Top sales depend on three factors: staff knowledge, in-store displays and social media outreach.
By Sandra K. Rea
When it comes to ringing up sales in the pet chews category, retailers use a three-pronged approach: They know their products, use creative, stand-out displays, and interact frequently with customers via Facebook and Twitter.
Retailers and their staffs need to know what a chew is made of, whether it’s edible or not, and where it comes from.
That’s because, according to Steve Rook, senior vice president of Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., consumer awareness about pet chews is up, especially since customers don’t want to buy cheap, vinyl chew toys that could pose a threat to their pets.
“Pet owners want safe, long lasting chews. Holistic and superholistic edible chews lead the market,” Rook said. “Chews should be tasty with no preservatives or artificial colors that stain carpet and upholstery. Customers want options.”
Dawn Jenness, owner of Pet Haven in Livonia, Mich., responds to customers’ desires for healthful products by offering a range of chews.
“I sell a lot of natural chews, including Grizzly NuTreats, American Heartland, Healthy Pet, JJ Fuds, Cloud Star, Healthy Baker, Dogswell and Catswell, and Sojos,” Jenness said.
At South Bark Dog Wash in San Diego, manager Chris McLay also caters to customers who want natural chews, and she said that her store is known for product knowledge, which leads to more sales.
“We carry frozen bones, bully sticks, naturally shed deer and moose antlers, and pigs’ and lambs’ ears,” McLay said. “They soften over time. Primal, Free Range and Bravo! brands sell best. Bully sticks are long lasting, affordable and durable. They are a safer, healthier alternative to other chews.”
Garey Smith, co-owner of Organic Slow Chews in Melbourne, Fla., knows that different dogs have different health issues, allergies and chewing habits, and he said that responding to customers’ concerns about chew toys is smart.
Retailers should not only stock chews that cater to a variety of dogs; they need to be able to direct customers to the appropriate products, Smith added.
According to Biff Picone, co-owner of Natural Pawz, which has seven stores in the Houston area, retailers should also know the difference between toys and chews.
“Some chew toys may promote bad behaviors, and we don’t want our pets to chew on plastic,” Picone said, who stocks only 100 percent natural, nonfatty chews that don’t splinter.
Customers can choose from beef and buffalo tendons, slow roasted bones, raw bones, and deer antlers, which are naturally shed each year, he noted.
“Dogs can’t eat through them,” Picone added. “Nervous dogs need something to chew to reduce destructive behaviors.”
Scott Rinehart, co-owner of Chuck & Toby in Belmont Shore, Calif., said employee education is key to product knowledge.
“We educate our staff so they know how to answer customers’ questions, which boosts sales,” he said. “We use shelf talkers and carry a few crossover items for pet lovers, like cookie jars and food bowls handmade by local artists.”
Display Tactics Make the Difference
Product knowledge isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to boosting chew sales. How retailers display chews can make all the difference.
Sujan K. Shrestha, CEO and president of Himalayan Dog Chew in Mukilteo, Wash., said the best way for retailers to promote chews is to place them near checkout.
Holiday Tips and Tactics from the Champions of Chews
• Tell your customers to give their dogs a bully stick when guests are coming over to divert the dogs’ attention.
• Have a tree in each store with toys and decorations made with chews that customers can pluck and purchase.
• Display stockings stuffed with items to show customers what they might do at home.
• Add colorful chews to floor displays and window displays.
• Tie a big bow around individual dog chews and deliver them to the doorsteps of your best customers. This takes a lot of time, but you’ll be known for your personalized service. This simple act of giving shows you care about your customers and their pets.
“Having chews easily available works to boost sales,” he said, adding that special offers—such as “Buy 10, Get One Free”—can further promote sales.
Shrestha also said that retailers should let customers know if a product is guaranteed, because if it is, manufacturers will refund retailers for returned merchandise.
Rook noted that for bins at the front of the store or in areas visible from the register, having variety makes it easier for customers to get what they want, and quickly.
“Chews are impulse items, so addressing all the subcategories of chews allows customers better decisions,” he said. “They don’t have to go on a mystery hunt if they know where to find chews they want. For example, if they want puppy chews or antioxidant, low cal chews like those coming in our line, quality POP signage and literature helps point them out.”
In many cases, how retailers set up their displays depends on product type.
“Rawhide alone works best in bins, but rawhide rope toys like ours are better on a shelf with facing racks,” Smith noted, adding that to really grab customers’ attention, retailers should use “graphics that show products in use or how they can be used.”
At Natural Pawz, Picone places natural chews in bins by brand, or on display racks.
Retailers should also keep factors such as storing temperatures in mind.
“We have window displays, but because it gets really hot here, including food and natural chew items is a bad idea,” Picone said.
Social Media’s Growing Role in Sales
Once retailers have gotten a handle on in-store tactics for promoting chews, they can start thinking about social media. Retailers can use chews in social media promotions, said Paulette Pape, director of marketing for Nylabone in Neptune, N.J.
“We have an interactive area on our site for fun promotional videos and news,” she said.
For Rinehart, staying in touch with customers works. His company runs specials on Facebook, often touting its newest items.
“People come to our store as a result,” he said.
Jenness has also seen results through Facebook, as well as other social networking media.
“We use every social media network available to us, including a B2B network called Referral Key,” she said. “We are very active in pet blogs and groups. I cannot stress enough the importance of participating in groups. Try running ads on blogs. We like www.dogster.com.”
Shrestha agreed that social media is key to keeping customers up-to-date on products and offers.
“We have a Facebook account and will soon create offers and coupons for our end-users,” he said. “We provide brochures and posters. Retailers can print materials from our site. Customers can be directed to our site for more information and for a directory of retailers that carry our products.”
Give Them the Best
In the end, no matter what approach retailers use to increase chew sales, they should remember that for customers; it’s all about what’s best for their pets. They want healthful, fun products that won’t compromise their pets’ well-being, Shrestha said.
“People have to like the idea of the products before introducing them to their pets,” he added. “Retailers have to get that message across.”
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