No Snoozing Here
As dog owners increasingly seek to give their dogs the best possible sleep experience, bedding manufacturers are responding with products even people would like to curl up on.
Consumers may not realize it, but the dog bed category is one of constant innovation and tinkering, almost akin to what takes place in the human arena. As mattress manufacturers strive to improve our quality of sleep and comfort, so do manufacturers of dog beds. And although there is still a population that gives scant consideration to what their pet sleeps on, there is a growing number of people who care very much. These folks are looking to provide their four-legged friends with the best sleep or lounging experience possible, providing pet specialty retailers with the prospect of not only boosting their profits, but also giving customers a reason to shop their stores, as opposed to heading to a mass retailer.
Figures provided by Randy Spence, president of nVision Marketing Pet Products, illustrate both growth and potential. Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., the company is the exclusive licensee for Serta Branded Pet Products.
“We don’t have the full research on 2017 yet, but we know that pet beds had a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2 percent in 2016, the highest in all the durable pet care categories,” says Spence. “Currently, the percentage of dog beds versus dogs owned is still low—only 26 percent of dog owners purchased a bed in the previous 12 months. But with increased consumer understanding of the benefits, this gap is closing. This rush to improve our pets’ health and comfort creates a tremendous opportunity over the next several years.”
Although you’ve heard “dogs are family members” a million times, it is worth repeating again because this mantra is a sales tool you can’t afford to ignore. It’s especially critical for this category, where you will want to—if possible—steer customers towards higher-quality, premium products.
Along with giving their pet an experience that measures up to their own, this “family member” mindset means the beds are likely to be on full display in the home rather than tucked away out of view, says Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for P.L.A.Y.—Pet Lifestyle and You. Based in San Francisco, the company designs eco-friendly, premium pet bedding, plush toys and outdoor/active lifestyle products for dogs and cats, as well as accessories for pet lovers. It’s something pet specialty retailers should keep in mind when it comes to building bed inventories that sell.
“This is leading to an increasing demand for beds that not only offer function, but aesthetic appeal,” she says. “It’s becoming more and more important to be aware of the fabrics, colors and patterns being offered for pet beds, since customers will want these items to complement their home décor while keeping their pup safe and comfy.”
It’s also helpful to understand that dog beds can actually serve several purposes. In addition to giving dogs a place to sleep, beds also provide a sense of security, says Penny Stolfe, partner with the Carolina Pet Company. The Prosperity, S.C.-based company manufactures and distributes mid-to-high-end pet beds and accessories and offers inventory management and drop-ship fulfillment services. Carolina is also exclusively licensed to use the Pendleton Woolen Mills brand on a complete line of their pet products.
“Dogs are den animals,” Stolfe explains. “[A bed] is their safe place to get away from the activity going on around them that can sometimes be overwhelming.”
Beds can also be used as a training tool, says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products, Inc. Based in Hutto, Texas, the company provides a variety of dog behavior training solutions. For example, beds can be used as a “boundary stay” exercise.
“A boundary stay is where the dog stays within a defined area, such as a raised bed, and there they can do as they wish—nap, chew on a toy, etc.—as long as they remain on the bed. This exercise helps dogs remain part of the goings-on in the home and not be sequestered in another room or outside.”
Households with multiple dogs should ensure that each has his or her own bed, giving the dog space to sleep, chew and so on without interruption from the others.
Finally—and maybe most important of all—dog beds can help owners sleep more soundly, says Spencer Williams, CEO and president of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont., manufacturer of environmentally friendly dog beds, sustainably manufactured toys, leashes and collars. As he notes, it’s fairly common for dogs to make their way onto their owner’s beds, which can result in poor sleep for both. Finding a comfortable bed the dog wants to sleep on will give both a better night’s rest.
Countering Price Concerns
Quality beds cost more, which can be a sticking point with some consumers, especially those who look upon dog beds as something to toss away after just a few months’ use. According to Trevor Crotts, president of PupIQ, this “disposable mentality” is fairly common, and one pet specialty retailer should take pains to counter.
“Dog beds don’t have to be bought and thrown away time and time again,” says Crotts, whose Wichita, Kan., company manufactures premium pet products under a variety of brands. “An investment in a higher-quality bed will ensure the product will last longer. ‘You get what you pay for’ is a popular saying across every business and it most certainly applies to dog beds.”
That’s very true, says Taylor Simms-Brown, vice president of sales for Jascor Housewares, operating in the pet industry as Messy Mutts. Located in Toronto, the company provides a variety of fashionable and functional dog care products.
“There are beds designed with furniture-grade fabrics that will outlive your pet,” she says. “Then, there are opening-price-point beds that may not last a season. Beds are a cut-and-sew business, so it really comes down to the material you’re paying for. Customers need to ask themselves if they want to treat their bed as an investment or as an expendable product.”
These comments illustrate the two biggest misperceptions pet specialty retailers are likely to encounter: pricing and the idea that all beds are about the same, so why bother paying good money for them? Explaining their features, benefits, construction, cover materials and fill used, will go a long way in overcoming price objections—especially when compared to beds of lesser quality—and will effectively dispel the notion that all beds are created equal.
Help customers understand that purchasing a premium bed will actually save money over time, suggests Williams. Because greater care and attention is given to high-quality beds, and better materials are used, these beds are more durable and will last longer. Consequently, he says, although the upfront costs may be more compared to lower-cost products, they will not have to be replaced as frequently, saving money over time.
