make it important for any modern business to take advantage of it. Here are a few other great reasons why you should implement email marketing into your stores marketing campaign:
•    You can reach a large number of people easily and quickly
•    You can target customers with specific information and promotions that they want to hear about
•    Not all customers use social media but most will have an email address they check at least once a week, and many check it once a day or more
•    Many customers have their phones on them constantly and check email throughout the day- in fact, more than 90 percent of consumers check their email at least once a day
•    Cost-effective
•    Many companies out there offer templates that are already designed for you
•    No postage or materials cost
•    More easily controlled than social media
•    Some social media sites limit the number of posts or messages that can be sent and do not allow mass messaging
•    You can track and measure your email campaigns and see how successful they are
•    Can be used to build trust between you and the customer. You don’t always have to email offers. Use email as a knowledge base to keep customers informed on educational topics like flea/tick or allergies
•    Builds trust to show that subscribers have the freedom cancel any time

A key point that will give you the best results for your email campaigns is to know that those emails that are sent on Saturday or Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. receive the best response. You also want to make sure that you do not send too many emails too close in time – three to four a month is ideal.

The Art of Customer Referrals

A small business must be fiscally conservative when it comes to laying out their marketing budget for the year.

Spreading the word about your business is one important component of your marketing plan that you can do relatively cheaply and, in some cases, for free. The Internet age has made this task much easier than it has ever been in the past, and the power of social media goes a long way in your marketing endeavors. Today, small and large businesses, as well as products and services, live and die by sites like TripAdvisor, Angie’s List and Amazon reviews.

Most importantly, your customers should always have a reason to talk about you. Maybe it is your exceptional pet food knowledge that helped them pick out a food for their allergic cat, maybe it is the fact that you carry out large bags of dog food to your customers’ cars, or maybe it is simply that you remember their dog’s name every time they visit. Whatever the experience is, you want to ask your customers to talk about it to their friends and, more importantly, on social sites.

So, what does it take to get a customer to talk about your business? Incentives.

People enjoy winning and being rewarded. Even small, inexpensive physical rewards can be enticing, such as keychains, that give the customer concrete proof of their achievement to show their friends.

You can institute a program that rewards your current customers for referrals and recommendations that spread the word in exchange for discounts and prizes. Think about the programs that many large companies have in place. If I give my cable account number to a friend and they sign up, both my friend and I get discounts on our monthly plans. Get five friends to sign up and get a free month of pay per view. Rewards can build to keep people continually referring.

Companies from all over, both large and small, know the value of referrals and recommendations. It has been reported that some companies even pay bloggers to write about their products or services, as well as write false product reviews. Although this is not ethical or ideal, it does reinforce how important consumers find peer recommendations, and the time companies are spending on making sure their online reputation is a positive one.

People are already likely to talk about their experiences, positive or negative, but giving customers an extra incentive to do so can jumpstart a loyal customer base. And just like that, at very little cost, your customers will do your marketing for you.

Some stores opt to offer a return customer discount of 10 percent, or a one-time larger discount for a positive comment on a site such as Facebook. Some businesses give a reward to both the referring customer and the new customer. You can make business card-sized referral coupons to accomplish this. You don’t have to offer the program to all customers, you can be selective and only offer it to your most loyal customers, if that is what you choose. Regardless, you should always recognize your most loyal referring customers. They will most likely become even more engaged in your business the more you recognize them.

Ultimately, you want to remember to remind customers all the time about the incentive programs in place. Keep your programs fresh and recognize your top contributors. Be sure to regularly review your social media sites so that you can ensure there are positive comments being made, and respond to your customer base to show that you are engaged and care about their feedback.

Creating and Marketing Your Store’s Brand Identity

Making and keeping consumers aware of your store is one of the backbones of a successful business.

One of the best ways to keep a small business top of mind is to brand it so that it is memorable and instantly recognizable. Gone are the days when taking out a local newspaper ad or listing your store name in the window is enough.

Yes, marketing your store as a brand takes a few extra steps in your marketing planning process, but it is well worth the time and money invested. Not only will it benefit consumers, but it also defines your business to your employees.

When you are developing your store’s identity/brand, be sure to ask yourself who your store caters to, be it a specific type of pet owner, region you are located or product mix that you offer. For example, people who own pets in cities or the countryside, people who want organic products, etc.

Shy away from copying any large store branding, as you want to make sure your store stays differentiated from the big box. As a matter of fact, there have even been some big box stores in our industry trying to sound smaller since there is a bit of a “shop independent” push happening across the country.

Here are a few other basic steps to help get you started:

1. Establish color schemes, taglines, graphics, fonts and tone first. These elements are the groundwork in creating your store’s image.

