Susie and Jeffery Wilber of Vero Beach, Florida, didn’t have to think too hard when it came to naming their business. After all, The Laughing Dog Gallery would provide the Wilbers’ the perfect excuse to bring their bull mastiffs — Sophie, Sherman, Stella, and Dolly — to work. With the portly canine crew lounging around the store, it’s no wonder the Wilbers have “heard every ‘bull in the china shop’ joke there is” from their customers.
Vero Beach, Florida Gift Shop: The Laughing Dog Gallery, which specializes in glass crafts and original artisan jewelry, was envisioned as a collection that “represents the best in American creativity and ingenuity,” said Susie, who holds an M.S. in architectural design and is a licensed interior designer.
When designing the gallery, Susie’s aim was to celebrate creativity in many ways: by showcasing works from both emerging and acclaimed artists, by offering an eclectic selection of American-made craft that can be enjoyed by both beginning and experienced collectors, and by providing customers with true expertise and outrageously good service.
Jewelry Becomes a Star
The store’s mission has stayed the same, although it has undergone many changes since it opened in 2000. For instance, it didn’t offer jewelry at first and carried just an assortment of glass, wood, furniture, and ceramics. But as the store grew, the Wilbers suspected that jewelry could add value to their business — and they were right! Now, around half of the
shop’s revenue comes from jewelry sales. The gallery’s jewelry collection is currently comprised of about 30 brands. When adding new jewelry designers to their gallery, the Wilbers use their contacts in the best way possible, often relying on referrals from other gallery owners and artists.
While getting talented designers on board was easy, the next step wasn’t. It took the Wilbers a lot of effort to figure out a way to ensure the small necklaces and earrings don’t get lost among the relatively larger craft pieces. “People would come in and say, ‘Look at all this beautiful jewelry. I didn’t know you had jewelry,’” Susie recalled. “A little bell went off, so we started changing things up a bit.”
The Laughing Dog’s Marketing Genius
In order to direct the attention of their visitors to key pieces of jewelry, the Wilbers displayed large banners in the corner storefront windows of the gallery, featuring enticing photos of their jewelry designs.
Next, they brilliantly staged the jewelry to attract the customers’ attention. Using accessories like brightly colored perfume bottles, they displayed the jewelry pieces to showcase their beauty. They also placed them in the first room, right in the center, adjacent to the entrance.
In addition to placing the right thing in the right spot, the Wilbers keep moving products around because “they take on a whole new look” when moved to a different case or location in the gallery.
Vero Beach, Florida Gift Shop: The Laughing Dog Gallery generates 90% of its annual revenue from November to April, so the Wilbers have ample time to take stock and think about the changes needed in the store. One year, they replaced all the lighting with LED bulbs. “New carpet, new paint, whatever needs doing, we take advantage of the slow summertime to do those chores,” Susie added. It also allows the gallery staff to take some time off. That way, they’re all fresh, enthusiastic, and ready to go in September.
Although steps like merchandise rotation and store upgrades have helped the store grow, their ingenious advertising tactics have helped them the most. For instance, they successfully use the backs of their customers to spread the word — by gifting them yellow shirts and ball caps with the gallery’s cartoon mascot.
On Saturday mornings, Jeff puts on his yellow Laughing Dog Gallery shirt and hat, loads the bull mastiffs in the truck, and drives around the beach for a few hours while the farmer’s market is in full swing. “They generate a lot of traffic for us on Saturdays,” Susie said of Jeff, who is a building contractor specializing in luxury residential construction.
They advertise via print ads in local magazines and newspapers. “We advertise regularly in Vero Beach Magazine, a monthly glossy publication that has a large readership and is in most of the hotels on the beach,” Susie said. “In addition, we have had good success with ads in a weekly beachside newspaper. Many of the local snowbirds even have it mailed to their northern homes when they’re not here in Florida.”
Besides these publications, the Wilbers use their website and social media accounts to target a broad audience. They also have a huge mailing list by which they keep thousands of their regular customers updated on the latest products, promotional events, and jewelry trunk shows.
They also rely on a symbiotic marketing strategy with a neighboring deli. The deli’s owner wears their jewelry to work and slips the gallery’s trunk show promo cards into visitors’ bags. In turn, the gallery posts pics of its bull mascots when they visit the deli on its social media accounts.
Moreover, the store’s catchy slogan “Own art. Be happy,” adds further charm to its already magical marketing tactics. “I wish I could take all the credit, but some very creative minds in Chicago helped our advertising team come up with it,” Susie said of the slogan, which can be seen everywhere from the store’s entrance to the side of the local public transit bus.
They trademarked the slogan almost immediately because, in addition to putting it on all of the ads, packaging, enclosure cards, etc., they knew they wanted to create T-shirts, bookmarks, and other fun marketing materials using the slogan. “It’s fun, catchy and sums up our gallery perfectly,” Susie said.
What’s more, the gallery also advertises itself by hosting several promotional events every year. The most popular of them is the store’s annual “Biscuit Sale,” which takes place on July 4 to celebrate Stella’s birthday and enhance slow summer sales. During this event, visitors are asked to pick up dog biscuits from a jar, all of which have surprise discounts tied to them.
The store’s jewelry trunk shows, which take place from January to April, are popular with the locals. “We have also had glass shows, wood carving demonstrations, and sculpture shows. Jewelry, comparatively, is easier to set up and transport. A glass or sculpture show is a much larger undertaking,” Susie said.
During the events, the Wilbers offer a spacious bar to treat the visitors with refreshments. “We have plenty of people who just come in to have a cup of coffee and see what’s new,” Susie said. “The longer you can keep a person in the store and make them feel comfortable and happy and have a dog to pet, it’s just a way to keep them engaged.”
Due to their brilliant advertising and marketing tactics, the Wilbers have managed to acquire a huge fanbase. In fact, many of their customers frequently ask them if the gallery is a franchise. “I generally take that as a compliment, because the branding we have created is so strong,” Susie said. They have certainly achieved excellent name recognition, and customers love the jazzy shopping bags and playful packaging.
A Close Connection to the Community
From their pleasing events to their fine crafts, the local community has a great many reasons to love The Laughing Dog Gallery. The store was named the “Niche Top Retailer of American Craft” in 2007 and has been consistently winning awards for its sublime collection of American crafts. In return for this love, the Wilbers make sure to pay back the community by donating a portion of their sales to the local humane society.
This spirit of “paying back” is also manifested by the store’s slogan and the message behind it. As Susie put it, “Our philosophy is feel good about what you buy. Feel good that it was made in the United States, feel good that it was handmade by an American artist, and feel good about purchasing something that is supporting your local economy.”