With Automated Feeders and Waterers Convenience is a Factor
Consumers seek out easy-to-use and program feeders and waterers that will keep their pets nourished even when they are away from home.
Gone are the days when dogs ate and drank from any old bowl. Today, considerable thought and engineering goes into creating many of the containers owners use to serve food and water to their dogs.
“More and more customers are looking for special items that treat pets as important members of the family,” said Megan Sanders, principal buyer for Pampered Home, Spoiled Family in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. “Customers are also looking for items that spoil their pets while creating convenience or ease of use for the owner.”
Sanders sees plenty of marketing designed to grow the pet space and introduce pet owners to innovative brands that place importance and value on the bond between pets and their owners.
Another important aspect to consider when selling automated feeders and waterers is convenience.
“The easier the product is to use, to fill and to clean, the hotter it will be,” said Connie Roller, manager of The Feed Bag Pet Supply in Mequon, Wis. “A fountain that is hooked up to a water source for a fresh drink every time? Why not?”
Automation is the name of the game in both feeders and waterers, with technology moving into the category. Products designed to make caring for dogs easier than ever are taking center stage.
“The future trend of this category is probably linked to technology,” said Roller, who noted that this might present itself as antibacterial protection in feeders and waterers, or possibly an alarm sounding if an automatic feeder fails.
“Maybe it will be a notification straight to your phone when your pet eats or drinks,” she said.
“Growing trends in the feeder category center around technology,” agreed Heather Owens, category manager of water and feed solutions for PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn. “This includes advanced scheduling, sensors and, potentially, connectivity. Having that reassurance the pet is fed is the No. 1 priority.”
PetSafe recently introduced the Healthy Pet Simply Feed, an automatic feeder that is fully programmable and automatically dispenses meals based on a schedule, Owens said.
“The feeder uses a conveyor belt to dispense food for the best portion control and accuracy,” Owens said. “It works with most dry kibble and semimoist pet foods.”
Lisa Lavin, CEO and co-founder of PetChatz, a division of Anser Innovation in Minneapolis, also sees a trend in high tech in the feeder category.
“Advancing technology has opened many doors for many markets, including the pet market,” she said.
PetChatz has introduced a product of the same name that serves as a videophone, allowing pet owners to interact with their pets from a distance.
“You can see, hear, speak to, provide a comforting scent and give your pet a treat using a smartphone or computer,” Lavin said. “What’s more, you can record fun videos of your pet interactions and upload them to your favorite social media site.”
The company recently updated its technology with PetChatz HD, which features a PawCall function that allows home-alone dogs and cats to press a floor-based call button whenever they want to see their owners while they are away and ask for a treat.
At Pampered Home, Spoiled Family, PetChatz is popular, Sanders said.
“Customers really treat their pets as part of their family and appreciate having items on the market that allow them to be pampered,” Sanders said. “It also give reassurance by [allowing them] to see their furry kid in real time.”
Not all advanced designs in dog feeders are high tech. Denver-based Outward Hound’s new 3in1 Up Feeder utilizes slow-feeding ridges and valleys to ensure dogs eat their food more slowly, said Paul Banker, senior manager, content marketing.
“The base features fold and slide legs that can adjust to three distinct feeding heights,” Banker said. “It’s an all-in-one solution for healthful, height-adjustable slow feeding for dogs of all sizes.”
Outward Hound also recently introduced the Fun Feeder Mat, which encourages dogs to pick out kibble one piece at a time.
“Dogs love the soft, flexible food-safe rubber used in our mats,” Banker said. “The mazelike designs turn eating into a slow-feeding game that’s more healthful and a lot more fun.”
As the pet fountain category has grown, designs have become more distinctive.
“Our product designs are always in direct response to the in-depth research, consumer feedback and trends we uncover as pet product developers,” said Erica Goode, feeding and watering product manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas.
A recent result of that research is Petmate’s Fresh Flow II Fountain, which provides a natural flow of fresh water to pets.
“A trend we are seeing is providing pets with the most natural solutions to watering while inside the home,” Goode said. “The updated Fresh Flow II Fountain provides a natural flow of filtered water, which may be an inherent preference for many pets.”
Consumers have become more aware of the importance of waterers, said Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager for Pioneer Pet in Cedarburg, Wis.
“All of our waterers use high-quality material and are charcoal filtered,” she said. “Animals are attracted to the moving water, and it really helps to get them to drink more.”
Pets’ attraction to running water prompted Cats Rule Dogs Rock in Weston, Fla., to release a larger version of the company’s Watering Hole Automatic Fresh Water Fountain.
“Our Watering Hole Fountain is unique to the market,” said RuthAnne Miller, founder. “Water comes out of a frog’s mouth so that pets can drink either from the stream or from the basin below.”
Miller said that the company wanted to produce a fountain that is fun to look at, easy to assemble and clean, and affordable.
“Simply put, we want more owners to provide fresh, filtered water for their pets,” she said. n
|Selling Feeders and Waterers|
When it comes to marketing a category such as automated and tech-savvy feeders and waterers, educating both the customer and sales staff is key, according to manufacturers.
“Be sure staff members are properly trained on basic use of the wide variety of feeding and watering products available in the marketplace,” said Erica Goode, feeding and watering product manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas. “They must know how to set them up, program and clean each style.”
Goode also recommends a live display.
“For automatic feeders and waterers, we find it effective to display one fully assembled and running in store so consumers can see how it works, how quietly it runs, and get a better view of how it might look in their homes,” she said.
When it comes to selling products such as the high-tech PetChatz, a greet-and-treat videophone, both store staff and consumer understanding of the product is crucial. Manufacturers can help both retailers and pet owners with adequate packaging.
“We understand that tech can be a more complex sell in-store,” said Lisa Lavin, co-founder of PetChatz, a brand of Anser Innovation in Minneapolis. “Because of this, we have designed our product packaging and point-of-purchase marketing tools to assist the retailer in communicating the value proposition. We also know that the consumer is becoming more tech savvy, which makes the sale that much easier.”
Whether the product is a water fountain or a high-tech feeder, getting it out where customers can see it is important.
“I don’t think there is any substitute for seeing a product in action,” said Connie Roller, manager of The Feed Bag Pet Supply in Mequon, Wis. “We have a clean and shiny fountain filled and running near our registers, and waterers by our front door, in our training room and in our grooming salon. The secret to selling anything is to make the customer realize that they really need this product that they did not even know existed!”—AP