Promoting Michigan Dog Events, Products, and Services

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide is a unique publication targeted to dog owners in Michigan.   Beth Mitchell launched this guide to dog-related events, products, and services in Michigan in 2015 and it has steadily grown as more organizations and advertisers contribute.

Beth was inspired by the Arizona Equine Resource Guide,  published by her sister who is active in equine events in that state.  Beth didn’t have a horse, but she does have a dog, and she had spent a lot of time and energy finding the best resources to train her dog and resolve some behavior issues.  She thought there had to be other people looking for a central repository of information on dog events and dog-related services, so the Michigan Canine Resource Guide was born.

Beth started gathering content for the publication in 2014, creating a dog-themed cover and using her sister’s equine guide as an example of the type of content (with horses) that would be featured.  She had booths at dog shows and dog expos around the state and asked people she met at those events how they publicized their events, then explained how the Guide could expand their audience.  She also asked for referrals to other types of events and host organizations she should include.  She solicited ads from other event vendors and asked for referrals to canine professionals, retailers, and manufacturers to find other potential advertisers.  Many lunch hours on her day job included ad sales calls!  Event-giving clubs and organizations are encouraged to contribute dog events for the calendar to help make the publication as complete as possible; there is no charge for the listing.  Advertisers not only appear in the publication, their events are promoted through weekly emails, they are listed in an online directory, and they contribute articles and blog posts that appear in the publication, on the website, or both. Beth retains a creative director who produces ads and other content as needed and has several part-time ad salespeople recruited from the dog community.

The publication is still promoted through booths at select dog events, and every year Beth attends new events to reach a wider audience.  The guides are distributed free at dog events, participating businesses, and pet specialty retailers.  The guide can be viewed interactively online or downloaded in pdf format from the Michigan Canine Resource Guide website.   In addition to the guide itself, the Michigan Canine Resource Guide has an online calendar of events on their website, a directory listing for all advertisers,  and blog posts on a variety of canine topics.  The Guide also has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter (@MiDogGuide) accounts. It stays in contact with dog enthusiasts through an opt-in weekly newsletter and advertisers also have an option to send sponsored emails to subscribers.  As the publication has grown, Beth has upgraded her marketing tools and currently uses WordPress for the website and MailChimp to manage her email subscription list.

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide has grown steadily in event listings, advertisers, and circulation since its launch.  Beth’s goal is to provide all Michigan dog owners with the resource they need to find local businesses, services, and events that will enable them and their dogs to live a healthy, happy life together. The biggest challenge is getting ALL the dog clubs in the state to contribute information about their events in a timely manner, so the event calendar is as comprehensive as possible.  Beth hopes that as the Guide becomes more and more of a “must have” for Michigan dog lovers, every canine organization or business will feel it’s an important element in their promotional plan.

 

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Taylor Pond Farms raw dog food

Taylor Pond Farms logoTaylor Pond Farms is a raw food vendor with a booth at the Livonia Kennel Club and Oakland County Kennel Club dog show cluster in Novi Michigan in January. This was the second event the company had bought booth space and the second time they had been to the Rock Financial Showplace, the first time being for the Family Pet Expo in November, 2009.

The business didn’t start in pet food; owner Pete Moolhuizen got an idea to breed rabbits for meat for high-end restaurants on a trip to Europe. There he saw rabbit breeders doing well in that trade, so when he got back to the US, he started raising rabbits on their farm in Western Michigan. The business was doing well, and then one day he got a call from a dog owner asking what they did with the rabbit heads and feet, the parts that weren’t used by restaurants. At that time, they were just throwing them away. The dog owner offered to buy the leftover parts, word spread, and before long the business was offering a variety of meats strictly to pet owners. They had to stop raising their own rabbits because the demands of the business didn’t allow time to properly care for the animals.

