The pet-food brand’s founder and Cincinnati franchisee actively contributes to animal-protection programs in her community.
In the three years since its founding, pet-food franchise Pet Wants has seen enormous growth, establishing more than 70 stores in markets across the U.S. But it all started in Cincinnati, where the brand’s founder, Michele Hobbs, still owns and operates her first store.
In Hobbs’s three-plus years as a small business owner in Cincinnati, she has been an active member in a number of local nonprofits. Hobbs says her commitment to giving back to the community represents both a personal passion and a savvy business sense. We talked to Hobbs to learn more about how and why she’s placed an emphasis on outreach.
How does giving back to your local community help grow your business?
Hobbs: First off, it's incredibly important to be involved in your local community to grow your business. In the beginning, you may only be able to volunteer or be a conduit to help your community and specific outreach programs. There are many ways to give back without forking over your hard-earned profits.
What local charitable efforts have you pursued to connect with your local community?
Hobbs: Because Pet Wants is an animal-related business, we made the decision early on to only participate in animal-related nonprofit programs. We believe your fundraising and charitable donations should remain within the scope of your business. That will allow you to reach more of your prospective customers. As our business has grown, we have been able to participate in a few other nonprofit arenas that have personal importance to us as well. But especially when you first start out, you need to focus on what charitable outreach you do that can best help your business.
What are your best tips for marketing a local business?
Hobbs: At Pet Wants, we have never purchased an ad. We go to community events and set up a booth and meet folks face to face. The pet-food industry is under the complete control of mass-produced corporate-owned pet food companies. There is no way we could spend enough money to even be a blip on a radar when it comes to advertising what we do and the benefits we provide for pets and people. If you have a unique product, you need to find a way to get in front of folks who value your product and service. Traditional social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google are essential. Your Google presence is critical so that people will find you in an internet search.
How effective are charitable efforts in growing your business?
Hobbs: Even though I believe that your charitable outreach should be in your arena of business, you are not necessarily doing this just to grow your business. I believe that every citizen should participate on a personal level out of charity alone. And businesses even more so. Once you begin to give back, you will quickly see the business impact, which may generally be acknowledged either in the press or on social media. I am not sure how to measure the effectiveness, but after years of supporting nonprofit pet programs, folks know they can count on us and the feedback in our stores has been tremendous.
What advice would you give to other franchisees who are just starting their businesses to best set themselves up for success on the local level?
Hobbs: The first thing we did was to identify what we wanted to spend our money on, which was animal nonprofits. Then we decided that we would only be able to spend up to $200 a month in product or gift certificates for food. That meant gift baskets or gift certificates for donations. By setting a limit and a specific arena for us to support, it allowed us to say no. For a small business, saying no is often as important as saying yes. We are asked on a daily basis to support a fundraiser or event or to give a donation. It is absolutely impossible to say yes to everything. If a school calls us asking for contributions so they can buy new band outfits, we can tell them that all of our outreach goes to support animal nonprofits. Once we have exhausted our budget, we can tell a group to try us back in a month once our budget renews. For instance, we are currently booked through January 2019 with nonprofit donations and gifts. That is not to say, though, that we will not attend an event and pay for a booth. That gives us an opportunity to be in front of folks and support the cause. That is still part of the marketing budget and not a donation that we just give away.
Now that we are a seasoned business here in Cincinnati, we have the opportunity to spend a little more money on nonprofits that are a little more focused on our community. We are now able to donate to a fund or benefit that feeds children or helping impoverished neighborhoods as well as our traditional nonprofit animal programs.