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Sizzling Stock: Pet Waterer Systems

Posted: June 29, 2012, 3:45 p.m. EDT


A Thirst for Business Drives Pet Waterer Sales
Fountains and filtered water bowls offer retailers the chance for seasonal sales and upselling.
By Kathleen M. Mangan

The pet water fountain and filtered bowl segment continues to expand with a variety of functional and aesthetic offerings. New products launched at the 2012 Global Pet Expo illustrated the design innovation.

“This product category offers large potential growth,” said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Product Association (APPA). “We’ll see more competition and product offerings in the future.”

Baby Boomers are looking for convenience products that help them maintain an active lifestyle, plus they have disposable income so expense isn’t an issue, Vetere added.

Pet water fountains
Finding room on store shelves for pet waterers—and possibly as a counter display—can help boost demand. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at PetStop Warehouse
The shift in consumer interest for fountains has a lot to do with the health benefits for pets, he acknowledged, and especially cats, which can develop bladder crystals and urinary tract infections when dehydrated.

Customers have become more aware of the necessity for pets to have ample water, said Mark Haslam, owner of The Feed Bag Pet Supply Company in Mequon, Wis.

Increasingly, veterinarians are recommending fountains, which is also driving demand, said Andrew Mowery, founder of HomeGardenPets.com, a provider of pet fountains based in Fort Collins, Colo.

“Vets are convinced that fountains are an effective way to get pets to drink more water,” Mowery said. “It’s no longer a novelty or even a luxury item; it enhances pet health.”

The idea is to encourage adoption of pet water fountains to promote prevention.

“A water fountain is like preventive maintenance on your pets,” said Jon Supanich, sales director for Pioneer Pet Products in Cedarburg, Wis. “Saving even one vet visit pays for the fountain.”

Category Development
The first pet water fountain to appear on the market, The Drinkwell Original Pet Fountain, currently manufactured under the PetSafe brand owned by Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., was developed more than 15 years ago by a veterinarian to encourage water intake. The company has a patent on free-falling water, so all competitive products must create water movement with bubblers, slides and wide, smooth streams. The product line includes 10 pet waterer models.

Many subsequent product offerings in the segment feature a dual filtering system with a sponge to keep hair and debris from clogging the pump, and an activated carbon filter designed to improve water quality and taste. Fountains are made of plastic, ceramic and stainless steel in a variety of configurations, shapes and sizes.
 
Pioneer Pet Products/SmartCat launched its fountain line in 2009 and now has eight models. The company is known for its ceramic units that can be disassembled for washing in the dishwasher, industry participants reported.

When it comes to filtration, there are variations on the mechanical/carbon filter template. Petmate, based in Arlington, Texas, offers a number of fountains, some with an auger-style water lift system and one with an ultraviolet light to purify the water.

Other innovations have to do with ergonomics and design considerations. Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., based in Mansfield, Mass., used its pond pump expertise to launch Dogit and Catit pet fountains 10 years ago, reported Damian Hall, marketing communications manager.

The company has since raised the natural drinking stance and improved the filtration system, and now offers three dog, one cat and one outdoor pet fountain, he added. 

Trends and New Models
The market is trending toward fountains that are more aesthetically pleasing with upscale materials and enhanced color choices, said Kristyn Lingenfelter, senior marketing specialist for Drinkwell. Also, there is demand for large-capacity outdoor fountains, she added.

When it comes to materials, trends toward more expensive products aren’t driven only by aesthetics. There is a move away from plastic due to health concerns over plastic additives, and the porous nature of plastic can harbor bacteria and algae, HomeGardenPets.com’s Mowery said. Ceramic is the most popular material on his online store, he added.

New fountain previews and launches at Global Pet Expo 2012 fell in line with these trends. Of the 3,000-plus new products rolled out at Global Pet Expo this year, attending manufacturers presented several new fountain offerings.

Drinkwell introduced its first ceramic fountain, called the Lotus, and the Zen fountain, a stainless-steel model with a sheet of falling water, Lingenfelter stated. The company also introduced a 3.5-gallon outdoor dog fountain and a small pump/filter unit called the Hy-drate that can be put into any pet bowl to aerate and freshen the water, she said. Two ceramic Drinkwell fountains are slated to premier at next year’s Global show, Lingenfelter added.

Other manufacturers introduced fountains constructed from ceramic and stainless steel, highlighting the prevalence of this trend. Pioneer showed a square, tiered, ceramic fountain at Global Pet Expo 2012, and attendees were trying to place orders, but the company was merely seeking customer input into the design since it won’t be available until fall, Supanich said. He added that the company has more modern ceramic shapes and a larger stainless-steel fountain in the works.

Retailers in attendance were eager to place orders, and some noted price point as a key consideration. George Richter, co-owner of Dog.Dog.Cat., a pet store in Lake Tahoe, Calif., who goes to Global, H.H. Backer and SuperZoo shows to conduct business, was enthused about Drinkwell’s new Hy-drate.

“I think it’s an awesome idea that will be successful,” he said. “It makes any bowl a filtered fountain at a $20 price point.”

Pet Fountain Sales
Some trends may strike store owners as counterintuitive. For example, retailers reported that cat owners purchase more fountains than dog owners. They also reported that there has been consistent growth in fountain sales, which stands in contrast to the drop in sales of products with higher price points that has been common since the start of the economic downturn.

“We cut out a lot of high-end products, but not the pet fountains,” Richter said.

Buying patterns seem to be seasonal in some locations. Symon Lee, owner of Furever Pets in Portland, Ore. said he sells more pet fountains in warm weather.

This product category also requires engagement with customers. Fountains sell at a steady pace year-round in his store, The Feed Bag’s Haslam said, but they don’t move off the shelf on their own. Sales require customer interaction and education, he added.

To encourage sales, Richter demonstrates the product using a working model filled with water near the cash register.

“At the counter, people are guaranteed to see it,” he said. “Many customers say they never thought about buying one.”

Richter displays one of each model out of its box on the shelf, and sets up a DVD player to show videos on maintaining the products.

All of this engagement and education can go a long way toward keeping customers for the long run. Explaining the importance of proper fountain cleaning and maintenance is critical to customer satisfaction and preventing returns, Lee said.

“Pumps die too easily when the water intake or pump gets blocked,” he said.

Retailers should indicate to customers that they should check the pump once a week and changing the filter once a month to ensure longevity, Lee recommended.

What’s the next stage in the evolution of pet water fountains and filtered bowls? It’s the ability to chill water, plus the addition of UV filters to kill bacteria and pathogens, Mowery said.

“When the technology becomes less expensive, the premium will be paid,” he added.

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