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#72 – How I Sold Puppies in this Crazy Market –Even the Puppy with One Eye!

by | Sep 29, 2023 | Business Management, People Management

As many of you know, my breeding program is called Bear Paw Ranch. I breed German Shorthairs primarily, with a small Rat Terrier program. What you might not know is that I don’t advertise to my buyers that I have a podcast or a business helping other breeders. When I first started this podcast out, I decided to keep them separate as much as possible because I didn’t want to have people want my dogs because of me, I wanted them to want my dogs because of my program.

What’s great about this is that I get to try new things, new marketing tactics, new ways to support and work with buyers, and none of it is much influenced by my online presence. It allows me to be a normal breeder on the outside to my buyers, just another of the million German Shorthair Breeders in Arizona. Seriously there are a lot.

Anyways, as the market goes, I had a litter of puppies, well two. In a market like today’s it’s kind of nice when you have that smaller litter like six puppies or so…well naturally, that wasn’t my luck. Pepper, that sweet thing, she had 13 puppies, we lost two, leaving me with 11 healthy pups. I have never had a litter of 13 pups before, I know for some of you, that’s old hat. However, for me, that was a lot. I had only three people on my waitlist for the litter, so that left we with a good group of dogs to sell…and then one had to move out of the country…so well I was down to two!

First off, I want to tell you, I’ve not given my ranch a fair amount of my time the past year. It was never too hard for me to get enough inquiries to get puppies sold, and so I did a terrible thing…I got complacent. I didn’t update my site with pictures, I didn’t even list litters and puppies when I had them. I hardly even posted on Instagram…I didn’t do all the things that Julie Swan the Dog Breeder Coach would’ve suggested I did. There’s no excuse. I’m not big on excuses, I’m not trying to excuse the behavior, rather, it’s just what happened. We had Bill’s health scare at the end of January and that one threw me for quite the spin, then I have been doing lots of coaching and working with breeders one-on-one and well, I can’t lie, I just LOVE working with you guys, it’s so amazing watching your programs make pivots and turn into something incredible.

Okay, so there you have it, sometimes I suck, and this past year with my ranch, that happened.

Instagram & Facebook

Instagram & Facebook were where I started first.

Well, now we have Pepper’s giant litter of puppies. I started to try and posting a few of the pictures and videos of the giant mass of puppies on Instagram, which worked well, it got the word out a bit. I had a few nibbles, but no flooding of puppy applications.

I’ve noticed that in the beginning, it’s good to have a few photos or videos of all the puppies, BUT you don’t want to do that for too long, since buyers just sort of see this mass of fluff and not much else; they don’t become endeared to any one pup, which is what we really need to do.

Think of it this way, you ever see those firefighter calendars where there are a ton of sexy firemen without shirts on the cover? It’s hard to pick one…but then they each start to take a month on the calendar and each month you can say, “yup, you could be my favorite.” It’s like that with puppies, when they’re in mass, it’s hard to pick, but individually you can start to fall for one.

I’m also a fan of highlighting the uniqueness of certain puppies in the beginning, too. Now this isn’t in a “this is so rare” way, we still want to sell dogs based on their temperament, drive, and personality, securing their quality of life in a home with the right lifestyle, BUT it helps to separate them out in a way that people recognize them and see them as individuals.

In my dogs, I try to find silly patch combinations and see what the Bear Paw Family thinks of them. For example in this past litter I had two pups, one looked like she had a ghost face on her butt, while the other had two very circular patches, looking like the Moon orbiting the Earth, very unusual, images of those two pups are below. Anyways, it was fun, getting ideas for names or what they thought the patches looked like was a fun way to engage my audience without asking them to buy. It did prime the algorithm to have them see more of my posts to come.

If all your dogs look the same, then you can find unique ways one will continue to sleep or nurse and use that as a funny video or picture and see what your community thinks. You can also have them help you come up with a theme for the litter, that’s always fun.

Anyways, as the puppy personalities started to show at 4-5 weeks of age, moving around and playing with each other, I would take individual videos and post those with some descriptions, giving a story to the puppy, and giving my family a visual of how the pup might fit into their lifestyle.

