One omnipresent question for any store in this brave new age is: “How do you set yourself apart?” When an average consumer can just hop online and shop from any number of online storefronts, how does a single local store set itself apart and maintain a continued stream of happy, satisfied customers?
There have been answers upon answers to this question over the years — many of which we’ve attempted to address in this column. However, the fundamental underlying stratagem falls back upon one single concept: knowledge. Your customers need it. You, as a keeper of animals, need it. And, more than anything, you need to be able to disseminate knowledge through your staff, through your customers and through your own marketing presence. It’s not enough to claim to be the “experts” on a given subject; you need to be able to demonstrate your expertise in this area by sharing accurate, timely and relevant knowledge with all parties involved.
Research tends to be one of those areas where everyone considers themselves a master. The ability to simply type in a subject into your preferred search engine and instantly get several million results has created a world in which many people can style themselves an expert simply by reading the first few Google results. However, we simultaneously live in a world in which pretty much anyone can register a domain and have a website up and running in a matter of hours, full of all manner of erroneous or even deliberately misleading information. Being able to properly research information is a skill — one that requires practice, critical thinking and proper verification.
When gathering information for your staff or customers, look first for reputable sources. PIJAC (the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council), the AZA (American Zoological Association) or the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) all provide great starting points when gathering information on the care of animals, quality food sources and other vital health information on all manner of species. However, these are not the only reputable sources available. Look carefully at which website you use and how they gather information. Vet your sources carefully for bias — while many reputable sites do their best to avoid bias (or carefully segregate opinion-centric articles from ones purely demonstrating facts), others do not, and clearly have a given agenda. A given company, obviously, wants you to purchase their products before all others. Once you can keep those internal biases in mind, it becomes much easier to discern the differences between a reliable and an unreliable source of information.
When downloading or creating care sheets for both store use and for your customers, demonstrate where you pulled your information from. This can be something as simple as a citation, showing where and from whom your information came. Concurrently, you may want to refer your customers directly to your sources, thereby demonstrating to them that you’ve carefully vetted your sources and are working from current, accurate information.
Being able to tell a prospective customer that, “PIJAC recommends using X product for this species, as it provides the best possible health benefits for them,” shows that you have done your due diligence and can serve as the expert on the spot on that subject. When that customer walks away, they become all the more likely to come back, because you’ve demonstrated your knowledgeability on the subject matter; you’ve likely earned a repeat customer.
The advent of CBD and other cannabinoid-based products provide a perfect opportunity to implement this sort of research methodology into your store. Certainly, there exists a degree of controversy about these products, and their health benefits are not fully understood by many in the community at large. However, as you begin stocking these items in your store, you have the opportunity to provide your customers and staff with accurate, current information that they may have never even thought to examine in the past. Positioning yourself as an authority on this subject can provide you a continual, loyal customer stream who defer to your expertise in care for their animals. Being able to provide AVMA fact sheets or the bullet points from (or the links to) a PIJAC webinar shows that your store is up-to-date, and ready to provide new solutions for your customers’ pets.
At a time in history where “alternative facts” exist as a concept and truth seems to be hard to come by, proper research technique on your part can be the difference between providing your customers a vital service and misleading them. And, as always, the care of animals should always remain our foremost goal. Knowing how to best care for your animals and how to best convey that information to our customers will always be the ultimate aim. Solid research simply shows you how to do it.
John Mack is the founder and CEO of Reptiles by Mack. He is also the chair of the Pet Advocacy Network board of directors and is on the Pet Advocacy Network’s Zoonosis Committee. His Ohio-based company is widely recognized as one of the largest reptile breeders and suppliers in the U.S.A. today.