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3:54 AM   April 19, 2015
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Senior Slumber Solutions

Consumer awareness is critical to orthopedic and heated pet-bed sales.
By Elisa Jordan

The popularity of orthopedic beds and heated beds has been rising slowly but steadily over the years, affording retailers the opportunity to sell those designed specifically for pets in their stores. But what, exactly, is an orthopedic bed? What makes it so special and why would a dog owner want one? Definitions vary, but the term “orthopedic” often refers to memory-foam beds, which are designed to relieve pressure points—a concept particularly appealing to owners of senior dogs.

“What an orthopedic bed should do is provide comfort, relaxation and, most importantly, relaxation,” said Woody Jennings, owner of Max Comfort Inc. in Sebastopol, Calif. “The difference between memory foam and regular is that with regular foam or any other kind of bed, the harder you push down on those, the harder they push back. That’s why you can jump on your bed. Memory foam doesn’t push back.”

Senior pets in particular may benefit from heated and/or orthopedic pet beds. Courtesy of K&H Manufacturing
Owners have taken a greater interest in how their dogs age and what makes them comfortable.

“People have become more aware of the fact that they can buy their dogs an orthopedic dog bed, which would give a senior dog comfort, support and reduce pressure points,” said Debbie Holte, owner of Buddy Buds in Denver. “I don’t think beds have improved—I think people have become more aware of this type of bed for their dogs.”

Amanda Kiviniemi, manager of Animal City in Murfreesboro, Tenn., acknowledged this increase in awareness, but noted that orthopedic beds are not items in great demand.

“They have become a little bit more noticeable in recent years, but they’re still, for us, a very small section of our bed market,” she said.

At Cause to Paws, a retail store in Brookline, Mass., owner Terry Meyers has elected to not even carry orthopedic beds because she receives so few requests for them. When people do inquire, she directs them to company websites or special orders the beds.

“I pride myself on customer service so I try to find a solution for them, even though I may not carry it myself,” she said. “I want them to have the right answers so I’ll send them to places I think are appropriate.”

Animal City sells orthopedic beds, but Kiviniemi said they’re not in demand at her store.

“We don’t have a whole lot of requests for them, but they’re an item for the customer who can afford it once we point them out.”

Pointing them out to potential customers is an important step when merchandising orthopedic  and heated beds. Making them stand out from the other beds is necessary to attract attention.

“We work with our distributors and make available digitized plan-o-grams to any configuration necessary,” said Larry Kobb, vice president of sales and marketing for Colorado Springs, Colo.-based K&H Pet Products. “What we find is that for the heated products it works far better if the retailer makes an endcap so people realize these are heated products and they don’t just blend in with the balance of their pet beds. When retailers have done that, we’ve seen a huge increase in sales.”

At All The Best Pet Care, a nine-store chain in the greater Seattle area, owner Susan Moss displays heated beds plugged in.

“We do very well with them,” she said, adding that one display tactic she has used is putting small blankets over the heated beds to trap heat and asking customers to put their hands underneath to feel the warmth. ”They’d go, ‘Oh, yes, it’s very warm.’”

The need for such a merchandising method stems from people not fully understanding that pet beds are different from electric blankets for humans.

“When people have electric blankets, they heat up a lot and [people] can really feel it,” Moss said. “But pet beds are not the same. If you heated them up that much it would be unhealthy or dangerous for [the dogs]. They go up to 102 degrees [Fahrenheit], which is body temperature, so people would feel them and think they’re not hot enough.”

Andrea Looney, a staff veterinarian in the pain management and rehabilitation section for Cornell University Hospital for Animals in Ithaca, N.Y., said it’s important to take a dog’s medical history into account before selling or purchasing a heated dog bed.

She advises against heated beds for dogs with skin diseases, as well as for dogs that have difficulty moving and may not be able to get away from the heat when they’ve had enough. And like people, Looney said, dogs have preferences when it comes to the firmness and softness of beds.

“As in anything, you can explain to the customer why it costs what it does and what the benefits are going to be and why it’s a good investment,” Holte said.

And, of course, there’s one last selling point: Sometimes having their own beds keeps dogs off furniture.

“Doggies are smart,” Jennings said. “They’re on the couch for a reason; it’s comfortable up there. If you give them a place that’s more comfortable, end of problem. There’s no training involved.” <HOME>

Elisa Jordan, a former associate editor and product editor for Pet Product News International, lives with her two cats in Long Beach, Calif.

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