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7:07 AM   July 30, 2014
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Creature Comforts

Organic, natural and eco-friendly products do more than put heads in beds.
By Sandi Cain

Cautious consumers may be hanging on to their wallets when it comes to big-ticket items, but they’re still spending money on their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, roughly $43 billion was spent on pets in 2008, with about a quarter of that going toward supplies.

As people hunker down and focus on home entertainment, they also appear to be seeking comfort both for themselves and the roughly 163 million dogs and cats who share their homes. And what spells comfort better than a cozy bed?

“People don’t stop buying for their pets,” says Tina Nguyen, president and owner of Jax and Bones, a Temple City, Cali., maker of pet beds and other accessories.

3 Tips for Making it Easy

Here are some merchandising tools for selling pet beds.

  1. Highlight those with removable/washable covers.
  2. Prominently display shelf talkers that explain the benefits and qualities of these products.
  3. Focus on durability and quality to justify the price point.
Nguyen reports the company is seeing an increased demand for organic, natural and eco-friendly products, as well as products made in the USA. Other manufacturers are seeing the same trends, including San Rafael, Calif.-based Worldwise Inc., which started making environmentally friendly products in the 1980s.

Recent additions include soy-based foam for pet beds and a newly patented cat bed that uses food-grade organic material. Co-founder Aaron Lamstein says it’s important to educate retailers about the performance, sustainability, quality and value of the products to help them make sales.

“If it doesn’t perform, [consumers] won’t buy a second time,” he says. “But if it costs 10 percent more and lasts twice as long, it’s a good value.”

Modern pet beds go far beyond a pancaked pad tossed in a corner. Today’s sophisticated consumers seek the same kind of comfort, quality and durability in a pet bed that they might demand in their own bedrooms. Therefore, it makes sense that they also seek more natural, organic and eco-friendly products for their pets.

Manufacturers and retailers say that merely hanging a tag on a bed saying ”eco-friendly” is no longer enough. West Paw Design of Bozeman, Mont., added product tags that specify the number of recycled items used in each product. Worldwise, whose customers include Target, Wal-Mart and PetSmart, added a tag with bullet points, highlighting its eco-advantages.

“People want authentic green products,” comments Ryan Buck, marketing coordinator for West Paw Design. “They ask about the packaging and other company green efforts.”

Straight Talk

Aaron Lamstein, founder of Worldwise Inc., a San Rafael, Calif., maker of holistic products, says consumers and even some retailers misunderstand the terminology used with these products.

Here’s a primer to help you stay on track.

  • Organic: Ingredients produced or grown without synthetic or chemical assistance
  • USDA-certified organic products also meet standards for the way they’re grown, stored, processed, packaged and shipped.
  • Natural: Products from plants or animals but don’t have to be chemical-free.
  • Eco-friendly: Recycled and reclaimed materials that reduce landfill waste but are not necessarily natural or organic.
Buck says consumers expect to pay a little more for those environmental benefits, but they also want value for their dollar; and retailers agree. Manager Gabby Fulmer of Bone Adventure in Edina, Minn., notes customers want to spend their dollars with a business that makes an effort to help the environment.

“They’re paying more attention to what they’re supporting,” she says.

There are plenty of pet-bed choices to meet these demands. Some have organic cotton; some use 100-percent recycled plastic bottles for filler or for the fabric. Others use pesticide-free and chemical-free cotton, recycled scrap material, hemp, biodegradable packaging and natural-color cotton. Sought-after features include washable and replaceable covers, stylish design and durability.

Manufacturers agree that design is important.

“The bestsellers are always the same but if the color palette is limited, your sales will be, too,” says Carol Perkins Rawle, co-founder of Harry Barker Inc. in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Retailers, such as Natural Pawz, which has four stores in Texas, carry fabric and color books so customers can order on demand. Fashion is a priority along with other attributes.

“It’s almost a fashion statement,” says co-owner Nadine Joli-Coeur. “They want something that fits with the décor.”

A variety of styles and colors helps sell organic beds, but eco-friendly ones made of recycled materials sell better, reports Chad Barone, manager of Braxton’s Animal Works in Stafford-Wayne, outside of Philadelphia.

Canine companions vote with their paws on the comfort factor at retailers, such as Healthy Spot in Santa Monica, Calif., where owner Andrew Kim keeps sample beds on the floor for the dogs to try.

“It’s a common mistake for retailers to stack the beds to the ceiling,” Kim advises. “It’s intimidating to the consumer.”

Insights like that help the manufacturers, too. West Paws’ Buck says they rely on feedback from retailers to learn what people are asking for.

“We provide the tools and they provide the feedback,” he comments.

As recycled, organic and natural products move into the mainstream of consumer consciousness, the products are likely to gain ground for pets as well as people.

“Sustainable products are clearly a trend that is not going away,” Rawle says. “Thanks to the availability of sustainable raw materials and consumer demand, it’s never been a more exciting time in the pet industry to be green. <HOME>

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