Underdog: Just For Pets’ award-winning brand extension

This marketing case study looks inside the strategy, execution and results of retailer Just For Pet’s launch of Pet Health Centre that delivered value in spades to customers and the bottom line, and made it top dog at the 2015 AMI Awards for Marketing Excellence.

Campaign: Pet Health Centre launch

Client: Just For Pets

Agency: Brand Savvy Consulting

Background

Lead issue article badgeIn 2013, Just For Pets (JFP) faced a David and Goliath battle for survival. The Australian-owned buying and marketing group represented 65 independent Australian pet retailers that trade under their own names – the IGA of the pet industry.

Despite a $151 million group turnover and 180% five-year growth, JFP had just a 2% share of the $7.6 billion pet retail market and faced the burgeoning threat of sector corporatisation.

The category’s two major corporate players, Petbarn and PETstock, were acquiring smaller retailers, aggressively opening new stores and undercutting prices of long-established independents.

 

Objectives

Just For Pets needed a way to unite the small business group towards a common goal, galvanise it against competitors and demonstrate to shoppers the value of supporting independent pet stores. Initial goals were defined as:

Business objectives:

  • Stop store closures,
  • Motivate JFP member stores to increase group purchasing behaviour – measured through JFP’s centralised billing functionality and revenue,
  • Motivate JFP member stores to increase group marketing activity – measured by number of stores participating in the various marketing opportunities, and
  • Improve JFP’s negotiation power with suppliers – measured by better deals and rebates to stores.

Marketing objectives:

  • Differentiate Just For Pets member stores from corporate competitors, and
  • Increase revenue for JFP Head Office and its member stores.

Valentines Pets

Strategy

The best defence for JFP was a good offence. Taking on board JFP’s mission to support healthy, happy pets, its competitive advantages were identified as:

  • Leading pet expertise,
  • Superior customer service, and
  • National scale relative to other independents.

Research revealed that, post-GFC, consumers spent more on their pets, but had become more discretionary about vet visits. It suggested a gap in pet health advice. Just For Pets CEO, Karen Justice, relayed her earlier career experience as a baby health nurse working in pharmacy where she provided free expert advice to young mums, which built strong customer loyalty and sales for the pharmacy.

It prompted the question: what if a Just For Pets store became the step before the vet, as a pharmacy is before the doctor?

The result was the creation of a world-first innovation called the Just For Pets Pet Health Centre (PHC). The educational retail in-store concept offered benefits to all key stakeholders:

  • Pet owners: a free 15-minute, six-point pet health check from a senior in-store ‘pet expert’ to educate them about their pet’s well-being,
  • Member stores: a mechanism to showcase their point of difference, increase store traffic, sales and shopper loyalty,
  • Specialist brands: tiered sponsorship opportunities, and
  • JFP itself: a national group retail co-branding platform, a unique, authentic point of difference and a strong value proposition for stores and suppliers, enabling long-term contract negotiation.

Even though the pet health check is free, the initiative sought to attract consumers that are passionate about taking good care of their pet and able to invest in the quality products and services that requires.

Roy Morgan Research profiled a target audience of women aged 35 to 64 that are busy outsourcers who care about well-being, are thoughtful and socially minded, and that love to engage in fun brand activities. To reach these women in store locations spanning metro centres to small regional towns around Australia, the campaign needed to include TV and/or cinema, SEM and digital display ads, Facebook advertising and public relations to target news, local newspapers and women’s media.

Free health check pets

Execution

In April 2014, it kicked off a four-month pilot in four stores in New South Wales to prove its merit. As an unknown retail brand, JFP launched a pilot communications campaign enlisting the help of Honey Communications and Customedia to establish positioning, communicate the pet health check proposition and drive uptake in-store. Shopper research with GFK measured the impact.

The pilot results revealed basket sales could more than double and customer relationships and loyalty blossomed.

The Pet Health Centre needed to be front and centre when customers arrived. Store staff needed to proactively invite customers for pet health checks and then provide detailed explanations during the pet health check to enhance the educational experience.

JFP presented the pilot results to its top 20 suppliers in October 2014. Companies like Sonofi, Hills, Mars and Bayer were so inspired they committed over $300,000 to co-fund the national rollout. The initiative launched live on Channel 9 news and was supported by JFP’s first ever national brand campaigns.

The first was a PR-heavy ‘Save A Life Saturday’ pet shelter fundraising and rehoming day on Valentine’s Day 2015.

The second was an advertising campaign supporting the March 2015 ‘Petalogue’, which included geo-targeted TV, cinema and digital.

6point health pet

Results:

Stop store closures: Just For Pets achieved its single most important goal. Since October 2013, no member store has closed down from aggressive competitive activity.

Motivate JFP member stores to increase group purchasing behaviour: As soon as the pilot initiative was announced excitement spread through the group and purchasing behaviour immediately began to climb. As a result, the head office turnover lifted by 575% from $1.8 million to $11 million within a two-year period.

Motivate JFP member stores to increase group marketing activity: 40 of the 65 stores signed on to the initiative including exterior co-branding and in-store promotions. Morale soared as the pet experts began to see themselves not just as sales assistants, but as educators with an important community role. 50 stores participated in the ‘Save A Life Saturday’ campaign, which helped to rehome over 80 pets.

Improve JFP’s negotiation power with suppliers: As a result of this initiative Just For Pets has not only increased negotiation power, it has created a powerful culture of partnership with its suppliers. In addition to the co-funding of the Pet Health Centre, JFP signed an additional nine strategically important commissionable suppliers to its group and attracted significantly better deals resulting in a 50% increase in rebates to its members.

Differentiate Just For Pets member stores from corporate competitors: Just For Pets succeeded in clearly demonstrating its stores’ value as a friendly source of quality information  and service. Shopper and media research showed some of the strongest results that the agencies had ever seen.

Customer satisfaction scores surpassed 90% and 94% said they would recommend it to a friend. Research showed 45% of respondents’ perception of their JFP store improved, of them over 75% stating they had a better overall experience and felt JFP provided better care for their pet.

Increase revenue for JFP Head Office and its member stores: Free education is a powerful motivator for purchase. The pet health check is strictly not a sales consultation; however, not surprisingly, after becoming better educated, most pet owners required new supplies and many impulse-shopped after a fun outing with their beloved furry friend.

Pet food is the most lucrative category in pet retail and you get what you pay for. Trading up pet owners to premium food is one of the best ways to prevent and treat many common animal health issues.

Basket shops, averaging $56 before the pet health check, increased by a regular minimum average of 100%, the strongest stores increasing it by 400 to 500%.

The initiative allowed Just For Pets to attract seven new high turnover member stores and, overall, average turnover per store increased by 24.7%. And so despite losing 10 stores to a new challenge of Petbarn and PETstock acquisition plus deliberate commercial terminations, group turnover still increased by $10 million in 18 months to reach $161 million.

The Pet Health Centre initiative was recognised at the 2015 AMI Awards for Marketing Excellence, winning the Brand Extension category and the M&C Saatchi Marketing Program of the Year Award.

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