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Wanted: Bacteria-Battling Litter

Posted: June 21, 2011, 2:50 p.m., EDT

Innovative products and merchandising strategies offer consumers a breath of fresher air.

By Cheryl Reeves

Keeping bird cages hygienic and odor-free is the goal of every avian retailer and pet owner. When consumers express a lack of patience for lingering noxious smells and time-consuming cleanup duty, merchants who communicate which solutions work best can win repeat business. Moreover, bird people know other bird people and often will spread the word about a store that steers them toward products that make bird ownership less of a messy endeavor.

“Keeping a clean cage is one of the best things you can do for your pet," said Caterina Novotny, director of marketing at Prevue Pet Products Inc. in Chicago.  "Consumers are looking for ways to easily keep their pets’ cages fresher and cleaner. They are also looking for products that help keep the bacteria levels to a minimum."

Novotny said Prevue’s new T3 Antimicrobial Cage Liners are treated on one side with silver ion, which prevents odor by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.

Multiple strategies may be used introducing new hygiene products, Novotny said. For example, retailers should make it a point to educate customers on what is innovative. To help retailers do this, she said, her company has a well-trained sales force ready to educate store employees by offering product sell sheets and attractive, point-of-sale packaging that features detailed information and usage directions.

Donna Garrou, the owner of Birdstuff, a store in Orange, Calif., said using the recommended products in live display cages “is a little expensive but hands down the best way to create interest in the product."

Her customer newsletters feature new products with a focus on what’s unique about them and their benefits, but not their price.

“Price promotions can create a spike in sales, but because the customer has not been educated to the value of long-term benefits of the product, those sales fall off quickly," Garrou pointed out. “The goal with litter products and cleaners is to create a repeat customer for the life of the pet.”

Industry Voices

More avian retailers have begun filling their in-store litter pans with 100 percent natural bedding and litter that can be easily scooped for a faster, fresher cleanup. Pet Product News International asked three retailers what they use in their store:

“What we’re putting in our cages is Kaytee’s Walnut Bird Litter. The crushed shells are scoopable and heavy enough so that the litter doesn't fly all over the place when birds flap their wings. Also, because of its odor absorption, we use CareFresh.”
-- Todd Marcus, owner of Birds Exotic in Delran, N.J.

“Kaytee’s Kay-Kob Bedding & Litter. Just like kitty litter, the corncob clumps the waste, and it can be scooped. It's hot and humid in Miami, so the extra odor absorbing is very helpful. This is a great litter for babies and adults, as long as the birds are separated from the litter by a grill.”
-- Alfredo Ona, owner of Simbad’s Birds & Pets in Miami

“Definitely corncob and crushed walnut shell litters from Kaytee. These all-natural, odor-eliminating litters that are scoopable make life easier. And they are very clean, which is disease preventing.”
-- Gloria Medina, sales associate at Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Calif.
Informative, Dazzling Displays

Rich Santana, president of Neater Tweeter in Simi Valley, Calif., suggested that retailers set up a “hot topic” display.

“For example, in the litter category the topic might be health. Inform customers about all the debris that falls off a bird and display the products that best fight the mess. Above all, push benefits.”

Santana said he recently introduced brightly colored signage and floor displays for his sticky cage liner product, the Mess Magnet.

“These displays are all about featuring the high points of the product in a clear and vibrant way,” he said, adding that bundling the cage liner into a pet bird starter kit is a great way to introduce customers to new products.

To display cleaning products, Garrou hangs stainless-steel buckets on the sides of cages. The buckets are filled with a litter scoop, bar scraper, spray cleaner and a cage shield.

“It helps customers click with the idea that they need a kit to keep the cage clean,” Garrou said.

Moreover, she added, stacks of litter products, like stacks of food, are a visual turn-off to customers.

“Stack displays are also a magnet for dust, so we just display only one of each size on the floor," she said. “Our No. 1-selling bedding product is not even in the store, it is stored in the back. But because it is in one of our cages, we get new customers for it daily.”

Promote Product Innovations

Alfredo Ona, owner of Simbad’s Birds & Pets in Miami, likes the new anti-bacterial treated cage liners and said they are increasingly popular with customers.

“These work really well for smaller birds,” Ona said, “Also, the bird owner can get in and out of the cage fast: remove the liner and replace it quickly.”

While safe and efficient waste absorption and odor control are the biggest concerns among bird owners, what’s also desirable is any product that contains the mess.

“A product that is safe and non-toxic for the bird and helps control sanitation for the owner makes a big difference in their buying decision,” said Tom Pletcher, director of marketing at Absorption Corp. in Ferndale, Wash. “Consumers also want a product that won’t fly out of the cage and make a big mess every time a bird flaps its wings.”

Pletcher said his company recently launched two litter products, named FreshSorb, within the CareFresh brand.

“FreshSorb is manufactured from virgin cellulose fibers, so it’s very clean and free from chemical or biological contaminants, and the products are super-absorbent,” Pletcher said.

Furthermore, he continued, the best way to promote new products is to use them in the store and make sure sales associates know the features and benefits of the products so recommendations can be made with confidence.

“Anything a pet retailer can do to make the bird owner more successful will come back in repeat sales, continued bird ownership and loyalty to your store,” Pletcher said.
At Menagerie Pet Shop in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, CareFresh is a top seller, reported the store’s bird sales expert, Lindsay Dorian.

“We love it, especially for how safe it is, because of the hypo-allergenic and non-toxic quality,” Dorian said.

Lead by Example

In terms of organizing displays, Dorian said litter and cleaning products are grouped by species. New products are promoted mostly through casual conversations with customers and shown in cages.

“Customers ask what we are using and follow our lead,” Dorian said. “We've been in the bird business for 35 years, so naturally our great reputation is earned from making sure our customers have the best products available, ones that make bird and owner comfortable, clean and safe.”

At his Miami store, Ona uses Kaytee’s ground-up corncob litter in most cages--from babies in the nursery to adult birds.

“People come in and see what we're using and, because they know and trust our high standards in bird care, those are the products they want to buy,” he said. “The best way to sell and promote is by example.”

Garrou said she always displays by function because her customers want the ability to compare across brands, price and features. They also want to be alerted to what's new in the category.

“This offers excellent sales opportunities as well, when customers ask for a comparison between the products,” she said. “If you can determine what their specific needs are, you can steer them toward the product that is the best fit and solve their problem.”

Helping customers find safe, quality solutions to their bird litter needs is essential to succeeding in the sector.

“Consumers are looking for ways to easily keep their pets’ cages fresher and cleaner,” said Novotny, of Prevue Pet Products. “The goal is to create in-store appeal and to assist consumers in easily locating what they need.”


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