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August 1, 2019

BY AMY CASTRO

In an age where customers can make their purchases with a click of a button online, retailers have to keep getting more creative to keep customers coming in to “brick and mortar” stores. Many retailers are now using special events as a way to drive traffic and increase sales. However, you can’t just host any old event and think people will flock to your business. Staying on top of the latest trends will keep you ahead of the competition and keep your events fresh and exciting for your customers.

Yappy Hours

The concept of “Yappy Hours” isn’t new. However, knowing your business’s target market is key to their success. If your target market is millennial-based, then Yappy Hours might be the way to go. Not only are Millennials the largest pet-owning cohort, making up more than 35 percent of pet owners, they love events that allow them to socialize alongside their pets.

Jon Michelson, owner of Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas says, “We do a monthly event called ‘Poochinis & Peticures.’ The event benefits local rescues who are present at the event and help promote it. We also partner with a local groomer who does nail trims for customers and the event is sponsored by Tito’s Vodka, a big supporter of animals and a company that’s also based in Austin.”

Events that involve local partners can be particularly successful because all parties can benefit from collaborative efforts to promote the event to their individual audiences. Partners and sponsors can greatly increase your marketing reach and are a great way to drive new traffic to your store.

Pet Influencer Meetups

“Trendy events we are seeing have been pet influencer meetups,” said Janene Zakrajsek, founder and chief creative officer of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, with locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. “We recently partnered with NBC Universal to host an invite-only influencer brunch in our Downtown LA location to launch the release of “A Dog’s Journey.” It was a very engaging meetup with lots of personalized touches that made the guests feel like they were stars.”

Zakrajsek said engaging with the pet influencer community both online and offline strengthens relationships and affinity for her brand and services.

Even if your business isn’t in Hollywood, it’s probably worth investigating whether there’s a local or national “pet influencer” in your backyard or nearby that you can approach to partner with for your mutual benefit. Events featuring pet influencers will draw their followers into your store, and the influencer will gain access to new fans—your customers.

Zakrajsek also advises retailers not to skimp on the details for these special events. “They are the difference that makes a good event great. Remember, everything is a potential photo op. Be ready to maximize those ops. Create a unique hashtag and encourage tagging and sharing, and have a strategy for promoting event on social channels before, during and after.”

Personal Passions

Preuss Pets is a family-owned store in Lansing Michigan that used to be known primarily as a specialty store for exotics. However, Kirbay Preuss’s personal passion for dogs, specifically her 165-pound Harlequin Great Dane, Bruce Pruess, has shifted the focus of the business so they’re now getting to be known as a dog specialty store.

“The change began from my person passion, Bruce,” she said. “He’s my baby and spends a lot of time in the store. So, we started using him a lot on our social media.” Since then, the store has steadily been getting a lot of new dog customers and they’re focusing more on the needs of their dog customers.

When it comes to special events, Preuss says personal passion is critical.

“I’ve seen too many events where a store publicizes the event, but when you go into the store, there’s very little going on and the staff are just standing around. Whatever you choose, you have to be personally passionate about it,” she explained. “When I pick events, I have a team meeting and bring everyone into the mix and find out what they want to do.”

Last year, the store hosted an event for a local animal shelter called “All Things Cats,” and each team member came up with an activity that they were responsible for. Preuss says one of the most popular events was game where customers tossed a Tootsie Roll into a litter box and the litter box was continually moved to make it more difficult. The prize was an increased donation to a rescue the further away the box was from the customer.

Preuss Pets’ most popular event is their weekly “Taco Tuesday.” The store orders really fancy taco dog treats that cost about $1 each. They give the treats away and ask that people take a photo, share it with the store and post it on social media. When they do, the customer also gets 10 percent off their purchase.

“We have some customers now that will only come in on Tuesdays so they can get their tacos, but they always buy something in the store when they’re here,” said Preuss, adding that plans including expanding on Taco Tuesday in the future by having a local taco truck be at the store.

Preuss Pets’ annual kids summer camp is another popular event that is not only draws customers in, but educates children about animals and helps create “healthy human-animal relationships.” They also host a Tarantula night in October, where several customers who are tarantula owners bring their pets in to the store. She says, “We get hundreds of people coming in, especially the Herpatology-geeked-out kids who want to check them out.”

Here are some final tips for hosting a successful, trend-setting event in your store:

  1. Create an annual event schedule. Consistency is key to event planning, so you want your customers anticipating your monthly or annual events.
  2. Create a realistic timeline for properly planning the event.
  3. Decide on a theme.
  4. Plan events in slow months or on slow days to increase traffic to your store.
  5. Include discounts, incentives or giveaways to draw people in. You could do something as simple as a percentage off of food or treats, or a contest that has great prizes.
  6. Provide refreshments – for people and pets. Consider partnering with a local bakery to make themed specialty treats for the event.
  7. Advertise! In addition to Facebook posts, email and website notices, go “old school” with flyers to hand out to customers and to post in businesses around town.
  8. Create photo-op “vignettes” that encourage people to take photos at the event. Be sure you have at least one staff member taking lots of pictures, too.

Create event hashtags and encourage your guests and staff to use them when they post photos on social media.

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