The demand for USA-made nonconsumable pet products isn’t slowing down, with quality and safety concerns being the top reasons why, according to industry insiders.
"When the market became flooded with knock-off imports, consumers quickly realized how inferior these products were to American made," said Janet Reyniers, owner of Python Products, a manufacturer of aquarium products in Milwaukee. "[My customers] make an effort to find and buy American made whenever they can."
Safety concerns are another driving factor for pet owners seeking "Made in the USA" labels. Consumers are much more educated now about the potential health risks linked to some products made outside of the U.S., said Jerry Moffett, vice president of sales and marketing at RuffDawg, a Worcester, Mass.-based toy manufacturer. This has, in turn, led to the increased interest in USA-made goods, especially those made of U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved materials, he added.
RuffDawg released Dawg-Buster, a retrieving toy, in February at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. It comes in two sizes, regular and extra-large, and is the company’s biggest toy yet at 2.5 pounds of solid rubber, Moffett said.
"It is designed to withstand the toughest dogs and has a lifetime replacement guarantee," Moffett said. "Our guaranteed Indestructible line has been a real success, and we are continuing to expand it with new designs."
Adam Baker, founder and president of SodaPup, a Boulder, Colo.-based toy manufacturer, said his company puts safety and quality ahead of profit.
"What we do is more than a business transaction," he said. "When we know the people we sell to, there’s a higher sense of responsibility to ‘do no harm.’"
Factories on the other side of the world, such as those in China, might not feel the same responsibility, Baker added.
SodaPup recently launched several new designs as part of its Industrial Dog Collection: Double Trouble, Cap Nut and Industrial Dog Bone. All three are both a chew toy and treat dispenser in one.
"[Double Trouble] overcomes the vulnerabilities of other leading products in this category because both ends of the toy are quite wide, making it nearly impossible to chew through," Baker said. "[The Cap Nut] is another ultra-durable chew toy that also holds a small amount of treats inside. Unlike most other rubber bones, [the Industrial Dog Bone] is hollow and holds treats. It’s also shaped like a compression joint, which you would find in the plumbing department of your local hardware store."
Reaching for Made in USA
Erin DeAngelis, category manager at Pet Supplies Plus, which has locations across the U.S., said that customers, or "neighbors" as the Livonia, Mich.-based company refers to them, sometimes request made in the USA products.
"It seems these neighbors want to support local companies, and there is a perceived assurance of safety and quality," DeAngelis added.
Marni Lewis, owner of The Green K9, a pet store in Urbana, Md., said that while her customers have not requested USA-made nonconsumable pet products, they do notice and buy products that have the "Made in the USA" label.
"Once they see the product is American made, it seems to make them feel good about buying the product," Lewis said.
So, who is most likely to reach for the "Made in the USA" label? Dog owners, according to industry insiders, with dog toys being the most popular nonconsumable product.
"The pet humanization trend in the United States is universal across [dog] breeds," Baker said. "Our dogs are more and more becoming like our children. We wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their health."
What’s Behind the Price Tag
You know that old adage, "You get what you pay for?" Put it to use when selecting what products to sell in your store, industry insiders advise.
"There are obviously going to be plenty of products with much lower price points coming from overseas, but we believe the consumer can be steered to look for more long-term value," said Jerry Moffett, vice president of sales and marketing at RuffDawg, a Worcester, Mass.-based toy manufacturer. "Even without considering the potential safety issues, a toy is not cheap if you have to buy it over and over because it is of such poor quality. Retailers should continue to educate customers on the benefits of USA-made toys, stressing the importance of FDA [U.S. Food & Drug Administration]-approved, nontoxic and recyclable materials, durability and, in our case, guarantees."
It’s like comparing apples to oranges, said Adam Baker, founder and president of SodaPup, a toy manufacturer in Boulder, Colo.
"All SodaPup materials have been developed in the USA to be FDA compliant—food-grade compliant—and we have tested them to prove that we have achieved this safety goal," Baker said. "So, if a dog treat dispenser imported from China costs $10.99 and ours cost $12.99, is the product from China actually a better value? The China-made rubber has lower tear strength and may contain toxins. I think this is the biggest challenge in communicating the difference in a U.S.-made product versus a China-made product. They’re simply not the same."
The mindset of every pet owner, or "neighbor" as Pet Supplies Plus refers to them, is different when it comes to price tags, said Erin DeAngelis, category manager at Pet Supplies Plus, which has stores across the U.S. and is based in Livonia, Mich. Some pet owners do shy away from purchasing USA-made products because of higher costs, but others don’t.
"If price is the main factor in a neighbor’s purchase decision, then, yes, [they don’t purchase USA made], but everyone is different," DeAngelis said. "In dog toys, for example, our ‘Made in the USA’ toys happen to be some of our most durable, and neighbors will pay a premium for a toy that will last longer. That’s why we strive to have variety within our assortment across hardgoods."
Marni Lewis, owner of The Green K9, a pet store in Urbana, Md., said that, unfortunately, there aren’t many choices for U.S.-made pet toys.
"If a customer is looking for toys for a dog that is destructive, they will tend to avoid more expensive toys, which are typically the ones made in the USA," Lewis said. "USA-made collars, leashes, harnesses and clothing are generally a better quality and, in my opinion, more beautiful, creative and interesting. [USA-made] designs have the ‘cool’ factor. Customers have no issues paying for products that make their dog stand out and look good."
