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Play It Again

Posted: August 16, 2013, 11:30 a.m. EDT

Recycled goods are making a mark in the pet product market, especially among consumers concerned with the environment.

By Portia Stewart

Bruce Kelling, founder and president of Big Shrimpy in Seattle, entered the pet product business by accident. An avid outdoorsman and Montana native, Kelling was in the process of launching his patented backpack device. While he was working on the device in various sewing factories, he noticed that at some of the factories huge bags of fleece scraps sat by the dumpsters, destined for landfills.

In an effort to use the thousands of pounds of leftover materials produced every month, Kelling decided to make a dog bed for his German shorthaired pointer Maggie, whose nickname was Shrimpy.

Big Shrimpy
Courtesy of Big Shrimpy

"This backpacking device utilized nylon, fleece and ripstop nylon, and I thought, ‘I can make a dog bed with all of these tough fabrics that are made for backpacks,’” Kelling said. "I had the sewing people sew up some samples, I filled them with these fleece scraps, I went to a pet store near my house, and I got an order immediately.”

One bed became several, and Kelling’s side business quickly became his main business.

"I started Big Shrimpy as a recycling company out of my concern about waste and my interests in green industry and recycling,” Kelling said. "It was really an interest in starting a recycling company that started Big Shrimpy.”

Although his company has moved from fleece—in 2007 it began recycling other types of preconsumer fiber waste from other companies—Kelling said the focus remains on using recycled fibers for its product.

Whether the product is dog beds, clothing, collars or toys, some pet product manufacturers are turning their attention to the recycled materials market. They agreed that one of their main drivers is a commitment to using recycled products that are safe for pets and meet the needs of pets and their owners. And they’ve each managed to find marketing approaches that appeal to the pet owners in their target markets.

Reaching the Right Markets
Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore., said her company, which produces dog collars, leashes, toys, bowls and pick-up solutions, found a market in bicycle riders. Because the reclaimed materials come from bike inner tubes, the company has targeted bike riders with dogs. Some of its marketing included sponsoring bike teams and bike races, and it produces cycling apparel with the Cycle Dog logo.

"The response has been amazing,” Fidrych said.

A potential marketing challenge with buyers, she said, comes from the fact that all the products use postconsumer recycled materials, and these materials can differ slightly in appearance.

"As soon as the customer realizes that our products are recycled, they understand the slight variations,” she said. "We spent a lot of time on our hangtags to explain our story. It is not a challenge with consumers, but it might be sometimes for buyers. They can be afraid of something different. Remember when recycled paper came out? People thought it looked funny.”

Eco Lucy
With eco-friendly toys and other products, pet safety comes first. Courtesy of Bambeco

Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw Design relies on both traditional and unconventional tactics to market its products. These include an annual catalog, a website and a strong social media presence, said Spencer Williams, owner and president, adding that they generate a lot of content that inspires interaction and dialogue between them and their customers.

"An example of an unusual marketing approach is our partnership with Marvelous Mutts,” Williams said. "Marvelous Mutts is a sport entertainment show that showcases some of the world’s finest canine athletes. This year, West Paw Design teamed with Marvelous Mutts by providing the dogs with our Zogoflex toys. It’s a perfect partnership, as many of the dog tricks are done in the water, and all of our Zogoflex toys float and come in bright, easy-to-spot colors. We see this partnership as a great way for attendees to see the durability and benefits of our toys.”

The durability of Big Shrimpy products, when pet owners see them in the store, is their strength when it comes to marketing, Kelling said. The company also uses its own YouTube channel to help pet owners get a feel for the product and how to use it.

Eco-Pup Clothing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, produces some of its pet products, including the Arbutus Fleecey, the Bleecker softshell raincoat and Benny Polos, from recycled materials, said Susanne Postill, founder. Some are produced from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles; others are made from good–quality, upcycled human clothes that would have gone to the landfill.

"The most effective marketing for the recycled products is to highlight the fact that the product is made from recycled materials and to showcase how much waste was diverted from the landfill by using recycled materials,” Postill said. "We do this by attaching hangtags to each item, as well as using display signage and promoting how eco-friendly and recycled fabrics add products through social media.”

Pets or Owners: Who Picks the Products?

