Dog Rescue at the Detroit Auto Show

A Novel Exhibit at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show

I try to visit the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) aka the Detroit Auto Show every year, and this year I made it down on Tuesday of the public week.  As usual, my focus was on vehicles with dog hauling potential, whether they were small, like the Honda Fit, medium size like the Buick Regal TourX, minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica or big vans like the Ram Promaster.  I’m looking for flat load floor, no liftover at the rear hatch/door, and easy conversion from passenger to cargo modes.  A wide interior package without intrusions from wheel wheels or custom item holders is also a plus.  In other words, maxium carrying capacity with minimum effort to get stuff in and out of that space.  The Honda Odyssey has a vacuum which is a really nice touch, especially if you sometimes transport straw for barn hunts!

Sign explaining Subaru adoption event hoursSubaru’s White Picket Fence

I noticed when I got to the Subaru display that there was a area with green carpet surrounded by a picket fence.  There were multiple banners proclaiming Subaru Loves Pets and a sign sporting the Michigan Humane Society Logo.  A small sign taped to the gate to the area said that there would be adoptions for animals through the Michigan Humane Society on the weekends.

Subaru Dealer Partnerships With Local RescuesSubaru Loves Dogs Banner

On the Subaru website there is a section around Subaru Loves Pets, which is one of the five pillars of the Subaru Love Promise. I saw references to local dealers working with local rescue agencies to  support adoption events, and this event fits that description. I learned Subaru also held an adoption event at the LA Auto show last fall using the same display partnering with Best Friends. Best Friends is a national organization, but one with a regional office and a large coalition of partner shelters in the LA area. There is also some pet merchandise on the brand website, but the focus is more about doing good for pets than pushing branded pet stuff.

Volvo is Also Getting Into the Auto Show Rescue Act

I discovered that Volvo has been doing something similar. The brand started promoting safe pet travel in 2018 and drew attention to this initiative with their adoption events in 2018 at both the Chicago and New York auto shows, both times partnering with local rescues.  Most of the Volvo dog accessories focus on safe containment of dogs within the car with custom-fit barriers and car harnesses.  Volvo mentions that it makes a donation to the Petfinder Foundation for every dog accessory sold.  Volvo is promoting safe pet travel as a support to its longstanding corporate safety promise.

Make Your Dog Marketing Consistent With Your Corporate Brand

I’ve been observing vehicle manufacturers promote their products with dogs for years.  What I like about what I see in these rescue-OEM pairings is that the message is tied into a brand promise that runs through all the brand’s marketing. In other words:

  • Subaru Loves = Subaru Loves Dogs
  • Volvos are Safe = Volvo wants your dog to be just as safe as your family

Love has a more obvious tie-in with rehoming dogs than safety does, but both are caring messages and I think an appropriate match to an adoption event. If you’re going to play the dog card, it should be obvious you mean it, and that the dog-centric part of your message isn’t just about selling branded collars and leads.

Cleo Parker

 

 

The #1 Dog Club Website in Michigan

Grand Rapids Kennel Club website header

Reviewing Michigan All Breed Dog Club Websites

I looked at all the websites I could find for Michigan all breed dog clubs while reviewing the AKC Webinar on website best practices.  These dog cub websites vary widely in quality and some clubs have opted to have a Facebook page in lieu of a website.   In my opinion, the Grand Rapids Kennel Club is the best club website, so I reached out to the club to get some insight on why.

Grand Rapids Kennel Club’s Site is Engaging and Responsive

The site homepage features a carousel of three beautiful photos of purebred dogs, and at the time I first visited, a promotional button for a special event.  Membership, event, and breeder referral links are all “above the fold” and visible on the screen when viewed on a PC.  The club’s community service activities, mission, and upcoming events are featured farther down the page along with more photos of purebred dogs in action. The site is optimized for mobile devices so that the experience is similar on all device types.

Developing the Site

I reached out to the club via their “contact us” link and quickly heard back from Carol Lynn Johnson, the club AKC delegate and driving force behind the current website, which launched in October 2018, replacing a site with a dated look.   Carol and fellow club member Pat Cromeyer designed the website with inspiration from the Labrador Retriever Club’s site. The current site was created in WordPress by Woodchuck Arts, a digital marketing firm with a variety of clients.  This did indeed cost money, but they believed the return on investment to present the club as a modern organization which cared about both dogs and community, was worth it.

