“We’re all in this together,” has been a rallying cry we’ve heard the past few months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact not only the health of our communities, but businesses as well. However, for the pet industry, the concept of working together to serve the customer and help pet businesses survive has never been more evident.
As retailers have struggled with closed businesses, curbside-only service, and fewer customers shopping, many manufacturers and distributors have really stepped in to help like never before.
Courtney Roos, manager of Petapoluza Pet Supply and Grooming in Seattle, said her manufacturers have been very supportive during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only by helping boost sales and customer engagement, but also by being very respectful and understanding of boundaries and limitations regarding coming into the store.
“All of our manufacturers have been great in helping out with anything we need, from sending lots of samples to helping with social media,” she said. “Stella and Chewy’s is always great, but has been especially helpful now by providing us with free product. So many people are struggling to make ends meet, so being able to provide them with discounted or even free food is really great.”
She continued by noting that ZIW Peak has been very supportive with social media posts.
“When customers can’t come into the store, social media is one of the ways we try to keep them engaged,” Roos explained. “By boosting our posts, they help keep us in front of people.” According to Roos, GreenLine, a maker of biodegradable poop bags, has also been a standout performer by providing samples and other support for Petapoluza’s curbside pickup incentives.
“Their support is especially meaningful because they’re a small business themselves, but they’re still willing to help out another small business,” she said.
Amanda Wilbourne, the owner of The Nautical Dog in Williamsburg, Virginia, also had good things to say about Stella & Chewy’s.
“We’ve had a lot who have helped us out, but Stella and Chewy’s has been extremely helpful,” Wilbourne explained. “I have a very good relationship with my sales rep Kendra, so that’s helped a lot. They’ve done some BOGOs for me, and have also been very generous with samples. These were especially great to have when we were doing curbside service. It was nice to be able to give a sample to everyone.”
Wilbourne said Stella and Chewy’s also supported a recent event at the store, with a sales rep presenting information as well as handing out samples. She said that kind of support isn’t new, but considering the times, it was nice that they were willing to come out and be there. She said Koha was another manufacturer that had been extremely generous.
“They gave us lots of cans and pouches when we were only doing curbside service for two months,” she said. “We gave out samples with all food sales.”
Wilbourne mentioned being concerned about vendors’ willingness and ability to support in-store events because so many of them have faced budget cuts due to the economic impact of COVID-19. However, she found the opposite was true.
“We have a big event at the end of August that we were supposed to do in July, but we had to postpone,” Wilbourne recalled. “Normally we ask for samples to go in our swag bags and everyone always participates. I was concerned that our companies might not be able to participate, but actually the opposite happened. We’ve had a lot more things given to us than we normally have.”
Lotus and Earth Animal were two other companies Wilbourne mentioned that were extremely generous in providing product and samples for her event swag bags.
On the topic of how manufacturer samples and giveaways have impacted her store’s bottom line, Wilbourne wasn’t shy in her response.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “One week Stella and Chewy’s gave us a ton of Meal Mixers samples to give out with every purchase. People who normally only bought kibble or treats have started to buy Meal Mixers like crazy. All the free stuff that we’ve given out has created sales from those items.”
With her business being back to allowing customers inside the store, Wilbourne stated that her staff members are continuing some of the practices they started when they were only doing curbside sales.
“We’re continuing to give out those freebies because we noticed that giving out the samples has made an impact on the sales of those particular products,” she said, adding that her manufacturers are still supportive of her efforts because they equate to increased sales. “We’ve also started an item of the week with manufacturers’ support and we run a sale on those. It’s not like I couldn’t do that before COVID, but the things we’ve set in place because of COVID, have us thinking outside the box and getting out of our comfort zone.”
Wilbourne also echoed Roos’ pleasant surprise at the level of support she’s received.
“We are getting more support than we ever had, and it’s especially surprising since many manufacturers’ budgets have been cut or they’re being cautious about spending because they don’t know what the future holds,” Wilbourne said. “It’s amazing that people have been more willing and more generous than ever despite that.”
It’s not only manufacturers who are helping out in this difficult time though. Many distributors have stepped up to help retailers during the pandemic as well. Jen Roberts, project manager at Choice Pet Products said her company has maintained a higher than normal inventory since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure retailers have the products in stock that their customers want. The company also offers contactless delivery for the health and safety of retailers and their customers. Choice Pet Products is also providing assistance for struggling retailers as well.
“We offer extended payment terms for those who qualify and a low minimum order. We’re also partnering with vendors on promos so retailers get more value from their orders,” said Roberts.
Bob Sledzinski, VP of Independent Retail Sales and Operations at Choice Pet Products, added that everyone has been maintaining current promotion structures giving extra incentives here and there and that some of the larger brands that have access to extra promotional cash have offered a little bit more. Additionally, he’s seen more Astro promotions being offered to the consumer at the cash register and advertising geared more towards that.
“I think the brands see the value in pushing the consumer to the retailers for the products rather than giving the promotion to the store,” he noted. “With stores struggling to get the consumer in the door, this allows the brands to help drive the consumer back into the stores.”