No independent study is needed to understand that pets rapidly are becoming more and more recognized as full members of the family and that pet owners are growing more interested in the quality and health benefits available in products ranging from their pet’s dietary needs to their grooming practices, said Dirk Gustafson, co-owner of Mauro Pet Care in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"More and more pet owners, professional groomers and retailers are paying as much attention to the skin of their pets as they do their own," Gustafson said. "The result is an increasing public and professional awareness and demand for high-quality skin and coat care products."
"Growth in the grooming products segment has been robust, especially in the natural category," said Paul Armstrong, president and CEO of Earthwhile Endeavers Inc., maker of Earthbath products in San Francisco.
Armstrong attributes the bustling marketplace to consumers looking for quality products, marginal growth in companion animal ownership and general economic changes.
"When the economy dips, the demand for products targeted at grooming professionals, gallons in particular, may dip as people cut back on full-service grooming, but the demand for self-service washes and home-use sizes increase, as people groom by themselves," Armstrong said.
Elena Volnova, CEO of Dog Fashion, maker of Dog Fashion Spa products in Stamford, Conn., said that the trend of allowing dogs on furniture and beds has changed the way we look at pet hygiene, which has had an effect on the category.
"In 2015, there’s no room for dog smell in the house," Volnova said.
Marie Svet, co-founder and co-owner of Organic Oscar in San Diego, agreed that the humanization of pets has increased the awareness of coat condition.
"Consequently, the spending on pets to make them more hygienic is going to increase," Svet said.
The "green" movement is hot in grooming products for dogs, said Adelia Ritchie, Ph.D., founder and president of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals Inc. in Kingston, Wash.
"For years, we have been striving to become more and more green in our products, processes and especially our packaging," Dr. Ritchie said. "We developed organic shampoo bars as the greenest possible alternative to heavy water-based liquid shampoos in plastic bottles."
DERMagic recently launched its Skin Rescue Conditioner Bar as a complement to its Skin Rescue Shampoo Bar, Ritchie said.
Dallas van Kempen, president of EQyss Grooming Products in Carlsbad, Calif., also has seen a demand for natural-based, green and eco-friendly products. EQyss has been making such products for close to 25 years, but has recently changed product packaging and introduced new, more convenient sizes for some of its products, van Kempen said.
"Each product offers a unique solution to everyday skin and coat problems," van Kempen said. "We also introduced a New Mini Starter Pack for our retailers."
Pet owners desire skin care products that are effective, are nontoxic and don’t sting or burn, and are made in America, said Dan McFadden, vice president of animal wellness for Oculus Innovative Sciences in Petaluma, Calif.
Earlier this year, the company introduced MicrocynAH, a line of skin care products designed to manage skin afflictions such as hot spots, skin irritations and ulcers, and rashes.
"MicrocynAH has phenomenal shelf stability, so the customer can be assured that the product will last a year or longer once they get it home, unlike some products that are only good for 30 days after opening," McFadden said. "Also, MicrocynAH is safe as water but wildly effective in terms of managing wounds and skin irritations."
Earthbath’s new ingredient list is a mirror of the trends in the human health and wellness marketplace, including green tea leaf extract, omega fatty acids and ginseng, as well as moisturizers such as fair trade shea butter.
"Our shea butter is sourced directly from a women-owned cooperative in northern Uganda, and I actually visited it and helped bring raw shea nuts to the rendering facility," Armstrong said. "We are helping support women’s and children’s lives in a place that welcomes the help."
The demand for natural and organic products will continue to grow, and quality in this category has room to improve as natural ingredients continue to become available at prices that make sense at the manufacturing level, Armstrong said.
Another trending item in the dog grooming marketplace is essential oils, said Volnova, who favors sweet orange and lavender oils because they aid in protecting pets from fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Dog Fashion Spa’s new Dog Wash Sponges include a jojoba and fennel essential oil sponge. The Dog Wash Sponges were created to facilitate washing large dogs, but they work with small dogs too, Volnova said.
Organic Oscar has added a Deodorizing Touch-Up Spray to its line, which is organic, all natural and biodegradable, Svet said. The Organic Oscar line also uses essential oils.
"The Deodorizing Touch-Up Spray is easy to use between baths and is great for travel," Svet said. "Pet parents are busy and mobile, so we try to provide products to help them support a holistic lifestyle."
Mauro Pet Care also uses natural essential oils, extracts and plant botanicals in its products. Gustafson reports that "pet parents, professional groomers and retailers alike are calling for more naturally crafted food and grooming products as well as the full disclosure of all ingredients."
Customers want to know specifically what’s in the products as well as where the ingredients are sourced and where the products are manufactured. They are not settling for products full of toxins and chemicals, said Chris Guzman, owner of Aroma Paws in Tarzana, Calif.
"It is exciting to see the introduction of better-quality grooming products onto the market creating a more healthful pool of grooming options to help more pets," Guzman said, adding that the company is debuting several new products formulated to address the needs of pets that are allergic to gluten, corn products, nuts and certain extracts at SuperZoo this month.
Marketing the Suds
Simply put, education is the best way for retailers to merchandise and sell skin and coat treatment products, Gustafson said. He recommends educating the staff as to the "numerous health benefits associated with the use of quality natural health, skin and coat care products" and educating the public "through direct, fact-based interaction."
Ritchie recommends that retailers have plenty of literature available and samples for consumers to take home.
"Our retailers constantly tell us that samples always bring customers back for the purchase, especially if the pet parent is skeptical about a new product," said Ritchie. "We provide brochures and samples, along with literature about skin problems to our retailers, and we make online training available for store managers and their staff. It really does help sales."
Ritchie also recommends that retailers carve out a section of their store for green, natural and organic products that are made in the USA.
"This is what pet parents are seeking most of the time, and the section helps them go right to the products they’re looking for," Ritchie said.
Volnova suggests carrying products with matching or complementary scents.
"For example, our Dog Fashion Spa coat freshener scents match the scents of our sponges, and can be used in between washes to refresh the pet and maintain the scent," she said.
Earthbath is experimenting with a buy-one-get-one-free program for its new Shed Control Shampoo and Shed Control Conditioner.
"We have found that single-use samples are an effective way to inspire trial and boost sales," Armstrong said. "Retailers will often have special events such as anniversary events or holiday events at which they do giveaways, door prizes and gift bags, which can contain grooming product samples."
Armstrong also suggests holding a dog wash as an effective way of bringing in customers and helping them to try new grooming products.
"Sometimes, a retailer will connect with a local rescue or shelter, get volunteers to do the work and donate the proceeds of the dog wash," Armstrong said. "Some use a sliding scale for the cost of the wash and will often be surprised by a customer’s generous donation."
Oculus’ McFadden stressed the value of demonstrating his company’s products in-store.
"Assure the customer that [our product] won’t sting or burn the pet," he said. "Second, demonstrate that [our product] doesn’t burn by using it on themselves in the nose or mouth. Also, show that [our product] doesn’t stain fabric or clothing by spraying it on one’s own sleeve. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Tell the customer to use the product on their pet every day for a week and let the results speak for themselves."
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Pet Product News.