How It’s Working

The club’s goal was to create a website that would attract millennials and younger people to the club, and so far it seems to be working.  Carol cited that they recently welcomed a young member who said the website was a major factor attracting her to this club.  The club showcases not only its shows but also the multiple ways it gives back to the local community through donations, including donations to benefit working dogs in their county sheriff’s department.

Administrative Details

Carol said they have just recently implemented Google Analytics on the site, and are waiting to collect a full month of data, but are planning to examine sources of traffic and see which sections of the site are most popular.  There are three administrators, they update the content as appropriate, roughly once a month.  Woodchuck Arts also scans the site monthly to make sure links and code are up to date and that the site is optimized to reflect any changes in search algorithms. The Grand Rapids Kennel Club also maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts, which are managed by a separate team.

This site has a private login area for members.  The members-only area houses copies of club newsletters, updated members and breeders list, and a section where members can share brags about their dogs’ accomplishments.

What About My Dog Club Website?

There are a number of other Michigan dog club websites that are attractive and responsive, i.e. created so they are easy to read on not only a desktop but also on mobile devices.  If your club’s site is not one of them consider an upgrade.  Hiring a professional web design firm will cost money, but the return on investment can be huge. A modern website engages people and can bring in new, younger members, drive public attendance to your events, and position club members as experts on dog issues.

What I Recommend

I personally recommend WordPress, but there are other options as well. If you have no website or web address at all, there are WordPress.com options that are available for no cost. For as little as $48 a year you can upgrade to a version that lets you use your existing web address and eliminate advertising. One of the advantages of Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress is that that they can be updated by someone without web coding skills. Multiple people can be assigned roles to maintain the site without having the power to seriously muck it up.

 

Hopping on The Canine DNA Test Bandwagon

wisdom panel logoI tested my dog Iris using the Wisdom 4.0 DNA test, which is marketed to people who are curious about what breeds make up their dog’s heritage. I was not surprised to find out that she was 100% Bull Terrier, and I was pleased that she wasn’t carrying genes for either of the two genetic diseases included in the test, but this was also no surprise as neither is a known issue in her breed.  The only breed-specific disease in Bull Terriers with a DNA test is Lethal Acrodermatitis, which has a single-gene test available through PennGen at the University of Pennsylvania.  Using the Wisdom Panel piqued my interest in the in-home tests and the reasons they are growing in popularity.

I tested Iris at the request of Dayna Dreger, who is a canine research scientist at Purdue University. I met Dayna early in 2018 at a dog show in Indianapolis where she was collecting DNA for a project involving canine feet.  She’s currently working on a dog color genetics project. Iris is black brindle but is starting to get more and more brown mixed in areas that used to be pure black, and Dayna noticed a photo of her on Facebook and wanted to include her DNA in  her project.   Check out a report on Dayna’s work identifying the relationships between dog breeds around the world, including some cool visualizations.

Popularity of In-Home DNA Testing is on the Rise

People are buying more DNA tests for their dogs, once again following a human trend to find ancestry and relatives through in-home DNA tests as shown in these charts based on Google Trends search data. Both types of tests see searches spike in November, suggesting they are being purchased as gifts.  (NOTE: The spike in general DNA test search in April 2018 may be related to DNA Day on 4/25/18 – the canine DNA test companies seem to have missed this marketing opportunity!)

 

Health Reasons to Test Canine DNA

Dog breeders should do relevant DNA testing, for heritable diseases to avoid matings that could produce affected puppies. Purebred dog owners can find out if theirs dogs are at risk for an adult-onset disease.   Many of the breed-specific tests are offered individually through universities, like the LAD test for Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers, but some also come bundled in DNA panel tests like the more expensive Wisdom Panel Health Test.  The number of tests and laboratories offering these tests is exploding, and canine health advocates are trying to help people find and select tests by creating a harmonized database of available tests.   Dog owners should careful when interpreting DNA-linked disease gene findings in breeds or mixes which are not the same breeds studied to initially identify the disease-linked genes.  Similar diseases in different breeds can have different genetic profiles, and misinterpreting a DNA report can have disastrous consequences for individual dogs.