6 Tips to Make that Red, White and Blue Pop
Industry insiders offer merchandising tips to help stores make their U.S.-made assortments stand out.
1. "It helps when the items have a strong, eye-catching call out on the packaging. In the past, we have had success bringing made in the USA hardgoods and consumables together in one secondary location to drive interest and awareness," said Erin DeAngelis, category manager at Pet Supplies Plus, which has stores across the U.S. and is based in Livonia, Mich.
2. "Add eye-catching ‘Made in the USA’ signage," suggested Marni Lewis, owner of The Green K9, a pet store in Urbana, Md. "Many times, the companies [that make products in the USA] will provide nice signage for merchants to display. In our community, locally made is very important and popular. We have an entire gondola dedicated to locally made, consumable and nonconsumable products."
3. "I always advise store owners to make an endcap showcasing American-made products because that’s the first place I’m drawn to when I see it in a store," said Janet Reyniers, owner of Python Products, a manufacturer of aquarium products in Milwaukee.
4. "Grouping USA-made items together in a special section or an endcap can serve to promote the trend and entice people to get onboard," said Jerry Moffett, vice president of sales and marketing at RuffDawg, a Worcester, Mass.-based toy manufacturer. "‘Made in the USA’ signage and educational/promotional materials that educate the customer can help as well."
5. "We have dedicated space for toys made in the United States," said Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu, a pet store in Santa Fe, N.M. "We also have a table of products with ‘Made in New Mexico,’ which include many toys."
6. "I think the most important thing in-store is to make sure the product packaging is clearly marked as American made," said Adam Baker, founder and president of SodaPup, a Boulder, Colo.-based toy manufacturer. "It would be great to have an American-made section of the assortment, but that might not always be possible. Knowledgeable staff who can explain the product is perhaps the most powerful tool a retailer has. This is their competitive strength against big-box stores and online retailers."
Grooming in the USA
Quality and safety concerns are two driving forces behind pet owners continuing to demand USA-made nonconsumable products.
Whether it’s pet toys or grooming products, consumers are seeking USA-made products for similar reasons, according to industry insiders.
"In the past, quality was associated with other nations, but that’s changed," said Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing at Pure and Natural Pet in Norwalk, Conn. "A variety of things have impacted the growth and power of USA made."
This includes consumers wanting to bolster the U.S. economy, the call to support local businesses and a demand for improved sustainability, she said. International product recalls, unsafe manufacturing, child labor laws and global trade relations are also reasons to buy domestic, Creed added.
This is why Pure and Natural Pet has always been made in the USA, according to Creed.
"USA made is part of our company core values," she said. "It allows us tighter controls on the manufacturing process and reduces our carbon footprint."
Glo-Marr Products has also poured its energy into supporting the USA-made concept.
"We have always valued having relationships with our suppliers, so we have always sourced companies in the USA," said Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of the Lawrenceburg, Ky.-based company. "This isn’t new for us. We always try to support our local economy and understand the value of buying local."
Wave that Flag
Retailers shouldn’t underestimate the power of the flag, according to Creed.
"When we’ve been at trade shows, we’ve had U.S. flag signage in our booth, and it’s aided with pulling [people in who are] looking for U.S goods," she said. "All of our packaging boasts the USA-made seal."
Retailers can promote such products, according to Creed, by creating endcaps focused on USA-made goods, highlighting them with USA-made signage and mini American flags. Retailers can also add outposts on tables in key locations with signage and table cloths that coordinate with the flag colors, Creed said.
"I also recommend promoting USA made on their website and social media," Creed said. "We provide lots of tools for retailers to utilize, and also have [educational material] on what ‘USA made’ means versus ‘assembled in the USA,’ as they are very different."
It doesn’t stop with merchandising, though, Duncan said.
"I think grooming products are something that need to be ‘sold,’ meaning you have to understand what the customer needs," Duncan said. "So, to make grooming products pop, you have to talk to the clients, and then educate them. There are so many grooming issues and products. Consumers can spend a lot on the wrong products if they don’t know what they need."
New in USA-Made Grooming
Pure and Natural Pet recently launched a toothbrush for dogs.
"Pure and Natural Pet expands our popular Organic Dental Solutions by adding an eco-friendly bamboo canine brush," Creed said. "The antimicrobial brush is made with dental-grade ergonomic bristles and a single carved piece of naturally grown moso bamboo that’s biodegradable. The handle is coated in soybean wax and ergonomic for improved brushing grip. With this SKU, we’re also planting trees with One Tree Planted."
The company is also significantly focusing on key categories of its Pro-Coat Grooming, a line that is specifically for groomers, Creed said.
"Pro-Coat Grooming adds a moisture-boosting blueberry facial that’s packed with antioxidants to slough off dead skin cells and stimulate new growth for improved skin and protection from free radicals," Creed said. "Mini all-natural shampoos are also being introduced for self-wash stations in 10 of our top SKUs that encompass multifunctional shampoos, a conditioner and facial scrubs."
Due to groomer requests, the company has also added dental care options with a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic 8-ounce Plaque & Tartar Fighting Gel and 8-ounce Plaque & Tartar Control Breath Spray, Creed said.