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The Trick to Training: Selling Training Solutions to Pet Owners

Whip this category into shape with best-practice merchandising techniques and the right know-how.


Training products can help dogs behave better at home and at the park.

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Leash-pulling. Chewing on shoes. Jumping on visitors. Excessive barking. 

Most puppies, and many adult dogs, have exhibited these types of behaviors, leading pet owners to visit their local pet store to find training products that directly address these issues.

Connecting With the Experts
Munchies Natural Pet Foods, which has stores in Florida, has a close relationship with many local trainers whom often send their customers to the retailer to buy collars, leads or treats, said store manager Donna Klenovich.

“We have a variety of everything relating to training,” Klenovich said. “Forming relationships with local vets, trainers, day cares and groomers will help immensely with referrals to your store.”

Petagogy in Pittsburgh hosts Ask the Trainer events several times a year, in which customers can ask local trainers specific questions.

“The trainer will usually recommend many of the products we carry in order to address the customer’s specific training needs,” said co-owner Heather Blum.

Treats Unleashed, which has several stores in the St. Louis area, stocks products that support local trainers, including the products that the trainers prefer most, said Teresa Miller, owner and founder.

“Sales are increased by varying our selection and watching the trends of local positive trainers and behaviorists in our community,” she said.

Coordinate with local trainers to ensure you stock the products they recommend, and offer a discount to referred customers.

Creative Displays
There are as many ways to display training-related merchandise as there are training products. Training treats, for example, can be merchandised in either the treats or the training section of a store.

“We feature endcaps in stores when they have a focus on training classes,” said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing at Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis. “This helps consumers coming in for training because they have a destination in the store to find all the products to meet their needs.”

Whitebridge, which manufactures Cloud Star Tricky Trainers, segments its product lines based on how consumers buy treats.

“It is a shop-for-a-purpose mentality in our POS materials: train (or reward), indulge, supplement,” Hudson said. “We want to help retailers merchandise in this way to help consumers make purchasing decisions and potentially shop across multiple categories more easily.”

Clip strips work well for displaying training treats.

Clip strips work well for displaying training treats, Hudson noted.

“They can draw attention to the products in other areas of the store to expose new consumers to that category of products near other items they may use to build their cart,” Hudson said.

At Petagogy, training treats are not stocked with regular treats.

“We usually separate training treats and keep them in their own display so customers can see all the options available for training,” Blum said. “Harnesses and [PetSafe] Gentle Leader [Headcollars] also are displayed separately. Crates are kept with beds and crate pads.”

Allowing consumers to test out training products is an effective merchandising technique.

“We have certain collars and harnesses on our display dogs and encourage people to bring their pet in for sizing and for testing out products,” Munchies Natural Pet Foods’ Klenovich said.

Jason Hart, director of marketing for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., agreed that customers should be able to see products up close and try them out.

“Many of our products are behind glass, as they are more expensive and merchants worry about theft,” he said. “We encourage merchants to take our products out of the case so customers can see them and better understand how they work.”

Good signage is a crucial element of drawing attention to a product.

Of course, good signage is a crucial element of drawing attention to a product.

“We have display packages and corresponding signs,” said Kyle Nelson, sales and marketing manager for Spiffy Dog in Steamboat Springs, Colo. “The use of our ‘Quick Dry’ signs is particularly effective. Some of our displays are made from reclaimed barn wood, giving a bit of an outdoor, rustic feel.”

To help retailers sell its products, Sandpoint, Idaho-based EzyDog offers racks and signage, said John Hatcher, president.

“The signage and racks are categorized by specific products and feature lifestyle images as well as key selling features,” Hatcher said. “A full presentation with an assortment of colors and sizes always makes for a more compelling display. It shows that the retailer believes in the product and so should their customer. Eye-catching displays, videos and easy-to-understand educational signage will attract the attention of the consumers as well.”

And who can resist freebies? At Petagogy, staff hand out a New Dog/Puppy Starter Kit several times a year, free to anyone who adopts a new pet within a specific time frame.

“The kits include samples of different foods and training treats, a poop bag holder, a coupon for money off an engraved pet tag and information on local trainers, walkers and groomers,” Blum said.

Whitebridge partners with pet specialty retailers that offer training services to distribute samples in their classes, Hudson said.

Training the Trainer
Whether or not they hire professionals, when owners are training their pets, they need to understand what they are doing and how to use the products that go with their training routine. That’s where both retailers and manufacturers can provide a great deal of help.

“When we get new products, I encourage all of our staff to frequent the manufacturer websites and to absorb as much information as they can and relate it to the customer,” Klenovich said. “I will also encourage them to read any and all comments, complaints, etc., and pass that along to potential customers as well. It’s better to give a heads up about complaints than to have them discover them themselves with possible negative outcomes.”

As Petagogy is a smaller store, one-on-one customer interaction is a regular means of communication and education, Blum said.

“We educate customers about specific products when they ask about particular issues,” she said. “For example, with customers who are having trouble controlling their dogs using a basic collar or leash, we will show them the various types of walking harnesses and Gentle Leader [Headcollars].”

At Treats Unleashed, store staff and consumers are educated about the benefits of training products, Miller said.

“[We] do our best to help match the right product with the pet,” Miller said.

Manufacturers often can provide help via their websites or in-person so that retailers can better understand the products.

“We know that retail associates are often the best source of information for pet parents looking for solutions,” said Radio System Corp.’s Hart. “We have dedicated salespeople whose focus is educating store associates on our products so they can better help pet parents.”

All of EzyDog’s products include descriptive selling features on the accompanying marketing materials.

“Our small footprint display racks include signage that is informative with a listing of features and benefits as well as lifestyle images of the products in use,” Hatcher said. “Online videos and DVDs are available to retailers and their employees, and can be played in their stores for customers.”  

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

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