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Pet Supplies Plus opened its first pet specialty shop in 1988 in Redford, Michigan. It grew to more than 315 locations across the U.S., with four million customers in its customer database. In 2015, people spent $60.28 billion on their pets in U.S. Despite the demand, this highly competitive market requires Pet Supplies Plus to work hard to stay relevant—especially during a major rebrand.

Cleo Parker is the marketing analyst in charge of PSP Pet Connection, a Vision Critical insight community of 5,000 of Pet Supplies Plus customers. She builds relationships with customers, conducts consumer research and plays an integral role in measuring marketing effectiveness. We sat down with Parker to hear the story of how Pet Supplies Plus relied on feedback from PSP Pet Connection to help guide the company through a rebrand.

Join us at the Customer Intelligence Summit in Chicago this September 20-21 to hear from Parker and many more inspirational thought leaders and global brand representatives.

What was the original purpose of the Pet Supplies Plus rebrand?

As our pace of expansion and new store openings increased, we wanted to make sure our brand message was on target and truly communicated what our customers, or as we call them, neighbors, considered to be our core strengths. Rebranding is a high-stakes process, and can be highly emotional and uneasy for any company. That’s why we worked with an external agency to gather in-depth qualitative insight about why people love shopping with us. We narrowed the rebrand down to a few concepts, but lacked the quantitative data to know which connected best with our customers.

What concepts were you considering for the rebrand?

Leadership thought our differentiators were that we’re a more fun place to shop, we provide better value than big box stores, we have slightly lower prices than our competitors and we offer more high-end organic and natural foods. While we were pushing to emphasize great quality, our agency was leaning toward highlighting how easy it was to shop at our stores.

How did you decide the direction of the rebrand?

The members of the PSP Pet Connection insight community are an educated bunch who research their pet foods and read labels for nutrition and quality. We trust them deeply and have a great relationship with them. Over the span of one weekend, our insight community members had confirmed that they come to Pet Supplies Plus for the quality products and nutrition, but they felt our key advantage over other pet specialty chains was convenience and ease. They want helpful and quick customer service, but buying must be easy—that’s why they come to us. One community member even said he calls in to order and pay ahead to avoid all hassle.

What is the new key messaging?

Instead of focusing on the fun, quirky ‘voice of the pet’ messaging we used in the past, our brand message evolved to ‘we make it easy to get the best products for your pet.’ Our community got us to focus on the right message and get it quickly back into the agency’s hand for creative. Throughout the store, online and in marketing materials, we highlight that you get great quality, minus the hassle.

“Before our insight community, we weren’t doing much to talk to our customers. Research was slow, expensive and inefficient. Now it couldn’t be easier.”

You’ve had your insight community since 2015. What’s changed about how you gather customer intelligence?

I have a strong marketing research background at agencies and marketing firms. But before our insight community, we weren’t doing much to talk to our customers. Research was slow, expensive and inefficient. People launched one-off ad hoc surveys without strategy or coordination. Our insight community reduced the time that it took to land on our new brand promise and get creative done. We develop ideas, test them right away and get customer feedback built into the entire process. Now it couldn’t be easier. We get insight at the speed of our business and it doesn't break the bank.

Another big advantage with our community is that we have easy access to the right people. We know from previous research that our shoppers are more likely to be attentive, package-reading consumers than those who shop at average pet specialty chains. Had we just talked to pet owners in general, we wouldn’t have an accurate read on our customers’ preferences, attitudes and behaviors.

Has your community helped with new product development and in-store branding?

After our private label vitamin supplement supplier decided to leave the pet industry, we needed to brand our new private label supplements. We had recently launched a successful private label dog food and considered extending that brand to supplements. Based on earlier success, we ran this idea by our community. We asked them questions like: should we add supplements to the dog food line, should we depict a dog on the packaging and would it be a better fit with one of our other private label brands? Within days we had a full report on how our customers preferred to keep the two product-category brands separate. We decided to keep them separate and launch the supplement line under our more established PS+ brand.

Pet Supplies Plus rebrandThis insight must be incredibly useful throughout your category management process.

Exactly. Vendors tell us how to showcase their products in our store, but without customer intelligence, we wouldn’t know whether things like layout, for example, significantly impacts people’s buying decisions. There are more people at the table having discussions like this now at Pet Supplies Plus, making our community that much more important.

“We made the right decision because it was based on data and real customer feedback, not just opinion.”

How do you feel about the rebrand?

Vision Critical helps us better understand what our customers want in a retail experience, putting us at ease for making major changes to the brand because our trusted customers said it was the right thing to do. I think we made the right decision because it was based on data and real customer feedback, not just opinion. It reduced the risk of making a wrong decision, and made us feel more confident than just going on our gut. After the first round of in-store branding changes, we received very positive feedback from our franchise owners. We plan to do more quantitative assessment as we roll out more of the new brand.

Cleo Parker will be speaking at the upcoming Customer Intelligence Summit in Chicago this September 20-21. Join us at the Summit to learn more about how she uses customer feedback to guarantee products, refresh branding and get ahead of consumer trends.

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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