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Product Merchandiser Focus: Pet Health Aids

Posted: March 29, 2013, 7:45 p.m. EST


Displays and Knowledge Aid Sales
Staff education and product placement move more wellness for pets.

Scores of retailers are stocking their shelves with wellness products that make life better and healthier for pets. But how do they steer customers toward these products?

Several manufacturers and retailers share their strategies for merchandising pet health aids, as well as the reasons for the upsurge in the pet wellness industry.

The reasons underlying the increased interest in the pet wellness category vary, but at least one manufacturer attributes it to the aging population of owners.

“As the baby boomers have aged so have their dogs, and the senior dog market has grown tremendously,” said Lisa Lugo, owner of Minnesota-based Ultra Paws, which manufactures reflective vests, winter coats, harnesses and seven styles of protective boots for dogs, including a Wound boot and a Snow and Go boot. “In addition, people embrace their dogs as family members, caring for them as they would one of their relatives.

Pet health and wellness products
Reatilers report success selling pet health aids by rearranging products and creating news displays. Carrie Brenner/I-5 Publishing at Pet Country
Kristin Elliott, founder of the Rochester-based Doodie Pack company, reported that the change in market demand for pet health-related products is two-fold.

“First, there has been a huge increase in the importance of pet-owner health, and second, the position of pets has taken on a new dynamic,” said Elliott, whose company produces the Doodie Pack, a canine utility backpack that allows the dog to carry empty and waste-filled bags on a walk, as well as the company's Canine and Companion First-Aid kit. “They are contributing members of the community and the family—it is only natural to want to provide for them the same healthcare and attention we would give ourselves.”

At least one manufacturer said pet health isn't a new trend.

“There is and always will be a demand for health aid pet products, just as there is for similar products intended for people,” said Barbara Denzer, vice president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., which produces a variety of products for canine health and well-being, including the Remedy + Recovery line to treat common medical issues, as well as recovery collars.

In Plano, Texas, holistic pet food retailer Woof…Cool Stuff for Dogs has been centered on pet health since it opened eight years ago. Eric Marley, co-owner with MJ Hall, said the focus has trickled down to the store's consumers.

“We have seen a real change in our clients' focus over the last few years with them desiring healthier products for their pets,” Marley said. “We also have seen a much greater increase in information sharing and people researching better products over the Internet and factoring that knowledge into their buying decisions.”

Based on the powerful human-animal bond, one might think that pet wellness products sell themselves, but insiders report that isn't necessarily the case. Retailers agreed that product placement is important to merchandise this category of aids.

Customers drawn toward the aptly named Healthy Pet Products retail store in Pittsburgh know what they're getting when they walk in the door. Not only does the store carry natural and organic raw pet food, but it emphasizes good health in all of its products.

“Getting customers to buy things other than food, [however] is definitely a challenge,” said Toni Shelaske, owner. “We fortunately have a very loyal clientele, and they often come in and get the same items repeatedly. Breaking this cycle is the key. I constantly am rearranging products and creating new displays. My customers hate me for it, but it definitely gets them to notice new products and even products we've always carried.”

Product placement is of paramount importance to Sweet Pets LLC in Greenville, N.C., also.

“We have rearranged our store to keep the home health aids close together and at the front of the aisles,” said Chelsea Sweet, founder and marketing director of the exotic pet store. “We also place vendor-supplied marketing materials in the front window and throughout the store, including our own internally developed materials.”

In addition, Sweet reported that she highlights particular products by rotating displays and merchandise, as well as rotating endcaps to display new, older or sale items.

“We have done themed endcaps for particular products that have a new line or product within an existing line,” Sweet said. “We have found that by placing the dog food at the end of an aisle from toys, treats and aids, customers tend to purchase an add-on item.”

Best-Selling Health Aids
Retailers reported that the main health aids customers buy for their dogs and cats are:
• flea and tick medication
• hydrocortisone spray
• digestive aids
• Myristin
• joint rescue
• hairball remedy
• anti-itch spray
• RenaVast (nutritional supplement)
Another merchandising idea from Sweet is strategic placement of particular products at the register and offering products to customers at check-out.

“For example, when we ring up customer sales of dog and cat products, we ask if they have flea and tick medication, explaining to them that their pet needs it all year long,” Sweet explained. “About six times out of 10, the customer will purchase the medication.”

This technique pairs with the need to educate consumers, as well as staff, which are important aspects to merchandising.

“Knowing what each health product does for the pet is extremely beneficial in merchandising it to the customer,” Sweet added. “The customer trusts us and our knowledge.”

Shelaske also said education is important to merchandising pet health aids.

“Education is a huge part of what our customers experience when they are in our stores,” she said. “My entire staff is educated on the nitty-gritty of all our products, and we pass that on to the customer. They appreciate that we know the product and can honestly tell them it is safe for their pets.”

Hall and Marley also share that philosophy of educating staff so they can educate customers.

“We concentrate on making sure that each of our staff members is knowledgeable of the products and their benefits to our customers,” Hall said. “We have reading materials available for staff, as well as webinars and on-site training by the manufacturers. We work with several rescue groups and try to be a resource within the community. By doing so, we have become a source of knowledge and shared advice that our clients trust and value.”

To read more on training staff, click here.

Manufacturers reported also being available to help retailers merchandise their products.

“We offer our retail stores or distributors individual or small group webinars to educate them on the products and their use in their community or climate,” Ultra Paws' Lugo said. “Our point of purchase videos, displays, sizing charts and sample (ceramic) dog leg with a boot is very effective when illustrating how the boots work and stay on the dog.”

Elliott said she has been working directly with retailers, but as her company grows, she plans to develop an informational video-site where the retailer and its employees can learn more about the product.

Retailers should try out the products themselves so they can share testimonials with store customers, manufacturers added. For example, one of Lugo's customers took a video of his dog using Ultra Paws' Cool boots on a hot Arizona sidewalk and showed that to shoppers, reflecting the adage that ‘seeing is believing.'

“I, along with retailers, have found huge success promoting Doodie Pack by having their staff dogs wear it as a corporate ‘uniform,'” Elliott said, adding that it serves as walking advertising.

Along with being the mascot of Woof…Cool Stuff for Dogs, Wilbur, a pug, tries out the products his owners offer him at the store.

“Having open packages in the store and being able to feed them to clients' dogs or to Wilbur, the client will have a better level of understanding and/or trust in the products that we recommend,” Hall said.

Providing open bottles and packages is of special importance with supplements.

“Sampling is critical,” Hall said. “A person might not see an immediate change after just one use of a joint supplement. However, he did see his dog eat it easily, and that goes a long way toward the sale.”

Click here to find out what's new in pet supplements.

Denzer concurred, adding that retailers can't count on customers to ask about wellness products.

“Make these products visible,” she said. “The customer might not know you have a product that can relieve the inflammation caused by an insect bite unless you have it out on display and the product packaging makes it clear that the product is for this application.”

For example, Cardinal provides consumers “First Aid at First Glance” on the label so customers immediately can discern the type of product.

Elliott followed a similar concept with Doodie Packs.

“We opted for hands-on packaging with a vivid and informative product tag,” she said. “Display is quite natural using the supine handle to illustrate yet another bit of usefulness in the packs' overall design.”

Lugo said most of their packaging is open so customers can touch and feel the product as well.

Whatever you do, Denzer said, make sure that you always have health aid products in stock. If not, you could lose a sale as well as a customer.

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