If your small natural pet store is trying to compete with the big chain stores, there are a few marketing tactics you can use to get an upper hand. Of course, the most important part of your strategy should be to emphasize that you are independent, natural, and local.
Introduction: Competing Against the Big Dogs
Pets just keep getting more popular. In 2018, 68% of households in the United States own some type of pet. That’s up from 56% back in 1988 and 62% in 2012, according to Statista. But with so many pet lovers out there in the country, the pet supply market has become increasingly saturated.
United States pet industry sales reached $86 billion in 2018, rising by 5% since 2017. Much of that market is dominated by the big box pet chains like Petco and PetSmart. On top of that, pet owners are going online more and more to purchase their pet supplies. This makes for a challenging and highly competitive atmosphere for small pet stores. But not all is lost.
There are plenty of things small pet stores can do to compete with the biggest pet store chains. Despite the convenience of the bigger stores, there is a growing movement to support small businesses and buy local. Furthermore, small pet stores can offer many of the things that the industry giants are lacking, like personalized experiences, natural pet products, niche services, and local marketing and community-building.
Marketing isn’t just the purview of giant corporations with endless budgets. Small pet store marketing can be affordable and effective, as long as you know how to target the right people and use your resources wisely. Thanks to the internet, there are now plenty of open channels to reach your customers through, and there’s plenty else you can do at the local level to drive more foot traffic into your store.
Here is a quick and easy guide to small pet store marketing.
1. Find Your People
You’ve probably already heard how important it is to find your niche market, but it’s worth emphasizing for small pet stores. There’s no way you’ll be able to carry the same amount of merchandise as a big box store. That means you need to stand out by catering to a specific group of people. Whether your target customers are dog owners who like to bake their treats at home or pet parents whose pooches have wardrobes upon wardrobes willed with pet clothes, your goal is to find those people and get the word out about your store.
Your first step should be to get to know your niche market inside and out. Knowing your customer goes beyond demographic information. You want to focus in on what their goals and challenges are, then help them solve their problems. For example, if you live in a cold region, offering warm dog clothes in your store might be a good idea.
As a small pet store, you’ll likely be targeting the local community. You can get to know your niche by attending local events, engaging in local social media groups, or just by going to your local dog park. Don’t be afraid to write things down and take notes — you can use that information later.
Once you know who you’re marketing to, that knowledge will inform the type of pet marketing you engage in. For example, if you’re targeting young dog owners in the immediate area, you can build pages on their favorite social media platforms, advertise at local hot spots, or use social media advertisements to reach them.
2. Sell Only the Best Products
Since you’re competing against the big dogs, you’ll need to offer your customers products that they can’t find anywhere else. This can be difficult when large stores have long shelves and extensive supply chains, but there are plenty of small pet store suppliers who can offer you specialty pet store supplies that the big guys don’t carry.
Specialty pet products may include natural pet products, pet clothing, or niche pet services like high-end dog grooming. Because customers can only get these products and services from your stores, you’ll have a better chance of building customer loyalty and encouraging word-of-mouth advertising.
If you’re selling products for dogs, you may consider some of these natural, delicious, high quality treats and chews:
- Odor Free Bully Sticks
- Low Odor Bully Sticks
- Shaped Bully Sticks
- Tremenda and Tripas Chews
- Lamb, Pig, and Cow Ears
- Gullet Chews
- CBD Dog Treats
- Crunchy Treats
- Jerky Treats
Even if you are a dog groomer, you can add these treats to your point of sale to encourage impulse buys.
Another excellent pet marketing and sales strategy is arming your pet store team with knowledge about the specialty products they sell. During their conversations with customers, they’ll be able to recommend specialty pet products as challenges come up, upsell customers when discussing specific products, and differentiate your store by being more helpful and personable than employees at the chain stores. This type of pet store customer engagement is great for sales, but it can also generate positive reviews on online review sites and keep people coming back to your store.
3. Take an Omnichannel Approach to Marketing
Technology seems to be moving a mile a minute, so it can sometimes seem difficult to keep up with new developments. But technology has also changed the way small businesses reach their markets. Social media, websites, email, and other digital tools aren’t just the sole property of big businesses — anyone can use them!
Here are a few zero- and low-cost options for using technology to market your pet store.
To reach your customers where they are and get them into your small pet store, you need to reach them on the channels their using. Use social media to share stories, post about special offers, communicate with people in your community, and market new pet products that just arrived in your store.
