Posted: March 27, 2014, 12:05 p.m. EDT
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Pets are subject to the elements and are at risk for bites, injuries and illnesses, just like their human counterparts, and keeping them healthy and safe is a priority among pet owners.
Today’s pet store shelves feature myriad first-aid and safety products, and often, when these products are sold, they are purchased out of necessity. Nonetheless, pet retailers should know how to sift through the many options on the market and merchandise them to the best advantage.
Making informed buying decisions is critical when it comes to pet health and well-being. In order for that knowledge to be relayed to customers, it is crucial that the retailer be well-informed. That’s where manufacturers enter the picture.
"We provide our retailers a ‘product knowledge guide,’ which is presented by a representative of the company, and promotional material,” said Cindy Wenger, owner of Hershey, Pa.-based Peaceable Kingdom Essentials, which manufactures multifunctional organic products that tackle both health and behavioral issues.
Merchandising health aids in their own section simplifies shopping and purchase choices for customers. Carrie Brenner/I-5 Publishing at Pet Supply
"We offer brochures for retail customers and have information on our website for customers buying online,” she added. "Knowledge is empowering, and we strive to empower our retailers/representatives the best we can. In turn, this awareness gives the customer peace of mind knowing that the staff knows the products and their benefits.”
Cardinal Pet Care, which manufactures protective collars under the company’s Remedy + Recovery brand, also provides educational material on its website. For example, research by a color vision researcher showed that soft blue (the color of the company’s Stay Rite collars) is soothing and relaxing for dogs.
"Retailers who provide this kind of information to customers are more likely to make a sale and, more importantly, win long-term loyalty,” said Barbara Denzer, vice president of the Azusa, Calif., company.
Health products are not always at the forefront of the consumers’ minds unless their pets are in a health situation that forces the issue, she added.
"Building awareness for these kinds of recovery products is critical, because they aren’t the types of things that pet lovers go around thinking about the way they would food, treats or toys,” Denzer said.
"Retailers help customers and their pets and win loyalty for their store by taking proactive steps to educate customers when the need for a protective collar arises.”
Jennifer Brown, owner and operator of 100% Natural for Pets based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, holds meetings to educate her distributors and periodically calls customers to ensure they fully understand the products they sell.
"More people are becoming more educated with the natural way of healing, which helps them better understand what each ingredient is used for in our products,” Brown said. "Having educated customers is the easiest way to sell any product.”
Once consumers enters the picture, retailers must possess adequate knowledge to help customers make good decisions.
Science of Selling Supplements
Supplements for pets can run the gamut from vitamins, joint support and fiber support to probiotics and coconut oil. Retailers said promos and solid product knowledge are what help deliver these products into customers’ hands.
"We focus on themes,” said Del Peterson, president of Northwest Pets, with locations in Eagle and Meridian, Idaho. "We are thinking about doing a monthly promo this year that celebrates senior pets. I think this will be a great time to build specialty displays to focus on digestive aids, hip and joint supplements, etc.”
"We are huge believers that health, beauty and vitality start on the inside,” said Claudia Loomis, co-owner of New Jersey-based Cherrybrook stores. "Though we offer a wonderful selection of holistic foods, no one food can meet all the metabolic needs of every animal and, therefore, supplements will be necessary to ensure a healthy immune system and long lives. So we often recommend supplements to our customers.”
"I believe that as pet owners become more aware of and seek remedies to address their health they anthropomorphize and transfer these issues to their pets,” she added. "So if humans are treating their digestive issues they will be more likely to understand why digestive enzymes will be a good idea for their pets.”
Best-selling supplements are those for joints as well as probiotics and digestive enzymes, said Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich. While they don’t take up a huge area of his 6,000-square-foot store, he said he merchandises these products by keeping them in a separate section.
As with most pet products, manufacturer-provided training is key for pet retailers and their staff.
"For our company, education is paramount to increase usage,” said Rebecca Rose, product developer at Boulder, Colo.-based In Clover, a manufacturer of a full line of supplements for dogs and cats. "We use a variety of avenues to achieve this. We host regular webinars with our retailers and distributors, write and release white papers, distribute samples with accompanying literature, engage in media outlets (such as radio interviews and printed articles), interact with our audience on Facebook, share videos on YouTube and provide rack cards and other materials that can be displayed with the product in stores. We also have a strong grassroots and word-of-mouth presence, so our educated consumers share their knowledge with their friends and co-workers.”
