Non-edible pet products that are manufactured in the USA are increasingly in demand among consumers, and carrying U.S.-made products is something many pet retailers take very seriously.
“This is a topic I’m passionate about,” said Howard Feldman, owner of California Pet Center, a pet store in Woodland Hills, Calif. “We redid the store about 11 or 12 years ago. Formerly, the store carried pets for purchase, along with a variety of products. I switched the store over to completely high-end, American-made, quality products. I don’t carry anything from China. The only products I carry are made in the USA, New Zealand and Canada.”
Consumers increasingly seek out products that are manufactured in the United States, noted several industry insiders.
“Demand for products made in the USA is getting stronger every year,” said Jerry Moffett, vice president of sales and marketing for Ruff Dawg, a manufacturer in Worcester, Mass. “We see no slowing down on that front. Retailers are better informed and more likely to pass on that information to their customers, so it’s a win all around.”
Ruff Dawg’s toys are entirely made in the USA, from design to packaging and manufacturing.
Focusing on product offerings made domestically is considered beneficial for retailers’ bottom lines.
“Products made in the USA have helped sales for a lot of retailers,” said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a manufacturer of bird and small-mammal toys in West Hartford, Conn. “I’m a big promoter of buying products made in the USA. … My philosophy is: If I want someone to buy my product, I need to support other American-made businesses. Because if I’m not supporting them, they’re not giving their employees an income to possibly buy my products.”
Supporting other U.S.-based businesses is good for everyone involved in the pet industry, insiders confirmed.
“The trend towards buying products made in the USA will continue,” said Dave Colella, co-founder of Earthdog, a manufacturer based in Brentwood, Tenn.
Earthdog has been hand-making hemp dog accessories, such as leashes, collars and harnesses, in the USA since 1997.
“The independent retailers we partner with rely on the unique nature of premium products from us and various other manufacturers to compete with their big-box counterparts, in terms of having offerings that are different and not mass-produced on the same scale,” Colella said. “And these smaller, domestic manufacturers put investment back into local economies. The fact that we do all our production domestically lends real-world value to a retailer that they can pass on to their customers. By carrying us and other USA-made manufacturers, it shows they’re walking the walk on these values.”
Bob Marshall, owner of Naturally Dogs and Cats, a retailer in Hartford, Conn., is among those retailers who will attest to the value that comes from investing in a product assortment made up of largely domestically made goods—even in categories that make that aspiration difficult.
“Whether it’s toys, treats or even leashes and stuff like that, we try to ensure that at least 75 percent of the products we carry are made in the USA, which limits us in the toy arena,” Marshall said. “I try very hard to meet this goal. … Initially, we were trying to source products made in New England. I try to concentrate on items that are manufactured locally. I’ll buy from anywhere in the USA, but I do try to concentrate on products made in New England. We’re a New England business.”
Focusing on USA-made offerings forces retailers to be selective when curating their product assortments and to provide consumers with a more distinctive selection.
“It’s a difficult category to fulfill with different and unique product,” said Audree Berg-Farnsworth, co-owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I have a rule that I don’t carry any toys that aren’t made in the United States. It does two things. It really separates the wheat from the chaff. Toys are so much fun, but it’s easy for me to dismiss 95 percent of the toys out there because they’re not manufactured in the United States. In that way, it forces me to have to go out and find unique, smaller manufacturers.”
Some consumers think of products that are made in the U.S. as being more expensive, and there is truth in this long-held assumption.
“The perception the products manufactured in the USA are more expensive is still prevalent,” Marshall said, adding that “products made here in the U.S. are more expensive, but everybody knows the quality is better.”
Yet the discrepancy in price between domestically produced and foreign-made products is not quite as great as it used to be.
“Prices have leveled out a little bit between those made in the USA and others,” Feldman said. “However, when it comes to price point, we don’t really have that much of a problem. Our customers aren’t looking for the least expensive option or the best bargain. We’re different from a lot of stores. We don’t really have that in our conversation very often.”
Pet owners also want U.S.-made products for peace of mind.
“Customers view it as a safety issue,” Berg-Farnsworth said. “They’re more comfortable with products that are manufactured in the United States, especially toys. They have a sense that these products are better in terms of safety. They know that there are no toxic elements that are incorporated into the construction of that toy.”
Moffett agreed, saying that consumer safety is a key advantage when it comes to USA-made toys.
“The perception of USA-made toys is that they are both better quality and safer,” he said. “We know pet parents are increasingly concerned with their pets’ health from the huge up swell in popularity of premium, human-grade and fresh pet foods. We are very proud of the fact that we use only safe, FDA [U.S. Food & Drug Administration]-approved materials, so pet parents can feel secure that they chose the best, safest toys.”
