Beyond the Bathtub

As pet owners become more knowledgeable about the ingredients that affect the health and well-being of their dogs, they are seeking more bath and grooming products that contain nontoxic ingredients they recognize. In fact, manufacturers and pet specialty retailers report that the trend the pet industry has experienced with an increase in healthful, all-natural foods has now extended to between-bath and grooming products.  

"Dog owners are looking for products with more natural ingredients in them, as they consider their pets as members of the family and treat them as they would treat a child," said Paul Armstrong, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Earthbath. "The concern for the general health and welfare of their dog usually starts with food and transitions to healthy grooming options."

Rob Flanagan, president of Wag N’ Wash Natural Food & Bakery, a multistore pet franchise that offers a self-service wash and creates its own line of shampoos, said from pet food to specific ingredients in shampoos and conditioners, pet owners are becoming more aware about pet product ingredients.

"There is a deep curiosity about how any ingredient would assist their companion, what is the best fit and whether there is anything that could be harmful," he said. 

Manufacturers and retailers reported that sales of grooming products continue to grow, noticeably increasing during the summer months when dogs spend more time outdoors with their owners.

"We do tend to see greater sales of cleaning products in the summer months, when dogs are liable to get wet and dirty," said Lisa Rousseau, owner of Lisa’s Dog House in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. She also reported an increase in sales around the Christmas holidays, "as everyone wants a clean pet when their families visit."

Dog owners are looking for simple solutions to grooming and bath time, according to Rousseau, and fast and easy is key, she added, as dog owners have less time to give regular baths.

As a result, manufacturers are developing products that make bath time quick and easy, as well as contain high-quality, nontoxic ingredients.

"Dog owners love a clean dog but are short on time for such tasks," said Elyse Horvath, founder of Phoenix-based Natural Paws, which offers a dry shampoo that gives pet owners a convenient way to keep their dog clean more often.

On-the-go products such as wipes and sprays that enable dog owners to quickly touch up a dirty spot or freshen up their dog before company comes over without the need for a full bath are becoming more popular.

In response to the trend, Dr. Sniff will launch a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner that will "make it easier for those pet parents that have a hard time wrangling the pups for bath time but without sacrificing the health and silkiness of the coat," said Samantha Kent, founder of the Dallas-based company.


Speak Up 

Word-of-mouth recommendations have proven to be among the most valuable sources of marketing for between-bath products, according to industry insiders. 

"We tend to allow our customers’ experiences and word of mouth tell our story, because it’s so much more compelling to hear first hand that this product solved a particular issue," said Elyse Horvath, founder of Phoenix-based Natural Paws. 

Rob Flanagan, president of Wag ‘n Wash Natural Food & Bakery, which has 16 stores in the U.S., agreed.

"What we have found the most useful is our guests raving about their experience and telling their friends and family," he said. 

Working with social media influencers can be hit or miss, insiders reported. While some have found success using influencers, Samantha Kent, founder of Dr. Sniff in Dallas, has become wary of the concept after testing the tactic.

"We have noticed that paid social is becoming less effective as people become more aware of influencers endorsing products for pay without enjoying the product and are able to filter out ads," she said. "I personally believe in non-paid influencers or just using influencer photos for content, not for product sales."

Horvath has found the opposite to be true in her experience, noting that individual influencers each have a unique point of view with the readership to match.

However, sometimes products speak for themselves, according to insiders. 

"We’ve learned that once people try our products, they become loyalists forever," said Paul Armstrong, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Earthbath, adding that an active social media presence and sampling programs can also help create loyal customers.

Consumer Education

Shower Them with Knowledge

Dog owners are becoming increasingly concerned about the products they use on their pets. As with dog food, owners are looking for between-bath products featuring minimal ingredients derived from organic and natural sources that do the job, according to industry insiders. Pet specialty retailers can help pet owners find the options they need through simple education.

Rob Flanagan, president of Wag N’ Wash Natural Food & Bakery, a multistore pet franchise, said employees are trained to help customers find the right between-bath products for their pets.

"At Wag N’ Wash, we are solution focused with all of our products, so we respond to their requests by making sure we first understand the presenting issue, then work with them to find the right solution," he said. "For example, if a companion has itchy skin, it could be a reaction to a shampoo, or it could also be a result of their diet. Our pet experts work with the guardian to ensure we are solving the problem, not just the symptom."

Dogs have different needs and energy levels at varying stages of their lives, said Lisa Rousseau, owner of Lisa’s Dog House in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, and the store works to find products to accommodate these requirements. 

"Gaining control of a puppy to do basic grooming is a challenge with all of that energy, and older dogs have a hard time with the stress of a bath, especially when dealing with older dog issues [like] sore joints, incontinence, etc.," Rousseau said. 

"Pet parents like that they can do a spot-clean on the dog’s backside if there’s been a potty accident," she added. "And then in the middle are the active lifestyles. Folks who do a lot of travel and camping enjoy the ability to remove some of the allergens the dog picks up on the trail and having an ‘emergency bath’ solution when water is scarce."

Pricing Trends

Solutions Sell 

The demand for between-bath solutions and other grooming products has increased, particularly for products that offer both quick DIY solutions and natural or organic ingredients. Recognizable, proven ingredients in grooming products also command both higher prices and more interest from consumers. 

"Natural plant essences, which can easily be identified as natural, are much more attractive to a buyer than a cheaper product with a lot of chemical compositions in it," said Elyse Horvath, founder of Natural Paws in Phoenix. 

"The labeling must be clear and leave no questions in the customer’s mind about whether it’s ‘worth it,’" she added.

Moreover, when grooming products combine solutions to multiple issues, buyers see their dollars stretching further, according to industry insiders. 

"A moisturizer that also helps with allergies or a dry shampoo that also helps relieve skin inflammation will be much more likely to be purchased," Horvath said. "This can be attributed to the fact that people love a deal, so a single purchase to achieve more than one positive effect is an exciting buy."