2. Now, have a logo designed or re-designed. A logo is the foundation of your store’s brand and it will be what people instantly associate your business with. Nowadays, you can easily access graphic artists through online design sites. You simply fill out a request form giving the designer some basic idea (or more detailed direction if you like) of what you are looking for in your logo. Within about a week, you will have several designs to choose from.

Some sites even allow you to only pay if you actually choose a logo. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for and I would recommend picking more than a basic package. For those of you that have a logo already, maybe it is time to freshen it up.

3. Put your logo to work. Once you have a logo (or re-designed logo), make sure it is everywhere: website, social media, store sign, giveaways, shopping bags, email blasts, employee uniforms, etc. Your logo brings store recognition, awareness, and impressions – all of which are important to keep your store top of mind with the consumer.

4. Measure your brand marketing. Making sure your store’s identity is working for you is essential. One of the best ways is to track what drove that customer into your store. This is something typically done easily in your POS system. It will allow you to measure where your customers are coming from as well as track their ongoing purchases, frequency of visits, and responsiveness to your marketing activities like email campaigns and sales.

Now that you have put the hard work into establishing your brand identity, be sure to use it in all of your marketing activities – it is just as important as the name on the door. Be proud of building upon it and getting the awareness your store deserves.

What Does a POS System Do for You?

A quick, sleek, easy-to-use POS, or point of sale, system allows a business to quickly process transactions in a world where things are expected to move faster and faster, and consumers are expecting technologically advanced in-store experiences.

It also allows you to make your business earth-friendly by eliminating paper, which in turn lowers costs to you. A streamlined system allows all aspects of sales to be overseen and it makes it far more convenient to track sales and promotions, and keep prices and inventory consistent across multiple locations, if necessary.

A POS also helps to identify strengths and weaknesses, what sells well and what should be taken off the shelves. Another huge positive is that many POS systems have mobile capabilities that lets shoppers make purchases from anywhere in the store, rather than at cash registers only. This allows your staff to engage more closely with your customers, ultimately allowing for more upsell opportunities.

In the end, when shopping for a POS system, look for it to hit on the below points:

•A good point of sale makes it easy to see everything; your inventory, your customers, your sales and transaction history and your purchase orders. It eliminates guesswork and lets you know where all of your inventory and money is.

•Purchase orders are processed for you, a key to saving you time. You should be able to have an order easily generated for email, fax or other electronic format.

•Powerful analysis tools are crucial for understanding your business’s strengths and weaknesses. Break down top and bottom sellers by product type, category, brand, etc.

•Point of sale with mobile capabilities let you engage with customers and close transactions anywhere in the store, letting you close sales quickly and personally.

•Customer-management tools are crucial for remembering important details about your clients, including the breed of their pets, preferences and restrictions, and purchase history.

When shopping for a new POS system, it is always good to ask around to see what other businesses may be using. Trade shows are a good place to network with other pet store owners about these types of things. Another good reference point may also be your distributor’s sales rep, because they get to talk to many small-business owners that are just like you and oftentimes know what systems work the best for their customers.

Once you have your selections narrowed down, ask for references and be sure to call each of them. It is also beneficial to do some research online.

There are a number of sites that offer reviews on many systems. Just be sure to check who the site owner is, because you want to make sure the site is not biased toward any one system.

Targeting the Dream Demographic

The millennial demographic has been changing the way businesses market in general.

This demographic is so important to understand since they are considered America’s next big shoppers and are over 86 million people strong. Although the exact ages vary depending on where you look, this group is typically comprised of those born from anywhere in the late 1970s to early ‘80s, to around 2001. They typically don’t have religious ties, they are not likely to be married and they have liberal views toward current social topics.

These demographics, for marketers and businesses, are all very different from the baby boomers who brands have been tailoring their marketing to for many years. Millenials are larger by size and have more money to spend than their predecessors, and are now the new dream target demographic.

Millenials, if at all, barely remember life without the Internet and they certainly don’t go a day without it. They are the reason that businesses are on Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter and, thanks to smart phones and tablets, they are constantly connected to them. Recently, marketers have figured out that millenials place a tremendous amount of weight on peer reviews over any other source of opinion, including professionals.

This means that a millennial will trust their friend’s dog food recommendation over a veterinarian’s recommendation. This is very powerful information.

So now the question is how do you target this demographic.

As a retailer or brand, you have to make sure you are in their “space” at all times, however, you can’t be overwhelming. If you are looking to get started at targeting this demographic, make sure you at least have a Facebook page and be sure that you are actively posting and responding to your fans. You will want to post meaningful content that allows people to engage with your business.

For example, a store could ask what treat their pet likes the best or why they like to give their pet a treat. These types of posts will stir up responses and discussions.

Be sure to post the recommended three times a week, and also be sure to ask for people to like your page. You can do this by periodically posting offers on Facebook and advertising them to your customers while they are in store. Why not pick the fan favorite of your weekly polls and put them on sale?

