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Clean Up in the Natural Pet Grooming Market

Putting products to use, sharing them with customers and knowing everything about the lines can yield dividends.
By Karen Shugart

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserStacking pet shampoos, conditioners, spritzes and wipes on store shelves and waiting for the product to dwindle is the easy way to merchandise natural grooming aids, according to retailers and manufacturers. What’s harder—and ultimately more profitable, they stated—is breaking out a product and putting it to the test.

To be sure, grooming services and products are big business, accounting for $45,400 in receipts at the average pet-related store, Pet Product News International’s 2011 State of the Industry Report found. Natural pet grooming products make up a hefty portion of the total, bringing in more than $16,000 a year.

Natural dog grooming
“People are actually looking for the natural products,” said Tomi Takemoto, owner of Animal Lovers Pet Shop in Torrance, Calif. “Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have happened so often.”

Even in places where natural grooming aids haven’t quite hit their stride, retailers reported that customers are willing to embrace such products.

Steve Higgins, manager of Pet Stop in Missoula, Mont., said few customers seek out natural pet grooming products the first time, but once introduced to the offerings, the pet owners are sold.

“A lot of people we show the advantages to will end up purchasing one,” Higgins said.

The keys to boosting the sale of natural grooming aids, retailers reported, are threefold: use, education and display.

First-hand Experience
At Dog Daze Natural Pet Market in Puyallup, Wash., owner Erin Walker has employees try the products on their own pets. That way, when a customer comes in with a particular problem, someone on the staff will be more likely to have found a solution.

“It costs us a little bit of money to do that, but the sales make up for it tremendously,” Walker said.

Products that haven’t been evaluated in-house don’t appear on store shelves, noted Velena Stout, owner of Brookside Bakery and Bath in Kansas City, Mo.

“We do our homework; just because it’s an all-natural shampoo doesn’t mean it’s really a good shampoo,” Stout said, adding that her employees recently tested TrueBlue’s line of shampoos, sprays and conditioners and sent samples home with customers.

“Everyone was happy with the results,” she said.

Stout also likes Cloud Star’s Buddy Wash, but her staple line is Animal Care Products, whose shampoos, she said, get the job done.

“It leaves a clean dog,” she said.

Please Explain
Customers seeking out natural pet products have high expectations and want detailed information, said Paul Armstrong, president of EarthBath, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of grooming products for dogs, cats and horses.

“They want more disclosure,” he said.

Retailers have to get information to give it and requesting request as much training as possible from vendors is one way to do, advised Marie Jeanjacques Svet, owner of Organic Oscar, a San Diego manufacturer of organic shampoos and conditioners for dogs. Her company is putting together a training manual for retailers that will explain how her company’s products compare to the competition’s.

“If they have any questions, we are always happy to share what we know,” Svet said. 

Retailers can also consult with their vendors for promotional education materials, noted Crystalyn Guzman, owner of Aroma Paws, a Tarzana, Calif.-based manufacturer of natural, chemical-free grooming products for dogs. The company provides shelf cards that explain a product’s benefits–a helpful tool, she said, for when a customer needs immediate information.

“It’s an easy way to explain the product line,” Guzman added.

The power of word-of-mouth cannot be discounted, retailers reported. Dog Daze’s Walker pointed out that she has gained customers from professional groomers who witnessed the benefits of natural pet grooming products and recommended them to their clients.

“They see the dogs every month,” Walker said of the grooming shops. “They see the vast improvements.”

Laid Out for Growth
Interaction with customers certainly pays off, retailers and manufacturers reported, but a store’s layout and features are important as well.

At cash registers, careful product placement may win over new fans, Earthbath’s Armstrong said. Grooming wipes, he noted, are one such cost-effective product.

“We highly encourage retailers to take a tub, pull a wipe through and write on the top of it, ‘Try me,’” he said.

“It’s very effective,” he continued. “If a customer has a dog with him, you can always use a wipe on the dog—dirty paws, dirty jowls. You pull a wipe or two and they go, ‘Wow, this smells incredible.’”

Customers appreciate samples, particularly during special events and sales, Armstrong said.
“If they’re handed out judiciously, it’s a really effective way for the retailer to build good will with the customer, because the customer gets something for free.”

Along those lines, Guzman suggested offering testers that emit pleasing scents.

“One they smell it at home, it’s a good reminder to come back to the store if they really like the fragrance on the dog,” Guzman said.

If possible retailers should set up entire sections devoted to natural products, Armstrong noted. Shelf talkers help identify products made of natural ingredients, too, he added.

Dog Daze Natural Pet Market has shifted toward organizing products by category. Walker used to separate them by brand, an eye-catching strategy that actually made finding products difficult for employees and customers.

“Even though it doesn’t have the same visual impact, it’s helped a lot,” she said.

Adding a grooming salon may be a sure-fire way to promote natural products and grow a customer base. Armstrong cited Woodland Pet Food & Treats in Greenbrae, Calif., as an example of a retailer that did so and got great results.

This article orignially appeared in the September 2011 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser.


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