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October 13, 2015

A pet retailer can view community involvement as a selfless endeavor or as a highly effective marketing tactic. That same pet retailer could also take another view and realize the two definitions don’t contradict each other at all.

It’s a Win-Win

To make sense of that, think about the basic business challenge of any retailer: To get people in the door. Once they’re in, you want to maximize sales, excel at customer service and more. It’s interesting to note that none of that has a chance to happen until you get customers to walk in.

People shop with who they know—not necessarily know personally, but know as a familiar part of the community, like the retailer that sponsors the Little League team, provides premiums for the Fourth of July parade or provides space for a community meeting. Members of the community understand that specific retailer is invested in the community’s well-being. It makes a difference when they think about where they should go to get their dog food, cat treats or fish accessories.

Community involvement has undoubtable marketing value. It doesn’t have to be done in a crass, self-serving way in order to have that value be realized. There are simple things that any pet retailer can do that will both benefit the community and send the message that this is retailer deserves the trust of prospective customers.

Possible Approaches

Make the store available for community gatherings or educational events. This can be especially effective if it concerns something related to pet ownership. A store could serve as host to a class on vaccinations or could serve as the site for a local vet to vaccinate, perhaps for a discounted price. It’s easy for your customers to come to a central location for vaccines and similar things and it’s something you already know many of them will need.

That said, the use of the store doesn’t have to be for something related to pet ownership. The store could host a city council meeting or an after-hours networking event for business people. That will get people in the door who might otherwise never come and it gives you a top-of-mind presence in the attention of local business leaders.

Sponsor a high profile organization. Every community has organizations that bring together neighbors and families. If Ray’s Pet Products sponsors a team in the local Little League, then Ray’s is going to be seen not only by the kids and parents connected to that team, but also by all the other teams who play Ray’s during the course of the season. Many youth sports leagues also offer the option of an advertising sign at the local field. If it’s not baseball you’re into, how about soccer, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or a local parade? How about a community run to raise money for cancer research? All of these would be worthwhile to do even if you got no marketing benefit at all. But you’d get plenty.

Have your team lead a volunteer effort. Be creative. Is there a park that needs to be mowed? Does a roadside need to be cleaned up? Maybe a wall is covered with graffiti and it needs to be washed off. Put store t-shirts on your employees and send them out to take care of it. Better yet, organize an effort to have other businesses join you. How many needs could you identify in your community just by driving around and taking notes?

You could consider asking your employees to do it on their own time, but you wouldn’t regret sending them off to do it while they’re on the clock. The goodwill this sort of thing earns for a store is worth far more than whatever that hourly wage will cost you.

Community involvement, if done right, will benefit the store in the form of “earned media” (also known as getting your name in the paper without paying for it), but even more so in the form of appreciation from ordinary people. It doesn’t convince them to buy a particular product nor pay a particular price, but remember, you’ve got to get them in the door before that can happen. Community involvement helps a retailer pass a test consumers often apply—even if only subconsciously—of wanting to shop with people who have proven themselves committed to those around them.

And of course, a lot of people hear your name and form an impression of who might have otherwise never done so. What’s that worth? In the retail business, it’s almost always worth more than whatever it costs you to do it.

So do it.

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