Testing to Determine Parentage

Purebred dog owners can also test DNA to determine parentage.  The American Kennel Club requires that sires whose semen is collected and shipped for fresh chilled or frozen breedings be DNA tested so if there is any question, parentage can be confirmed. DNA profiles also come in to play for litters with multiple sires or in cases where purebred puppies’ parentage is disputed or unknown.  Yes,  there are scenarios in the purebred dog world that would be right at home on  Jerry Springer!  The AKC tests are used to determine parentage, or specifically to rule parents in or out, not to identify the breed of the dog in question.  The AKC tests are most akin to DNA tests conducted on crime scene artifacts and for paternity tests to identify parentage with confidence. AKC does some direct marketing of these tests to new AKC titlists who can receive a colorful certificate displaying their dog’s DNA profile.

Should You DNA Test Your Dog?

People who are curious about the breeds in your dog’s family tree have a number of commercial DNA test options, but results will not necessarily be identical across all the DNA tests out there. The number and breeds of dogs used to establish the profiles are not identical across all the tests, so results should be considered directional rather than definitive.  The Wisdom Panel has a fun quiz that illustrates how difficult it can be to guess which breeds are behind a given dog based on appearance.

DNA testing for dogs can be used to improve dog health, inform breeding decisions,  identify parentage or likely breed makeup for a specific dog.  Caution needs to be used using DNA to learn about dogs’ genetic risks; within a breed, consulting with your breed parent club can help you understand which tests are relevant and how to interpret results.  If you have a mixed breed dog, more caution is needed before interpreting disease gene data, as what is known within a single breed may not apply to other breeds or combinations of breeds.

 

Black Brindle Bull Terrier
Iris – GCH Ch Nuance Night in Tunisia, ROM, CGC, TKN

DNA Test result graph 100% Bull Terrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a Family Dog Event With Effective Publicity

Expanding on my theme of promoting AKC all breed clubs through websites,  I found a 2015 post in the Canine Chronicle written by then AKC Public Relations Director, Stephanie Smith.  In it, she talks to Dr. Alan Dorfman, a show chair associated with one of the Michigan dog show cluster websites I mentioned in my review of the AKC club website webinarThe Michigan Winter Dog Classic includes the Oakland County and  Livonia kennel clubs which hold four of the largest all-breed conformation shows in the state. Their January show weekend includes rally, agility and obedience trials and they share space with a changing cast of other dog events, including the AKC’s My Dog Can Do That program open to the general public, which the public loves, but which can be controversial among competitors.   Dr. Dorfman went into more detail about how they changed the positioning of the event from dog shows to a family event when they added the My Dog Can Do That activity in another Canine Chronicle article.

The cluster’s secrets to success include being open to new ideas and balancing the needs of both exhibitors and spectators to make it an enjoyable and memorable event for all. The event also has procured sponsorships with local media and a dog food manufacturer and engages in multiple advertising and public relations tactics to focus attention on the event in the month leading up to the shows.  Click here to download the AKC’s guide for promoting dog clubs, which provides public relations fundamentals and templates.  NOTE: The link to this document is broken in the Canine Chronicle article.

It is clear from my perspective as a potential exhibitor that the cluster website is targeted at the general public rather than the exhibitors or the event-giving clubs. There are at least 9 different clubs involved in the cluster, and none of them are mentioned by name on the cluster website, only links to outside sites that host information about entering.  The only service providers of interest to exhibitors that are mentioned by name are the veterinarians and clinics involved in the health clinics.  This is consistent with the cluster’s focus on presenting as a family event rather than a series of dog shows and trials, and looking at the gate vs entries figures presented in the Canine Chronicle articles, this strategy is paying off, as total attendance is more than a 3X multiple of  total entries quoted in the article.

