Today’s skin and coat care products are not what they were a decade ago. Customers seem to be shifting focus beyond basic shampoos and between-bath sprays, and they are curious to explore innovative products and applications that are focused on solving a problem or filling a need—even if that need is simply an upgraded or more luxurious bathing experience.
Cynthia Fox, creative director at Pet Pantry Warehouse, with seven stores and its corporate location in Rye, N.Y., said the retailer has seen a rise in interest in self-grooming services in the stores, which has led to more interest in the skin and coat care products.
"People are seeing the merits of keeping their dogs clean," she said. "In the past, vets said to wash them one to two times a year or you’d ruin a coat, but that’s a fallacy. When you use quality products—pH-balanced products—you can clean the coat and skin beautifully."
Debra Decker, director of marketing for Westmont, Ill.-based Pet King Brands, the maker of the Zymox brand, shared four trends in skin and coat care that retailers need to be paying attention to in 2020: the humanization of pets; using products that are antibiotic free; providing a fear-free, easy-care experience; and veterinarian recommendations.
"Pet parents have become better educated regarding products and certain ingredients, placing a higher demand on the need for higher-quality skin and coat care products," she said. "Another important trend is the desire to create a fear-free environment for pets [in grooming]. Pet parents are learning that it’s important to create a positive experience when caring for their pet’s skin and coat and in a calmer environment to help alleviate pet anxiety and fear."
Beth Sommers, president and chief marketing officer for Pure and Natural Pet, a Norwalk, Conn.-based manufacturer of shampoos, conditioners and grooming wipes, said shampoos that solve specific problems and time savers are the biggest trends in the segment.
"Customers are pressed for time and want more than just a moisturizing shampoo for their pets," she said. "All of our shampoos still clean and moisturize, but now we have SKUs that tackle specific issues: Shed Control, Flea & Tick, Anti Itch. We also added in a 4-In-1 Daily Shampoo and a new 2-In-1 Grain Free Shampoo & Conditioner."
Anthony Ivancich, vice president of business development for New City, N.Y.-based Warren London Dog Spa & Grooming Products, said that while natural ingredients are a driving trend across many industries, pet owners differ in how choosy they are about product ingredients or performance, so it’s best to offer a range of options.
"We find it important to offer varying degrees of product options while also transparently displaying a full ingredients list," he said. "This gives the pet owner options while also arming them with the appropriate info needed to make an educated decision."
Pure and Natural Pet uses U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic or all-natural ingredients for its skin and coat products.
"Our products do not contain dyes or artificial fragrance," Sommers said. "Lavender is a staple stock for us as well as chamomile with its healing properties. We added in a Sweet Orange and Coconut Shed Control Shampoo [recently], and it’s been a hit, garnering five top industry awards for our functional shampoos."
Decker noted that enzymes—and enzyme-based technology—are one of the most innovative ingredients on the market because they are incredibly effective, safe and work without the need for toxic ingredients or antibiotics.
"Zymox Dermatology products utilize a patented combination of naturally derived enzymes that make the products effective yet gentle enough to be used on puppies or kittens—and especially irritated, sensitive skin," she said.
Getting to the Problem Areas
Ivancich noted that pet owners looking to solve a dry skin issue find that Warren London’s Hydrating Butter Leave In Moisturizing Lotion tends to be more effective than a traditional leave-in spray. He said the product also conditions the coat and provides a pleasant, long-lasting scent.
Shoppers are also looking for products that address skin sensitivities and allergies, and manufacturers such as Pure and Natural Pet seek to meet those needs.
"It’s important that all of our shampoos and wellness products soothe and promote wellness," Sommers said. "We have shampoos specifically formulated to aid eczema and psoriasis that help heal skin and improve the look and texture of the coat. We also have a jojoba oil-based hot spot spray that alleviates skin irritations and hot spots."
Decker noted that Zymox Leave-On Conditioner and Skin Topicals provide soothing relief for one of the top conditions veterinarians see the most—skin allergies.
