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March 1, 2019

BY: AMY CASTRO

As the president of a nonprofit animal rescue group, I know the value of having a relationship with a pet retailer. Since our rescue is located in a rural location, we don’t get a lot of visitors out here. Being able to bring our animals to a retail location increases their adoption chances because of the foot traffic and advertising a retail partner can provide.

Retailers have also been extremely generous with donations to the rescue and to the local shelters we support. However, the retailer’s relationship with a shelter or rescue isn’t just a one-way street. Retailers who partner with rescues and shelters also benefit from the relationship.

More Foot Traffic for Your Location

Having regular customers frequent your business is great, but many businesses struggle with attracting new customers. Having adoptable pets on-site, whether they’re housed with you or are just there for an adoption event, gives people who aren’t familiar with your business a reason to come in. It can also give regular customers a reason to keep stopping by, which keeps your business “front of mind.”

Courtney Roos, manager of Petapalooza Pet Supply and Grooming in Seattle, says her store partners with several different area rescues by hosting adoption events at the store.

“We do events year-round. In summer, we do about two or three events a month. The holidays are also a good time to host events.”

She says events draw in visitors who haven’t been to the store and give her the opportunity to start creating a customer relationship. Sophie Phillips, owner of Sprocket & Stone, a Chicago pet retail boutique, fosters cats in her store for a local community group called Hyde Park Cats. She says it has definitely increased foot traffic.

“People work hard and they’re stressed out,” Phillips said. “Being greeted by our foster cats puts a smile on their faces. Some of my customers will come in sometimes just to see the cats.”

More Sales

Getting more people through your doors is great, but once they come in, you have to convert them from visitor to customer. Take advantage of the time a potential customer is in your store visiting adoptable animals to give them a reason to buy from you then and in the future. Creating special offers or coupons just for adopters is a great way to increase sales at the time of adoption and beyond.

“There’s definitely a benefit to my business in increased sales,” Phillips said. “One of the things I do is offer 10 percent off to Hyde Park Cat fosters. This keeps them shopping with us rather than going to bigger retailers. Many of our adopters continue to shop with us as well because we’ve established relationships with them from the start.”

Mellisa Raposo, who owns Mellisa’s Pet Depot in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, created coupon books for adoption events.

“Having a coupon book that includes things like $5 off a bag of food or a free first grooming is a great way to get adopters to keep coming back to your store. It can turn a one-time visitor into a lifelong customer and it really builds customer loyalty.”

Educating customers on your products and helping them identify the ones that are best for their pets is another way to increase sales when you have adoptable animals on-site. Roos says adoption events provide her a great opportunity to help new pet parents get off to a great start with products they’ll need, especially food.

“We’re a very nutrition-focused store, so having the customer right here with their new pet is a great time to explain the benefits of a healthy diet and guide them to the right food,” she explained.

Free Publicity for Your Business

Whether your business has a big social media following or not, partnering with a shelter or rescue can increase your exposure to new audiences. Phillips says her affiliation with Hyde Park Cats has benefited her greatly due to the group’s social media presence.

“They have a huge social media following,” she said. “And they always make sure they mention us and promote us as their partner in the neighborhood.”

Beyond social media, the work you do with shelters and rescues can also get you publicity in traditional media outlets for free. Rather than paying for an ad in your local newspaper, try writing up a news release about the adoption event you’re hosting or the fact that you have adoptable animals at your store. Depending on the size of your community and the publication’s need for news, the newspaper might just run your release “as is” or they could send out a reporter or photographer to cover your event.

Raposo shared that Mellisa’s Pet Depot has received a lot of positive publicity over the years for their work with the New Bedford Coalition for Animals. Although Raposo is now president of the coalition, even before she was president, she says being affiliated with the group was good public relations for her business.

“People like to hear when a business is helping in the community, especially when they’re helping in a way that’s related to their business,” explained Raposo, adding that she no longer hosts adoption events at her retail location because of strict animal quarantine laws in Massachusetts, but her business still gets great publicity for their support of community events like their city’s annual Petfest and Walk for Animals. “This is the 20th year for Petfest and we’re a big part of the event as a sponsor. It gets our name out there a lot, not only with publicity for the event, but because the event puts us in front of the 500 to 800 people who attend each year.”   

Build a Reputation as a Community Partner, Not Just a Retail Store

Many retailers who partner with rescues and shelters feel that doing so has allowed them to build a relationship as a partner in the community doing something positive, rather than just a store selling products. They say this shift in how people see their businesses has a positive impact on their bottom line.

Phillips’ involvement with Hyde Park Cats began because she wanted to become a foster for the group.

“I personally wanted to become a foster myself, but I have two dogs and three cats of my own at home, so that wasn’t an option,” she noted. “However, I had my retail space and thought, ‘What better opportunity is there than to have friendly, adoptable cats greet my customers at my store?’”

She says having the cats in the store gives people a positive feeling about her business and gives her store a community feel that makes people want to visit instead of just coming in, buying and then leaving.

“The bottom line is that people like to frequent businesses that are involved in the community,” Raposo said.

Her community involvement has even earned her business recognition by her city, and in 2017 they received a proclamation for their “amazing dedication to animals and outstanding commitment to animal events in the community.”

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