Facebook also offers some great advertising options. They recently did a nice job tweaking their advertising platform and have now given advertisers, including small businesses, the ability to target specific demographics. If you have some advertising dollars in your budget, I definitely suggest spending a good amount of them here.

When it comes to the other social sites, I would suggest getting involved with as many as you can. Not all of them require you to pay, they all have something different to offer, and they’re all beneficial to small businesses.

Jessica Farina-Morris

10 Marketing Ideas for Your Store

In the world of competing digitally with the dot-coms and big-box retailers, you have to think outside of the box on ways to drive consumers to your store. Consumers are looking for an experience when they shop and they often start the process digitally. So for this article, I have decided to list some ways that I have either seen, thought of, or heard of when it comes to some great consumer-driving activities.

Pet Caricature Portrait Day

People love their pets and they love having pictures of them. A caricature is a great and unusual variation of a picture that most people don’t already have.  How do you find a local caricature artist?  I would take to Craigslist under services.

You would work a deal with the artist to either split the fee or at least collect a portion of it, and, of course, you will also want to throw in an in-store offer to incent the customer to buy or come back.

Charity Days

Get involved with local charities and help support them by donating a portion of your proceeds to their cause. This is a great way to build awareness of your store, as well as give back to something good. Keep in mind that the charity does not always have to be pet related.

Local Home Shows

Home shows are fantastic for meeting a large number of people in a short amount of time. You will want to make sure that you have something to give away with your store information on it, so the consumer remembers you.

A good suggestion would be some doggy doo bags. They are cheap and will last for a long time. There are many promotional sites online that you could choose from.

Use Your Sidewalks

If you have a sidewalk immediately in front of your store, use it to place a rack or two of merchandise out there. Make sure it is something interesting, like toys, so that people are intrigued to come look.

Outside racks are also great for capturing people’s eyes, thus building awareness. Use balloons to draw more attention.

Host a Pet Parade and Contest

This is a great way to build awareness for your store, since the press loves these types of stories.  You would host the parade and then give awards out after. Ask for a couple of your patrons to judge, which enhances your relationship with them.

Have fun with it and be sure to give out gift cards to your store as prizes.  Don’t forget to also contact the local press.

Host a Dog Walk

Just like a 5k, hold it in a local park, and send the proceeds to a local shelter.

Shop Local Guide

Group together with some other local independent stores in your area and put this guide together. Shopping local is a mantra that we are starting to hear more and more about. Banding together as local independent stores and advertising the benefits of shopping local will only help.

Farmers Markets

Attend your local farmers market in a booth, because it supports the shop local point above. The farmer’s market shopper typically likes to support local businesses and this will allow you to hyper-target that type of consumer.

Low-Cost Vaccination Clinics

Offering vaccinations is a great way to try to lure in those consumers that may be shopping at big boxes or in grocery stores. If you have a loss leader brand, now would be the time to advertise your price on that brand versus the big box to show the consumer that you are competitively priced.

At a minimum, you should have two events going on in your store each month. If you can handle one every weekend, that is ideal.  Be sure to advertise on your website, social media, mobile marketing, email or any other way possible. Your events will only be successful if you drive people to them.  Once you have a customer in your store, service and experience is what will bring them back.

Testing Your Marketing Strategies

Identifying what is driving your customers into your store is a great way to assess what marketing activities are working for you.

The best way to evaluate this is to ask your customers how they heard about your store.  If you have a POS system that has an area to store customer information, you should be able to store a code right in there.  It is often called a source code.  If you don’t have a place to store this in your system, simply use a notebook to capture the information and then transfer it into a program like Microsoft Excel so you can keep track of it easily.

Whether you track the information on paper or in a computer, the most important part to this whole exercise is to make sure your staff is asking each and every customer during the check-out process, “How did you hear about us?”

It is essential that you are getting steady data. One idea is to run an internal contest among your staff to see who has the best percentage of recording source codes and award the winner with a coffee gift card each month.  If you have a POS system, this type of contest could be easily tracked based on check-outs by store employee.

To get this exercise started, you will want to develop a list of all of the marketing activities that you participate in and attach a code to each of them.  For example, a postcard mailing that you participated in with a certain publication could be coded PC1, and another postcard mailing that you participated in with another advertiser could be PC2.

Be sure to have a code for each specific campaign and also add codes for a walk-in customer, repeat customer, and word of mouth.  Be sure to also give a good description of each source code so you can remember what the specific marketing activity was.

Once you have a good base of information, typically about a month’s worth, you can begin to do some analysis as well as rank which methods or sources drive the most and fewest customers to your store.

Typically, repeat customers will be at the top of your list, and tracking this number month-to-month allows you to see if you are losing repeat customers.