"Zymox works to calm angry, allergy skin such as itchy, inflamed skin and hot spots," she said. "These nontoxic, topical products feature a natural, multicomplex enzyme formulation to gently calm the skin and promote healthy skin without harsh ingredients."
One of the challenges of this segment is that many pet owners choose to purchase their skin and coat products online, but retailers can take initiatives to entice consumers to buy them in-store.
Ivancich suggested that brick-and-mortar retailers fill the shelves with products that satisfy as many demands as possible, while also guiding the consumer to the right selection.
"Full-line brands, that offer the essentials—shampoos and conditioners—and also broadening the assortment to specialized products, are a great way to offer variety while also maintaining consumer confidence in trying a new product," he said. "Filling the shelves with products that are labeled with comprehensive details such as ingredients, features and instructions are also a critical means to support the consumer need in making an informed purchase."
Sommers said a brick-and-mortar retailer with a strong, well-educated sales staff trumps online vendors when customers have questions or are looking for something new that addresses a problem.
"Pull your wellness products together on endcaps or outposts in key traffic areas and promote how they will aid their pet," she said. "We gladly supply retail support material."
To help, the company has created a lot of educational tools and social media content to keep pet owners in the know.
"We routinely feature specific ingredients in our newsletters and educate on the benefits," Sommers said. "The elements are also featured on our social media to help further inform the end consumer."
Many retailers are having success by creating displays or utilizing manufacturers’ displays to create a remedy section within the grooming category that serve as "silent salesmen."
Danielle Paraska, district manager at Fairfield, Conn.-based Choice Pet, which has locations throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, noted that a good display is one that addresses the needs of the pet and explains the benefits of the products.
"We have found it beneficial to create signage that calls out the remedy section and place it near limited-ingredient diets," she said. "Pet parents choose limited-ingredient diets for a number of reasons, but for many, [for example,] it helps reduce their pet’s allergic skin and ear symptoms. Manufacturers offer educational hang tags for their products that summarize the product’s key benefits and help the pet parent make decisions based on their pet’s needs."
Decker said Zymox offers opportunities to train individual employees or groups of employees with training videos and interactive webinars about its products, including their benefits and how to use them.
"Once the employees are well versed in our products, the best way to educate the consumer is to engage them in conversation about their needs and how our products can provide a solution for their pet’s needs," she said. "Another way to educate consumers is to share tips on the products through newsletters and in-store workshops."
Paul Allen, founder and CEO of Woof Gang Bakery, which has locations across the U.S.
Woof Gang Bakery has been growing by leaps and bounds! Can you share one key secret to your success? And where do you see the future of the grooming industry heading in coming years?
In 2010, when we introduced grooming to the Woof Gang Bakery business model, our focus was to build on the "Your Neighborhood Pet Store" concept. It was our goal to know and serve our customers on a personal level that was not done previously in the pet industry.
We quickly realized that our grooming customers genuinely appreciated the personal attention and caring service. In the years since, we have continued to build the customer service cornerstone of our brand by hiring outstanding groomers and earning the trust of our customers.
Today, Woof Gang Bakery grooms more than 60,000 dogs a month and has more than 800 groomers throughout our franchise system. The next step for Woof Gang Bakery is to open a grooming school and implement grooming education within our stores. This will foster professional development and training and help us place qualified groomers in our local stores.
Woof Gang Bakery is tremendously proud of the skill and dedication of our groomers—without question, we have some of the best groomers in the industry on our team. As a company, we are focused on supporting our groomers, promoting education within our system and ensuring our groomers see the financial rewards that they deserve. This approach will position Woof Gang Bakery to double the size of our grooming capacity in 2021.
When done well, professional grooming and other specialized services offered within brick-and-mortar stores provide a competitive advantage over online and big-box retailers. Positioning storefront businesses in smaller markets and within local neighborhoods enables us to give customers the level and quality of personalized service they desire and deserve.