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Differentiating Various Shelf Stock

With so many treat and chew choices on the market, how does a retailer differentiate and highlight all the various shelf stock?


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Polka Dog Bakery

If there is a pet out there that does not like treats, that is a rare breed indeed. Most pets, from dogs to cats to small mammals, enjoy a tasty treat or chew now and then—or now and always.

And pet owners want healthful snacks and treats for their pets, said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

“We are all familiar with the saying ‘You are what you eat,’” Hall said. “This is as true for our pets as it is for us. In particular, our dogs, who, on occasion, are known to snack between meals.

“As consumers become more health conscious, they are demanding healthful, grain-free, GMO-free and additive-free treats and chews for their four-legged family members,” Hall added. “For us at Hagen, it is absolutely vital that every treat we produce is manufactured to our exacting quality standards with healthful locally sourced ingredients. This is neither a new or declining trend; consumers want more healthful options.”

Samples and Product Placement
Selling treats can mean using different tactics than selling dog food.

“I sell treats in bulk so a customer can choose how much of a certain product they want, or they can mix and match, which always makes them happy,” said Howard Bearz, co-owner of Cheshire Cat and Dog in Cheshire, Conn., adding that he always highlights a new product in the store by handing out samples.

“If their animal loves the sample, the customer is more inclined to purchase.”

“It also is a great way to hand out treats if someone brings in their animal,” he added. “If their animal loves the sample, the customer is more inclined to purchase.”

At Mutt Life in Milton, Ontario, Canada, co-owner Stacey Price increases sales by explaining the benefits of treat sand allowing taste tests. She said that consumers are more apt to experiment with new treats than with a new food.

“Our sampling program is huge, and we have found it to be the best way to get customers hooked,” she said.

One example is handing out treat samples with business cards attached at off-leash dog parks in the area. Plus, having dogs in the store is the best way to demonstrate the yum factor of a particular treat, she said.

Curt Jacques, president and CEO of West Lebanon Feed and Supply in West Lebanon, N.H., is keenly aware of how merchandising affects your bottom line and uses everything from lighting to signage to properly present the store’s products.

“We merchandise treats within the traffic pattern of pet food,” he said. “Pet food is a planned purchase, whereas treats are more of an impulse, so making sure that it aligns within the travel path is very important. We also cross-sell merchandise by displaying treats with pet food. In addition, we have treats by the checkout for purchase, but we also cross-sell by having treats to give as samples to the owners for their animals that they bring into the store.”

Rolf C. Hagen’s Hall agrees that Sampling programs are an excellent tool to get products out to consumers and give dogs a chance to try the treats.

“Sampling offers [dogs] the opportunity to try new flavors and see what they like. It also provides us as manufacturers the opportunity to interact and dialogue with the end consumer. Finally, these programs are an effective way to educate sales associates about our products. It allows us the opportunity to explain features and benefits of our products and ingredients in greater detail to associates, better preparing them to communicate this to the consumer.”

The Best Policy
Engaging the consumer in conversation is a big part of merchandising, along with believing in a product and conveying that message.

“We give our honest feedback about products and the reason we carry them,” Price said.

At West Lebanon Feed and Supply, Jacques and his staff stay on top of information regarding product recalls and ingredient sourcing and impart it to customers.

“We are big into product/consumer education,” Jacques said. “We post signs in our store to encourage customers to better understand the type of dog they have.” 

He cited the example of having a passive eater or a gulper.

“Passive eaters tend to be a little safer and the type of chew, for example, may vary as compared to the gulper, who may swallow a chew and have potential life-threating complications from impaction, etc.”

Engaging Merchandising
There is no one ideal way to organize treats and chews; the sheer variety of the product allows for some creative thinking. But most important is making sure that a display catches the consumer’s eye as soon as they walk in the door, said Cheshire Cat and Dog’s Bearz.

At Mutt Life, displays are simple, bright and vibrant, and include signage and pricing, Price said.

Placing noteworthy products in high-traffic areas also is important, and the store always showcases new treats front and center, Price said. Merchandise is rotated periodically so that customers often see new treats and chews, he added.

One eye-catching method that works is to center displays around seasons or holidays.

At West Lebanon Feed & Supply, displays are rotated on a regular basis, and the store often uses a theme approach for holidays, Jacques said.

“For example, Love Your Pet is focused on Valentine’s Day, with red hearts and gourmet cookies as the lead prop,” Jacques said. “Christmas is always our largest opportunity, especially since it’s the best time of year for sales. Special wrapped toys and treats for sale and multiple opportunities to cross-sell treats with toys and food. Halloween is a great time to sell a 25-pound box of small assorted biscuits to hand out to the four-legged trick-or-treaters.”

Halloween is a big deal at Cheshire Cat and Dog.

“We advertise a ‘body part sale’ and showcase all different body parts from varying animals,” Bearz said.

Merchandising treats offers more freedom to be inventive with tier merchandising (also known as waterfall merchandising), Jacques said.

“We are able to be more creative with the varied color and shapes of packages as compared to limited techniques with bagged pet food,” he said.

Manufacturers have little control over where and how their retail partners display their products, so they often strive to come up with appealing packaging and treat designs.

“Last year we redesigned all packaging to be eye catching and to evoke a sense of the product,” said Heather Cappel, creative coordinator with Phoenix-based Ware Manufacturing. “For example, all of our colorful chews and toys have a rainbow look to them, whereas the all natural chews have a muted green and brown color pallet.

“Brightly colored chews are also eye catching to customers, as are items created to look like human food or fruits and veggies,” she added.

Recently, Ware created Tea Time chews, made of tea twigs in a variety of shapes, she said.

“Endcap displays with coordinating products are always a successful merchandising tactic,” Cappel said. “Including some of the more popular chew toys in the live animal displays is also a smart way to get the customer to notice items.”

Some retailers arrange chew products by appropriate dog size, and others organize them by protein source, said Laura Jones, co-owner of Jones Natural Chews Co. in Rockford, Ill.

“Customers that emphasize the products are all USA-sourced experience greater sell through,” she added, as many consumers are looking for that made in USA label.

Jones Natural Chews has added a peel-up label on its shrink-wrapped products, which contains information about choosing the right chew, Jones said.

One common way to merchandise your stock is brand-setting, or merchandising all brands of one product in the same general location, said Anthony Bennie, founder and chief nutrition officer of Clear Conscience Pet in Cape Coral, Fla. However, he said, this can bog down a customer’s train of thought and effectively turn your store into a website.

“It’s about balance—you don’t want a store that is so branded that you feel that it’s a bunch of billboards and the consumer doesn’t think you have a functional approach to animal nutrition,” he said.

“Retailers can re-curate their stores and start looking at things by type, not only by brand,” he added.

Bennie also suggests merchandising treats in categories such as tender treats, crunchy treats, rugged chews, baked treats and freeze dried treats.

“It’s a transparent way of interacting with consumers,” he said. “If you’re trying to help people to make better nutritional decisions for their animals, you want to show them types of products that will do that, and by the way, here is x, y, z.”

He added that organizing treats and chews by protein can work, too. 


This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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