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Natural Marketplace: Cash In on Natural and Eco-friendly Pet Beds

Posted: Feb. 6, 2013, 2:45 p.m. EST


Retailers can reap the benefits of customers’ desire for natural and/or eco-friendly pet beds.
By Kristin Mehus-Roe

For modern pet owners, little is left to happenstance. Pet owners invest thousands of dollars into their animals’ veterinary care, training and enrichment, as reported by the American Pet Products Association.

Many consumers also are taking the mantra of less global impact seriously; they recycle and compost and make concerted efforts to buy products made from recycled items, according to several consumer reports. These interests have overlapped throughout the pet industry with natural and eco-friendly toys, food and accessories, so it’s no surprise to see it expand into pet bedding as well.

“It starts with the infants,” said Laura Wallace, vice president of marketing for Savvy Rest in Charlottesville, Va., maker of natural bedding for humans and animals. “When the little green light bulb goes on, you can’t turn it off. Once you start thinking about ‘What is my baby sleeping on? Is it safe?’ Then the adult says, ‘I want a clean sleeping environment.’ Then you look at the next creature you love—why should little Rexy have to sleep on something that’s not good for him?”

Eco-friendly beds for dogs and cats
In response to consumer concern for the environment, companies are providing a variety of eco-friendly dog and cat beds, from recycled materials to organic natural products. Courtesy of Healthy Spot
In addition to their pets’ health, a fair number of customers are concerned about the impact of their purchases on the environment—not wanting to fill landfills more than necessary—retailers and manufacturers reported.

Carrying natural and eco-friendly pet beds is part of the personal philosophy of Laura Clark, owner of Wylie Wag, a pet supply store with four locations in Northern Virginia.

“Throughout our stores we offer all kinds of products that help the planet while helping pets,” Clark said. “The two objectives don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and we were thrilled to find bedding options that fit our core values.”

Beds of All Kinds
Eco-friendly beds range from those constructed of recycled materials, such as Greener Pup and West Paw Design beds (made from recycled soda pop bottles) and Big Shrimpy beds (made of pre-consumer recycled fabrics), to the organic natural latex and cotton beds made by Savvy Rest and the organic cotton dog duvets made by Molly Mutt. There are even fully biodegradable beds, such as the Dog Gone Smart beds made of organic cotton and bamboo or kapok; even the corn material zippers are biodegradable, according to the company.

Healthy Spot, which has three locations in the Los Angeles area, has sold pet beds made of natural and recycled materials since opening in 2008.

“Natural and recyclable beds are consistent with our personal and professional philosophy,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner. “We believe in carrying environmentally friendly alternatives to the mass retail products.”

Mud Bay pet supply stores in the Pacific Northwest also sell a variety of eco-friendly pet beds.

“One new product is Molly Mutt,” said Abby Coleman, manager of the Olympia, Wash., store. “It’s a duvet cover that the customer can fill with whatever they want. There is no new production of bed fill, just a really nice cotton cover.”

Primarily a mattress manufacturer, Savvy Rest expanded its line to please the pets in their customers’ lives, Wallace said.

“[The natural latex used in the beds] is a natural foam rubber made from the thick, sticky serum that comes from the rubber tree,” she said. “The tree is not killed, so it’s a very sustainable substance.”

Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw Design fills all of its pet beds with the company’s patented IntelliLoft, which is made of recycled plastic bottles, said Spencer Williams, president. While the Eco lines also are covered with material made from recycled plastic bottles, the Bumper Bed donut bed line covers are constructed from organic cotton, he added. The company also recently released a Hemp Bed Collection in three styles, also filled with IntelliLoft.

At Wylie Wag, Clark stocks two eco-friendly pet bed brands, Big Shrimpy and Molly Mutt, along with less-expensive crate pads and décor-targeted beds from Bowser.

“Molly Mutt is completely different than Big Shrimpy in the product that they’ve created, but aligned in terms of green, eco-friendly options,” Wylie’s Clark said. “We find that they’re a great pairing for our environmentally conscientious customers—as well as some who simply are attracted to the style, comfort or ease of use.”

Cost and Quality
Simply put, natural and recycled beds can cost more. While big-box stores can sell a simple Styrofoam bed for under $25, beds made of natural and recycled materials can cost upward of $100.