Building Better Websites for AKC Dog Clubs

Pug dog with laptop

The American Kennel Club launched a series of educational webinars earlier this year aimed at dog fanciers and clubs and I have been watching them with great interest.  I understand much of this content has been shared with the AKC delegate body, but I can’t say I had heard about these educational programs through my AKC member club delegate.  The last webinar for 2018 covered best practices in club websites.   The webinar covered the fundamentals of good website design,  including

  • Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, i.e. SMART goals
  • Identify the audiences that you are trying to reach
  • Identify actions you want people to take on your website
  • Design for mobile usage
  • Have a content strategy
  • Ask for visitor feedback via surveys, forms, or email
  • Use web analytics to track activity on your site, and also collect other relevant metrics, like event entries or membership applications to measure the site’s effectiveness
  • Integrate social media sharing tools so visitors can share your content

The presenter strongly recommended using a Content Management System (CMS) and mentioned WordPress by name, as one of the complaints that AKC hears from clubs is that their sites are difficult to update and CMS frameworks make this much easier.   He also recommended that as clubs analyze where they are vs where they want to be, that they focus on optimizing the impact of change vs the effort to implement it and focus on areas that should yield maximum impact for the least effort.

Two national breed club websites were held out as good examples, the Golden Retriever Club of America and the American Shetland Sheepdog Association.  Both are WordPress sites, the GRCA site has multiple call to action buttons on the home page to attract attention and provide measurable actions, and also has Google Analytics installed as well as social sharing on Instagram and Facebook.  I would have liked to see some good examples from all breed clubs and clusters as well as local specialty and training clubs, but this webinar was a good start with an emphasis on fundamentals.

Out of curiosity, I decided to take a tour of all-breed AKC dog club websites, and to keep the task manageable, focused on clubs based in Michigan.  The AKC lists 24 licensed all breed dog clubs in the state and of those, 7 have an active website and 9 are represented by a site covering a cluster (multiple show giving clubs holding events on the same weekend).  A couple of the clubs have both a club site and are included in a cluster site.  It looks like 6 Michigan AKC all-breed dog clubs have abandoned websites, and 5 have no dedicated club website, dead or alive, that I could find.  A number of clubs, including some with no other online presence, have a Facebook page.  I’ll go into more depth about the use of Facebook by dog clubs after the AKC webinar on that topic scheduled for March 13, 2019. I could find only one all breed club in Michigan that had no dedicated website presence at all, but it is listed as being part of a dog show weekend by the all breed club that shares its show weekend on that club’s website.

The websites vary greatly in quality and the technology used to create them.  There are several modern looking websites created in WordPress (both .com and .org), some created in low cost website building tools like yoursite.com and weebly.com and then a few created in vintage web building tools including FrontPage and Dreamweaver.  I found two sites created by companies that appear to specialize in the “dog club/dog breeder” space.

A difficult truth is that a significant proportion of active AKC dog club members and volunteers are Baby Boomers and dog clubs are struggling to staff and execute profitable events, which often means websites receive limited support and funding. The paradox is that younger generations, who love dogs and are interested in doing things with them, are looking for dogs, dog services, and dog activities online, but many clubs are not able to connect with this new audience through effective use of online tools.

To address this disconnect, the AKC will be offering webinars on social media strategy, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in 2019. I have had success using Instagram and Facebook to promote the Bull Terrier Club of Metro Detroit, attracting new people to our events who then decided to join the club.   Several of these new members mentioned they had no idea there was such a thing as a local breed club and they were excited to find like minded dog owners; an online presence can be a valuable tool for clubs looking to expand their reach.

You Gotta Love Dog Car Ads

25640649 – breed golden retriever river filed out of the car window.

The Dog Marketing Blog reflects where two of my worlds, marketing, and dogs, intersect, and I am especially fond of covering the moments when my marketing sub-specialty, automotive also gets into this picture.  Earlier this year MediaPost published an article describing how Land Rover marketed to dog owners at a horse event in Kentucky, and then went on to mention the Nissan Dogue concept which has been making the auto show rounds and the ongoing use of dogs in Subaru advertising.

This is one of those cyclical ideas in automotive advertising (I tried unsuccessfully to get my agency to sell the idea to Chrysler.) The brands and vehicles that try dog tie-ins tend to be those with an “outdoorsy”  persona.  The marketing team will point out how many people and especially their brand’s prospects own dogs, which makes it a natural association.  Association with a favorite animal, much like an association with a favorite celebrity, it thought to be an overall positive for the brand.

