BY CYNTHIA BULLOCK
Social enterprise is one of those buzzworthy phrases that has cropped up in recent years. But what is it and, more importantly, how does it work to a retailer’s advantage? Social enterprise is not new. If you belong to a credit union, you are working with a social enterprise, which can be defined as organizations that employ strategies to not only make a profit for shareholders but to maximize social impact. Credit unions qualify because they help their members save and borrow money. Or that social impact may take the form of the company donating to a specific cause or charity. Think Newman’s Own or B&B Creations—two product-driven companies that exist to give back to charity.
How can social enterprise positively affect your pet-related business? By supporting pet-focused vendors, organizations and charities that utilize a social enterprise model to address a societal problem—say, eradicating economic euthanasia, where pets are euthanized for treatable conditions simply because the person can’t afford the care—retailers are sending a clear message to consumers that they care about so much more than profit. They are signaling their awareness and commitment to making the world a better place for animals. And what could be more appealing to a consumer who also happens to be an animal lover and pet parent?
A favorite pet shop that carries products supporting social enterprise often shares the stage with those guardian angels directly helping pets in need. This is an example of the halo effect, where consumers assign your business positive attributes as a result of your good deeds. Research shows that the halo effect is directly related to brand loyalty, and whether that loyalty is to a specific product, brand or the retailer that carries it is up to you.
Now that you know a bit more about social enterprise, how can you, the retailer, use that halo effect to connect to customers, secure their ongoing loyalty and keep them coming back for more? Here are a few tips to help you earn your shiny, golden halo:
- Stock your shelves responsibly. Items manufactured overseas are usually cheaper to purchase, but are they high-quality, organic products that support the local economy? Do they help address your community’s societal issues? Can you say with certainty that you feel comfortable with everything you sell, and would you be willing to offer those products to your own pets? If the answer is no, maybe you should be consider buying closer to home.
- Know who your vendors are. Do you know your suppliers and what they are selling? Are you familiar with their company’s history and reputation? If you buy product from them this month, will they still be around in six months? A little research goes a long way, and if you’re able to tell a customer about the companies you support—and who they, in turn, are supporting through social enterprise—you’re bound to score points with discerning consumers.
- Are your vendors transparent regarding sourcing of their materials? Do consumable goods meet USDA organic certification guidelines? Probably not if they’re grown in other countries. Are the materials used supporting local farmers and textile workers? If imported materials are used in products, why? If we don’t make a certain item here in the U.S., sourcing from overseas may be unavoidable. However, money spent in support of the American economy also supports your neighbors, the retailers you frequent and those small, but impactful, social enterprises.
- Know where the profits go. All businesses need to turn a profit, even social enterprises. But shouldn’t a company that deals in making pet items and earns a healthy profit from those sales also benefit the animals who consume those products? In a recent informal survey we conducted at a pet convention, 100 percent of the respondents stated that it was important to them that their purchases also help pets in need.
I firmly believe that if a pet parent is buying products for their pet, and all things are equal—pricing, quality, variety—they will choose charity products. They’ll do so not only to support social enterprises that give back, but also to reward retailers dedicated to making a positive difference.