Pet-Care Firm Plans to Collar E-Mail Addresses for Retention

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Best Friends Pet Resorts & Salons, the nation's largest firm in the boarding kennels industry, is seeking to capture e-mail addresses for customer retention.


The Norwalk, CT, company begins direct mail, point-of-sale and other marketing tactics next month as part of this effort.


"Direct mail is good enough, but obviously the principal benefit that is served by an e-mail address is that there is a great deal of cost savings when you market via e-mail versus direct mail," said Jerry Roache, president of Best Friends agency Jerry Roache Direct Inc., Little Silver, NJ. "But the bigger thing is e-mail hasn't proven to be a major source of new business acquisition for the majority of people. However, it is an extraordinarily effective way to upsell and cross-sell to the existing customer base."


Details of the campaign are still being worked out -- the account was won recently -- though the emphasis is on incentives. So it could include a one-day sale, one-on-one care sessions and weekend promotions to fill room capacity.


The marketing outreach is aimed at Best Friends' customer base: primarily women and, secondarily, seniors -- both more suburban than urban. Best Friends has a customer database of 300,000 names, though the company would not divulge the number of e-mail addresses.


In business for 10 years, Best Friends has 40 pet-care centers nationwide. Modeled on a hotel for pets, the company is one of the most upscale players in the pet lodging, grooming and training business. It also has a Web site at www.bestfriendspetcare.com.


Comfort for pets is Best Friends' key differentiator in the boarding industry, which comprises more than 11,000 kennels, mostly individually owned. Each Best Friends lodging center has kitty condos, not cages, and private doggy suites. Services go under monikers like Doggy Daycare and Doggy Day Camp. Pets are checked in at a reception area that could be in any hotel.


But if Best Friends offers the advantages of a hotel for pets, then it also faces the challenges.


"They run this business really along a hotel model more than the classic pet kennel kind of model," Roache said, "which means there are peaks and valleys in terms of the business and the rate structure."


In essence, during slack periods, Best Friends needs to fill in the shortfall. It has charged its agency with creating direct and promotional programs for more effectively tapping its customer base.


"I think the biggest challenge we're helping them to address is [that] I don't think anyone I'm aware of has had major success in getting large portions of their database to voluntarily surrender their e-mail address," Roache said.


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