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Natural Marketplace: Natural Cleaning Products Provide Sales Solutions

Posted: Aug. 10, 2012, 7:15 p.m. EDT


Natural cleaning products enable retailers to differentiate themselves while helping pet owners deal with sanitary issues.
By Maggie M. Shein

Pet stains, urine marking and litterbox stench are just a few of the issues owners try to tackle when buying products to clean and deodorize the home. And if the solutions are environmentally safe and nontoxic, so much the better.

“One of the biggest complaints we hear from homeowners with pets is they don’t want their house to smell like there are pets in it,” said Taren de St. Croix, president and founder of Earthpawz Inc., a Brantford, Ontario, Canada, manufacturer of nontoxic cleaning products.

Earthpawz’ odor eliminator Smelly Dogs was released this year to complement the company’s line of cleaning products. Smelly Dogs comes in a 32-ounce spray bottle and is made of plant-derived ingredients, according to the company.

Cleaning up after pets
Natural is what Lisa Schisler, owner of Howl-A-Day Inn in Naples, Fla., looks for when she stocks cleaning products.

“In the past, most of the cleaners were harsh and chemical based,” Schisler said. “There are finally products on the market without such chemicals, and now about 50 percent of our client base looks for natural alternatives.”

Schisler tried many cleaning products over the past 20 years before settling on PetPeePee, a urine odor eliminator, for sale in her store and use in her daycare facility. 

“A lot of products have natural-based fragrances in them and when that smell goes away, the original smell comes back,” Schisler said. “People want something that doesn’t just mask the odor. That’s very important.”

PetPeePee’s manufacturer, Pompano Beach, Fla.-based PPP America Inc., reported it had so much success with the product, made from naturally blended Dead Sea minerals, that this year it released an industrial version in powder form for use at kennels and groomers. The new formula, PetPeePee Industrial, comes in 3.5-, 8-, 16- and 40-pound pails with a measuring scoop.

“The demand was high for something concentrated that lasts a long time,” said Arbel Martin, co-owner of PPP America.

Another new product, Begley’s Pet Stain and Odor Remover, was launched in April in a 16-ounce size, with plans for a 1-gallon container. The product is made using all-natural, plant-based enzymes and isn’t just for pet problems, according to Mark Cunningham, CEO of Lab Clean LLC, a Los Alamitos, Calif., company.

“What we’ve realized with pet owners is that they want a product formulated for pet use but also for things like wine or other household stains,” Cunningham said.

Selling Strategies
With so many natural cleaning and odor products on the market, retailers may have to be choosy about what they carry. Thoughtful displays, product demonstrations and creative conversations with customers go a long way, industry participants reported.

Terri Grow, founder of PetSage, a pet store in Alexandria, Va., has carried a few cleaning and odor products over the past 17 years, but she now stocks only one: Eco-88, from Enviro Resources of Houston. 

“I do recommend other ones to my customers as well, but I have found this to be the most effective and without any fragrances,” she said. 

Trendy Transparency 
When comparing cleaning and odor products, many customers look at the ingredient panel to determine how natural a product is, according to industry participants. Some ingredients, especially those with unusual names, can be confusing or misleading, and manufacturers reported seeing a swing toward transparency.

“The main thing people are asking for more than anything lately is ingredient panel listings—not just the basic ingredients but the subingredients as well,” said Mark Cunningham, CEO of Lab Clean LLC, the maker of Begley’s line of pet stain and odor removers. “People want to know what makes up this or that fragrance, and more consumers are paying attention to make sure a product is safe.”

The Los Alamitos, Calif., company’s website offers safety disclosure sheets for consumer use and comparison.

To distinguish itself from other companies claiming to be “green” or natural, Biokleen Industries Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., has updated its labeling to include further disclosure about its products.

“We’ve always put the ingredients on the label, but now we have the scientific names,” said Cindy Rimer, vice president of sales and marketing. “Companies have to be more transparent; that’s exactly what people want.”

