Holistic Marketplace: Toys for Thought
Pet health and social responsibility drive organic toy sales.
By Michelle Jensen
One way independent retailers can distinguish themselves to their customers is to offer variety in the popular product segments by catering to the health enthusiasts. The holistic marketplace continues to expand, as conscientious pet owners are becoming more aware of the ingredients in their pets’ products and the processes in which things are being made.
Organic, Eco-Friendly or Both?
Toys that are organically made contain no synthetic parts and have gained popularity among pet owners who seek organic products in other aspects of their lifestyles. Credit: Simply Fido
Information is key when selling within the organic market.
“People are more educated now, and they understand more about what’s truly organic and natural,” said Jean Chae, president of Simply Fido in Brooklyn, N.Y. “They are more skeptical, smarter and they ask the right questions.”
It is essential to define the commonly used terms—such as “organic,” “natural” or “eco-friendly”—because savvy customers are interested in learning about the holistic products they are buying, Chae noted. Organic-toy customers commonly ask her questions such as, “What is actually in this product?” or “Does this company really stand behind organic products, or is it just a marketing tool?”
“Because of the vagueness of the natural market, it’s important to educate customers,” Chae said, adding that it is important for customers to understand there is a difference between choosing “organic” and choosing “eco-friendly.”
Calling something “organic” places the emphasis on what is good for consumers and their pets, whereas the term “eco-friendly” emphasizes what is good for the environment, she reported.
“Recycled plastic may be good for the environment because less plastic is being produced, but it’s not necessarily healthier for you,” Chae said.
Tim Ford, CEO of Rockaway, N.J.-based Sherpa Pet Group, expanded on the difficulty he’s seen in public education about the organic market, saying, “One problem we find is that there are a lot of products labeled ‘organic’ that are not.”
Many consumers are becoming more aware of this issue and asking questions as a result. Offering as much information as possible to consumers increases the likeliness of sales.
“Selling organic toys is one way the small, independent stores can keep themselves separate from the big stores,” said Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow in San Francisco.
Bearg reported that the San Francisco market is conducive to selling organic toys because of the shared interests of the people in the region, but quality is significant to his customers.
“One of the important things is not just that the toys are organic, but that they’re well-made, attractive and well-packaged,” he said.
It’s important these toys are designed and displayed well, since organic toys tend to be more expensive than standard toys.
“Organic toys are a higher price point, so customers want to know that what they are buying is worth it,” Chae said. “But when customers learn to trust a brand, they will come back and buy it again.”
To attract customers new to the trend, retailers can use strategic signage and location within their stores to help promote and sell naturally made toys and organic products.
“I think the most effective way to display organic items is to merchandise them all together, using signage to highlight that they are organic or all-natural,” said Stephanie Volo, president of Planet Dog in Portland, Maine.
Debbie Bauman, owner of Barkery Boo’tique in New Milford, Conn., had good results from proper signage highlighting the organic section in the store. Ford agreed that organizing everything into one area is helpful.
“We have a sign that says ‘Go green,’ and ‘Check out our organics line,’” Bauman said.
Often, manufacturers offer free signage to their retailers to help promote items and to educate customers on the nature of the company’s toys.
Grouping similar products together allows consumers to see the options available for those items.
“I have a section of organic toys that take up their own display,” Bearg said.
He noted it’s important to make sure the organic section is well-marked, with the labels and tags clearly displayed.
“I sell a lot of organic toys,” Bearg said. “It’s nice to have them set apart from other products.”
Ford stressed the importance of committing to the trend to reap its profits.
“Make a statement when you’re serious about selling the organic line,” he said. “If you just throw organics in the mix, then it’s not successful. Either you believe in organics and you put enough products in the store to make it shopper-friendly, or you don’t.”
By clearly labeling and defining natural products within their stores in special sections, retailers can take advantage of this growing niche within the pet-toy market. <HOME>
Freelance writer Michelle Jensen is a former assistant editor for Pet Product News International.
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