“There is also the thought that ‘my dog chews up everything so there’s no point in buying him/her a nice bed’,” says Johnson. “However, there are many tips and tricks on how pet parents can show their pups that a new bed isn’t a chew toy. And this also offers a good segue to discussing training and training products.”
There’s no getting around it—beds are challenging to display. The task is made even more so by the fact that retailing best-practices dictate offering an ample selection because, after all, no one brand or style is going to meet the needs of every dog and pet owner. Manufacturers sympathize and try to help pet specialty retailers, especially those with smaller stores and backrooms, find ways around this issue that don’t require chewing up valuable real estate.
When some of their retailers can’t stock every size, color and style of West Paw’s beds, they display the company’s catalog or call up the website on a nearby iPad so customers can see the full line of beds. “We encourage retailers to do this because we’ll then ship the dog bed to them so they can get credit for the sale,” says Williams.
Benson suggests keeping images of color/pattern options and dimensions on hand to show customers, alleviating the need to display all variations and sizes.
Create a display consisting of a few beds, complimented with fabric swatches in other color offerings and noting the sizes available, says Stolfe. Carolina Pet will drop-shop larger sizes and also provides high-resolution images of all their items stores can put on their websites or other social media platforms.
Messy Mutts provides retailers with miniature beds, perfect for displaying, says Simms-Brown. “Vacuum sealing and having master packs of one are always a bonus to limit the amount of inventory our partners need to carry.”
Work with brands/vendors offering low minimums, suggests Johnson, adding that P.L.A.Y. provides swatch books, laminated showcase sheets and continually updated retailer resource pages enabling pet specialty retailers to show customers the full line while carrying only what they have room for.
“Since beds take up precious space, it’s important they move and bring in profit,” says Johnson. “So, be sure to have well-trained staff who can fully explain the features and benefits of the beds to interested customers who need advice on the best bed for their pet, or who just need an extra push to make a purchase.”
Nailing the Need
Beds are one category likely to draw customers into an actual store, rather than online, because people like to see, touch and feel this merchandise—another argument for offering high-quality products as these will not only withstand this kind of scrutiny but will actually benefit from it. This category also offers the opportunity to engage and interact with customers, an activity that stands a good chance of concluding with a purchase—but only if the appropriate option is found.
Consequently, says Crotts, it’s important for store personnel to ask the kinds of questions that will lead the customer to the best fit. He advises asking: if the dog has any joint or arthritis issues, skin conditions, allergies or other medical concerns.
“Also, ask how long their previous dog bed lasted and if they’re interested in a more long-term solution,” Crotts says. “By asking the correct probing question, customers will give you all the information you need to recommend real solutions to these problems. Ensure these questions are open-ended so the process is a conversation. And, make sure you talk about the benefits, not just about the features.”
But, says Benson, don’t forget to inquire about features the customer may be looking for, such as portability, easy wash and dry, hypoallergenic, durability, indoor or outdoor fabric, construction, orthopedic support and so on. Also, inquire about natural odor-control, as this may prove attractive to dog owners, especially those with very active pets, says Simms-Brown.
It’s also important to ask how the dog sleeps, since this will help narrow down the right size and shape of bed, says Spence. For example, dogs that like to sleep curled up will do best with cuddlers, he explains. However, dogs that sleep sprawled out will likely prefer flat beds.
“Bolstered beds may be best for dogs that like to mix it up and provides them with options.” Spence continues. “Beds with high bolsters simulate a pet’s denning instinct for an added feeling of security and calmness.”
Other questions to pose include:
Does the dog has any physical limitations that may inhibit its ability to climb onto an elevated bed or certain other bed styles? Also, inquire about the size and breed characteristics, such as fur color or shedding, says Johnson.
What is the owner’s and dog’s lifestyle? Since this might reveal if a flat mat or pillow bed (or both) is best, says Williams. For example, if the owner travels with the dog or washes the bed a lot, a one-piece bed that is lightweight and easy to wash and dry might work best. Other options include beds with removable covers.
How old is the dog? Is it a puppy with short legs or an older dog that isn’t particularly agile? Then a mat, which is lower to the ground could be a good choice, says Williams. Some mature dogs—and younger one—enjoy a bit more loft/extra cushion, so you might want to recommend one with a more substantial cushion.
What’s the owner’s mindset, says Williams. Do they prefer U.S.-made products? Are they seeking eco-friendly or sustainably made beds? Or, do they not care about any of this and are just focused on the bed’s appearance?
Unlike in the big-box stores, pet specialty retailers can take the time to discuss all the options with customers, giving them more personal attention, thereby honing the store’s competitive edge, says Johnson.
“Taking advantage of this ability to interact with and educate their customer will help contribute to increased profits in this category that typically carries a higher margin than some more basic staples,” she says.
It’s important for specialty retailers to carry high-quality, solution-oriented products, since this helps them stand out and gives customers a reason to walk through their doors, says Crotts.
“If customers want a cheaply made, disposable bed, let them go to the big-box store down the street,” he says. “Selling premium products that solve real problems is what independent retailers need to do to survive. In this day and age of big-box stores and online competition, you cannot win the cost-leader game. In order to compete, you have to differentiate.” PB