Natural Grooming Products Leave Pets Squeaky Clean
The natural grooming products category shows an increase in options in response to higher customer expectations.
There’s no doubt that customers are getting more sophisticated, and the burgeoning natural product category is upping its game. Increasingly, people recognize the effects ingredients have on their health and the environment—and also realize the products they use on and around their pets affect them.
“Dogs and cats are family for many—not ‘like family,’ but actually family,” said Jane M. Bond, co-founder of Eco Dog Care in Los Angeles. “So it’s not difficult to see buying behavior and preference for natural products encompass the needs of the whole family, whether two or four footed.”
As such, pet owners view the skin and hair care products they use on their pets similarly to how they see their own health and beauty aids. Manufacturers have their eye on these buying behaviors and rapidly are coming out with a host of natural grooming products to meet this demand.
“I think as more people realize we need to take a natural, eco-friendly approach to our everyday products, there is more variety available,” said Karena Martin, owner of Hound Dog + Cat Food and Supply in Los Angeles. “Especially with pets, people are concerned with what ingredients are in the products they are using on their dogs and cats.”
At the same time, savvy retailers are adjusting to new consumer tastes to make sure they carry effective products. They also realize the value of educating themselves to best help their customers choose the right products for their individual family’s needs.
Pet owners continue to focus on natural products, including in the grooming category. A big change reported by manufacturers and retailers across the nation is that being natural is not enough.
“It’s no longer good enough to have a green label and call yourself ‘natural,’” Bond said. “People are reading labels and asking questions. This is a natural outgrowth of a more-aware, better-educated consumer having higher standards for themselves and their pets.”
Dog and cat owners want products with ingredient lists they can understand, said Paul Armstrong, president and CEO of Earthbath in San Francisco.
When choosing natural grooming products to carry at Hound Dog + Cat Food and Supply, Martin said, “I tend to gravitate toward all-natural, plant-based formulas containing essential oils for shampoo and conditioners. I try to avoid products that contain parabens, phthalates, DEA, phosphates, synthetic fragrances and dyes.
“Essential oils, argan oils and coconut oils are huge in grooming products right now,” she added.
“We look for products that don’t have a lot of soap or parabens, and with a fresh, not perfume, scent,” said Nadine Joli-Coeur, co-owner with her husband, Biff Picone, and chief merchandising officer at Natural Pawz, with stores throughout the greater Houston area. “We look for products that contribute to pet wellness and do not add more chemicals into the system.”
Ingredients are not the only things customers look at in natural grooming products. They also want to know what the products do and how they perform.
“Years ago, people were focused on getting natural products for their pets, since they already were getting it for themselves and their kids,” said Doug Gleason, founder of TrueBlue Pet Products in Los Angeles. “So natural was the focus, and sometimes there was a tradeoff in performance because it was natural.
“Now, natural is the starting point, not the be-all and end-all,” he continued. “They start with it being natural and then [ask], what does it do? The biggest change is that you have people expecting great-performing natural products.”
If that isn’t enough, insiders also reported that safety and sustainability are essentials for what’s inside the product as well as the product packaging.
“Better, more-recyclable packaging has been a trend,” said Armstrong. “Companies are beginning to embrace sustainability. At Earthbath, our motto has been to put principles on par with profits, and one good example of this is that the organic shea butter we purchase is sourced direct, at fair trade prices, from a women-owned cooperative in northern Uganda. Other solid companies do the same.”
The natural grooming products category is alive and kicking, and manufacturers are taking full advantage of the trend with new products, packaging and sizes to meet increasing demand from pet owners.
One such demand is from cat owners who want products developed with cats specifically in mind, said Gleason. And in 2015, those owners were not disappointed.
Earthbath broadened its cat grooming set with Fragrance Free Shampoo, which was designed for cats with sensitive skin and allergies that will benefit from a fragrance-free, ultra-mild formula, because fragrance and coloration are notorious skin irritants, said Armstrong.
“[And because] smell is an important component to feline companionship, [we] recommend this shampoo for cat owners in multicat households to bring peace to the pride,” he added.
Pure Paws Inc. in San Antonio also kept cats in mind with its newest sulfate-free product offering: Pure Paws Cat Line.
“Because cats lick everything on them, we had to make sure everything in the products are safe for them to ingest,” said Arlene Muzquiz, CEO.
Giving owners simple solutions to bathe or touch up their pets between baths, Espree Animal Products in Grapevine, Texas, introduced Waterless Baths in five formulas and Dry Baths in four powder formulations, and TrueBlue Pet Products presented its Super Fresh Body & Paw Wipes.
