Holiday Makers: Molbak’s Garden + Home

The Washington garden center's SantaPaws event draws hundreds of potential customers, showcases its pet department and its charitable spirit.


Photo courtesy of the Seattle Humane Society Molbak’s is a dog-friendly garden center year round and features a pet department, but during the holidays, the store attracts hundreds of canine-lovers and their pups who come for one special event – a chance to get a photograph with Santa Claus.

Pet parents pay a suggested donation of $20 for a portrait they can use for holiday cards, and proceeds from the event go to the Seattle Humane Society, which partners with Molbak’s for its annual “SantaPaws” photo day.

Lisa Moses, marketing manager at the Woodinville, Washington, business, says the garden center sets the holiday-themed stage, provides the facility and helps promote the event. But partnering with the humane society, which brings in the photographer, makes running the photo op easy.

The event draws an average of 150 families and their pets each year, and in the past three years, Molbak’s has raised $9,100 for the Seattle Humane Society.

“We have tracked the sales in the pet department during that day, and we aren’t seeing a big influx in sales, but we think the exposure is good,” Moses says. “People seem to be really pleased because it’s a really great price. Twenty dollars is not so inexpensive, and a lot of people like a picture of their dog for their holiday photo anyway.”

After people get their photos taken, they are led through Molbak’s pet department, where they can enter to win prizes for their pets. Molbak’s also invites vendors to come to demonstrate new leashes and other items while customers wait in line for the photograph, which is first-come, first-serve.

“I think if you have a pet department and you want to build that business, give it visibility during the holidays. The holidays are a great time for people to pamper and spoil their pets,” Moses says. “Be patient. Sales might not happen that day because they have their pets in the store, but we think it’s a good thing to do and quite easy to execute if you have the space for it. And we love [organizing benefits] that we can co-promote.”

SantaPaws used to be on a Saturday, but Moses moved it to Sunday afternoon, which is usually quiet in the garden center and a day they don’t usually schedule workshops. The line forms in the area where the garden center hosts classes, so customers who aren’t dog lovers can still browse the store without being disturbed. This year’s event on Sunday, Nov. 17 raised $3,500 for the humane society. The event doesn’t cost Molbak’s much, so Moses says it’s a win-win.

“Choose a good nonprofit partner who can help put legs behind the promotion, and move it off of your prime store hours,” she says. “Offer some prizes or incentives to get people into the department before they leave that day and so that they come back. That’s why we do the raffle prizes. Getting pet vendors involved is important, too, because it really alleviates pressure from your staff.”

More from Garden Center's Holiday Makers series:

BioSafe Systems

The family-owned manufacturer of biodegradable disease-control products plans to donate turkeys to 1,000 families this Thanksgiving.

Rimol Greenhouse Systems

The greenhouse manufacturing company helps a local food bank tackle donation shortages.

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