The puppy with one eye

For example, this was unique, around 2 weeks of age, as the pups were starting to open their eyes, I noticed one puppy was always winking, okay, well she wasn’t winking, her one eye wouldn’t open. Upon further investigation it was obvious there actually wasn’t an eyeball, there was an eye socket, but no eye.

I’ve had over 400 puppies and this was a first, I’ve seen a few eye infections, but never an entire eye missing.

What do you to do find a home for a puppy with a missing eye? It always helps if you put yourself in the perspective of the buyer. What would a buyer want to know? Well, they’d want to know what the dog could and couldn’t do, how would that affect her ability to live life, what other accommodations would need to be made? Would there be medical complications, and therefore extra costs? So that was what I needed to sort out.

I spoke with my vet about it, she’s great. She explained that we needed to assess if there was a tiny eyeball in there, because that might need to be removed. It was also something we needed to evaluate for infection, if it would be prone to debris getting in there and causing continual infection.

I watched her for two weeks to assess the situation, see if she would fall behind, or if there were any other deficiencies that needed to be accounted for. I’ve often found when there is a physical birth defect, there is also another, less noticeable defect about half the time.

There was nothing with this little girl. She never had one eye infection and I didn’t preventatively treat with anything because I wanted to see what would happen to give a fair assessment to the owners-to-be. She ended up having the normal duct work of an eye and it would regularly water and clean itself out like a normal eye interestingly enough.

Around 5 weeks of age, I was confident advertising her, knowing what life with her would be like. She had some depth perception issues, and had a bit of a hard time turning to one side, often bumping that side of her face when moving, but she didn’t have a crazy personality, so she was pretty careful to assess things as she went, interested, but not shy.

I knew buyers would want to know she wasn’t a dud, so I videoed her running around in the grass and exploring. She looked like every other puppy. I asked in the text on top of the reel if anyone would believe she only had one eyeball. It certainly captured attention. Within two hours I had a buyer message me, interested in her. She offered to drive down and meet her the next day and I told her I thought that was a great idea. She and her husband stayed for an hour, playing with her and falling in love. We discussed what could happen and I told them I’d buy them some Vetericyn they could use in case she ever had an infection. Don’t tell anyone, but I use Vetericyn on my eyes when I have any issues, AZ dryness and dirt are one of those things.

Anyways, I was able to sell her for $500, which was enough money to make them feel she had value, but not so much it felt slimy to me.

Here’s where it gets funny though: I had 5 perfectly healthy, two-eyed puppies ready to sell, but I had five more people contact me, ready to buy the one-eyed female. That really interested me. I wondered to myself if I could convert these potential buyers into two-eyed dog buyers. Fascinatingly, I noticed that the majority were not interested in a two-eyed dog.

That left me with two options, I could gouge out an eye from the remaining pups I had or I could do a better job of selling the puppies with stories. I figured both were viable options…just kidding, don’t worry, I’d be more likely to remove a leg rather an eye.

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Website Upgrades

Anyways, that brought me to my next upgrade…my website. If you’ve been listening a while, you know that I believe that your website is your virtual kennel, it’s how people can decide on your kennel before they meet you.

Well, much like my kennel on Instagram, my kennel website hadn’t been getting the love it normally should’ve been. The copy on the website was good, the writing of it, but it needed more pictures, more design, and just a redesign. I started working on that. I shifted some brand colors around, and then I took the time to add four photos of each available puppy and a video of each. It was really helpful.

I knew immediately it was helping because I was contacted by several buyers and when I would send them pictures or similar, they would refer to the available puppies on my website because they had already seen them and were familiar.

One gentleman was telling me a bit about his lifestyle and I suggested he look at females 3 and 4, I sent him the link, and he responded 15 minutes later with, we’d like #3. It was very helpful to have this all there, and it streamlined, sped up, and simplified the process with this buyer.

I had a few other buyers note about specific dogs on my puppy page.

I also took more time to make things better on other pages on my site, like my puppy info page, my contact page was prettier, and I redesigned my homepage.

