The Upside of Pet Waste
Because they offer a solution to an unpleasant but necessary part of pet ownership, products designed for picking up after pets can be profit-generators for retailers.
Let’s face it: no one enjoys picking up after the family pet. Nevertheless, it is a chore that just about every pet owner must deal with on a daily basis—usually multiple times each day. It is this combination of unpleasantness and inevitability that makes the pick-up products category a potential profit center for pet stores that market it correctly.
While cleaning up pet waste is not a new practice among pet owners, there are indications that the market for products designed specifically for this purpose is growing. “Waste pick up is a good business and a growing business as more and more communities put laws into place,” says Gretchen George, founder of PetRageous Designs, which offers a line of functional, fun and fashion-forward waste pick-up bags made from an eco-friendly cornstarch base.
Loft 312 Inc. founder and CEO Jennifer Blaese also sees the category growing as dog ownership increases across the nation. She says that these products are particularly popular in urban areas, and points to the strengthening human-animal bond as a driver in the category. “Dog owners are traveling more with their dogs and taking them on daily errands,” she says. “The average dog owner takes their dog on errands 2.2 times per week.”
All of these factors add up to one great opportunity for pet retailers. “This category is a sleeping giant,” says Tobi Skovron, founder of Pup-Pee Solutions, noting that his company approaches pick-up products as part of a broader waste-management category that also includes cleaning products and cat litter.
An Effective Selection
According to Melanie Romero, president and CEO of She-Edison, LLC, to build an effective selection of pet waste pick-up products, retailers should first understand that this segment is really made up of two parts. There are products designed for cleaning up after a pet in the yard, such as She-Edison’s YardPup Ultimate Poop Scoop; and then there are products that are carried along while walking the dog, such as traditional poop bags and their accessories.
The key for a pet store, says Romero, is understanding which group of products is the best fit for its shoppers. “It’s important that retailers know their neighborhood and their customer base,” she says. “For example, if you’re a little boutique in the heart of a metropolitan city and you know that your customers live in high rises, you probably want to put more focus on the bags and tools that can be carried along on walks.”
For larger pet stores that attract a more diverse range of customers, Romero recommends mirroring that diversity in the store’s pick-up product offerings. However, while product diversity can provide retailers with an advantage in the waste-management department, Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog, cautions that there is such a thing as offering customers too much choice. “Keep the number of brands to a reasonable size for the consumer,” she suggests. “Too many choices makes decisions hard and can lead to customer frustration.”
To ensure that their waste pick-up product selections meet every conceivable pet-owner need without becoming unwieldy, it is critical that retailers understand the key features that shoppers are looking for in each type of product.
“Take the time to educate yourselves about each product type,” suggests Fidrych. “A majority of your customers will be looking for a specific product type, so make sure you have the categories covered.”
When it comes to cleaning up pet waste in the yard, customers will likely be looking for products that make the process easier—for example, by eliminating the need to bend or limiting the pet owner’s contact with the pet waste. In this segment of the business, it is important to focus on products that are functional and durable, particularly if a retailer is charging a premium.
“A premium product is not disposable, it’s made to last and designed to seamlessly integrate into everyday life,” says Blaese.
Skovron agrees. “If you want to be successful in this sector, you have to be solution focused, as opposed to focusing on novelty,” he says. “If we can solve a problem and make a lot of pet owners happy, the funds will flow in as a result.”
While functionality is important in the poop-bag segment of the category, eco-friendliness is a feature that is quickly growing in importance. “The premium aspect of the waste-management sector really comes down to eco-friendly technology,” says Skovron. “A lot people are focused on reducing their carbon footprint.”
Although they are everyday necessities for most pet owners, pick-up products are not exactly driving traffic into pet stores. In many cases, the purchase of a package of poop bags or a waste pick-up tool will be made on impulse. For this reason, many industry experts advise retailers to utilize a variety of tried-and-true suggestive selling techniques to drive sales in the department.
The positioning of products in the store’s merchandising scheme is the first area that retailers should look at when trying to give the category a boost. Blaese and George both recommend that pick-up products—poop bags in particular—are a great fit for merchandising on or near the front check out counter. “Typically, poop bag are small and don’t take up that much space, and customers will appreciate the reminder,” says Blaese.
Of course, there are a number of cross-merchandising opportunities that exist for pick-up products in various aisles of the pet store. Co-locating these items next to leashes and collars, travel products and, of course, other waste-management products such as stain-and-odor eliminators and pee pads can go a long way in inspiring impulse purchases.
“Retailers should be cross-promoting everything in the waste management category,” says Skovron. “It’s an opportunity that is often overlooked. Creating synergies within categories is critical, even though some synergies may have multiple benefits and may need facings in multiple departments.”
In addition to targeting the placement of pick-up items around the pet store, retailers should also train their staff to take an active approach to selling these products. “When someone brings a bag of dog food up to the checkout counter, the cashier should ask how the customer handles cleaning up after their pet,” says Romero, explaining that is the perfect opportunity to discuss the various pick-up products offered by the retailer. “After all, what goes in must come out.”