A commenter on the MediaPost article noted a previous instance where Land Rover partnered with a national animal rights association, they felt they were reaching a younger audience who showed a strong interest in acquiring their dogs through rescue organizations.  The issue with the Nissan Rogue Dogue, like most “custom” dog vehicles, is that the dog-specific features are usually things that are bolted on the vehicle as an afterthought rather than designed into the vehicle from the ground up, and one reviewer thought the add-ons detracted from vehicle performance.     Often the package of custom branded pet items are way more expensive than similar items purchased from a pet specialty retailer.

Subaru has stuck to this strategy a long time and is the automotive brand that I believe has the longest running and most consistent use of dogs in advertising, I described a partnership with ASPCA and Eddie Bauer back in the Dog Marketing Blog in 2009.  In 2010, AdAge described Subaru’s continuing partnership with ASPCA as well as dog-centric media buys on the Puppy Bowl and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.   Starting with the Dog Tested, Family approved spots in 2009 and continuing on with the Barkleys family of retrievers. The purebred dog fancier in me notes that the Barkleys are a diverse blended family much like we see in ads for human products, with a yellow Labrador Retriever playing mom to a dad and kids that all appear to be purebred Golden Retrievers.

 

 

Can You Really Customize Your Dog’s Food Online?

natural, organic dog's food in a bowl with ingredients zucchini, carrot, eggs and raw meat

There is an interesting subset of dog food customization and delivery that I’m seeing more references to lately.  If you search for “Custom Dog Food”, Google returns over 43 million results.  I have a problem calling it customized dog food, because as far as I can tell, each brand presents a limited number of options, although they do walk prospective customers through a questionnaire to select the best option available for their dog(s).

This trend that builds on several trends in human and canine nutrition.  The popularity of meal kits, like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, the growing humanization of pets, concerns about the quality of pet food ingredients, concerns about individual pet nutrition needs, often related to digestive problems, weight management and allergies, have all converged and led to the launch of quite a number of brands marketing custom dog food options.  Purveyors range from small businesses to multinational pet food manufacturers.  It’s not hard to find articles designed to help people sort through the alternatives, here’s one from Consumer’s Advocate, and another from Reviews.com  but it still could be a daunting task with millions of alternatives!

Marketing for these foods, for the most part, focuses on quality, transparency, and customization.  Dog food is highly regulated because it is designed to serve as a single food source, but the terms used to describe ingredients and package labeling requirements can be confusing at best.   Some sites go to great lengths to explain these terms and how their foods are formulated, others focus on the quality of their ingredients without getting into the weeds of feed terminology and definitions.

The sites that offer custom dry or kibble foods rather than freshly cooked ones tend to make less detailed claims about their ingredients but still emphasize high-quality ingredients and customization as key benefits of their products.

One barrier to buying from these brands is the amount of work needed  to select a vendor and set up a profile, but for people expending a lot of energy dealing with a dog that’s not doing well on its current food, this could be a time saver in the long run if the food results in better health.   In researching this post, I went through a bunch of work on several sites to set up a profile only to discover all the “custom” options included some of my dog’s biggest allergens. Most of the food companies offer free shipping and flexible delivery options, so once those are set up, getting the food is a no-brainer, you just need to pay for it.

Which leads me to what I consider the biggest barrier to adoption of these custom foods in my opinion which is cost.  Doing a quick comparison for Marley, my senior dog with multiple food allergies, prices  ranged from  just under $40 for a 24 days’ supply from Purina’s Just Right kibble blend, which is comparable to the price of the premium kibble I feed my other dogs, to more than 8 times that amount, $334 dollars for the same days’ quantity of food from Fresh Food for Dogs. I’m going to add that I’m not 100% sure either food is completely free of allergens, as each food contains some things that were not included on Marley’s food allergy test.  So  I’ll just continue to make her meals with venison or chicken and green beans plus supplements at home, following the recommendation of Dr. John Smith DVM, our functional medicine vet it’s been working for her and for me, she’s worth the time and trouble.

 

Great Source for Dog Marketing Intelligence

Pet Business Professor logo

Barriers to entry are low in many sectors of the dog-related industry.  Which means that there are many small businesses marketing products and services for dogs and other pets.  Many dog product entrepreneurs are fueled by their passion to solve a problem they experienced with their own pets which inspired them to launch their business.   They start with an idea, develop a product or service and then start selling with limited resources for marketing support, let alone market research and analysis.