If you want to see the upgrades, you can check them out at bearpawranch.co. I’ve added a screen grab of one of my puppy listings below, as I know with the next litter, there may not be the same data on the page.

I also added the email newsletter sign up in various areas of my website.

An example of one of my puppy advertisements on my website.

Email Newsletter

Which brings me to my next thing I did, I added the email newsletter. I added my previous buyers, in hopes of a few of them getting the itch for a second dog, or potentially for people they know, many of my best buyers have been referrals from someone else who had one of my dogs.

I used pictures in the email to sell the dogs. I found that it really brought engagement up. Many buyers texted me and just wanted to talk, share pictures of their pups, and it was so much fun hearing from them and seeing all the pups.

In the meantime, I was able to collect email addresses from potential new buyers and that was really great, too! It’s always great to stay on the top of their mind. In my experience, many buyers will decide on your program, but not be ready to get a dog. I’ve had many people who follow me on Instagram for a few years before actually deciding to get a dog. I believe the email list is the best way to consistently converse with these buyers and stay engaged with them. As you know from the last podcast episode, I really like ConvertKit, and you can get step-by-step instructions on how to set this up in our recent Dog Breeder Society Masterclass.

I’m greatly enjoying the reports from the emails also, seeing who is clicking, who is reading, etcetera.

Google Listing

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you get your Google Listing set up. This is a listing that you’re probably familiar with when you are looking for the phone number of a local business.

I had had my listing for a while, but I, again, hadn’t been up to date on it. I decided to go through it, add more information, rewrite some stuff. I also wrote an update.

I didn’t have many reviews, so I added asked specific buyers from my program to write me a review, many graciously added a review and that helped bump me up in the rankings.

I also found out something interesting, my ranch would come up when I searched “German shorthairs Arizona” but it didn’t come up when you used the acronym “GSP puppies Arizona” which was a pretty big problem. I made some adjustments to my listing and then it worked, I was found in search.

I noticed after making these adjustments I received two new inquiries from Google within the week.

Facebook Groups

Lastly, there are many Facebook Groups which allow you to post your pups for sale in unique ways, so they don’t bust facebook’s rules about selling dogs from breeders. Regardless, I tried this with an Arizona GSP group, one many of my buyers are a part of, it’s a general group for Arizona Shorthairs, but they allow for selling puppies. I made my post following the group rules, but it was never approved by admin. There are many reasons this could’ve occurred, but I’m fairly certain it’s because the breeder who runs the group doesn’t want my dogs in there. That’s fine. You’ll find that as you build a more robust program, people will help you less, that’s just par for the course.

It’s also a good reminder that you have to build your program on things you have more control over. We don’t have control of a Facebook Group unless we create it, but even with that, Facebook can close it on us. We need stable ways to build our programs and engage with potential buyers.

How did it feel?

Well, I’m not going to lie, I had a few of the cold sweat nights where you wake up thinking holy cow, I have to find these puppies homes! Yet, I found it best to channel that energy into something productive like the above things, rather than stewing on the pups not selling.

It was also a great reminder that a little bit of engagement with buyers goes a long way. It also allowed me to have many conversations with previous buyers, who are now owners. It was so great hearing how their pups are doing, how they are a part of their lives, the adventures they’re on. As a bonus, it also gave me an opportunity to discuss and learn about any struggles they were having, giving me more material for my educational material for my website. They also provided me with many great testimonials, pictures, and material for my website.

I have the most amazing buyers, I’m grateful for them every day.

In the end it reminded me that when you have a great waitlist, breeding is fun, but when you don’t, it’s pretty stressful.

We have all sorts of resources and materials available to help you get your program moving in the right direction inside the Dog Breeder Society. I’m opening enrollment from now until the end of October. You can learn more and sign up at honestdogbreeder.com/dbs.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Honest Dog Breeder Podcast, with me, your host, Julie Swan. I’m glad we get to spend this time together. I wish you the best and I’m so excited you’re one of the honest dog breeders. Thank you again and I’ll see you in the next episode!

Show Notes

Referenced Links

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