Over the years, Terri Grow, founder of the PetSage store in Alexandria, Va., has seen not only the evolution of cleaning products in the pet industry but also changes in what customers desire.  

“Safety, as well as the ecology and ‘greenness’ of a product has really become quite the issue,” Grow pointed out. “People are paying more attention.” —MS

A product that works and is safe is important to Grow. 

“Effectiveness is absolutely the bottom line for customers, but they want to use something natural,” she added.

Other retailers agreed that narrowing product choices is an important part of helping customers decide which natural cleaning and odor product to buy.

“We don’t like to oversaturate any category in the store, because while there might be two dozen or more brands of cleaning and odor products, it just doesn’t make good business sense to carry them all,” said Dwight Nakagawa, co-owner of Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies based in Torrance, Calif.

The 13-store chain carries a few brands, including Nature’s Miracle, Simple Solution and Zero Odor.

One way Centinela Feed successfully sells Zero Odor products is through periodic demonstrations, Nakagawa reported. An employee places ammonia in a petri dish and then adds the spray product.

“It’s so effective to demonstrate it, because there is nothing like being able to see results immediately,” Nakagawa said.

Jim Huffstetler, founder and COO of Litchfield, Conn.-based Zero Odor, is a proponent of in-store show and tells.

“If you put on your consumer hat, you’ll see that as consumers we are exposed to so many different products and we don’t know if they work, so it’s wonderful when retailers can let the customer experience something at the store level,” Huffstetler noted.

Zero Odor last year launched a line of nontoxic, fragrance-free, biodegradable stain and odor products specifically for pets, including Zero Odor Pet, Zero Odor Litter and Zero Odor Pet Stain, he added.

Looks Count
Aside from demonstrations, unique displays can spice things up in an otherwise stagnant aisle.

“We like to challenge stores to display tests, where managers each build a display and the best one wins a prize,” said Cindy Rimer, vice president of sales and marketing at Biokleen Industries Inc. in Vancouver, Wash. “It gives staff a chance to get involved and also a chance to educate themselves and their team members about the different products.”

Biokleen manufactures Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator, which contains lime peel extract and live enzyme cultures. The company released an updated label for the product this summer, making it more noticeable to pet consumers, according to Rimer.

Because traditional cleaning products can be bought just about anywhere, both manufacturers and pet retailers emphasized the need to distinguish inventory through call-out tags and literature that explain why a purchase would be worth every penny.

“If you make it easy for the customer to see that this is not a product they are going to get at their [big box store] with information about why it’s safe and why it’s natural, then they will come back to you,” said Mike Wallrich, co-founder and president of ChemFree Solutions in Chicago.

The company makes a line of natural, enzyme-based cleaning products called Naturally It’s Clean. ChemFree recently increased the size of its bottles to 24 ounces at no extra charge to help differentiate itself in the marketplace, according to Wallrich.

Making a product stand out can include cross-marketing and placing it in different aisles and at the cash register. For example, because the Moso Bag, from Moso Natural of Oakhurst, N.J., is not a spray or a powder, retailers can get creative with its placement to attract customers’ attention, company owner Eric Rubin reported.

“Retailers can place products like this in several areas within the store—by the cleaning solutions, by the litter areas and general areas of the store that can grab customer attention,” Rubin said.

The linen Moso Bag, which comes in a 200-, 500- and a new 50-gram size, is filled with bamboo charcoal that naturally helps remove odors, pollutants, bacteria and allergens from the air, Rubin noted.

In the end, nobody wants to buy a natural product that doesn’t get the job done. Well-thought-out displays, demonstrations and customer education all go a long way in pointing the customer in the right direction.

“The last thing someone who is health conscious wants to do is resort to using strong chemicals on a urine or odor problem, because you’re just trading one problem for another,” Biokleen’s Rimer said. “They want to have the best of both worlds: something that works and something with a natural profile.”  

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