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May 8, 2019

BY AMY CASTRO

The starting cost of a Superbowl ad in 2019 was more than $5 million and big companies forked it over without blinking an eye. However, most independent pet businesses have small or nonexistent marketing budgets, so they have to get creative. Although many business owners have made social media a big part of their marketing efforts, there are other great options for attracting your target audience without breaking the bank.

Create Strategic Partnerships

Creating a partnership with another organization or business is a great way for both parties to double their marketing impact. Beke Lubeach, general manager of Dog TV, ran her own marketing company for more than seven years. She says, “Pet retailers who create partnerships with shelters and rescues gain access to those groups’ donor base.” She added that hosting events for them will help draw these groups’ supporters into your business.

Other examples of strategic partnerships include partnerships with businesses whose product or service compliments yours. Geralynn Cada-Ragan is a dog trainer and pet necessities manufacturer.

“Creating strategic partnerships allows you to enhance each other’s entire portfolio,” she said, also recommending combining forces with a compatible business, where both parties can promote each other’s products or services. For example, a retail store might partner with a dog trainer to offer training classes at their location, or with a local pet photographer who would be on site for special events or during the holidays to take themed photos of customers’ pets. Lubeach echoed the benefits of a relationship with a pet photographer. She added, “Not only is it mutually beneficial for you and the photographer, but it’s also a way for both of you to give back to your customers.”

However, before forming a partnership it’s important to do your homework. A good partnership must have its terms outlined in advance, so that both parties know what’s expected of them and to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial. It doesn’t help your business to host an event for a partner rescue group only to have the group refer your customer to another business, whose prices are less than yours. It also doesn’t help a rescue group get pets adopted when you’re only willing to host an adoption event on a Sunday at 10 a.m. when that’s the slowest day of the week and time for your business.

Host Special Events

Special events are a great way to get more people through your doors. Inviting your existing customers will give them a reason to come in when they might not have normally stopped by.

“Hold a customer appreciation day and have your vendors come out with special products for your customers,” said Lubeach, adding that holding a VIP event just for top customers works well because people like to feel they’re part of something exclusive.

Most people already host special events for traditional holidays such as Christmas, but consider hosting events for other, non-traditional “holidays” such as National Puppy Day or National Raw Feeding Week.

Lubeach says hosting Meet Ups and “Yappy Hours” are also good ways to get more customers through your doors. However, identifying your target audience is critical when planning such events. If your target audience is Millennials, a weeknight “Yappy Hour” or an educational event on pet nutrition might be a great idea. However, if your target audience is young families, a weekend afternoon event that includes kid-friendly activities will be more likely to bring them in.

To be successful, events should have a clear and specific purpose, otherwise, you’ll have no way to know if your event was a success. Is success defined by the number of people who come through the door, by how many people sign up for your customer invitation list or by same-day sales? Only you can decide. You also need to identify what your customers will gain by attending. If you can’t communicate the value, they’re not going to show up.

Finally, events are a good chance to get free publicity for your business. Provide flyers to other local businesses and ask their help in promoting your event. Additionally, be sure to send the information to your local media. A customer appreciation event will likely be turned down by the media because they’d expect you to buy an ad for such an event. However, if you’re hosting an adoption event or will have a vet onsite to give low-cost vaccines or free microchips to customers, they may run the information for you for free.

Traditional Media

Depending on your business’s location, a traditional television or radio ad might not only break the budget, but could also be a waste money.

“Television ads are expensive and their audience is too broad, so you’re unlikely to effectively reach your target audience,” Lubeach said. She recommends those in major metropolitan areas look into promotional opportunities with local cable television providers. “A ‘tune in’ on the Animal Planet channel could be a great way to hit a large but targeted market,” she says.  A “tune in” basically announces you as the sponsor of a program on that channel, such as “Tune in to ‘My Cat from Hell’ tonight at 6 p.m. on Animal Planet. Brought to you by the Bone Jour Café.”

Cada-Ragan says she’s had great luck getting support from local TV and radio stations. “Most TV and radio stations are required to have a certain amount of PSA (public service announcement) time. I’m a big fan of pitching a good cause to television and radio or to get a plug in for special events,” she says.

Build Your Reputation

One of the most overlooked marketing tools you have available to you is you and your staff! As a communication expert and trainer, I can’t stress enough the importance of excellent customer service and the need to hold regular customer service and communication training. It only takes one bad experience to lose a customer and have that customer tell everyone he or she knows about it. Also, with so many online rating and ranking sites out there, customers have the ability to share their bad experience with the entire world.

Additionally, never forget that you’re representing your brand, whether you’re inside your business or out in the community.

“Take every opportunity to promote your business and your brand,” Cada-Reagan said. “Wear your logo when you’re out, not just when you’re in your store. Smile and always demonstrate a positive attitude. When you do, people will be drawn to you.”

Finally, build your reputation as a business that cares by getting involved in your community. Participating in your city’s dog park fundraiser or animal shelter advisory committee shows your commitment to your community and to pets. You’ll also find that many community activities get a significant amount of publicity, which means your business will receive recognition for being a part of them.

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