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Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

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They say that finding your perfect match is hard, but as retailers know, finding the perfect pet for a customer may be even harder.

When a customer comes in, they may have no idea what type of animal they want. It is important to not just ask the customer questions, but to ask the right questions. While customers may know, or think they know, what they want, it is still important to make sure that pet matches that person.

The same theory goes for an adoption event being held at a store. Pairing a dog or cat with the correct owner is a very important step of the adoption process.

“My advice to adoption event hosts and to retailers helping out in finding the right adoptable dogs is this: Listen to the family’s desires and consider what general type of dog they are looking for,” Sarah Brasky, The Dog Matchmaker, a dog adoption and foster specialist, said. “When it comes to getting a new dog, it’s all about personality and finding the right match.”

Brasky goes on to say that if a person suggests they want a Labrador or Retriever-type dog, it could be a signal that they may want an eager-to-please family-friendly dog.

“Another bit of advice I would share [is to] leave breed stereotypes at the door, and focus on the specific animal in front of you,” Brasky said. “When attending an adoption event, meeting animals ‘in person’ makes a world of difference, rather than basing an opinion on a photograph.”

It’s a big step when someone decides to get a pet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog, cat, lizard or fish.

“Getting a new dog is a big commitment,” Brasky said. “There are many options when getting a dog: Young, old, small, large, long hair, short hair, etc.”

Retailers can help facilitate this process by educating themselves on the characteristics of some of the most popular breeds, and working with local groups to learn the proper questions to ask.

Reptiles

The reptile category is a large one because there are so many options. Such as lizards and snakes to tortoises and frogs.

Loren Leigh, president of LLLReptile & Supply Co. Inc., said a great question to start off with when speaking to customers is, “What is their expectation of what they are buying?”

“I would say a good half have no idea what animal they want,” Leigh said. “They are fascinated by reptiles, they know somebody who has one or they heard something about it,” she says, adding that a customer might even be influenced by a movie, such as “Rango.” And then it comes back to helping the customer decide what type of animal they really want.

Reptiles are unique in the sense that they can appeal to several different types of people. If the customer would like to hold it and handle it, there are options for that. If the customer has smaller children that want to be able to handle the animal, there are options for that, as well as choices for customers who just want the pet to sit on their desk.

“I would say the biggest question, or the most common one, is how big of a space are they willing to dedicate to what they are buying because most of the reptiles people are buying are at their baby state,” Leigh said. “Let’s say, narrowing down, that I just want a tortoise for my backyard. … Then diving into that same question a little further, ‘How big of an area do you have? Do you live near the beach? Do you live in the desert?’ Once you get a picture of what their overall situation is, you can narrow down the animals.”

Tina Scheben, the owner of Repxotica, said the first thing she asks customers is if they are willing to feed them live insects.

“That will steer you in the right direction of which animal is right for them,” Scheben said. “You would be surprised how many people want a reptile but don’t want to feed them crickets or anything that moves. They want it to be vegetarian to some degree. Having those people in mind, if they are not willing to feed insects, it will limit their choices drastically.”

Past that, Scheben said the next big question to ask is if they have younger children and, more importantly, if their children are the ones that will want to handle the animal.

“Depending on the age of the children, I would stick with the bearded dragon or a gecko,” Scheben said. “[Get] something that isn’t going to bite them, and can handle being handled; The kids can pick them up, they aren’t going to take off, they are friendly and 99 percent of the time they will not bite.

“Then you have other reptiles like Monitor Lizards that if you walk into my store with a 3-year-old, I would be like, ‘No way.’ You have got to fit the animal to the person.”

Bearded Dragons are somewhat considered the dog of the reptile world, according to Scheben.

“They are very friendly, they want to associate with people, you walk into the room and they will run to the end of the tank waiting for you to feed them,” Scheben said.

The last two constraints that Scheben brought up were with space and the kind of budget a person has. While there are some reptiles that need a 6 foot cage or bigger, others can fit in a 1 foot cage that sits on a desk. Typically, a customer will bring up the space constraints when they first speak to a retailer.

When it comes to budget, there is a wide array of choices with reptiles. There are cheaper reptiles and more expensive reptiles that can affect how big of an enclosure they have, which can also cost more.

“People that are experienced with reptiles know exactly what they want,” Scheben said. “People that come in with kids, they have no idea what they want. We steer them into the direction of what they may want because this will be easier for you. Sometimes we show them two or three things that we think will be the best fit for them, but they really like the other thing.”

Questions to Ask

Michael Griffith, the account executive at Segrest Farms, said that when it comes to pairing customers with animals, the retailer should make it their responsibility to thoroughly understand the needs and wants of the customer, and to ensure there are staff members who are familiar with the care of every animal offered for sale.

While the specific line of questioning will be different depending on what animals they are looking at, there are some good starting points.

“Do you want something that is handleable?,” Griffith said. “For many people, not looking for fish, at least, the answer to this is likely to be yes. This is a great starting point for steering the customer towards certain animals and away from others.”

When it comes to fish, space is a large issue consumers must consider.

“You need enough tank space to support the fish you buy once they reach adult size,” Griffith said. “[This] can be extraordinarily challenging for a number of species commonly available, such as Redtail Catfish, Pacu and Iridescent Sharks.”

If a customer is buying a fish, ask them for details about their aquarium, such as their tank size, filtration, how long it has been running, water chemistry details and what other fish the customer already has. This is vital in order to be able to make suggestions on what tank mates might work well, what should be avoided, or advise if the tank is overstocked and shouldn’t hold any more fish.

Finally, ask the customer if they can accommodate the specific needs for the animal.

“This is one area where you hope the customer has done research on the animal, but you should always ensure that they know the specific requirements before they purchase the animal,” Griffith said. “Issues such as keeping an elevated salinity for a brackish fish, whether or not UV light should be supplied for a specific lizard, what temperature the enclosure should be kept at, and how to handle humidity and ventilation are all vital to successfully keeping certain animals.”

The final thing Griffith said is to not be afraid to say no to the customer.

“It can be easy to get into the mindset that if a customer says that they want to buy something, you should just sell it to them,” Griffith said. “However, if that animal doesn’t fulfill the customer’s desires, or if the customer is unable to provide the necessary care for it, don’t be afraid to tell the customer that they probably shouldn’t get that animal and explain the reasoning why.

“It is not uncommon for new fish customers to get discouraged and quit keeping fish because they bought a tank and a lot of fish to go in it, only to have the fish all die from aggression problems or ammonia poisoning. By helping your customers avoid this, they will respect your honesty and you will develop trust with your customer, leading to a more loyal, long-term relationship.”

There are similar questions that should be asked when it comes to small animals. Many times parents think little, furry creatures like a hamster would make great start pets for their children, but they need to be prepared that just because they are small, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily easier to care for.

Denice Fishette, customer service manager for Marshall Pet Products, suggested retailers ask customers questions such as if they have the income to support the care of the pet and what other pets they already may own.

She also suggested asking them what they already know, and don’t know.

For example, if someone came into a store asking about ferrets, she suggested asking them what they already know about the animal, its care and the commitment it takes to raise one.

No matter what the animal, retailers should be prepared to help their customers pick the one that best fits their lifestyle and will create a positive experience for both the animal and owner.

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