“Most people just want what’s cheap, but we walk them through their options and explain why the natural and recycled beds are more expensive,” Mud Bay’s Coleman said. “We explain that they last longer and have fewer byproducts. It’s probably 50/50 the people who buy the more expensive product. Some might want to buy the product but have pocketbook issues.”

Eco-friendly dog bed
Eco-conscious customers are willing to pay more for natural and recycled products. Courtesy of Greener Pup
Most customers at Mud Bay already are interested in eco-friendly or organic products in their lives, so they are open to expanding that mind-set to their pet beds as well, she added.

At Healthy Spot, Kim’s clients are looking for similar items despite the cost.

“Our customers are willing to pay the premium because we are in strong economic communities and people see the value of paying up for quality and eco-friendly products,” he said. “In addition, we find that environmentally conscious customers generally spend more to purchase products that are consistent with their own values.”

The natural and/or recycled bed price ranges run in line with the other upscale bedding carried at Wylie Wag, but they are more expensive than mass-produced options, Clark noted.

“Our customers expect to pay a little more for quality,” she said. “They understand the higher price point. Molly Mutt is actually a lower price point because of the ‘fill-it-yourself’ approach. Most customers instantly see the value in a (quality) bed because they last for a very, very long time and hold up to years of use.”

Customer Concern
Despite customers’ willingness to pay for the beds, many pet supply stores don’t find their customers asking specifically for eco-friendly beds.

“Customers don’t usually ask for natural or recycled beds,” Coleman said. “Very infrequently people ask for natural products. Sometimes people who are sensitive to chemical materials will ask about natural beds.”

People aren’t necessarily looking for something recycled or natural when they shop for a dog or cat bed, reported Bruce Kelling, co-owner and co-founder of Big Shrimpy in Seattle. The eco-friendly aspect might encourage sales, but ultimately the consumer wants something with comfort and style.

For Savvy Rest, however, most of their pet bed customers buy the beds because they are natural, Wallace said.

“People have got to know our brand because they are sleeping on it,” she added. “They want natural. The want something for the pets that is healthful, and they trust Savvy Rest.”

In contrast, Wylie Wag’s customers run the gamut.

“Some are looking for eco-friendly options, some are looking for a value opportunity and some are looking for something that complements their décor,” Clark said. “It’s probably even across objectives.”

Selling It
Because customers don’t generally come into a store looking for a natural pet bed, it’s often up to the staff, or the website for direct sales, to explain why a more expensive eco-friendly option is still a good value.

A variety of manufacturers have extensive websites, and they also devote resources to training stores’ staff and provide in-store materials to help tell the story of their products, retailers reported.

Mud Bay’s staff has received training on the eco-friendly bed lines and is re-focusing their efforts on the Molly Mutt duvet covers, using both the point-of-sale materials provided by the company and staff training to help employees explain the product to customers.

“We have a dedicated sales team who works closely with our dealers to provide them with educational materials so they feel confident and knowledgeable when talking about our products,” West Paw’s Williams said.

Manufacturer-supplied marketing materials translate into sales at Wylie Wag, Clark added.

“Big Shrimpy provides fabric swatches that customers can readily access to determine which fabric works best,” she said. “Molly Mutt has a great display piece that has increased sales. Bowser’s provides sophisticated binders to explain fabric options. All of these tools are invaluable for helping an unsure customer make an informed decision.”

Some companies are using new smartphone technology to help make sales. Big Shrimpy, for example, has QR codes on its hangtags that allow smartphone users to view videos of the beds being produced. Read about QR codes and other marketing topics in our Pet Industry Resource Center by clicking here.

“A lot of our customers look at these in the stores,” Coleman of its Mud Bay said.

Manufacturers also use the hangtags to promote the durability or eco-friendliness of the beds. Big Shrimpy tags, for example, state “The Last Bed You Will Ever Buy,” while West Paw Design beds have a “bottle count tag” showing how many bottles are kept out of landfills with the purchase of the bed.

Ultimately, no matter how eco-friendly and well-marketed it is, customers won’t buy a bed unless it serves its intended function well, Clark said.

“It’s important to realize that being green can’t be the only selling point,” she continued. “The beds still have to do the job of providing a comfortable, practical place for pets to sleep and rest. In short, when a customer says, ‘That looks comfortable enough for me to sleep on!’ they’re going to be more compelled to invest in that bed for their four-legged friends.”

To find out how pet beds can help boost sales during the holidays, click here.

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