Retailers can grow profits and build a new customer base by exploring home décor, cleaning and water feature products.
By Sandi Cain
Pet shop owners no longer have exclusivity in the pet product market. One of the top trends the American Pet Products Association identified for this year in their 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey was the growing number of retail outlets selling pet products. The report also stated that well-known people product brands are increasingly adding pet products to their lines. So it stands to reason that pet retailers would look to home and garden products that might catch the eye of discriminating pet owners as they shop for dog, cat, bird or fish products.
With economic weakness lingering, such a move may help generate incremental sales and bring in new customers.
“When the economy gets bad, people stay home, work in their yards and buy more pet supplies,” said Scott Thornhill, manager of Thornhill’s Pet Shop in Louisville, Ky.
|Home and garden décor is increasingly popular with consumers.|
Courtesy of Nelson Water Gardens
The company was in the lawn and garden business before turning to pet supplies and now is eying a return to a more diverse business model, selling ultraviolet sterilizers for ponds and additives. Selling such supplies can be lucrative in the right situation, Thornhill said.
Spending trends seem to support the wisdom of carrying a broader range of products. According to the 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, consumers spent $45.5 billion on pets last year. That figure is expected to rise to $47.7 billion for 2010. A March report from retail researcher Packaged Facts suggested that current trends and future consumer preferences will result in strong demand for a broad range of products and services that enhance pet health and well-being and send pet spending soaring to $70 billion by 2014.
Already, more stores are adding a wide range of cleaning products, pet-themed home and garden décor and water features for the yard to entertain both two- and four-legged residents.
“Even if people don’t have pets, they know someone who does,” said Patti Storms, owner of Well Bred in Chester, N.J.
Storms, who said her shop has always been successful with home décor products, carries decorative things such as pillows and blankets embroidered with dog or cat images. But the possibilities for generating more revenue are broad and this year Storms is bringing in life-size metal cutouts of animals for the garden. The shop also offers planters, umbrella stands and fountains to entice pet enthusiasts who enjoy breed-related products.
“Just having a pet store won’t pay the bills anymore, so you have to broaden your store,” said Jeffrie Silverstein, co-owner of Raising Rover & Baby in New York City. “Put in those garden items…then promote yourself as a store that has everything. Everything should be for sale. I’ll sell the Christmas tree out of the store window.”
For the pet retailer who’s a novice in other sectors, cleaning products might be a good place to start. According to the aforementioned APPA survey, about one-third of pet owners buy odor neutralizers.
“Odor is the No. 1 problem in the pet household,” said Bob Nicastro, national accounts manager for Kansas City-based PBI Gordon’s Fresh & Clean brand, noting that stains and pet hair rank No. 2 and No. 3.
The number of pet-specific stain and odor control products on the market continues to grow. Plano, Texas-based Rug Doctor introduced Spot & Stain remover wipes in March after finding that 70 percent of its traditional rug cleaner rental customers were pet owners, according to Steve Wahl, vice president of marketing for the company. Additional manufacturers have introduced pet-specific cleaning products recently as well. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Bissell introduced yikes!, a compact deep cleaner designed for pet owners, to its Pawsitively Clean line. Yikes! comes with a space-efficient floor display and has generated significant interest from pet retailers, according to Bissell spokesperson Beth Jester.
Other new cleaning products include Resolve Pet Carpet Cleaning Solution by Parsippany, N.J.-based Reckitt Benckiser and Urine-Off from Bio-Pro Research in Hickory, N.C. In October, Bio-Pro introduced a compact spot-cleaning rental system appropriate for pet shops.
“We’re trying to create a new revenue stream for store owners,” said Bill Kincaid, marketing director for Bio-Pro.
|One Product Leads to New Customer Base
It doesn’t take a village to expand a retailer’s customer base: all it takes is one product.
Until a year ago, Steve Walker, president of Sacramento Koi in Rocklin, Calif., was just one of many koi pond businesses with two kinds of customers: those who wanted a small prefab water feature or koi pond and high-end customers with ponds the size of swimming pools. But some customers hesitated to move to bigger ponds because of the high cost of filter systems.
Last year when business was slow, Walker started to tinker with a “plug and play” filter for large ponds and came up with a product that can be assembled in 30 minutes by matching pre-stamped spots on each piece of plumbing. Then he added an electrical control tower that has separate outlets and switches for the light and the filter.
“It’s a pond filter for dummies,” that allows people to have a serious koi pond filter that’s affordable and easy to install, Walker said.
That enabled more consumers to move to high-end ponds. And because the whole filter can sit in a small space in the retail store, it also opens up a new world of potential customers.
Walker added that koi ponds are not expensive to maintain.
“If you build it right, it’s easier to maintain than fiberglass,” he said.
He said he believes the best thing a small retailer can do to reach this market is to learn how to build a pond. Then the retailer can display the filters along with an in-store brochure about building water ponds. When customers ask about ponds, the retailer can teach them how to build it. Once it’s built, those customers will come back for supplies and advice.
“With one display, you open up the market to serious people who want to build high-end ponds,” Walker said.
And that gives the retailer the opportunity for incremental business without taking up much space.
