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Tricks for Selling Treats

Posted: September, 20, 2011

A variety of display and promotional techniques can help retailers boost sales in this already profitable category.
By Jodi Harris

As pets become more central to the family dynamic, the pet treat industry continues to explode, with new flavors, formulations and functional foods abounding. Consider this: According to data compiled by the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent more than $48 billion dollars on their pets in 2010, with over $18 billion going just to food and treats.

That's a lot of dough spent on biscuits.
In addition, no retail business can ignore that purchasing patterns are shifting to reflect busier, more health-, budget- and eco-conscious lifestyles, according to several reports and studies. Trends such as healthy, all-natural foods are extending to pets; and today's consumers demand improved shopping options to help them save time and money.

So what can retailers do to satisfy their customers' need for quality, variety and value when it comes to pet treats?

On the Shelves

When it comes to giving pet treats the right real estate for a sale, nothing could be more important than that old adage for real estate.
"Location, location, location; it's the most important consideration for display," said Holly Sher, president of Evanger's Dog & Cat Food Co. Inc. in Wheeling Ill.
Sher also offered up her most reliable location.

Merchandising Pet Treats
Location matters when it comes to pet treat display placement. An eye-catching table setup between two racks of treats works well for Bam Bam & Friends in Culver City, Calif. Photo Courtesy of Bam Bam & Friends Holistic Pet Center.

"The best way to advertise a treat is to place it at the register," she said.

Christian Velasco, vice president of sales and marketing at D.O.G Pet Boutique Inc. in West Hollywood, Calif., agreed, noting that single piece items such as bully sticks and cookies make for great last-minute buys at the register.
"Our last minute impulse items are always products that dog owners know their dogs will love," Velasco said.

But sometimes it helps to think beyond the obvious.
"Placing treats on endcaps and at the register are great areas for treats, but what about placing treats in the food aisle as a 'dinner-and-dessert' combination,” said Jill Gainer, director of communications and consumer insights at Nature's Variety Inc. in St. Louis. “Or, placing treats that help support the health of a pet's skin and coat near the shampoo and grooming items."
Another display consideration is that less is more, according to Karen DeMarco, head of media for pet boutique Pussy & Pooch, with stores in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.
"Don't overcrowd the shelf with too many SKUs,” she said. “Try to keep a handful of options for each type of treat, and rotate them in and out of your merchandising mix to keep it fresh.”

A Taste for the Trendy Treats

One way to "keep it fresh" is to offer a range of hot, new items on the market, including treats that offer specific nutritional benefits.

Sher of Evanger’s noted a recent trend toward low-fat treats.
"A jerky treat that is 5 calories is attractive,” she said. “A healthy treat in addition to the food is a great way for the pet to get the necessary health benefits.”

Maggie Johnson, owner of Sojos Pet Products, located in Minneapolis, offered another hot tip: provide variety.

"Once people find a reliable treat, it helps to have several other options from which to choose," she said.

Another emerging consumer preference is to provide transparency, both in packaging and ingredients.
"Customers want to see limited ingredient lists that are good for the pet," said Chelsea Sher, Evangers' vice president of marketing. “Also, they really like to be able to see the product. We put our freeze-dried, homemade treats into clear packages, so customers can see the color and texture, and they can see the quality before they buy.”

Connecting with the Customer
An equally important trend is the push to connect with customers beyond the in-store experience, which these days means being online—and active.
"The best way we connect with our customers outside of D.O.G Pet Boutique is through email and Facebook marketing,” Velasco said. “People want to know what the latest yummy treat is, so promoting online is a must.”

Along with store updates and promotions, social media can help marketers to play off special occasions. For example, Nature's Variety leverages National Ice Cream Month festivities in July to highlight its SweetSpots frozen pet treat.
"We use Twitter to get the word out to our consumers, as well as a location-based map on our website that helps them find an ice cream social location near them," said Gainer, who also uses the company's email database to send out fun emails around the event.

Embrace the Value of Sales Staff

No matter how retailers promote their products to consumers, many will likely agree that the most important asset they have is the sales staff.
"If you want to drive sales to a particular product, your staff needs to do most of the work,” Velasco said. “Just tell your staff to find a reason why, and your customers will buy.”

However, if store owners want their staff to move product, they will need to be well informed on the benefits of each treat. That's where education programs come into play.

Treat Rack
Taking advantage of manufacturer POP displays and placing them near the register is one way to drive impulse buys. Photo Courtesy of Sojos Pet Products.
For example, Dogswell's field sales force conducts live in-store training sessions and motivates store employees with sales contests, according to the Los Angeles-based company’s CEO Marco Giannini.

“It’s important to educate store staff on new products and be available to answer questions on existing lines," Giannini said.

A well-educated sales staff can also share first-hand experiences with the treats. 
"Customers want an authentic recommendation, and they trust you more if you have a first-hand testimonial, which, in turn, will create lifelong customer loyalty," Johnson said.

At Bam Bam & Friends Holistic Pet Center in Culver City, Calif., owner Fabienne Lawrence relies heavily on personalized product recommendations, which requires that she spend extra time getting to know her customers and their pets.
"We do spend a lot of time trying to educate and help our clients decide what treat, food, or grooming products are best for their pet," Lawrence said.

It also helps to give pets a chance to choose treats for themselves. Treat bars, product samples, and in-store tastings are all great ways to let the cat or dog explore and choose their favorite tastes.
“At Pussy & Pooch, we do daily treat tastings in-store, and are very generous with take-home samples," DeMarco said. “Often, trying it means buying it.”

Sampling also tends to send a message from the manufacturer to the store—and thus from the store to the consumer—that the product is trustworthy, noted Sojourner Farms' Johnson.
DeMarco also shared a secret weapon to show they stand behind the products they demo.

"We stock a large amount of all-natural or human-grade type products,” she said. “To illustrate the wholesomeness of different treats, it is not uncommon to see us eating them in-store and encouraging our clients to taste them too.

No matter how up close and personal retailers are willing to get with pet treats, keeping these tips in mind will help ensure that customers, and their pets, will be completely satisfied.

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