Now compare all of the other source codes.  Be sure to pinpoint any that have zero sources. What do these activities cost you?  If there is no cost, then you may decide to keep them. However if you are not seeing any results and there is a cost, you will want to reassess and decide if these are the right activities.

For those activities that seem to be driving in the most customers, you will also want to calculate how much these activities cost you.  Just because they have the highest activity, does not mean they are the right long-term plan for your store.

As you dive into the various data that this information will provide, you will be able to make better decisions on what should be included in your store’s marketing plan.

If you have any suggestions or requests for marketing topics, please email me.  I look forward to writing on topics that you most want to hear about.

Are You Carrying the Right Product Mix?

There is definitely no shortage of food or supply lines that you could choose to carry in your store.  As a matter of fact, it can sometimes be overwhelming when trying to decide which brands to carry.

Overall as a basic principle, the brands in your store should be brands that are being asked for by name by your customers.  And, more importantly, those brands on your shelves should be making you a profit.  One caveat to this would be the loss leader, oftentimes it is a good practice to have brands that you price lower than your cost because they are traffic drivers.

You may not make a profit on the sale, but you are reaping the rewards of being able to sell that customer other products and potentially turning them into a loyal, repeat customer.

Another important element to product mix is to make sure that you have plenty of inventory on your shelves. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. retailers lose $45 billion in sales from not having enough inventory in stock.

Today’s consumers expect to be able to walk into a store at any time and find the product that they are looking for.  Be sure you don’t miss out on that sale because chances are, if they were satisfied, they will return to your store again.

When evaluating which brands you want to carry, you should ask the vendor or distributor rep about the brands advertising activities as well as what consumer driving programs are in place.  You also want to make sure that you have the right brands that offer various solution-based formulas.  For example, weight conscious, skin/coat problems, grain free, limited ingredient diet, etc.

When it comes to pricing your product mix, be sure to analyze turns as much as you analyze margin.  The highest margin items are not always the best profit makers in your store.  Many people forget that inventory turns are just as important.  Take a look at the graphic below that explains the importance of inventory turns.

Aside from margin, turns, consumer programs, and inventory availability, be sure to also stay in touch with your local market and what trends, niches, or brand followings are emerging.  Local tastes, flavors, and preferences should always play a role in your product mix selection.

Getting Into the Mobile Marketing Groove

Customer retention is extremely important to small businesses.  The cost to retain a current customer is seven times less than trying to obtain a new one.

Mobile marketing is the latest technology that supports your customer retention initiatives and it also increases the number of store visits your customer makes.  Companies both large and small are incorporating mobile marketing into their marketing plans.

In the U.S., smartphones are owned by over 125 million people.  And, this year more than 50 percent of adult internet users, or approximately 102 million people will redeem a digital coupon while shopping.

Traditional means of communicating offers out to customers, like un-targeted couponing, usually show a redemption rate of around 1 to 2 percent, while mobile redemptions are 17 to 30 percent.  This is because you are hyper-targeting your customer that has opted to receive a message from your store.

This year, mobile is slated to frog leap the desktop computer when it comes to internet use so now is the time to get your store on a plan.  And, if you needed another reason to be persuaded, mobile marketing is easy and cheap.

There are a few different ways to use mobile- some companies design apps while others are prospering with simple SMS (text message) programs.  When choosing a program that is right for your store, you will want to make sure it supports your initiatives.

You want an easy to use program that allows you to communicate offers to your consumers thus driving them into your store more frequently.  You will also want to make sure that the program does not “spam” your customers or become bothersome to them. Typically, you do not want to send more than one text message a week to your customer.

Once you have a mobile marketing partner selected, you will start off by advertising the program at the register, on your website and social media, as well as any print marketing that you are doing.  Most importantly, be sure your employees understand the program and are talking about it with every customer.  They should be letting the customer know that they will receive un-advertised special deals and that you will not be spamming their phone.

To get your mobile club started, you typically offer a one-time deal to your customer to get them to opt into your mobile program-something like 10 percent off their purchase. This is the time referred to as building your club and is thought of as your investment period.

Ongoing, you will now need to communicate store offers no more than weekly and no less than three times a month. Mobile works best when it is used on a regular basis.  You want to keep your store top of mind with your customers and communicating out weekly has been found to be the best way to do this.  Keep in mind that your weekly store deal does not always have to be a discount off of product; you can also offer a discount on services like grooming or photos.

In the end, one of the most important things to understand is that your mobile program will take time to build, but if it is done right, it will allow you to easily compete with the big box stores.  You are investing time and money into this so make sure you are placing the importance on it that it deserves, and also make sure your employees understand the importance as well.

Mobile is a necessity in order to compete, and most of your customers will welcome it.

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