Walker validated that concept when he sent a sample plug-and-play filter to a skeptical customer in Reno, Nev. who insisted his clientele wouldn’t buy it. A week later, the customer called to say he had sold the filter and needed another.
“It’s turned out to be a nice product for him,” Walker said.
Today, Sacramento Koi can advise customers on high-end fish, filters, pond construction, materials, lighting, predator control and other aspects of ponds popular with koi enthusiasts. And it all started with Walker’s personal interest in koi. —SC
The obvious advantage, he said, is it brings customers into the store twice. In a nod to space constraints often faced by small retailers, the Bio-Pro cleaner is the size of a suitcase, with a display that uses just 4 square feet.
Pet shop Lulu and Luigi in Wayzata, Minn. carries four lines of cleaning products that focus on stain removal, including the Spot Bot Pet Hands-Free Deep Cleaner by Bissell.
“It uses a concentrated solution in the vacuum and sits on the stain, so we recommend that,” said new owner Laura Bednarczyk.
Cleaning products also bolster sales for aquatic specialists. About a quarter of the business at Fins and Feathers in Nappanee, Ind. is derived from water change products, according to co-owner Mindy Abel.
“People ask for cleaning products for their [fish] tanks,” she said.
The store’s most popular tank-cleaning product is a line of non-toxic floating magnets, Abel added.
Jose Torres, associate product manager for pond and reptile equipment for Tetra Fish in Blacksburg, Va., a unit of Cincinnati-based United Pet Group, said the company’s most recent survey indicates that one in every five aquarium owners also has a water garden or pond. The company offers programs that help educate retailers and customers about pond food, water care and equipment.
Identifying customers’ interests in only one half of the equation. While some retailers reported an uptick in business this year, product expansion has the potential to speed the process. Some have found that one new product can open the gates to entire new lines.
Anita Nelson, co-owner of Nelson Water Gardens in Katy, Texas, said she found a new niche when she brought in wine-themed plant nannies (watering bulbs that store water for plants to use as needed).
“That opened up a whole new category for us in wine accessories,” she said.
The shop also sells large irrigation jugs that work along the same lines as the plant nannies and ceramic birds that are popular with customers who scatter them around the home and garden. In the fall of 2010, Nelson brought in decorative ceramic firepots that use a gel to keep mosquitoes away. To promote them, the store hosted an evening costume party in October featuring the pots. Incense sticks and diffusers were at the checkout counter to encourage incremental sales.
Water fountains are gaining ground, too, according to Tracy Reitsma at Western Water Farms in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. The shop has generated new business from first-time fountain buyers by carrying a wide variety of styles, Reitsma said.
Retailers reported using various promotional tactics to encourage awareness of and interest in water features. Gupton’s Pets & Supplies in Wichita, Kan. features ornamental “water spitter” ducks and turtles in its water gardens to emulate the sound of waterfalls.
“Many people don’t have room for a waterfall, but use these to create the same sound,” owner Betty Gupton-Lees said.
Some water fountains are conversation pieces. Teca Tu in Santa Fe has a dog-shaped fountain at the door, where dogs can pause to drink.
“It’s a conversation starter,” said owner Laurie Wilson.
The fountains can be drop-shipped anywhere to make it easier for interested tourists to purchase them.
Like all retailers, pet shops need to be cognizant of what will sell in their communities. Those in tourist areas often focus on home gift items, while those more locally focused might rely on seasonal needs like de-icers or dog boots for winter. Dennis Bourgault, owner of Chateaux Animaux with two locations, one in Washington, D.C. and the other in Alexandria, Va., said home products only do well in the Virginia store.
Gupton’s caters to families and a nearby military base and sells less expensive aquariums, fish and plants instead of high-end items.
“If you don’t have enough different things, you can’t keep people coming,” Gupton-Lees said.
Nelson has spotted a surprising trend away from the do-it-yourself mania that has resulted in more service calls to her Texas customers.
“People want us to do the work for them—even for changing a light bulb,” she said.
Other retailers have struck out with home and garden products. Sylvia Spooner, owner of All About Pets in Barr, Vt., said she’s tried bird feeders and related products three times with little success. But she does carry aquarium plants and is considering a line of live plants for the home.
Marketing techniques often fill the gap when it comes to generating increased sales of home products. Creativity counts when trying to get the attention of an advertising-saturated public. In New York, Silverstein installed a Carnivale-themed display in October, complete with rubber ducks in a water feature. Customers who spent a certain amount in the store could choose a duck from the display and open it to find a coupon for a thank you gift inside. Silverstein also has incorporated pet-themed products like fancy cookie jars or dog beds into displays at his adjacent furniture store.
“Sometimes we get an interior design job as a result of selling a dog bed,” he said.
Teca Tu created a garden theme in its window last summer that included dog and cat-themed thermometers, watering cans shaped like dogs, bird feeders and whirlygigs that proved to be a hot item, Wilson said. The store also takes its displays off site to a window at a downtown hotel to draw tourist business and to a space at a local mall. The store also advertises in tourist publications.
Regardless of the home product items a store might choose to carry, Silverstein cautioned that owners should remember consumers want good value for their money.
“If stores don’t watch their retail prices, they’ll have a problem selling [these] products,” Silverstein said. <HOME>
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