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Dog Marketplace: Take Command of Training Product Sales

Posted: June 20, 2012, 2:00 p.m. EDT


Broadening promotions to include pet owners of adult dogs who need behavior modification supplies can help increase profits.
By Cheryl Reeves

When thinking about training products, most people immediately imagine a new puppy and all the new socialization tools it needs, from a crate and collar to teething chews and reward treats. However, retailers can layer on more sales of training supplies by proactively promoting to a larger demographic of pet owners who need merchandise that helps correct a host of behavioral issues.

Further, industry insiders reported, retailers have a wealth of opportunities to advertise and promote a great variety of training items without having to invest too much money to do so. Assorted creative strategies such as in-store training clinics, themed displays, radio spots and social media are examples of how savvy merchants can win more customers—and keep them coming back as various issues and needs arise.

Treats for dog training
Grouping small-sized tidbits with designated training treats can help promote sales of both types and lead to conversations about other kinds of training gear. Carrie Brenner/BowTie Inc. at George
“People eat up content on how to train a dog,” said Robin Hawn, brand manager for the manufacturer Petsafe in Knoxville, Tenn. “For retailers, this a huge opportunity to help dogs and make money. It’s also important to promote every type of training product for puppies and adult dogs: gates, chew toys, no-bark collars, supplements, agility ramps and crates right along with the traditional new puppy items, such as clickers, treats and training harnesses. And then advertise and promote—everywhere.”

Purchase-Eliciting Displays
Bundling training products into a themed display is a great way to grab and focus the consumer’s attention, said Alisha Navarro, the owner of Wiggles, Wags & Whiskers in Indian Trail, N.C.

Retailers can add even more impact to displays by including a dog mannequin to model supplies such as training harnesses, Navarro suggested. Additionally, she advised having a sales associate nearby ready to demonstrate special features of products so customers can learn how to use them before they get home.

At Teca Tu, a store in Sante Fe, N.M., display tables are creatively conceived to entertain and attract pet owners.

“For instance, we recently did pink and blue display tables side by side topped with stylish harnesses, collars, chew toys and more for female and male puppies,” said Mira Lopez, the store’s manager. “Customers loved it.”

Retailers will do better business by making displays as interactive as possible for consumers who like to feel, touch and learn how training products work before committing to purchase, said Jeanette Holliday, marketing manager for The Company of Animals in Bridgeport, Conn.

“People new at putting a training harness or collar on their dog will want to see how it’s done so they don’t have to struggle with it,” she said. “A DVD demo included in a display is also an effective selling tool.”

Retailers can boost profits further by including a few popular dog training books in displays as add-on purchase items, Holliday said.

Industry Voices
What are your top-selling training products?
“Step-in harnesses in plenty of styles and colors. People don’t want anything that pulls on the dog’s neck.”
Liz Eby, sales associate at Two Bostons in Naperville, Ill.

“Premier Pet’s Easy Walk Harnesses because tugging is a top concern among dog owners. This harness clips in the front and puts a bit of pressure to dissuade tugging. We have a special training section in the store, but we also place items in the treat section.”
Colin Michalik, sales associate at Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas

“By far, Gentle Leaders are the most preferred training collar and harness. We display these prominently in a selection of sizes and colors in our training product sales area. In treats, it’s hands down Charlie Bears and Zuke’s Mini Naturals. People insist on low-calorie training treats.”
Nikki Wilson, sales associate at Debbie’s Pet Boutique in Windsor, Calif.

“Products that help decrease problem barking. Consumers prefer the humane products that deliver via a spray an unpleasant scent that works quickly. Another product that has suddenly become very trendy again are clickers.”
Mira Lopez, manager at Teca Tu in Sante Fe, N.M.

Fresh, seasonal displays brimming with new and classic supplies also prompt customers to buy, retailers reported.

“We do a spring training display that really appeals to customers who own sporting breeds and need equipment for outdoor activities,” noted Nikki Wilson, a sales associate at Debbie’s Pet Boutique in Windsor, Calif. “Longer leads, life jackets, backpacks, fetching toys that float and clickers are items that would fit naturally into this type of display.”

Bundling products into training displays and customized packages is a good idea to help direct customers, reported Steven Appelbaum, president of Animal Behavior College Inc., headquartered in Santa Clarita, Calif.

“One such training package might consist of, for example, a six-foot leather or nylon leash and head collar as well as a flat collar, food pouch and treats,” Appelbaum said. “Another package could be about chewing and include products such as a Kong and stuffing, a Nylabone chew and chewing repellents.”


Training Clinics Reinforce Retailer Leadership
Holding in-store clinics have become more integral to selling training supplies, according to industry participants. Whether a retailer schedules one each week or once a month, clinics build confidence, increase product sales, connect the community, and most important, help dogs become better behaved and less stressed.

“In addition to holding puppy training classes in-store, we also do a training clinic every second Saturday of the month,” Teca Tu’s Lopez said. “Each clinic is designed to address a problem behavior, such as nipping or leash tugging. These clinics have gone over very well with our regular customers and attract new ones as well.”

A dog trainer comes every weekend into Two Bostons in Naperville, Ill., to offer advice and answer questions, reported Liz Eby, a sales associate for the retailer.

“The weekend trainer event has really increased store traffic and established deeper community bonds,” Eby said.

Clicker products blow off the shelves after an in-store training clinic at Lofty Dog, with two locations in Austin, Texas, said sales associate Colin Michalik.

“Whatever equipment the trainer is using, customers want to have it, too,” he said.

Stores can and should work with a dog trainer, Appelbaum advised.

“This will also allow them to have an expert to help educate staff and recommend products,” he said, adding that problem-solving clinics and classes are something every store should consider doing. “There’s a reason why big chains offer them, so this is something for the independents to consider.”

Partnering up with trainers and veterinarians is an affordable way for retailers to cross-market, promote and educate customers, Holliday said.

“There are so many topics to cover in terms of behavior that you could easily do a clinic once a week and focus on an issue at a time,” she said, noting that clinics represent a powerful public relations strategy to establish store leadership status.

Dominate the Media
All types of advertising and promotional strategies are employed to get the word out about what’s going on at Debbie’s Pet Boutique, Wilson reported.

“We do everything: newspaper, radio spots, social media, special events,” she said. “You want to reach every type of consumer. The radio spots are very effective because customers who come in and mention them get a discount on their purchases. Emailed coupons are also a big source of revenue.”

Because different types of consumers respond to certain types of promotions, it works to cover the gamut of available media options, Two Bostons’ Eby.

“Just as we set up displays all around the store to increase traffic flow, we also advertise everywhere,” she said, citing that periodically sending out an email blast with coupons pulls in sales because of the urgency of a sale end date.

If a retailer has the space, promoting an adoption day for shelter dogs is a win-win event for everyone.

“Announce on your website, fliers, social media, for example, as a ‘shop and adopt’ event,” Holliday suggested. “This is yet another way to be part of a customer’s new relationship with a pet.”

The main point to remember, Holliday added, is that the more people you reach and help, the more business you get and keep.

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