In January, TropiClean launched its Between the Baths products, featuring sprays, waterless foaming shampoos, wipes and the world’s first “aim-able” pouch shampoo, Coconut Milk Pet Bath, said James Brandly, marketing coordinator for the Wentzville, Mo., company.
When choosing grooming products, “Customers shop by smell; if they like the scent of it, that’s what they choose,” said Michele Saharic, manager of Barkley’s Gourmet Marketplace in Flemington, N.J.
Espree’s blueberry-fragranced line contains a shampoo, a conditioner, a cologne and a wipe, and there are more scented products scheduled for this year.
Two of Eco Dog Care’s new releases this year, Simply Clean Citrus shampoo and Simply Fresh Citrus grooming spray, feature a burst of citrus from Israeli orange oil, and Bobbi Panter Pet Products recently launched Gorgeous Dog and Moisturizing Dog colognes.
Additional releases scheduled this year include alcohol- and toxin-free ear wash, soothing shampoos and sprays, natural flea and tick solutions, and leave-in topical solution sprays.
Educate with Confidence
Making sure pet owners understand the benefits of natural grooming products and how they work is incredibly important, insiders said, especially because inaccurate information continues to spread.
For example, veterinarians used to warn against bathing dogs because it could strip oils from their skin, and people still believe that it’s a concern, said Gleason.
“But if you use properly designed shampoo that won’t strip the oils, it’s good to wash your pet more,” he added.
Another misconception surrounds suds.
“It’s sometimes tough for people to get past the 50-plus years of marketing we’ve all been taught: Bubbles equal clean,” said Eco Dog’s Bond. “It’s just not true. Our toxin-free formula doesn’t have phosphates or sulfates, so it’s not frothy by nature. But getting customers past the ‘soap-free’ descriptor takes some education.”
The team at Barkley’s Gourmet Marketplace gets as much information as possible from manufacturers and regularly reviews it together, said Saharic. They also test the products on their own dogs, so if they like a product, they tend to talk about it more.
Natural Pawz works with its manufacturer partners to have samples to send home with customers to test on their own pets, said Joli-Coeur. The staff also goes on the customer computer to show the actual ingredients inside the products, or pulls the bottle off shelf.
“Especially in grooming stores, employees demonstrate how to properly brush dogs with grooming tools displayed up front,” Joli-Coeur said.
This year, the company plans to add training about brushing dogs, clipping nails and how to choose the right tools for their pets, she said.
Customers at Hound Dog + Cat Food and Supply are really open to learning about the different natural grooming products the store carries and purchasing the safest, most natural products for their pets, said Martin.
Pure Paws Inc. so values education that the company requires all its U.S. vendors to be completely trained on the products, said Muzquiz.
“It’s all groomers selling to other groomers, and their job is to educate them so when they’re talking to the pet owners, they understand why they’re being charged X here instead of X over there,” Muzquiz said.
Promotion and Display
When it comes to in-store merchandising and displays, there are different ways to do it, said Gleason.
“One is to display all-natural stuff together so people interested in natural have a whole section,” he said. “Two is a functional way of grouping products by what they do, and people will see there are natural options.”
Gleason and others reported that in-store trials are incredibly effective.
“Sampling of our Simply Fresh spray is a proven way to engage customers and generate sales,” said Bond. “Our direct observation is that people buy after they try.”
Also, teaming up with local rescue groups to sponsor an adoption or similar event and making grooming products available is a nice combo.
“Every dog [and cat] has a better chance at adoption if they smell huggable,” she said.
As a customer, Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director for Espree, said she prefers simple merchandising displays, “like salons or stores with charts for needs and results, and a listing of skin and/or coat needs and issues and the products recommended to best care for those needs.
“Before and after pictures help a customer see the benefits of a product,” she added.
Retailers reported that employee recommendations remain the top way to sell natural grooming products.
“Our employees are our best recommenders,” said Joli-Coeur of Natural Pawz. “Stores that wash pets a lot sell a lot more shampoo. I don’t think $1 off is going to make a big difference, but talking with an expert employee who’s knowledgeable makes it fly off the shelf.”
Martin of Hound Dog + Cat Food and Supply, agreed.
“The best way to move any of our products is to be on the floor alongside the customers,” she said. “Don’t wait for customers to ask questions. Introduce the different products to them. We pride ourselves on our customer service and product knowledge. We want to make the shopping experience in our store as easy and informative as possible.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News' special supplement, Natural Pet News.