BY BARRY BERMAN
There are so many events and shows in this industry that you could make a job out of going to them all. I try to attend the most useful ones, and the Pet Industry Leadership Conference (PILC) gives me an opportunity to meet with top executives of distributors and supplies manufacturers, who comprise most of the guest list.
At this year’s conference, held in January at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Fla., there were no retailers present as far as I could tell. As the head of a retailer
co-op, I was a fly on the wall there, serving to bring back useful information to retailers.
The attendees are folks who you rarely see at their booths at trade shows, and many have
access to exclusive market research. In addition, there were speakers whose material is
not easily found elsewhere.
At events such as these, some of the most interesting facts are learned at coffee breaks
or cocktail parties. Word at the event was that the big-box specialty stores are being hurt
by the internet even more than independents are, with customers exchanging one imper-
sonal shopping experience for a more convenient one online. One top aquatics product
executive said that with aquarium customers going to big boxes less frequently, many
are looking for indepen-
dents to buy fish from. Another told me that half of millennials who own pets have fish.
I already knew that stores that sell fish sell lots of dog and cat products to fish owners.
A MORALE BOOST FOR INDEPENDENTS
The economist Brian Beaulieu reminded us how lucky we are to be in the pet industry,
which has such a strong outlook for continued growth. He believes the U.S. economy
will continue to be strong probably into 2021. His optimism leads him to these recommendations: First, this is the time to invest and advertise, and second, act as if there is a
shortage of potential employees. For many businesses, a staff shortage is a reality now;
regardless, he urged business owners to up their game in staff training and retention.
Although the internet will continue to gain market share across all retail categories, Beaulieu believes the brightest future for brick-and-mortar stores is in what he
calls “local-content, high-knowledge” retail. A store with a local owner who invests
time in developing relationships with hometown individuals and organizations is
making an important start. But local content also means merchandising for the immediate area—e.g., stocking items that local trainers recommend and making cross-mar-keting deals with nearby day care, boarding, pet-sitting and other
service providers. Local content means talking to customers, as
well, and getting out there to see what they do with their dogs.
Is your town one where folks run with their dogs, go boating or
hiking with them, or stroll with them on fashionable streets? If so,
If you are an independent, don’t assume your store is
high-knowledge based solely on that fact. In addition to making
sure staff can explain the products you carry, make sure they can
answer the most common questions folks ask at pet stores. There’s
plenty of information available online, or from manufacturers or
NexPet. Find ways to incentivize staff to learn what they need to
know. Also, stocking unusual products that require explanation
and are not easily available online is another way to engage local
customers and keep them coming in.
PROMOTING THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF PETS
Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond
Research Institute (HABRI), showcased the array of studies on the
health benefits of pet ownership that show that pet owners enjoy
better health and live longer than people without pets. Pets also help
children and adults with many specialized medical conditions. I always thought promoting this information was a good way to stimulate animal ownership, especially among older people who don’t
replace pets after their children have left home. HABRI’s research
also shows that current pet owners, once they know about the health
benefits of pet ownership, are likely to spend more on nutrition and
veterinary care and recommend pet ownership to others.
HABRI’s website contains details of these studies, but I especially recommend the two videos called “The Pet Effect.” The videos
are mock TV commercials for dog and cat ownership in the style of
pharmaceutical ads, with hilarious side effects. Post a link to these on
your website and link them to your social media, and your customers will never forget how you made them laugh so hard.
THE BIRD ENJOYMENT & ADVANTAGE KOALITION (BEAK)
The cutest material at the event came from BEAK, a new industry
organization established to promote birds as pets. Bird ownership
has declined from 6. 7 million owners in the U.S. and Canada in 2002
to 6.1 million today, and BEAK hopes to reverse that decline. Its
website, myrightbird.com, has an entertaining interactive quiz about
the viewer’s lifestyle leading to a recommendation about what type
of bird would be a good fit.
Barry Berman is president and co-founder of NexPet, a co-op for independent retailers, and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals pet food company.
He is also vice chairman of World Pet Association
(WPA). Contact him at email@example.com.
Notes from PILC
Here’s what I took away from the Pet Industry Leadership
Conference and would like to share with you.
While at many events
the most interesting
intel is gleaned through
coffee-break chats, the PILC
delivered three days’ worth
of valuable presentations.
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