Another advantage to stocking goods that are manufactured in the U.S. is that while some segments within the pet industry have faced product availability issues in recent months, most USA-made items have not had this same issue.
“I haven’t had a problem with [product availability],” Marshall said. “As a matter of fact, if anything, I would say that more stuff has been available. I have had companies reaching out to me. It’s been more local companies that are able to ship independently of a big distributor.”
Stocking U.S.-made products offers reassurance in that the products are generally more readily available and are often thought of as safer than other competing products.
“With all the craziness and uncertainty of the past year [due to the pandemic], availability is a major plus for distributors and retailers,” Moffett added.
U.S.-Made Toys and Accessories
As demand for pet products manufactured in the U.S. increases, new offerings continually come to market to meet customer needs.
“I have at least a dozen or more new toys that I’ve released within the last six months,” said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a manufacturer of avian and small-mammal toys in West Hartford, Conn. “I use all sorts of different materials to make toys with. … Sometimes it’s little things that can create something different.”
Tucker is in the process of releasing cardboard and paper toys called Flapjacks. While they’re designed for birds, most of the Flapjack toys can also be adapted to be used by small mammals.
“The Flapjacks are excellent to stuff with fresh flowers/greens [and] dry or dried (like fruit) treats to forage,” she said.
She also recently designed toys for bats in conjunction with a customer’s donation to a local rescue.
“I’m also developing a series of toys called Zombie Toys,” Tucker said. “They’re going to be available in four different sizes: small, small-medium, medium and large. Zombie toys are put together at a specific price point. In other words, I use a bunch of leftover parts that I don’t know what to do with, but there’s enough to do a short run, around six to 15 toys. … I’ll do another run with different parts, but it will go out at the same price point. I want to offer toys so that stores can place their normal order, spend X amount of dollars, and these toys are going to be different every time. That way, stores don’t have to add another SKU to their UPC system. They can still bring in new toys without having to spend the time choosing new SKUs or updating their system every time they place an order.”
Zombie Toys are currently available for birds, but Tucker might release Zombie Toys for small mammals in the future.
Domestically manufactured toys and other products for dogs are also a focus for many manufacturers and retailers.
Ruff Dawg, a manufacturer in Worcester, Mass., recently launched two new dog toys.
“Dawg-Cube and Dawg-Cube XL are the newest addition to our line of Lifetime Guaranteed indestructible toys,” said Jerry Moffett, vice president of sales and marketing. “They’re made of solid rubber and have a crazy-bounce action [designed to] activate a dog’s natural instinct to chase and retrieve. Also, our brand-new noise-making toys are the Crinkit and Crinkit XL. These toys are made with a solid rubber shell enclosing an empty water bottle.”
Both the Dawg-Cube and Crinkit toys come in high-visibility neon colors and are 100 percent made safe in the USA with U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved rubber, Moffett noted, adding that they are free of phthalates, latex and BPAs, and are completely recyclable.
Earthdog, a manufacturer in Brentwood, Tenn., offers lines of eco-friendly, hemp-based products for dogs, including collars and leashes.
“We’ll be releasing smaller, three-quarter-inch-width [collar] options in four of our most popular patterns this spring,” said Dave Colella, co-founder of the company. “We’ve always found it to be in our best interest and the best interest of our customers to maintain control of our process from production to fulfillment. As a result, we have been able to meet all our product demands with no interruption through this tricky time.”
Telling a Story
To get the word out that they carry U.S.-made products, some pet specialty retailers reported that they do not necessarily rely on signage indicating that products are manufactured in the U.S. Instead, they start a conversation with customers and personally relay the advantages of domestically produced products.
“I’m very open with customers about where different products are made and why I like them,” said Bob Marshall, owner of Naturally Dogs and Cats, a retailer in Hartford, Conn. “Because we are so small, I talk about each product with customers and spend time with them to educate them. I go that extra mile to push that American-made product, and it usually sells very quickly. It’s purely educational. I don’t have any signage indicating products are made in the USA. My business’s tagline is, ‘Specializing in natural and locally sourced products.’ … I’m just happy that we stock products made in the USA, and I wish there [was] a push for more manufacturers to make products made in the USA more readily available to keep our American workers employed.”
Sharing a manufacturer’s story can help when conversing with shoppers.
“Stories are powerful, and every small manufacturer has a compelling story about why we’re doing what we do and how we do it,” said Dave Colella, co-founder of Earthdog, a manufacturer based in Brentwood, Tenn. “I think [those stories] can be a very helpful and motivating factor on sales. We are passionate about rescue dogs and have maintained a pack of 14 to 16 for the last 20 years. Ten percent of our proceeds go back into spay/neuter initiatives. For production, we use local stitchers and run our business at a shop on our property. I don’t think there’s any question that having some of this information ready to share with customers will help make a connection and bring meaning and added value to a potential purchase.”