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Cat Marketplace: Don't Overlook Opportunities to Promote Cat Litter

Posted: Nov. 16, 2012, 8:15 p.m. EDT


Use creative, well-thought-out displays and word-of-mouth to promote this oft-forgotten category.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

Many pet stores treat cat litter like, well, toilet paper: Anyone who keeps a cat buys it, but retailers often don’t promote or display it in creative ways. As a result, they can sometimes miss out on significant sales.

“Cat litter is a lazy category,” said Tobi Skovron, founder and CEO of Pup-Pee Solutions, maker of The Pet Loo with U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles. “It’s on the shelf, and it’s an easy sell. It’s hard for people to get excited about it.”

The same thing is true of accessories for the litterbox.

“Retailers definitely don’t maximize sales of accessories,” said Frederick Soares, managing director of Canada Litter in Brossard, Quebec, Canada. “There are a lot of nice products, such as scoops, that stores could sell more of.”

Cat litterboxes and accessories
Grouping litterboxes with accessories can draw attention to these extras. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at Petstop Warehouse
Stores need to give up on the old thinking that cat owners don’t spend a lot of money, reported Rich Williams, co-founder of New York City-based Modko, which designs litterboxes and accessories.

“If something is nicely designed, well thought out and meets a person’s lifestyle, they will buy it,” Williams said.

By contrast, Soares contends that customers tend to shop on price without looking at other considerations.

“Some products are higher in price but will last longer or will control odors,” he said. “Sometimes retailers need to explain why one product is better than another, so customers understand why they can save money by paying more.”

Informing customers about various options in cat litter means looking at how different products work and finding the best option for each customer’s needs, Soares added.

“We offer DVDs and brochures, posters and other aids,” said Mark Hughes, national director of sales and marketing for Detroit Lakes, Minn.-based Pet Care Systems Inc., maker of Swheat Scoop litter. “Using these marketing tools to educate consumers helps stores. Make sure your employees can speak intelligently and correctly about the products your store sells. Then educate the consumer about better choices for litter; those made from wheat, corn and pine are better for the environment.”

Sometimes, selling specific litters involves creating a market niche.

“We have a variety of litters, including pine, newspaper, clay, clumping, nonclumping, compostable and flushable,” said Sally Adams, general manager of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala. “We also have litter with features that customers don’t even know they want. Customers are so accustomed to getting the old stuff at grocery stores that they don’t know what’s available.”

Customers can find one such added-features litter at The Petropolitan in Dallas, which carries locally manufactured Pet Ecology.

“Four pounds of this cat litter replaces 20 pounds of any other cat litter,” said Chris Watts, co-owner. “It’s one of the only safely flushable cat litters manufactured, and it has a urinary tract infection indicator in it.”

Educating employees comes before educating customers, according to retailers.

“Your employees must be able to talk to customers about litter,” Adams said. “They need to point out the good reasons to use some of the new litters.”

Providing retailers with information about bacteria, a source of stinky cat litter, is one educational avenue used by Pup-Pee Solutions, Skovron reported.

“We have a patented antibacterial carbon pad that kills the odor,” he said.

Good displays are equally important, retailers noted.

“Turn your window into a cat promotion area for a while,” Modko’s Williams said. “Highlight organic and natural litter choices, and show the differences between those and more traditional products. We’re currently working on promotion kits that include in-store and window signage for stores.”

Point-of-purchase displays, such as those from Canada Litter, can also help promote the category.

“We have a small display for our scoops that retailers can place with the cat litter or on the counter at the cash register,” Soares said.

His company can provide products by the pallet for larger stores, with the product mix tailored for each store and with appropriate POP signage and display materials, he added.

At Only Natural Pet Store in Boulder, Colo., litter and accessories are grouped together and endcaps are used for displays, said Abby Bishop, the store’s buyer.

“If we’re running a litter promotion, we put related items on the endcap,” she said. “We keep all litter-related products together so they’re all in one area and customers can’t miss them.”

Several manufacturers offer ready-made displays; Pup-Pee Solutions has developed an endcap kiosk.

“Down the side we have five points about our products,” Skovron said. “Those five points educate the customer and give them calls to action. We’re also implementing video displays for our Fresh Air Cat Litter.”

Having a “call to action” in a display, he said, is one way retailers can motivate customers to purchase a particular product.

Watts of The Petropolitan thinks long term when it comes to encouraging purchases.

“When customers come in and talk about their cats, we show them that Pet Ecology is a tool they can use to tell when their cat is getting a urinary tract infection,” he said. “They may not buy it right then, but if they need it in the future, they know where to find it.”

Another retailing tool is cross-promoting litter and accessories, which can increase sales of those accessories, Soares said.

“If you have a good scoop or a good pan, you can promote it,” he said. “You want to show, ‘Look, I have a better pan for you.’”

The idea is to make customers look at new products and consider how these products might make their lives easier, Soares noted.

Cross promotions don’t always have to involve litter and related items, either. B&B Pet Stop sometimes runs them with cat food and litter.

“We post labels that say ‘Buy this cat food and get litter at half price,’” Adams said. “Or ‘Buy this cat food and get a scoop when you buy litter.’ We do whatever we can to encourage litter purchases.”

In addition, Adams records in-store commercials for products, including cat litter. She shows the commercials on big-screen TVs in the store.

“We’re in Alabama, and people take their football very seriously, so we have the TVs on for games,” she said.

At other times the store shows videos of interest to customers, including its own commercials.

Many cat owners are very health-conscious, Only Natural Pet Store’s Bishop said. Retailers can take advantage of that in their displays and educational materials.

“Customers may be looking at the type of litter, box or fresheners that they’re adding to the box,” Bishop said. “We sell only wheat, corn, pine, walnut and paper.”

Social networking is another method that can promote consumer education and in-store sales.

“Social marketing is getting more and more attention,” Pet Care Systems’ Hughes said. “Stores can use social media for gaining ‘likes,’ or running promotions or giveaways. On our Swheat Scoop site we have ‘Free Litter Fridays,’ where one lucky customer can answer one question and win a free 14-pound bag of litter. This promotion has grown in popularity over the last six months.”

At B&B Pet Stop, Adams makes heavy use of social media for advertising.

“We’ve only advertised things on Facebook and Twitter for a long time, and we really concentrate on Facebook,” she said. “Any time we have a promotional event, I get a big crowd, just from advertising on Facebook and having signs and bag stuffers in the store. We also have an email newsletter that we send out once a week, but it’s not as important as Facebook.”

If retailers aren’t participating in social media, they’re missing the boat on advertising, Skovron noted.

“It’s not about sell, sell, sell,” he said. “It’s about engaging your audience and becoming a professional in your given brand.”

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