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Product Merchandiser Focus: Pet Wellness Centers

Posted: Dec. 12, 2012, 7:30 p.m. EST


To Their Good Health
Selling wellness begins with educating customers and offering nutritionally sound products.
By Sandy Robins

In late 2010, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released a statement that said nutrition impacts overall pet health, and a discussion about nutrition should be considered the 5th Vital Assessment and thus discussed by a veterinarian at a typical pet wellness check-up.

It’s no surprise then that the word “wellness” is trending in the pet world. As a result, more retailers are focusing on products that promote overall health and well-being in their customers’ pets.

Earth Animal Solution Center
At Cutter’s Mill, the QR-code-based Neighborhood Resource Guide gives customers direct access to local vets, trainers and groomers. Courtesy of Cutter’s Mill
One pet store that was way ahead of the wellness trend curve is the Holistic Pet Center in Clackamas, Ore., which is registered with the state of Oregon as “The Health Food Store for Pets,” according to Chip Sammons, owner.

“As such, I consider it to be a wellness center,” Sammons said. “My goal when we opened the store back in 1988 was to only stock products beneficial to pet health—no bad ingredients—and that’s the way it still is with every item we stock.

“A wellness center could be just a marketing concept with whatever natural products seem to fit, or it could—and should—have particular criteria that denotes why specific products have been chosen for that section,” he continued. “For me, that critera includes no artificial preservatives, no by-products, no sugar, no nitrates, no artificial colors or flavors and no genetically modified or irradiated items.”

Healthy Spot, a chain of pet supply stores in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Marina del Rey, Calif., is—as its name implies—also considered a full-fledged wellness center, noted its co-owners, Andrew Kim, CEO and Mark Boonnark, COO.

Earth Animal Solution Center
The Earth Animal Solution Center helps give customers answers to their pet-health related questions. Courtesy of Cutter’s Mill
“After all, shouldn’t all the food, treats and supplements in a pet store focus on pet health and general wellness?” Kim said. “We have a strict criteria that has to meet the Healthy Spot wellness standards. We believe wellness starts with nutrition and should be the focal point of any wellness center.

“Because we have made a heavy investment in the design and branding of our store feel, we can better differentiate ourselves by creating our own in-store displays rather than utilizing what manufacturers have to offer,” he continued. “However, we do work closely with our manufacturing partners to hold seminars for staff and demos for clients in stores on a frequent basis.”

For Cutter’s Mill, which has five stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in addition to the regular supplement, dental and grooming aisles in the stores, they also use the Earth Animal Solution Center, reported Susan L. Parker, executive vice president and COO.

“This section features a full line of holistic wellness items and an interactive display that allows customers to input their pet’s conditions and receive product suggestions and information,” Parker said.

“The most popular wellness items requested by customers are hip and joint and skin and coat supplements,” she added, noting that it’s the company’s philosophy to also promote the need for regular veterinary check-ups.

“In each store, we have a QR-code-based Neighborhood Resource Guide, that allows customers to use their smartphone or our iPad to look up vets, trainers and groomers in their area,” Parker said.

Marketing Products for Wellness
It stands to reason that as the wellness trend moves deeper into the pet retailing world, manufacturers would aim their marketing messages at health-oriented pet owners. Because wellness begins with nutrition, several pet food manufacturers are doing just that.

Stella and Chewy’s in Muskego, Wis., markets both its food and treats as wellness products, reported Laura Simms, director of public relations and special initiatives.

“We’ve received feedback from pet owners over the years telling us that they found our type of diet after their pet had experienced a health issue,” she said. “What we now focus on is reaching out to owners and veterinarians before pets have health issues.”

The company’s freeze-dried products are simple to market because they are easy to use have a good shelf life and are palatable, Simms said, noting that they are convenient especially when traveling or being outdoors.

“Our frozen raw products are a tougher sell because frozen pet food is still a new concept for most pet owners,” she added.

A natural is always a great selection when people are trying to provide overall health and wellness through a change in diet, said Jill Gainer, publication relations spokesperson for Nature’s Variety, headquartered in Lincoln, Neb.

“However, diet selection often is determined by what problem the consumer is trying to solve,” she said. “For example, if a dog or a cat has an issue with skin and coat, a retailer might recommend a raw diet such as ours. If a pet has an issue with food sensitivity or allergy, then a limited-ingredient diet would be best.”

Supplements are probably the hardest sell, as sometimes it takes longer to see results so it makes it harder to justify the cost and convenience, Gainer added. —SR

Even if a retailer has limited space, a store wellness center still is possible, said Darlene Frudakis, president of PetAg in Hampshire, Ill.

“It is a great way to draw theattention of today’s health conscious consumer,” she reported. “We live in the age of convenience. Consumers want easily locate where they can purchase products that will preserve and prolong their pets lives.”

PetAg offers consumers pamphlets with helpful tips on infant pet care, adult and senior pet care, and weight control tips, Frudakis said, adding that they can be downloaded from the company’s website and are distributed to retailers as well.

Promoting—and selling—pet wellness knowledge requires extensive time and effort in research and development of relationships between retailers and their vendors, reported Jusak Bernhard, who with Jeffrey Manley co-owns three TailsSpin stores in Savannah, Pooler and Macon, Ga.

“It is time and money well spent because in order to succeed and compete in such a flooded market, we find that providing well-versed knowledge on pet wellness and customer service are quite important and necessary,” Bernhard noted, adding that through research and vendor and veterinarian guidance, they have assembled a great selection of products.

TailsSpin is also very involved and has worked closely in establishing exercise areas within its jurisdiction for customers and their pets. In 2012, TailsSpin helped establish Savannah’s first city-run dog park, resulting in a three-acre shaded and fenced-in exercise area.

For retailers who might be reluctant to create a wellness corner or section, putting together special pet kits is one way to start the wellness conversation with customers, reported Barbara Denzer, vice president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif.

“Such kits could include a variety of different types of products, or they can be focused on one product category,” she said. “For example, you can put together a variety of four or five different natural or holistic treats, offer them at a special price and call it the ‘Pet Wellness Treat Pack.’

“This will allow customers to try different healthy treats to see which one their pet likes best,” she continued. ”Treats are an overlooked part of the wellness package. Just because something is a treat doesn’t mean it can’t be good for a pet, too.” 

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