KROGER TEAMS WITH VETS FOR NEW BREED OF PET CARE PROMOTION

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Kroger Co. is teaming up with local veterinarians in an effort to win back pet-aisle sales that have been lost to other classes of trade.The Cincinnati-based retailer is publishing brochures listing area veterinarians along with other providers of pet services and health and welfare tips for pet owners. Kroger is backing the brochures with newspaper advertisements, children's coloring

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Kroger Co. is teaming up with local veterinarians in an effort to win back pet-aisle sales that have been lost to other classes of trade.

The Cincinnati-based retailer is publishing brochures listing area veterinarians along with other providers of pet services and health and welfare tips for pet owners. Kroger is backing the brochures with newspaper advertisements, children's coloring contests, in-store displays and sponsorship of pet-related events like dog shows.

The veterinarian partnership program, introduced into the Delta Kroger Marketing Area here, currently includes 46 veterinarian offices in Memphis and environs.

"Your family veterinarian and Kroger are teaming up to provide you with valuable pet health care information and exciting offers. I truly believe that this information will help you become a better pet owner and can help your pet lead a healthier, happier life," a letter inside the directory brochure, signed "Your Family Veterinarian," reads.

"By teaming with veterinarians, your best source of professional pet health advice, Kroger recognizes the important role pets play in your family. Kroger and your family veterinarian are eager to help you provide the best health care possible for your pet," the letter continues.

Officials at Kroger did not return phone calls seeking comment, but Steven Shapira, senior vice president for marketing and strategic planning at Mars Advertising, the Detroit agency that coordinated the program, labeled it "very successful." He said his agency was first asked by Kroger two years ago to do research on how it could improve its pet care business.

"Supermarkets across the country have had a lot of their businesses depleted by the super pet stores that have come on the scene, like PetSmart and PetCo," Shapira said.

"We went into the marketplace, did some research and found out everything we could by talking to pet owners. We found out things like how often they shopped, what they bought, where they bought it. We also asked some questions about veterinary care," he told SN.

"The mission of the program brings together the vets and the supermarket in an exclusive veterinarian alliance to educate the supermarket shoppers about practicing responsible pet ownership with pet tips, publications and pet care books," he said.

In addition to the Delta KMA, similar efforts have been established in the Nashville, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn,; Atlanta; Houston; and Dallas/Fort Worth KMAs. Early next year Shapira said he will expand the program to an as of yet unnamed major West Coast chain.

The supermarket actually gives the clients incentives to take their pets to the vet through the partnership, Shapira said.

"What the supermarket gains is customer loyalty; the shoppers tell us that the supermarket really cares about them and their pets. It helps the veterinarians because it increases client visits and builds their practices," he said.

Participating veterinarians contacted by SN generally looked favorably on the program.

"A couple of clients told me that they saw [our name] in the Kroger brochure. So it is bringing some response," said Melody Talley, clinical manager at Yale Road Animal Hospital, here.

Talley said her local Kroger store is supporting the program with a huge display.

"The display is in the pet department and it is surrounded by pet food, collars, shampoos -- anything that you would need for a pet," she said.

Arlon Duke, practice manager at the Collierville Animal Clinic, Collierville, Tenn., said his hospital joined the program after it received approval from the local veterinary association.

"We thought it was an avenue where we could help educate the public at no cost to our association," he said, adding, "We are trying to get as much pet information to pet owners as possible and we are trying to help Kroger out if they are willing to place newspaper ads and try other marketing efforts."

Duke said Kroger has been running more pet needs advertisements and co-sponsored the Wonderful World of Dogs show that was held at the Agricenter convention hall here recently.

Mallory M. Mattice of the Dog & Cat Clinic hospital here said he is promoting the program in his office.

"We have a display with the brochures and other materials," Mattice said.

Lisa Beckman, practice manager at the Memphis Pet Emergency Hospital/Fox Meadows Animal Hospital here, labeled the Kroger program as a "viable and worthy cause."

Ralph Pope of the Pope Animal Clinic here said his office stocks brochures containing coupons redeemable only at Kroger.

"It is reciprocal. Kroger sends people to us and we send the customer back to them," he said, adding that Kroger helped to promote the program by sponsoring a coloring contest.

A spokeswoman for the Lakeway Animal Clinic in rural Paris, Tenn., said she has not seen any increase in business since being listed in the brochure, because her local Kroger store decided not to participate and the next nearest store is 150 miles away.