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Companies Take the Clean Approach

Posted: February 17, 2011, 5:30 p.m., EDT

Developments in product repositioning, packaging and deodorizing are designed to meet small mammal owners’ needs and move items off of shelves.

By Meghan E. Murphy

When customers venture into the world of small mammal ownership, learning how to keep pet environments clean and odor-free is a top concern. In the 2009-2010 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 51 percent of small animal owners chose “cleaning up” as a drawback to owning this type of pet, and 39 percent selected “odor.” Of the 18 listed drawbacks, these two had the second- and third-highest percentages.

Hamster, ferrets and some other small mammals may have reputations for smelling less than pleasant, but innovative products are helping ensure prospective pet owners that their homes—and their pets’ cages—will be clean and odor-free.

Industry Voices

How do you promote small mammal cleaning and odor-control products?

Diane Vair“Ideally, all the moving parts of a promotional campaign need to work seamlessly together—messaging, social media, graphics, point of sale materials, promotions, testimonials, product availability—online as well as in brick and mortar locations. Pet odor management is an age-old problem, and when you are offering a proven solution, it’s a little easier because consumers are actually seeking out this information.”
—Diane Vair, product marketing manager for Marshall Pet Products Inc. in Wolcott, N.Y.

“We try to tactfully explain to people that they wouldn’t want to live in a dirty house or sleep in a dirty bed. We tell them that they can buy products that will take care of the odors and keep their animal healthier. People really open their eyes when you explain it that way.”
—Carrol Stack, owner of Pet City in Houston

Tom Pletcher“Help consumers by educating your store associates to recommend alternative or higher quality bedding and litter products that control odor better. Little to no smell can mean the difference between keeping a pet or finding a new home for it. Additionally, teach store associates to recommend a larger size. As we know, larger sizes provide better value, but more importantly, pet owners are more likely to clean and change the habitat more often, using more product. That means more sales for you, and once again, a better pet-owning experience for pet owners.”
—Tom Pletcher, marketing director for Absorption Corp. in Ferndale,Wash.

From absorptive bedding to water additives to cage cleaners, an array of products that target cage cleanliness is now on the market. With the right products on the shelves and proper training of pet store employees, industry sources reported, it’s simple to send a happy customer home without worrying about his or her new pet.

Clear and Clean

For decades, wood shavings have been a staple product—if not the staple product—in the small mammal litter-and-bedding repertoire. Now, a number of manufacturers are creating species-specific products with new materials that aim to better control odor and meet pet owners’ and animals’ needs.

That’s a welcome change, especially for some small animal breeds, said Carrol Stack, owner of Pet City in Houston.

“For so long, there’s only been pine shavings out there,” Stack said. “They aren’t a great thing for chinchillas or hedgehogs or ferrets because it’s slivers of wood, and it gets in their food.”

A number of new bedding and litter offerings are designed to be safer for animals as well as address cage cleanliness by absorbing urine and including odor-control strategies.

Absorption Corp. in Ferndale, Wash., for example, recently released the CareFresh Habitat System, a threefold line of products that differentiate between bedding, odor-controlling litter and interactive enrichment product.

The system’s strategy is about providing pet owners with various products to meet their needs, based on habitat and species, according to Tom Pletcher, marketing director for Absorption. Some pet owners, such as those with rats, may need all three products—bedding, litter and the interactive enrichment product—while others may need only one or two.

Pletcher said the line will be good for retailers’ bottom lines because they can sell a small mammal owner two or three bags of product instead of one. The company’s packaging and marketing materials are designed to clear up any consumer confusion about what product goes in what part of the cage.

Recognizing that consumers are price conscious in this economy, Absorption also added a bedding line last year called CareFresh Basic, a blend of wood chips and the cellulose-based CareFresh material. Its price point is 40 percent less than the company’s standard cellulose bedding.

“Basic gives them the experience with CareFresh without having to make the huge leap in price,” Pletcher stated.