Taylor Ponds sells through a network of distributors and their foods are strictly one-species per package, something that anyone who owns a dog with multiple allergies will appreciate.  They are not complete foods in and of themselves, but can be  fed as part of a raw diet along with other nutrients.  Except for these shows, the company relies on their distributors,  word of mouth and their website for promotion.

The Taylor Ponds website lists 10 different species of animal meat available, including rabbit, deer, duck, goat and fish. All meat is from US farms, except for some venison that is hunted. Their display at the dog show included a number of dehydrated treats including chicken and rabbit feet and beef trachea. The Moolhuizens found the serious dog people at the shows contained a higher proportion of raw feeders than the more pet-centric attendees at the Pet Expo.  Barb told me she was  surprised by requests for liver, which they  did not bring to the show. They plan to add more events to their marketing plan, next stop will be the Detroit Kennel Club show in March.

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Detroit Kennel Club Vendor Review

At last weekend’s Detroit Kennel Club show, I took some time Sunday morning to do another vendor review.  Even though it appeared they sold less vendor space this year than last, I knew there was no way I’d get through the whole gamut, so I confined myself to one of the short sides of the hall. My interviews included Gretchen’s Creations, with interesting personalized plaster bas-relief artwork (including the option to incorporate cremains in the pieces), Sunbear’s Just Bones, who buys all their food ingredients at Kroger (not China), Smucci’s which makes astounding functional pet bed decor, and Lisa Welch Designs, a jewelry maker with lovely dog-themed designs.  More to come!

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Dog Show Vendor Profile: Whitman Sharpening

As promised, here’s more detail on one of the dog show vendors I interviewed last week, Whitman Sharpening. They have been the sharpening vendor of choice for my all breed club, the Progressive Dog Club of Wayne County, for as long as I can remember.  Their mobile repair shop can sharpen and repair scissors and clippers for exhibitors on-site and keeps their staff busy throughout the show  weekend. The business  started out sharpening drill bits, then they learned about the opportunity to work at horse shows.  Show horses, like show dogs, need a lot of grooming and horse shows also need on-site sharpening vendors. The horse people told them about dog shows, and eventually the business evolved to primarily service dog groomers. Their business is based in Coleman, Michigan, pretty much in the heart of mid-Michigan between Midland and Clare.   They repair equipment from dog grooming salons throughout the state as well as dog and horse show exhibitors that ship equipment in. The only horse show they attend regularly is the Quarter Horse Congress, a three-week long event in Columbus, Ohio.  They’ve also expanded their business to carry some grooming supplies, focusing on products that grant exclusive territories to distributors, like Chris Christensen.  Their primary means of promotion is word of mouth among groomers; their website lists the products and services available and also allows customers to download a work order to send with items being shipped in for repair.

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Dog Marketers at the Dog Show

I decided to make use of the time I had free waiting for group competition at the Oakland County Kennel Club show and talk to some of the dog show vendors about their businesses.  My interviews included Gotcha Framed, with artsy magnetic frames, show circuit staple Whitman Sharpening, Glass Garden Engraving with hand painted glassware, Always Special and Personal with scented wax dipped stuffed toys, Diane’s Dream Pet Products, Cedar Creek pet beds, and Pet Fabulous, with high end leather leads and collars. I’ll break the individual interviews out in separate posts, but some general observations. Only one of the people I talked to had ever shown dogs; three had exhibited at craft or art shows first, and heard about the dog show opportunity from other craftspeople.  Others started their business targeting other customer niches and discovered better dog marketing opportunities; two actually started selling pet products.  A quick note re: their web sites – the only one with tracking was also the only one claiming to get much  businesss online – cause or effect?  I was also surprised how much people had to share, I thought I could easily get around to all the vendors during my 3 hours of down time, but I wasn’t able to even talk to half of them.  I will admit I might have squeezed a couple more in who were so busy that I didn’t feel comfortable interrupting. The booth selling fleece dog coats on this blustery day was going great guns, not surprising since 4 inches of snow fell during the day and the temperature at my ring time was 9 degrees, but felt like -10!

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