Posted: July 19, 2013, 11:00 a.m. EDT
Customers seeking eco-friendly products can outfit their pets with sweaters, booties, collars, leashes and more.
By Stacy N. Hackett
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of natural apparel for pets, frustration with a lack of selection led to the creation of multiple types of products.
The owners of Pawz Dog Boots originally developed booties made of biodegradable rubber to provide their own pets with boots that would stay on the dogs’ feet.
"The snow and ice would prohibit long walks with our dogs,” said Andrea Friedland, director of customer service and engagement for the New York, N.Y.-based company. "We had purchased boots, but our dogs refused to walk in them. The dog who loved the snow would run into a snow drift and come out with only two or three boots on.”
Experts recommend displaying products where customers easily can touch them. Courtesy of Two Paws Up
Pawz Dog Boots do not feature padding, which allows the dog to feel the ground, Friedland said, comparing the fit of the boot to that of a sock. The booties also are disposable, reusable and waterproof, she added.
Filling a Niche
While lack of a functional product led some pet owners to create new natural apparel items, other owners developed products that fulfill a desire to be more environmentally conscious. For Chilly Dog of Holmes, Pa., the inspiration behind its line of dog sweaters included the objective to follow fair-trade practices.
"We couldn’t find a company that made a functional dog sweater that was warm, fashionable and well made at a reasonable price point,” said Lisa Iacovelli, company owner.
At the time, Iacovelli hoped to add such sweaters to the eco-friendly offerings in her retail store, so she set out to make her own.
Similarly, Dave Colella introduced the Earthdog line, which includes hemp collars, leashes, couplers and harnesses, in 1997 to bring an eco-friendly choice to the market.
"[Hemp] also met all the other attributes for great dog collars: breathable, comfortable, durable, hypoallergenic and washable,” said the owner of the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company.
Bamboo possesses similar qualities, which is why Sonya Sargent chose it as the material for the Wagging Green line of dog collars and leashes.
"When I started to study the unique properties of bamboo, I discovered it is naturally sustainable, biodegradable, odor-resistant, antibacterial and hypoallergenic,” said the president of the Naples, Fla.-based company. "This seemed to be a perfect material for pet products, as well as fulfilling the need for a truly organic … eco-friendly product within the industry.”
While some customers seek out all types of natural or eco-friendly apparel, other pet owners might be unfamiliar with the benefits of such products.
"Many customers just want a collar that is comfortable for their dog, something that won’t rub or irritate the dog’s skin,” said Annette Merrifield, assistant manager of Natural Pet Food and Supplies in Temecula, Calif. "It is a specific type of customer that comes in looking for a hemp collar. Not many walk in the door looking specifically for hemp.”
This is where knowing all the details about natural apparel products can help staff promote hemp or bamboo collars—and natural wool sweaters and rubber dog booties.
"A well-informed sales staff is the best way to market any product,” said Sonya Sargent, president of Wagging Green Inc. in Naples, Fla. "So much of the environmental movement is about educating the consumer to understand why it’s important to make eco-conscious choices for their pets.”
Understanding and loving the product also sends a positive message to customers.
"It’s easy to sell what you love,” said Allison Levitt, owner of Two Paws Up in Frederick, Md. "We talk about the products a lot. We use them ourselves and love them.”
Dave Colella, owner of Earthdog, a manufacturer in Brentwood, Tenn., encourages staff use of his hemp collars and leashes.
"Leading by example has been tried-and-true in our experience,” he said. "There is no better endorsement than that.” —SNH Photo Courtesy of Chilly Dog
Such motivation to create eco-friendly products also drives customers into stores seeking natural and organic products. Many pet owners already incorporate organic and all-natural products in their own diets and lifestyles, and they want to use similar items to care for their pets.
"My customers are into recycling and into organic products,” said Danielle Scardaville, owner of You Lucky Dog in Hoboken, N.J. "Customers come in for all types of products that are organic, and the hemp dog collars do really well with my customer base.”
The customers at Two Paws Up in Frederick, Md., have a similar motivation when purchasing pet products.
"Our customers do not have a ‘big-box store’ mentality,” said Allison Levitt, store owner. "They are looking for something unique and well-made that also is natural and high quality.”
Existing Customer Base
Store owners such as Scardaville and Levitt have an advantage when marketing natural apparel products because their customers already are predisposed to seeking out such items. Colella encouraged all store owners and staff to acknowledge the mindset of such customers.
"Their clientele is in the store in the first place because they do not want to shop at the big-box store,” he said. "There is a responsibility and an opportunity there with the shop owner and staff to be knowledgeable about the products they present; this is the most effective way to sell them.”
To make the products more appealing for customers who are less familiar with organic or eco-friendly items, Colella suggested creating displays that emphasize the environmentally friendly theme.
"Presentation can center around earth-toned color choices and recycled or repurposed items,” he said.
"Also, merchandising the items [where] they are easily touched and held can help.”
Sargent emphasized the benefits of creating visually appealing displays that draw attention to the natural elements of the apparel products. She also suggested grouping the natural apparel items with other organic or eco-friendly products, such as treats, beds and food.
"Then display that section in a way that brings to mind a ‘natural’ appeal,” she said. "For example, having handmade wood signage calling attention to the natural section … using natural elements such as tree branches, moss and other elements from the outside brought in.”
Several manufacturers offer special displays to highlight their natural apparel. Wagging Green offers a natural bamboo stand with descriptive signage, while Pawz Dog Boots offers point-of-purchase and floor displays. The Good Dog Co., a manufacturer of hemp collars in Golden, Colo., offers a special waterfall rack to independent pet stores, said owner Wendy Schuchart.
Most companies also explain the natural features of their apparel items on the hang tags or offer signage with similar descriptions.
"Each of our sweaters comes with a hang tag that tells the story of how the sweaters are made,” Chilly Dog’s Iacovelli said. "We have marketing materials if our buyers need them.”
Wagging Green products also come with hang tags that explain the natural properties of the collars and leashes. Pawz Dog Boots offers store owners marketing materials such as sizing charts, posters that explain the boots’ uses and a video that depicts the boots in action.
The most effective marketing tool, however, is a well-informed staff, manufacturers said.
"As with all things, customers look to the knowledgeable store staff to direct them in making the best choices possible for their pets,” Sargent said. "If the sales staff understands why eco-friendly products are important and healthier for pets, they will pass the knowledge on to the customer.” <HOME>
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.