Along with price, many consumers may consider the effectiveness of a bedding or litter when deciding whether to purchase it repeatedly.

Stack said having a bedding that absorbs liquid is important for cage cleanliness. The material can be removed and the cage quickly cleaned without too much mess, she added.

Among the bedding items Stack recently began carrying is Soft Granule Blend by Kaytee. The bedding comes in an unscented version as well as in cinnamon, lavender, mint, orange and rose scents.

“Everyone wants a scent, and the orange is a natural deodorizer,” Stack said. “It just helps.”

The material absorbs liquid while the orange scent combats the odors, she noted.

Dan Lavallee, a manager of Pet World in Natick, Mass., said a greater variety of odor-control cleaners and products are safer for animals. 

“People used to just use bleach and water,” Lavallee said. “It’s gotten a lot better [and] safer for the animal.”

A Fresher Look

Understanding the products on the shelf and training employees are key to sales of odor-control items, according to industry sources.
Understanding the products on the shelf and training employees are key to sales of odor-control items, according to industry sources.
Photo by Katie Ingmire/BowTie Inc.
While many cleaning and odor-control products for small mammals are used in the pets’ environment, others—such as Marshall Pet Products’ GoodBye Odor—are made to work inside the animals themselves.

Although GoodBye Odor has been around for decades, until recently it was sold under a different name—Bi-Odor—and with different packaging, according to Diane Vair, product marketing manager for the Wolcott, N.Y., company. The product, which is put in pets’ food or water to help control mouth, body, fecal and urine odors, recently received a freshened-up look and name to attract more customers.

To decide on its new packaging, the company thoroughly scanned the pet and human market to understand what works in labeling and marketing techniques, Vair said.

Among the findings was that all-natural green colors were attractive to pet owners.

“We took a look at that category in general, and we did a lot of shelf auditing to see where packaging was going and what people responded to,” Vair said. “As you would expect, green packaging gets a good response from customers.”

GoodBye Odor’s packaging now sports a leafy green label as well as images of pets. It is also designed to emphasize that the product is safe and natural.

“People are more attuned to natural now that that is the trend in general in human products as well,” Vair noted.

Some retailers have noticed this natural-product leaning. Lavallee said his customers are interested in all-natural products that are safe for their pets.

“People are definitely interested more in natural products and also what makes it easiest for them to clean the cage,” he reported.

His store’s popular items are Urine Off by Bio-Pro Research LLC and Clean Cage by Super Pet.

Super Pet is well aware that safety is the No. 1 concern for pet owners and that odor control ranks as a top concern as well, said Judy Heffron, senior brand manager for Super Pet in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

“It’s got to be pet-safe, and when you’re talking about cleaning products, people want it to be earth-friendly materials,” Heffron added.

 A number of new bedding and litter products are designed to be safer for animals as well as address cage cleanliness by absorbing urine and including odor-control strategies.
A number of new bedding and litter products are designed to be safer for animals as well as address cage cleanliness by absorbing urine and including odor-control strategies.
Credit: Courtesy of Absorption Corp.
Marketing Matters

With such an assortment of products to help keep cages fresh, understanding what’s on the shelf and training employees are key to sales of odor-control items, according to industry sources.

When it comes to novice small-animal owners especially, making the right recommendation for the right pet is key to keeping a satisfied customer, Vair said.

“We would encourage retailers to know the product intimately and get all their associates to know it as well,” she added.

A more visual sales approach may help move product off of shelves.

As with any product, a key to better sales is to demonstrate its effectiveness in the store setting, Pletcher said. If odor-control and cleaning products are working on cages housing multiple hamsters, gerbils and rats in the store, the pet store employee has more confidence in recommending it for a customer to take home.

“One of the most important things is that they do demonstrate products in the store,” Pletcher noted. “If you know that a product works well, your recommendation is going to be much stronger.” 

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