Commentary & Analysis
Growing a Boarding Business with Print
What happens when a lifelong print industry account executive starts an entrepreneurial venture? An instructive look behind one entrepreneur’s marketing that includes Facebook, word of mouth, and print.
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: February 28, 2018
Glenn Arens started in the printing business when he was 15 years old and dedicated his life to printing for the next 40 years. A former account executive for a number of printing companies (most recently PrintComm/Marketing Impact), he is now running a full-service boarding and grooming facility with his wife, Denise, and his five—soon to be six with an upcoming adoption—children. Yet the printing in him lives on.
I ran into Arens as part of a discussion about why industry members love print. Even though the majority of his marketing is now on Facebook, his business was founded using print marketing, and his love and sense for the value of print still influences how he markets his business.
Like so many marketers today, Glenn’s budget for Flying A Canine Ranch, located just outside Detroit, is largely spent on digital, so how and when he has used print can be instructive. How has print played a role in this growing business?
Arens’ first use of print was to produce 225 surveys to learn who boarded dogs, what they valued, and why. He went around his town, asking everyone from friends and family to the local barber to fill those surveys out. “They didn’t have to board dogs,” Arens says. “They just had to own them. We wanted to know, ‘Do you board dogs? If you do, how do you choose a boarding facility? What’s most important to you? If you don’t board, why not?’”
Arens and his wife discovered that three things are more important to local dog owners than anything else—safety, cleanliness, and playtime. Sure, radiant floors and other features are cool, but dog owners want to know that their dogs are safe and will have fun during their stay. The couple built the business around the top three things these printed surveys uncovered.
The next step was to get name recognition. The ranch opened before EDDM, so Arens purchased a list of dog owners in the area. Although the survey indicated that 70% of the boarding business is referrals, he knew that in order for referrals to have the most effect, the ranch had to build name recognition. That meant direct mail. So he created a direct mailing introducing the business to local residents and describing what makes it unique. He also took out full-page ads in local newspapers.
Next, how to get those referrals? So the couple asked themselves, “Who do we trust the most with our dog ourselves?” Their answer was, “Our vet.” So the next big marketing push was to use direct mail to invite all of the veterinarians within 20 miles of the building to a tour of the facility. Glenn and his wife also invested in high-quality four-color brochures that the vets could take back to their offices with them.
“Even if they couldn't come to the event, they appreciated the fact that we invited them in the first place,” says Arens. “Many asked for us to send brochures to their offices that they could display.”
Flying A Canine Ranch also set up a Facebook page, where it has built a very active community. In fact, it has more “likes” than the larger, more established boarding facilities in the area do.
Every day, the ranch staff posts pictures of the pets in their care. They also host daycare parties for holidays and special events created by the ranch. The staff posts pictures from those events and boosts them. “While the parties don't make money in and of themselves, we use them as marketing events to make people aware of our daycare and boarding,” says Arens. “Clients also share their posts with their own Facebook friends, which serves as a powerful form of word-of-mouth advertising.”
Even now that the business is established, Arens continues to reach out to local veterinarians. While he no longer does direct mail or newspaper advertising, he does make sure the vets always have enough brochures on hand (“They also are really good about calling us when they're running low,” he says). Arens also regularly drops by with “treats,” maintaining that strong rapport that continues to give Flying A Canine Ranch the referrals that are so important to its business.
In 2006, the ranch opened with no customers. Today, it serves more than 1,900 families and growing.
Takeaways for printers? Established businesses with strong digital marketing programs may be hard to crack, but new businesses may not be. At the fledgling stage, they need both print and digital marketing to establish credibility and get their businesses off the ground. The story of Flying A Canine Ranch shows just how important print channels can be to establishing those things, and while at a certain point that business may not need the same type of print marketing as it once did, those needs will still be there. You’ll just have to find them.