July 3, 2013

Amidst the great juggling act of running a small business marketing efforts all too often find themselves at the bottom of the to-do list; de-prioritized in the face of more pressing concerns, like fixing a broken appliance, reordering stock or simply dealing with customers.
And yet, promoting and managing word of mouth has never been more important or less time consuming for brick and mortar merchants, including pet stores.

For some brick and mortar merchants the need to be online can seem questionable, but a recent guest blogger on the ShopKeep POS blog, Megan Webb-Morgan of Resource Nation, summed up the counter argument nicely:

“Whether you like it or not, your business is already online – featured in directory listings, reviewed online and mentioned on social media. If you’re not the one controlling those messages, you open yourself up to having a lot of bad advertising and misinformation spread about your business.”

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on tools and best practices.

Smarter Emailing

Email marketing can be a surprisingly powerful tool in general for small, local businesses to engage their existing customer base. As consumers, we are used to being bombarded by messages from large corporations. Given that, an ultra-personal email from our local merchant can feel like a breath of fresh air.

I really believe in the power of building an email list for a small business; I even incorporated the ability to collect customer emails at the point of sale into ShopKeep POS. Once you have that list it’s important to strike a balance between frequent engagement and spam. There is a great tool for managing this process called MailChimp.

Your average small business is working with limited time and money so you want to make sure you are directing your efforts where they will have the most impact. John, of Lucky Dogs DIY Dog Wash in College Station, Texas, uses ShopKeep POS to track the size of the dogs being washed by his service.

The dogs that come through his service are allocated to small, medium and large tubs based on weight. By analyzing his sales data he was able to see that his small dog tubs simply weren’t being kept as busy on the weekends. As a result he could target small dogs in his advertising with a promotional email offering weekend discounts for them.

As a general rule, when you email your customers, think ultra-personal and ultra-targeted.

Managing the Conversation

Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to decide whether businesses are trustworthy and desirable. I’ve seen people stand directly outside the door of a business they are considering, looking up the place on Yelp, finding negative reviews and then walking away.
It is vital that you are engaging customers on their preferred review platforms, whether it’s Yelp, Google+ or Foursquare. Make sure all the information is factually accurate and try to soften criticisms with a really polite, understanding response to any negative reviews.

For straight social media management, it’s crucial that you take ownership of your online profiles and guide the conversation about your business in the right direction. We use HootSuite, and I highly recommend it. The HootSuite dashboard displays all your brand mentions from multiple social networks on one screen which simplifies the way you listen and respond to your customers.

More than anything, it greatly reduces the time required to stay on top of things, which is important because 46 percent of Americans have used a branded social media page to voice negative criticism. It is really crucial that this criticism is handled and diffused in the right way, with a transparent and helpful attitude.

The good news for everyone involved in the pet industry, is this, there is literally nothing people like sharing more than stories, images and videos involving pets, so you’re online profile will have everyone grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

Jason Richelson started ShopKeep POS, a cloud-based iPad point-of-sale solution for businesses, so merchants could easily take customer transactions better track their sales and operations while also saving time and money. You can contact Jason at [email protected]

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