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January 5, 2015

In our changing industry, it is more important than ever to define what makes your independent business special. The big box stores advertise more than you do, the internet stores sells for less than you do and chain stores have more locations and are more convenient than you are. So what can you do to compete with all of that?

The one thing the above entities don’t offer is specific knowledge about the pets and the products that help the customer experience a better outcome with their animal companion.

You might think that the internet would be a good source for knowledge but the average person seeking specific information about their specific pet or products will be flooded with all sorts of input that may or may not be based upon experience or even be relevant to their needs. That is the independent store’s opportunity to build a bond with their customers.

It’s my belief that the secret to beating the big companies is to specialize in something. It might be aquatics or reptiles or dog training but if you have a specialty that you have real world experience in, your customers will appreciate you more than just as a retail outlet for products and come back again because they trust you. I’ve visited stores that from all outward appearances wouldn’t necessarily seem to be able to thrive but once you’ve walked into the store you know instantly that they are committed to the category they specialize in and that their customers know it.

An example of this is a store in Bellingham, Wash. that appears to be a feed store, yet the majority of their pets and products are aquatic. They are especially known for being very knowledgeable in natural planted tanks, but with a name like Clark’s Feed & Seed, you would never suspect that unless someone told you. And that’s exactly why they are so successful; they get the word of mouth recommendations from their customers for the knowledge they dispense. The store sells dog food and other pet supplies but the customer base comes in for the aquatic expertise and specific variety of aquatic products offered.

Part of the the beauty of being an independent store is that there is no large corporate structure dictating from afar what can or can’t be done. If I had the space here I could go on to tell you about the many neighborhood stores that we visit. We see them enjoying success even with the big box stores and online competition. All because customers appreciate the knowledge they have received and bond that has been built. These customers give the stores vital word of mouth recommendations.

I’ve heard many times from discouraged retailers that customers come into their store to get information and then go to the internet to buy the product. That certainly will happen but if you treat them right and help them with their pet, they won’t forget you.

You may sometimes lose a sale to the Internet, but when customers need fish food or dog food or a new collar for their cat, they will come back to your store because they will feel a bond with you. On the other hand, if you tell them to go-fly-a-kite because you know they aren’t going to buy anything from you, then you will certainly never to see them again.

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