The answer, experts said, depends on the product. For example, Eric Weber, CEO of PetPlay Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., said when it comes to food products, pets are often the final deciders—they’ll either eat it or they won’t. But when it comes to the fashion collars he sells, pet owners choose based on the look they want or the message they want to convey.
Consumers are looking for eco-friendly solutions, but Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog Earth Friendly Pet Co. in Portland, Ore., said most important they are looking for great products. Just because it’s eco-friendly does not mean people will buy it.
"We put a lot of time into designing and testing our products to make sure they are great,” Fidrych said. "As we all know, pets can get bored with their toys, so we constantly are working on new designs and innovations to stimulate and create many enjoyable experiences.”
Susanne Postill, founder of Eco-Pup Clothing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, said it depends on the item being purchased whether the pet or the owner does the choosing.
"If it is a more functional item, such as a raincoat or bed or blanket, they will usually first choose the product based on what their pet would enjoy—for comfort mainly,” she said. "Then the look of the product comes second for what they enjoy themselves. If it is an item such as a shirt or a dress, the pet owner is more likely to make a purchase based on what they perceive their pets to enjoy, for the color, print, pattern and so on.”
Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design in Bozeman, Mont., agreed that the pet’s enjoyment plays a big role in the product’s success.
"Through our extensive consumer research, we’ve discovered that people buy our products for many reasons: they’re eco-friendly, made in America and sustainably manufactured,” he said. "However, the No. 1 reason pet owners purchase or repurchase a product is because their pet enjoys it. If the pet has no interest in the toy, or if the toy doesn’t hold up, then no amount of good intention matters—and rightfully so.” —PS

Safe for Pets
In addition to being made from recycled materials, manufacturers also make sure their products are safe for pets. Eric Weber, CEO of PetPlay Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., sells products in the recycled and natural markets. The company produces personalized fashion collars made of recycled materials, as well as a natural line of pet food and treats called Petite Cuisine.

The manufacturer’s recycled collar emerged from an alliance with Shainsware, a company that produces fashion accessories. The collars are made of recycled thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), which Weber said features a texture similar to Croc footwear, and the accessories that attach to each collar are made of recycled acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

Like the other companies in this market, Weber said the packaging also is made of recycled materials, such as recycled paper, and the bags are polypropylene, which Weber said is the least harmful to the environment.

Holes in the collar allow pet owners to customize collars with accessories for a personalized look. The elements come in letters, symbols, numbers and images, such as hearts and a skull and crossbones, so pet owners can create a design or even place their phone number or the dog’s name on the collar. Weber said the fashion collars, which aren’t made for restraint, must be nontoxic, because pets might chew on these items.

"The ABS accessories are considered to be completely nontoxic and will pass completely through a child or an animal with no harm,” Weber said. "It’s a pretty low-energy, low-profile footprint product.”

Fidrych agreed that pet safety comes first.

"We make sure all our materials are safe for pets,” she said. "In products like our Trail Buddy travel bowl, we use food-grade materials for the lining surface.”

When developing new products, Williams said his company strives to keep pets’ safety at heart and the planet in mind.

"At new product meetings we ask ourselves, ‘What are the benefits to the pet? Does it mentally and physically stimulate them? Does it encourage play?’” he said. "Our next set of criteria is, ‘What is the environmental impact of producing the product? What materials are needed, and are they sourced in a sustainable way?’”

For example, Zogoflex toys are BPA  and phthalate free, nontoxic and very durable, Williams said.

Other eco-friendly pet toys include 30 Love Eco Balls from Bambeco in Baltimore. Spokesperson Kimberly Strenk said each ball is made from 100 percent natural rubber and covered in extra-duty felt made with 100 percent azo-free dyes, which are nonchemical, earth-friendly dyes, so the product is safe for the toughest chewers. Bambeco also offers hemp beds with azo-free dyes, and hypoallergenic bed inserts are made from recycled postconsumer plastic bottles.

While many of these companies were founded with a mission to be eco-friendly, Williams said research his company has conducted shows that consumers now expect products and companies to be environmentally friendly. It’s no longer an added benefit.

"That’s great news to us, as we’ve always been eco-friendly,” Williams said. "It means we’re meeting and hopefully exceeding our customer’s expectations. We hope it inspires other companies to manufacture their products in a sustainable manner as well.” <HOME>


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