Learning to Love Litter
Litter products rarely get the attention they deserve; but when employees are properly educated, they can be a great boon to a retailer’s business.
When most pet specialty buyers think about exciting new products, they think of toys; and when they think about products where education is essential, they think of food. Cat litter, unfortunately, does not necessarily come to mind in either case.
Yet to a cat owner, litter is perhaps one of the most important products they purchase for their feline friend. A bad choice in litter will leave their home with an unpleasant smell, will make scooping the box a pain, will mean bits of litter tracked all over the house, and may even lead to the cat refusing to use the litter box.
“Consumers want convenience,” says Jean Broders, senior brand manager at Kent Pet Group, Inc., which offers World’s Best Cat Litter. “They want litters that scoop easily and clump strong, that don’t leave clouds of dust throughout their homes and are easy to dispose of. People love cats, but they don’t want visitors smelling that they have cats.”
Litter is a consumable product; cat owners need to buy it fairly regularly for the life of their cat. However, it is also a category that they can find almost everywhere—from the local grocery store to the dollar store down the street.
So, how can independent retailers stand out in this category and ensure they see the benefits the category has to offer?
Education tends to have a lot to do with it.
“Customers nowadays, and especially cat owners, really want to be educated,” says Gina Zaro, marketing director of Precious Cat, Inc. “[Cat owners] really want good educational materials so they can make the right choices for their cats.” Precious Cat focuses on making solution-based litters to help solve common feline problems, which means education is an important part of what they do.
Product packaging can play an important role in helping the shopper understand the benefits a product has to offer, and Zaro says her company designs its litter packaging carefully to ensure this. But stores can’t assume the packaging will be enough.
Education has to start with the retailer and their staff. “Successful retailers are educated on the products in their stores,” says Broders. It is a thorough understanding of individual products and how cat owners can use them best that truly sets a store apart from the competition and builds shopper loyalty to a single store and its team.
Building that type of knowledge is not easy, but most manufacturers offer a wealth of educational materials and options to help ensure that retailers who are interested in doing it right have everything they need.
Successful retailers, Broders says, utilize those tools because they realize it helps them sell more products. “They allow vendors to attend store meetings to educate their staff; they allow product demos in their stores, they allow POS and frequent buyer programs,” she says.
Having a vendor attend a store meeting gives the entire staff a chance to see things from a fresh perspective and encourages them to get excited about the product category—something that can sometimes be hard to do with a category like litter. Product demos are a great way to draw a crowd to the litter aisle, and having someone doing demos is a great way to get a conversation started about litter. Frequent-buyer programs give shoppers a financial incentive to remain loyal to a particular store and help prevent shoppers from shopping around based on price.
“If a brand offers a frequent-buyer program, make sure every consumer buying that brand knows about it—reward them for their loyalty to the brand and for their loyalty to your store,” says Broders.
If a customer comes to the register with the item, make sure store employees ask if they’re a member of the program; if they’re not, the employee should be prepared with a quick one-liner about why they might like to sign up or about the discount they’d receive for being enrolled.
Educating staff around key conversation starters is also a good idea. If a cat owner comes to the register with stain and odor products, for example, Zaro says that is a good time to ask if their cat is eliminating outside of their litter box—and if they are, offer up some suggestions for how the shopper can address the problem beyond simply cleaning up the mess. Another great way to get a conversation started is by noting what a shopper chooses to purchase and pointing out why it’s a great product. For example, if a cat owner brings a litter to the counter that is clearly marked as an odor eliminator, mention how great the product is at that very thing.
Not only does this give the shopper confidence in their purchase if that’s the primary feature they were looking for, it also opens up the conversation in case they were actually looking for something else and could not find it.
In addition to education and frequent buyer programs, retailers should dedicate some time to thinking about how they display litter on the shelf. Litters are often set down low, since they’re generally heavy. But when they are all relegated to the bottom shelf, they are not likely to catch a lot of shopper attention.
“Effective merchandising stops consumers in the aisle and gets them to want to learn more about a product,” says Broders—which is where point-of-sale materials can really be a valuable asset. “Retailers should be open to different and new types of POS. Video monitors are a great way to help a brand tell a story, which helps the retailer sell more product,” she explains. Because video screens in retail environments are still fairly novel, they attract far more attention than one might expect. Incorporating one into an endcap or an on-shelf display can be a great way to capture attention, engage a shopper, and make the sale.
But even traditional POS tools can be valuable. Precious Cat offers a booklet describing its litters; material that can be taken home allows retailers a way to encourage shoppers to think about the store and their purchases even after they leave. This can be especially valuable if a shopper is unhappy with their current litter or if the store is looking to promote a new product.
Of course, just as with any other category, product selection will also play an important part in a store’s ability to succeed with this category. “It’s an individual thing for each storeowner, and kind of boils down to they need to know their demographic,” says Zaro. PB