"One of the best techniques to increase sales of our products is good, old-fashioned conversation,” she added. "When retailers are educated about our product and actively engage with their customers, they can make sound, fact-backed recommendations. When retailers are proactive and empower their staff with the appropriate knowledge surrounding our products, their ingredients and the science behind them, they are in an excellent position to quickly identify customer needs and confidently make product recommendations.”—HD
"We believe that health-related products and safety gear sell in proportion to the level of training we give our staff,” said Del Peterson, president of Northwest Pets, with locations in Eagle and Meridian, Idaho. "The better trained our staff is, the more they can match the appropriate product to the issue at hand. I think this level of training has had a bigger impact on these categories than external market trends alone.”
Nonetheless, Peterson stressed that they leave medical advice to the veterinarians.
Pet health has always been a strong category for Cherrybrook, said Claudia Loomis, co-owner of the New Jersey-based stores. Some products include tonics for anxiety, winter paw protectors, sprays for healing hot spots and coconut oil as an anti-inflammatory.
"We use a consultative selling approach with our customers and engage them in conversation about their pets and any concerns they have about their health and wellness,” she said. "This allows us to provide suggestions and recommend products to help address their pets’ issues. It is important to have those conversations because supplements and remedies are not ‘one size fits all.’ Team members are trained and experienced so that they can make the proper suggestions.”
Other retailers tout the importance of staff education and training due to the sheer number of health-related products available.
"As often as possible, we hold staff meetings, and we will talk to employees about different products available for different needs in different situations,” said Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich. "We try to educate staff because there are so many products.”
Connect With Consumers
Peaceable Kingdom’s Wenger has turned to outside sources, such as public relations, marketing and advertising firms, as well as social media, to help reach as many customers as possible.
Cardinal sends press releases to journalists covering pet care and manages its own social media campaign, said Denzer.
Many vets help promote 100% Natural for Pets’ products, which include Invisible Boot paw cream and Skin Relief Spray, said Brown.
"We have the best luck with word-of-mouth,” she added.
Operating in an area of the country known for year-round outdoor activities, Northwest Pets answers customers’ perpetual needs for health and safety aids, including float coats and paw protection products.
"We run monthly promotions that feature products from health and safety product categories, such as shedding, [National] Pet Dental Health Month, outdoor adventure, calming aids during travel season and more,” said Peterson. "These promotions get communicated through emails to our loyalty club members as well as through Facebook/Twitter posts.”
Help From Above
Manufacturers, with a vested interest in sales of their products, often help retail customers with merchandising.
"We offer signage, shelf talkers and brochures, and let all the stores know that we are just a phone call away if they require any assistance with questions and answers for their customer,” said Brown. "Many stores call us for advice on what to use for different problems.”
Appropriate packaging is another key area of merchandising.
"We have a collection of first-aid products, including our E-Collar and Stay Rite collar, grouped in one display that evokes a Red Cross image,” said Cardinal Pet Care’s Denzer. "This display draws attention and builds customer awareness of the first-aid solutions that are available for their pets.”
Sometimes, the best way to become familiar with a product is the easiest way—sampling it.
Brown encourages retailers to offer free samples of her company’s Invisible Boot paw cream by sending them a "barker’s dozen” special.
"This has helped many stores sell the product easily,” said Brown.
Peterson offers discounts to his staff and encourages them to try products on their own pets.
"Nothing markets a product in our store better than a staff member who has experience with it and can identify the customers (and their pets) that will benefit from it,” he said.
"We have a feature display at the front of each store that we use to highlight certain monthly promos in these categories,” Peterson added. "Otherwise, we use a visible, themed endcap; always with appropriate and professional-looking signage.”
Cherrybrook’s Loomis does not use tester sprays, but her stores have a health and wellness section as well as seasonal displays and endcaps, including a flea and tick endcap in the spring and a "Keep your pet cool” endcap in the summer.
Premier Pet Supply’s Palmer believes in seasonal endcaps and displays as well. In the winter he keeps paw protection up front; in the summer, when many pets are afraid of fireworks, he stocks anxiety/calming products, such as Thundershirts, near the front. He generally tries to group similar products, such as all skin-healing products or all e-collars and cones.
"We have a table in front of the store where we have different themed displays that we can merchandise,” he said. "We try to make it as eye-catching as possible and implement products that work well with the season.”
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