Products that contain specific ingredients or cater to a pet’s special needs prove to be popular sellers in the natural grooming marketplace.
By Nikki Moustaki
With the eco-friendly trend holding stronger than ever, the decision to sell natural pet products is an easy one to make for many retailers. While natural food and treats may rank among the most popular items in the category, natural grooming products are also filling an increasing number of store shelves.
What are the best strategies for maximizing sales of natural grooming products?
“As companies continue to embrace the green movement, they are making a commitment to using the best natural ingredients. Once they start down that path, it becomes a part of what they represent, so they will need to sustain in order to keep consumer loyalty. It is not just a trend—it becomes a part of the company mission statement.”
—Bambi Mohr, sales manager for Nature’s Dog by Canus in Waterbury, Vt.
“Once people understand the benefits, natural products really sell themselves. That's why education is vital to our success. Our sales materials, displays and product packaging also give retailers and pet owners facts on natural products and why they’re important for pets.”
—Catherine Hoffmann, co-founder of Bell Rock Growers in San Marcos, Calif.
“Use two strategies. First, sell natural products that you have personal experience with and can give personal testimony about. Second, sell products that you know are effective and can provide the key benefits.”
—Justin Jones, owner (with Teri Jones) of Espree Animal Products Inc. in Grapevine, Texas
“Retailers should stock a variety of natural grooming products to appeal to customer needs and product desires. Whether it means products that are free of harmful ingredients or eco-friendly options, retailers need [to] educate themselves on the local marketplace to better understand their customer base. Other local pet professionals are a great resource for not only interpreting the marketplace, but can refer natural customers to their store.”
—Jennifer Melton, owner of Cloud Star Corp. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Doug Gleason, founder and president of TrueBlue Pet Products in Los Angeles, remembered seeing natural grooming products first hit the market in 2005-06, primarily from companies based on the West Coast.
“Trends that start in human products are more and more quickly migrating to the pet market,” Gleason said. “As with what happened with food, when consumers become more discerning about the ingredients in their own health and beauty products, it wasn’t long before they also become more interested in what’s going into their pets’ health and beauty products.”
Justin Jones, owner (with Teri Jones) of Espree Animal Products Inc. in Grapevine, Texas, has also noticed the human-to-animal trend pattern. He said the trend in these products continues to mirror the trend in natural products in the human skin and hair care market.
“Consumers view their pets as members of the family and shop for products as if they are buying for a human member of the family,” Jones said. “The largest growth has occurred in the last 10 to 15 years.”
San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based Cloud Star Corp. is one example of the growth the natural grooming market has experienced in this time period. The company entered the natural marketplace as “pioneers” with its Buddy Wash more than 10 years ago, and owner Jennifer Melton said they were laughed out of buying offices.
“Many did not see the point of the natural product segment,” Melton said. “After all the work we had done with our own allergenic pup’s diet, we didn’t want to dry out her coat with her grooming products. We developed our coconut-based, soap-free shampoo so we could continue to wash her weekly without drying out her skin. Dogs with sensitive skin need a safe bath time option, and pet owners want products that are free of harsh ingredients and friendly to the environment.”
Sales in the natural product marketplace grow substantially every year, Melton added.
“As consumers become more educated, they want higher quality products and will not settle for inexpensive products that dry out their pet or are imported from overseas,” she said.
Bambi Mohr, sales manager for Nature’s Dog by Canus in Waterbury, Vt., backed up the claims of this trend with hard numbers.
“According to the research we’ve seen, the number of new pet products tagged ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ almost doubled in 2003, while the number of products making other ‘natural-related’ claims more than doubled,” Mohr reported. “It was estimated that natural and organic food and non-food supplies for pets racked up sales of approximately $527 million in 2004, based on double-digit annual sales gains.”
Many manufacturers that produce natural grooming products are eager to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Dr. Adelia Ritchie, founder of DerMagic Skin Care for Animals Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., said her company exhibits in the “natural and organic” sections of trade shows to draw its particular customers.
“These areas are growing in importance at trade shows but still maintain a small percentage of overall floor space,” Ritchie noted. “But natural and organic is what we do, and nothing else.”
Companies in this marketplace can further distinguish themselves by targeting their natural formulas to specific pet ages and needs.
Skin conditioning and puppy-specific products, for example, are popular in the natural marketplace, according to Catherine Hoffmann, co-founder of Bell Rock Growers Inc. in San Marcos, Calif.
“People want products that are especially crafted for their dogs' special needs,” Hoffmann said, adding that her company offers a grooming line formulas designed for senior dogs.
“The 2-in-1, sensitive skin and odor-control formulas are also popular,” she continued. “We're finding that the more you can specify your formulas, so customers will look at the package and ingredients and say ‘that's my dog,’ the better.”
Many retailers are stocking these natural grooming items—some offering solely products in this category and others carrying a variety of natural and traditional items.
Rick Merrifield, owner of Ranger’s Pet Outpost and Retreat in Orlando, Fla., added a Naturals line (made by ShowSeason Animal Products) two years ago and continues to add natural grooming products to his stock.
“We also use natural products in our grooming salon, and people ask for them because their dogs smell so good,” Merrifield said. “People love Bio-Groom’s Oatmeal, and also the Freesia. We mix those two together when we groom, but we sell them individually. When I go to the trade shows, I bring home samples and try them on my huskies. If I can’t smell the shampoo the next day, I know that it didn’t work.”
At Calling All Dogs in Central Valley, N.Y., owner Eileen Chanin said she has only ever carried natural grooming products and wouldn’t consider anything else.
“I started with Cloud Star, and now I also have Earthbath, and Cain and Able,” Chanin said. “The Earthbath and CocoTherapy are big sellers for us. The puppy formulas in general sell well, as well as the tea tree and aloe formulas because people are familiar with those ingredients. The other products that do well are the shea butter pet products. People who know that ingredient for themselves will buy it for their pet.”
Retailers may be stocking these natural grooming items, but when it comes to marketing and display, moving natural products off the shelves can require different sales strategies than when selling non-natural items.
“In addition to displaying the product alone, retailers should provide more educational materials to consumers via shelf-talkers, or provide samples,” Mohr said. “When it comes to buying natural, a consumer wants to know the list of ingredients.”
Is it reasonable to expect that retailers can convince a majority of their customers that “natural” is the way to go when many are may still be watching their wallets?
“Natural doesn’t have to mean expensive, and not all customers realize this,” Melton said. “It’s important for retailers to include natural products in promotions when they can. Display natural products in an area where they can be easily located and compared to other products.
Another way to market natural products is to get involved in the community, either by attending local fairs or even getting to know groomers and veterinarians in the area. If they know you have a selection of natural products, they can refer their clients to you.”
As long as natural products continue to become increasingly mainstream in the human product market, the pet grooming category may likely follow suit, showing that clean and green is the way to go for many retailers and manufacturers. <HOME>
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