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Sweet Dog Dreams

June 18, 2013, 10:00 a.m. EST

Sweet Dog Dreams
Durability, choice and style drive the market of comfy beds for sleepy heads.
By Patricia Morris Buckley  
"Dogs need a place to sleep,” said Dadbin, COO and CFO of Los Angeles-based Sentiments, which produces the Best Friends by Sheri line of dog beds. "That’s why the dog line category is growing, right along with the rest of the pet product industry.”

Other manufacturers agreed.

"Beds have been the anchor to our pet line,” said JP Stoops, director of licensing for Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery Communications, which produces the Animal Planet brand. "I would say that beds for dogs have been the driving force behind our brand.”

Sweet Dog Dreams
Happy dog relaxes in his dog bed. Courtesy of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You)

But comfortable beds can pose uncomfortable challenges to manufacturers and retailers. Dog beds are a "very competitive” category, noted Will Chen, founder of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You) in San Francisco. 

"It’s especially difficult for retailers because dog beds are so bulky,” he said. "They’re more costly to stock because they take up more space.”

Compounding that space challenge is the huge variety of bed styles available in extensive pattern and color choices.

"Different buyers want different beds,” said Barb Emmett, owner of Godfrey’s: Welcome to Dogdom, a pet boutique in Mohnton, Pa.
"It all depends on what dog owners perceive as their dog’s preference,” Chen reaffirmed.

The Lap of Luxury

Bedding accessories, such as sheets, pillows and blankets, can turn a human bed into a nightly haven. Dog beds are no different, according to manufacturers and retailers.

Many bedding accessories for humans also are available for pets. While the market is small, it can be worth it to carry them, said Barb Emmett, owner of Godfrey’s: Welcome to Dogdom, a pet boutique in Mohnton, Pa.

"These items can be an add-on sale,” she said.

Blankets can be used in a variety of ways, said Ben Dadbin, COO and CFO of Sentiments in Los Angeles, a home décor manufacturer that also offers a pet line, Best Friends by Sheri.

"We also market our throw pillows as a portable bed, and a cover for furniture and the car seat,” he said. "They really can be used for a number of things, and some people even spread the blankets over their pets.”

"One-third of all dogs, especially large dogs, will sleep on the ground/floor/blanket at night,” according to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey.

Perhaps these dogs need pillows for their tired heads. When P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You) in San Francisco came out with matching pillows to complement its dog beds, a funny thing happened.

"The pillows came about from customer comments,” said Will Chen, founder. "They said we had great prints, and they wanted matching pillows. We thought these would be for their sofas, but some people began using them for their dogs.”

P.L.A.Y. also offers a line of duvet covers. Customers can purchase a second matching cover or one in another pattern.

"People can put on another while they wash the first, just like changing your pillowcase,” he said.

Chill pads are also a growing add-on in the market.

"Chill pads are especially good for older dogs,” said JP Stoops, director of licensing for Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery Communications, which manufactures the Animal Planet brand.

Chen said that chill pads are light, which makes them easy to take to work or on a trip. They even have an accessory of their own.

"We have sheets for the chill pads,” Emmett said. "They’re great and we’ve sold quite a few.”

Make the Bed
Durability is crucial when it comes to dog bedding.

"Customers want them to hold up,” said Laura Campbell, owner of Poodle Palace & Pet Boutique in St. Pete Beach, Fla. "Dogs like to scratch and bounce, which is hard on a dog bed.”

Material and craftsmanship are critical to producing a dog bed that can withstand typical puppy behavior, she added.

Washability also is important. Dogs shed, track in mud or worse.

"Once a pet pees on them, they’re trash,” said Stan Pelz, who co-owns Wash’n Zip Pet Bed in Longwood, Fla., with his wife, Jennifer.

Wash’n Zip produces a bed that can be unzipped into a blanket, making it easier to wash.

The owners of Godfrey’s and Poodle Palace both said that due to customer preference they try to stock eco-friendly products made in the United States.

"Dog beds have become part of home décor,” Chen said, explaining that many customers want beds that match their interior design. "We find that designs differ by geographical areas. Metro areas want the whimsical and colorful. The Midwest leans toward neutrals, such as earth tones.”

Manufacturers reported that keeping up with trendy colors is important to their business plans.
"We like to push colors,” said Discovery Communication’s Stoops. "What resonates with consumers is what fits in their homes.”

Sweet Dog Dreams
Dog Bed Varieties and Styles.Courtesy of Carrie Brenner/I-5 Publishing at George

"There’s a greater demand for new designs, colors and patterns,” Sentiments’ Dadbin noted. "Style is also a key selling point.
"The rectangular-shaped pillow beds are the most popular, but we also have a great demand for our cuddlers (beds with edges), although these are usually for smaller dogs,” he added. "The furniture-type of beds, like a bolster sofa, is also an accent piece of the home. These, of course, cost more.”

The good news, Chen said, is that dog owners now are willing to spend more on their pets.

"As the economy gains more steam, consumers are willing to splurge more,” he said.

Poodle Palace’s Campbell also reported an uptick in consumer spending.

"People definitely are going back to the higher-end products now that we’ve gotten over the economic hump,” she said. "Instead of spending $25 or $40, they’re ready to spend $100 or $200.”

This One is Just Right
Manufacturers and retailers agreed that success in the dog bedding category is best achieved by finding a niche to target.

"Are you offering a variety of designs and fabrics or doing something simple and reasonably priced?” asked Wash’n Zip’s Pelz.

Dog bed manufacturer Quik Shade found its niche with travel beds and crates. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif., company specializes in pop-up chairs. It has used that same technology to create nylon pop-up beds with shades or zipped dog crates, complete with a breathable mesh bottom.

"It’s new and different from what’s out there,” said Kellie Swam, marketing director. "This way, dogs can go on family trips because they’re part of the family, too.”

Retailers should create a niche as well.

"People shop with different budgetary needs,” Dadbin said. "The big box stores cater to those with a lower budget, while often boutiques supply customers looking for high-end products.”

Sweet Dog Dreams
Dog beds and other accessories. Courtesy of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You)

Selling Sleep
The good news about dog bedding is that it needs to be replenished. Campbell sees customers buying a new bed when their décor changes. There’s also the wear and tear factor.

"There’s definitely a lifespan to beds,” Dadbin said. "That helps keep the market going.”

Selling dog beds can be tricky due to their bulk, yet it’s important to have enough styles, price points and sizes on hand so customers have a choice, Campbell added.

"If there aren’t enough in the store, they’ll walk by them without stopping,” she said.

Emmett of Godfrey’s offers custom-made beds, for which customers can select a style and material. This way, she said, she doesn’t have beds stacked up in a corner.

Campbell fills her beds up with different products to combine marketing strategies.

"Consumers need to touch and feel beds,” Discovery Communications’ Stoops said. "Beds should be positioned so they can be felt. A picture does not do it justice. More importantly, they shouldn’t be dumped on each other or put on wire racks where they become dirty.”

Dog beds also offer a seasonal aspect.

"We definitely sell more in puppy season,” Campbell said.

With the slow restoration of the economy and the large variety of choices, dog bedding is a growing category.
"This year is good,” she added. "I see it getting better and bigger.” <HOME>

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