Enter John Gibbons, the Pet Business Professor.  John maintains a website where he publishes detailed analyses of public data about pet spending, discusses industry trends, and offers guidance on how to get the most out of pet industry trade shows.   This information can help pet businesses of all sizes, but I think should be of particular interest to small companies without the resources to dig into all this data themselves.   I suspect even many mid-size to large businesses are not doing this type of in-depth analysis of data that is publicly available, but not user-friendly in its original form.

You can subscribe to The Pet Business Professor blog via email to get updates when a new article is published.  The industry deep dives don’t come out very often, but they contain a treasure trove of information.  In the weeks leading up to major industry trade shows, like Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo, the Pet Professor will publish maps and attendance strategy guides to help you map out a plan of attack to get the most out of these vast displays from pet product purveyors.

I recommend that everyone in the dog marketing space visit The Pet Business Professor website, you’re certain to learn something of value.

PetCoach Comprehensive In-Store Dog Support System

My husband and I are fans of Shark Tank, and we happened to watch a vintage episode from November 2016 where Pupbox was pitched,  The company was offering a subscription box to puppy owners which followed the puppies with age-appropriate offerings through adulthood, when they switched to an adult dog version of the box.  The segment ends happily as Shark Robert Herjavec makes an offer that the owners accept.

As the owners mentioned the struggles that inspired the business, which involved figuring out what they should be buying for their own pet, it struck me that had they only purchased their dog from a responsible, AKC Breeder of Merit type of breeder, they would not have had so much trouble, as a dedicated dog breeder will follow and support their puppy buyers throughout the puppies’ lifetime and often beyond.

But Pupbox, and in turn, Petco realized that not every dog or puppy buyer is so lucky. People acquire dogs many ways including, from friends and family who no longer want the dog, from rescues and shelters that don’t have the staff to engage in long-term follow-up, as strays that wander into their lives, and from breeders whose motivation to engage with puppy buyers ends at the point of sale. Petco acquired Pupbox in November 2017,  about 5 months after they acquired Petcoach, an online consulting service which also provides the same type of support that comes with a responsibly bred puppy.

In July 2018, Petco announced a retail experiment, turning PetCoach into a retail store in San Marcos, California.  The concept provides a select group of high-quality products and services inside a PetCoach store. Products include high quality, curated food selection, including custom formulations from Petco’s partner Just Food For Dogs and also offers comprehensive online record keeping for dog services available in-store.

In today’s world where specialty retail is under attack from both online vendors and the expanding pet product set in mass retailers, this provides a service level that will be very hard to match.  The question is whether this concept will generate sufficient loyalty and in turn profit, to survive.

 

Furniture Grade Dog Crates are going strong

wooden townhaus dog crate
TownHaus by DenHaus

More than ten years since I first noticed the brand, I’m pleased to see that the furniture grade dog crates by DenHaus are still available.  The only one that looks large enough for a Bull Terrier is the TownHaus which is a rather traditional styled wood piece in a rectangular shape. At close to $400 it’s a lot more than a VariKennel, but it looks very nice and comes in a variety of colors. I really prefer the sleek look of the oval ZenHaus and round BowHaus but given the number of dogs and crates I already have I don’t think any of the Hauses are in my future soon!   This might be a good item for dog show vending at large shows – where they can reach people with passion for dogs and money to spend on high end dog crates.  I have a couple of friends that have put their wood or metal working talents to use making some really cool dog crates so it’s good to see someone make a commercial product from that idea.

In the ensuing years, as dogs are more and more perceived as and treated like family, the availability of furniture-like dog crates has increased dramatically. I think it’s telling that the TownHaus referenced above has decreased in price since I first noticed it in 2009.   A Google search for furniture grade dog crates yields over 2 million results, with the DenHaus products in the middle of page 1 results. Ads served alongside the search show that mass market and online retailers are also getting in the act with wood and wood-like dog crate options.

While DenHaus survives, the website where I first noticed it, Main Street Dog has evolved into a hodgepodge of dog product promotions and dog advice articles.  The site sells advertising and I’m getting the feeling it’s been watching me, I saw several ads for products I researched while writing this post.