Since you’re marketing to consumers, you’ll want to pick the platforms that they’re on, such as the following:
But remember, each of these platforms works a little differently. Facebook and Twitter are good for text and image posts, but Instagram is almost entirely devoted to images. Snapchat is perfect for exclusive “behind the scenes” stories about your store and other stories, while Pinterest is useful for sharing unique images and finding customers whose interests line up with your store.
It’s important to always stay active on social media. People will be more likely to follow and “like” a vibrant business page than a static one. The more followers you get, the more opportunities you’ll have to sell your products!
Bridge Online and In-Store
We’re living in the age of Amazon, which means most consumers expect to be able to purchase something at the click of a button and have it delivered to their doorstep in a matter of days. Most small pet stores don’t have this capability, but there are a few ways you can bridge the online and in-store divide.
If you have a website, you can use an app or plugin to let your customers purchase items online and pick them up in your store, or simply reserve the items to buy later. Since your target market is likely to be local, most customers will appreciate the convenience of knowing the item they want is waiting for them. In-store pickup can also increase customer loyalty.
The reality is, most big box stores have these capabilities, so you can’t afford not to. If you offer in-store pickup, you can compete more effectively. Your other unique qualities, like your store personality and dedication to your customers, will also shine through more.
Get in Their Inbox
If you don’t have a monthly or weekly email newsletter, now's the time to start one! Newsletters are a great way to inform customers about what’s going on at your store. But even if you aren’t hosting an event or you haven’t made any major changes, there are still plenty of things you can write about in your newsletter. You can send profiles of your favorite customers and their pets, share local news, or write about your special offers that week.
More importantly, a newsletter is a way to build a connection with people in your community. You become less of a company and more of a community fixture, friend, and neighbor. It can also help you stay top-of-mind.
Don’t be afraid to get listed in as many online directories as possible. Some will be more effective than others, but all of them can contribute to your online presence and get you more exposure to local searchers. There may be local directories in your area that can be of help, but here are some of the big names to look into:
Some directories, like Yelp, may already list your business. Your only step may be to claim your page. Other directories may charge a fee for listing your pet store. A good start may be to get listed in free directories, then do a cost/benefit analysis of the rest.
Blogging gives you something to share in your newsletter and on social media, but it also keeps people engaged with your store by providing them with something that goes beyond your products or services. You can blog about pet issues, products, dog training, grooming, and anything else your niche market may be interested in. Blogging also generates additional pages on your website that can be indexed by search engines, increasing your online presence. Don’t forget to include images of adorable pets!
If possible, reach out to local publications to see if they are willing to publish an article you wrote. For example, is there a debate about whether to install a new dog park in your town? Write an op-ed about why you are in favor of it. You’re in a unique position to offer insight into pet and animal matters, and doing so will get your name in front of more customers and make you more of a fixture in the community.
4. Get Involved in Your Community
There’s no better way to compete against large chains than to show your personality. If you can build a pet store where “everybody knows your name,” you’ll have better customer loyalty, brand recall, online reviews, and customer referrals. Simple things like remembering pet’s names and birthdays can go a long way to build people’s confidence in your store.
You can also demonstrate your commitment to your community by doing different types of community outreach. If possible, partner up with your local shelter to host an adoption drive at your store. Invite local animal nonprofits to post flyers or brochures at your counter. You can even encourage your team to do volunteer work. Volunteering can improve team morale, help build camaraderie, and get your name out there.
5. Hold Special Events
People love store events (especially when they’re associated with discounted products). Try to host regular events at your store to encourage more people to shop and have fun. You can get the word out through social media and your email newsletter. If you intend to discount any products, you can offer a coupon to customers who sign up to attend your event.
Some types of events you can hold are:
- Pet Birthdays
- Pet Fashion Shows
- Training Classes
- Arts and Crafts Events for Kids
- Charity Events
- Speakers or Special Guests
- Sales Events
Conclusion: Why People Shop Local
As a small pet store, you have a means of attracting customers that the big chains don’t: You’re not just a faceless company; you’re your customers’ neighbor. People love to shop local for a number of reasons. It’s a way to contribute to the local economy, but it’s also a way to support their community and acquire products that they may not be able to get elsewhere.
Keep this in mind when marketing your pet store. You’re not just trying to sell products, you’re trying to build a community around your brand and your store. If you can become a landmark in your community, you’ll be able to drive in new shoppers, increase word-of-mouth marketing, and keep customers for life.
Successful pet stores differentiate themselves with style, personality, heart, and great products. Determine your niche, then make sure your customers know that there’s no other place like your pet store!