Time to Talk Litter
Litter and accessories are often overlooked, but as a staple category these products can offer major contributions to a retailer's bottom line.
Cat litter may not be a glamorous category, but litter and its accessories are a valuable part of any retailer’s cat product selection. Since almost every cat-owning customer needs litter on a regular basis, the category can drive continual traffic into pet specialty stores that are stocked with the products that meet customers’ various needs.
“Cat litter is a consumable product, meaning [cat owners] need to buy it every month or so depending on the number of cats they have,” says Mark B. Hughes, national sales and marketing manager at Swheat Scoop Natural Cat Litter. “That steady flow means more opportunity to add on sales of other products.”
The more often a customer comes into the store the more likely it is that he or she will purchase additional products, and there is a good selection of complementary products for them to choose from. Litter accessories, including litter boxes, additives, scoops, box liners and litter disposal systems, are all fairly easy add-ons for a regular litter customer.
Take the litter box itself, for example. “The litter box is something we live with and use everyday in our homes,” says Rich Williams, co-founder of Modko, which offers several uniquely designed litter boxes. “It should get as much consideration, love and attention as that sought-after flower pot, picture frame or trash can.”
Having high-end litter accessories can be a great way for stores to differentiate themselves from grocery and big-box stores, and these items often offer up good profit margins, making it well worth a retailer’s time. “There is a large segment of cat owners that want the same high-quality, innovative products that are available to dog owners,” says Williams.
Cat owners are also looking for quality and innovation when it comes to litter itself. Fortunately, there is seemingly a never-ending array of traditional clay and alternative litters available, including niche, solution-specific litters and natural options.
Litters made from wheat, corn, pine, newspaper, tea leaves and, of course, clay are all available; additionally, there are respiratory-relief litters, litter additives for eliminating odor, multi-cat litters, litters designed for small spaces, even litters designed specifically to teach a cat to use the litter box.
“In my opinion, retailers cannot just offer clay-based litter anymore,” says Hughes. “More and more people are looking for natural and healthy alternatives for products.”
Gorden Walker, vice president of sales of Fresh News, a BPV Environmental brand of cat litter, agrees. “The smart pet store retailers will stock a good selection of natural litters and some of the specialty clumping litters that most grocery and mass do not carry or have [in only] a limited selection.”
He says clay still dominates the market—with clumping clay making up 75 percent of the total market and non-clumping clay making up 20 percent—but natural litters are growing. Walker currently gauges natural at about five percent of the market, and it’s these specialty products that offer independent retailers an opportunity to differentiate themselves.
Specialty litters also offer retailers another opportunity: the chance to position themselves as true industry experts. “Product knowledge is important, so store personnel can build positive relationships with consumers,” explains Hughes. “Each litter performs specific benefits, so product knowledge is very important.”
Consumers are becoming much more educated about this category, says Gina Zaro, marketing director at Precious Cat. Precious Cat offers solution-focused specialty litters, including Cat Attract, for teaching cats to use the litter box, and Respiratory Relief litters that help control respiratory disease.
More educated cat owners mean retailers and their staff need to be at least equally educated, just to keep up. “[Cat owners] really want to know about what their cats are using,” says Zaro. “They want to make sure that those products follow through and do what they’re supposed to do.”
For this reason, she says, some retailers may have to rethink their strategy. “They need to have more information to provide to those consumers about what those products can provide.”
Cat owners don’t make the decision to try out a new litter lightly. Most are nervous about making any changes to their cat’s routine at all, in case it makes kitty decide to stop using her box entirely—particularly since cats can be sensitive about both litters and their boxes. That means not only do staff members need to be educated on product features and benefits, they also need to be knowledgeable about the best ways to make product recommendations.
To help match a customer with the best litter for their home, employees should be taught to learn as much as possible about the cat owner’s household, says Joe Provenzano, president of Odor-No-More, Inc., which offers litter additives designed to eliminate odor and make litter last longer. “Ask them how many cats they own, where the litter box is located in the house, [and] how how much time they devote to maintaining their liter box,” he says.
Of course, the staff also needs to be prepared to discuss price. “Today, the average pet parent is looking for both quality of ingredients as well as fairness in price when it comes to any product.”
Walker points out: “Unfortunately, too many consumers focus on the lower price point of clumping clay litters.”
Retailers may have to point out that some of the products with a higher price point actually work out to a better deal in the long run. Walker adds that cat owners should look at the number of pan fills they get from a bag and how long it lasts between pan changes—both things that a well-educated staff member might be able to point out to help make a value-added sale.
Yet not every product can or will be hand sold. Some customers simply prefer to browse—and on busy days, even the best employees might not get a chance to speak with every customer. So what can stores do to convey those same points to all of their clientele?
“They need to utilize the POS, in-store signage, brochures, etc., that manufacturers provide,” says Jean Broders, brand manager at World’s Best Cat Litter. While these things make for great reference tools for retailers and their staff, having educational material available for the customer to review is the perfect way to make sure no customer slips through the cracks.
“It’s always good, if they can, to do some point-of-purchase on the shelf, to call out [selling] points,” says Zaro. “We do provide our independent retailers with a little slip chart that they can actually put on the shelf themselves that goes through and lists for the consumer all the different litters and their attributes.”
Another option is to use off-shelf displays. “Off-shelf displays are a great way for retailers to merchandise products that are good sellers for their stores,” says Broders. “These displays are usually free to the retailers, are durable and long lasting—so they can be used over and over again for merchandising.”
Of course, these options require that retailers and manufacturers work together in the sales process. “Retailers need to partner with manufacturers that support them through in-store POS and displays—for easy merchandising and selling—rewards programs to offer to their customers and reps that visit the stores on a regular basis,” explains Broders.
New On the Market
Premium Choice Carefree Kitty (premiumchoicelitter.com), a brand of AMCOL Household & Personal Care, has added to Dual Odor Eliminator litter to its clumping litter line. The litter is formulated with two-phase odor-control technology. First, the contact odor deodorizer eliminates odors through encapsulation; then the vapor deodorizer changes the bond structure of the malodor. This results in continuous surface and airborne odor eliminating action.
It is also 99.9 percent dust free, has low tracking and offers superior clumping. It is available in a 16-lb. jug, a 25-lb. bag and a 40-lb. bag.
Simply Pine (simplypinecatlitter.com) has released Simply Pine Clumping Cat Litter. Simply Pine Clumping Cat Litter contains no chemicals, artificial fragrances or additives and creates low dust. Available in 7-lb., 14-lb., and 28-lb. bags.
It is made in the USA comes from 100-percent pure northeastern white pine. It was designed to provide superior odor control with no dust and no tracking.