If I Owned a Pet Store…

I’d want it to be an extraordinarily different kind of pet store.  It will be a true destination where pet owners can find wonderful things and experiences to enhance their lives and that of their pets.  I’d want my store to be an exciting place where people and their pets can experience shopping in a brand new way.  I’d make my pet shop POP!

This article first appeared in Pets+ magazine May-June 2017 issue

Retail today has evolved from a product business to a people business.   When people simply want a product, they can get it ‘internet-easy. Internet-fast.’  Going to a store to shop today is a choice, no longer a necessity.  So I’d organize my pet store to make the shopping experience rewarding, engaging and personally satisfying to both pets and their parents.  Surely, I’d want to have cool products for pets, but I know that the success of my store will hinge not on WHAT I sell, but HOW I sell it.  That means putting the people and pets that come to my store first.  In other words, the product follows, not leads.

Full disclosure:  I am not a pet owner.  It’s not because I wouldn’t love to be one, but the responsibility of being a good pet parent doesn’t fit in my current lifestyle.  Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am going to borrow ideas from one of the extraordinary pet shops that I profiled in my book Shops that POP!, Mohnton, PA-based Godfrey’s Welcome to Dogdom, owned by Pat and Barb Emmett.

I will be guided in launching my pet boutique by throwing out the old model of marketing based upon the 4Ps – Product, Price, Placement, Promotion – and replacing it with the 4Es – Experience, Exchange, Everyplace, Evangelism.  Customers today have moved beyond the needs and motivations on which the old 4Ps of marketing are based.  That 4Ps marketing model has been disrupted and replaced with the new 4Es model that has evolved along with the customers’ priorities and expectations.  Here is my plan:

  • Experience replaces Product

Everybody talks about the experiential economy, yet when you look across the retail landscape, few understand how to shift gears to make the shopping experience the focus, not the products.  Yes, customer service is important, but it takes more than that.  You ultimately must turn the products sold into a true experience for the customers.

One way to do that is to make shopping in my store an experience of discovery where pet owners can find new ideas and inspiration to enhance the health and well being of their pets.  Like Godfrey’s, I’d want to stock only the highest-quality, most healthful food for pets.  And because just like people, pets have special dietary needs and sensitivities, I’d provide advice and guidance to pet owners to make the optimum food choices.

It goes without saying that pets would be welcome to shop along with their parents.  But I’d also want to provide special play experiences suited to the special experiences pets, most especially dogs, love.  Taking a cue from Godfrey’s, I’d locate my store in a place that has room to put a dog park, where pets can romp off leash and pet owners can organize play groups.  Since dogs are pack animals, this is an experience that will bring pets and their owners back to my store weekly.

And I’d regularly host special events in the store to provide new information relevant to responsible pet ownership, as well as activities that enhance the pet lifestyle, like professional pet photographers and art workshops focused on pet portraits.

  • Price becomes Exchange

While sales and cheap prices have become the knee-jerk way retailers drive traffic today, it is impossible for a specialty independent retail store to try to beat the competition on price.  “It has become a race to the bottom,” as Robin Lewis, a retail strategist and author of The New Rules of Retail, says.

The opportunity is not to think how low you can go, but how much more value you can deliver for the price.  That is the idea of Exchange.  It involves more than money in the till; it is the entire value experience a customer derives through the process of engaging with the store.  Part of the exchange can be respect for the customer’s time, including making the time they spend with you meaningful and memorable, like the joy of seeing their dogs romp in the play yard with their friends.  It can be special insider knowledge or know-how that helps pet owners navigate their lives, like my pet food counseling service.

But everybody likes to get a deal, so I’d want to offer some extra incentive to get customers to spend.  Borrowing an idea from Barb that has been super successful at Godfrey’s, I would develop programs to reward my most loyal and active shoppers.  Since pet food sales are so important to the health of the pets my store serves, as well as the health of my business, I would establish a reward program that allows shoppers to accumulate rewards points to apply toward future purchases.

I’d also offer special, limited time discounts or flash sales to customers who participate in various in-store special events throughout the year.  The goal is to encourage repeat visits with special event discount coupons given to be redeemed on the next visit.  This will give customers the feeling they are getting a little more for less.

  • Everyplace instead of Place

The concept of Everyplace includes the idea of allowing customers to engage on their own terms, through their own paths to purchase, whether it be online, in store, at home or by phone.  So my store website will be e-commerce enabled, though I won’t offer all products online.  Rather I will sell online the top 20% of products that history has shown are the best sellers, because that is the most efficient to manage and will be of most benefit to my customers.

Everyplace doesn’t have to be only via the Internet, with its many different platforms (mobile, tablet, computer) to support.  It can be taking the customer experience directly to the customer, face-to-face, person-to-person.  It can also be person-to-pet with mobile pet grooming for which I will partner with a local service to both come to my shop and offer grooming services in the parking lot and go to my customers’ homes as an outreach service.  Such an arrangement will be win/win for both businesses and a win for my customers too.

My Everyplace strategy will also include offering the convenience of home delivery of pet food.  Since my store will counsel customers on the best food choices for their pets and incentivize them for repeat purchases, my store will complete the circle with the delivery option, in a panel van with a custom graphics wrap that is a mobile billboard for my store and its service.  That then leads to the final E….

  • Evangelism replaces Promotion

By making the shopping experience meaningful and the exchange valuable to my customers, the next step in the 4Es strategy is to build a network of store evangelists that will help spread the word about my shop.  Pet people are passionate about their pets and I will use my passion to engage those passionate customers and reach out to others who may not yet know my store.

Rather than investing in paid newspaper advertising, I’d focus on communicating pet passion through content marketing, social media, traditional public relations, and influencer blog posts.  I’d write a monthly newsletter to distribute via email to customers whose email addresses I would religiously collect in the store.  Then from that newsletter content, I’d use social media to extend its reach further.

The content for the newsletter and social media posts will be news pet parents can use, not self-serving promotional messages.  For example, Barb follows all pet food recall notices and shares that important news with her followers, regardless of whether she sells the recalled brand in her store.

To help manage my social media and email outreach I’d look at a service like Snap Retail, which is designed for small retail businesses and makes internet marketing tools a ‘snap’ to use.

Further I’d look out into my community to find platforms to communicate important pet information as a service, thinking a regular column in local newspapers, magazines or even television, like Barb who hosts a monthly “Dog Is Family” show on the local cable television network.

And finally I’d do my best to get good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing going for my business.  Rather than leaving that up to chance, I’d follow strategies outlined by Andy Sernovitz in his book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.

This would be my plan to build my pet boutique on the new 4Es marketing model.  In doing so, I’d make my pet shop POP!

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