June 29, 2017

Are you a brick and mortar retailer? Maybe you’re trying to sell online but are worried how you will compete with the Amazons of the world. You see retail changing before your eyes and wonder what will happen to your business if current trends continue.

There are ways to compete with big box and online sellers. The big box stores, because of the number of units they have and their large corporate structure, can’t react to market trends like you can as an owner-operator. Online sellers, no matter how hard they try, won’t be able to establish the same meaningful relationship with customers that you can.

If you work with your distributors and manufacturers and run a clean operation, there is no reason why you can’t grow your business despite the online discounting and big box advertising that has been squeezing your margins.

Big box stores are trying to duplicate the services that independents have offered for decades, such as vet clinics, grooming and dog care classes. Their challenge is when offering added value events or services, they are usually big and complicated to comply with regional and national regulations. If, on the other hand, you offer any of these added value services, you only have to worry about your local regulations.

The internet sellers’ only real strength is price. However, no matter how much they try to educate their customers about features and quality differentiations in the products they sell, it comes down to the customer having to spend their time reading and clicking on links to basically educate themselves. As any retailer will tell you, most customers would rather be shown than have to read about it.

The following are a few events and services any retailer can offer their customers to set them apart from the big box stores and online discounters. Keep in mind that any program you institute takes extra effort and requires some expense, as well as maintenance, to keep your offering fresh and relevant.

Facebook is an inexpensive, customizable advertising platform that is always adding tools to enhance its relevance to business users. On the left side of your Facebook page, you will find “Offers.” This tool allows you to communicate with customers that have “liked” your page, offering specials that they can see in their Facebook notifications and that, in turn, their friends can see. Another great tool is “Notes,” which allows you to blog with your customers on Facebook, updating them on new product arrivals or livestock availability.

Make it your mission to get your customers’ email addresses when they visit your store. Email addresses allow you to reach customers who aren’t on social media sites and can be more pictorial-orientated than a simple Facebook post. Make sure not to overuse email notifications. Email marketing is the cheapest means of direct advertising available to you, so make sure your customers don’t move you to their spam file.

Other added value services and events you might offer during the year to bring more customers into your store include a service center to repair products you sell. There are distributors that stock parts for popular items. Offer several fleaand-tick dip events during the summer. Have an anniversary sale; invite the local radio station in to help celebrate. Create a dog day and feline day (or other pet categories) where there are special sales on food, toys, etc. Aquatic stores can offer seminars on establishing aquatic environments or how to use specialized equipment and offer aquarium water testing.

Don’t let the specter of a changing market discourage you. Play to your strengths and push back. If you have a vibrant store environment that connects with customers, you can offer pricing that’s higher than your competition and still find shoppers wanting to buy from you. And remember, without pets, there would be no pet industry. If you offer livestock, then that is one of the most important strengths that any independent pet store has to draw in customers.

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