Cleaning Up with Pet-Bathing Products

The home-grooming department can be a robust profit-center for pet specialty retailers that stay on top of key product trends and take the right approach to merchandising.


We all want the best for our families. That means providing wholesome food and a safe, loving, supportive and clean living environment to the best of our ability. That same caring transcends to our pets, which—while not human—are still family members.

Most pet owners are guilty of humanization, which is the attribution of human nature or character to animals. They feed their four-legged “babies” food and treats that are (at least on the surface) comparable to what the rest of the family likes to eat, and the same holds true for home-grooming products. If pet owners like the smell of the shampoo they personally use, they just naturally assume that their pets will also. Of course, the animals really don’t have a choice, but we like to think that they do, and we feel good in the process. Still, the concept of using bathing and drying products designed for humans on pets is changing.

It is not any new revelation that more and more customers are embracing organic, natural and responsibly sourced pet products, be it in food, treats, supplements and even grooming products. That spans all generations but is especially true for Millennials, who are quickly becoming the dominant customer base for pet specialty retailers.

According to researchers, while Millinnials don’t yet have the purchasing power of Baby Boomers, they are clearly on the rise and they are very picky and price sensitive.  In general, Millennials are prone to spend their money with environmentally conscious companies that embrace the causes and philosophy that they believe in on organic and natural products that are responsibly sourced.

“The trend towards natural and holistic ingredients in pet products is booming and growing,” says Debbie Guardian, founder and president of Opie & Dixie, LLC. “As consumers become more educated about and concerned with the ingredients in products that they use, that same concern is carrying over to their purchase of pet products, from consumables to toys and grooming.

“The fastest-growing segment of the market is consumers who are more and more health-conscious and better informed about the negative effects that can come from chemicals and toxic ingredients, and they are putting greater priority on health care over cost.”

Opie & Dixie manufactures a number of organic-based dog and cat products, ranging from wet and dry shampoos to products designed to treat dry noses (Snoutstik), dry and cracked paws and hot spots (Spotstik).

Transparency Sells
Inquiring minds want to know what is in the products they buy, even for their pets, so research and labeling are key elements in driving sales. Take Cardinal Pet Care, for example. A 100-percent green, completely solar-powered California-based manufacturer of pet products, including a number of different types of shampoos, sprays, wipes, pet food, chews and accessories, Cardinal understands the importance of transparency and control when developing products for consumers’ furry loved ones.

“Cardinal is licensed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and we initiate our own research, development and formation of all of our products,” says Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing.

One of the company’s top-selling products is a medicated shampoo called Remedy+Recovery. “Remedy+Recovery is a line of over-the-counter first-aid medications for dogs,” says Denzer. “In addition to the shampoo, it includes products like Anti-Septic Spray and Medicated Hot Spot Spray, which are formulated to relieve irritation and kill germs and fungi.”

Bio-Groom is another company that puts emphasis on producing and marketing pet products the right way. “Bio-Groom labs have been around for 42 years, do all of the creation of products and never use animal testing,” says Bio-Groom media manager Peggy Smith. “Today, labeling is extremely important, and consumers care more about what is in the products than in the past.”

While Cameron Fang, president of RELIQ pet products, is on the same page as many other industry experts when it comes to the importance of natural products in the pet grooming segment, he cautions that the word “natural” has been overused in many product categories and notes that there is a big difference between organic and natural.

“When it comes to natural verses organic, organic product ingredients have to be grown,” says Fang. “If it is a shampoo, there has to be a chemical in the mix in order for it to foam and, if it does, it should be placed in the natural section.”

He also notes that not all natural products have the same effectiveness. “Retailers should be aware that some products that have all natural ingredients do not necessary improve its cleaning or itch-relieving abilities,” says Fang. “The wrong balance on the herbal ingredients can create the sticky residuals that not only can’t rinse well but will also turn into unhealthy buildup on the animal’s skin and coat.”

According to Fang, the name RELIQ is derived from the word “relic,” meaning ancient wisdom and updated with “IQ” to reflect the adaptation of smart technology as a new, modern solution. The line was created after the discovery of a mineral found in volcanic regions that has absorbent powers, which RELIQ combined with nanotechnology.

Guardian agrees that navigating the natural trend can be a challenge for retailers and pet owners alike, and she notes that doing so successfully will require taking a close look at product labels. “Emphasis needs to be on the quality of ingredients, where those ingredients are sourced, where the product is produced and how those ingredients benefit the pet,” says Guardian. “There will always be a segment of the population that will make their buying decisions based on price, but as the natural and organic segment of the business continues to boom, the consumer’s search for quality, regardless of cost, will follow that lead.

“People have been trending towards health and longevity in what they consume and use. We walk into a store, pick up a package, flip it over and read the ingredients, and we know what we’re reading and the difference between iffy ingredients that may harm us and those that are safe.”

But the emphasis on organic and natural products doesn’t stop with shampoos and balms. Companies are manufacturing a wide range of other biodegradable and environmentally safe dog and cat products. Consider Wet-Pet towels from Ray-Pet, which are soft, 100-percent biodegradable towels made from renewable resources.

“You can use it once and dispose of it, or re-use it,” says Thomas Buscemi, the company’s executive vice president. “If you have multiple pets, having a disposable towel eliminates cross contamination, and it can be wrung out multiple times and still retain its water absorption ability.”

Dog Gone Smart is another company that is innovating the pet-drying process. With the company’s Zip n’ Dri drying pouch, pet owners simply zip their pooch into the pouch and let the quick-drying microfiber material inside do all the work. According to Dog Gone Smart founder and CEO Chris Onthank, “Zip N’ Dry allows you to dry your pets quicker and easier after a bath, and it is very comforting and relaxing for the animal.”

Clean Up with Home Grooming
With so much consumer demand and product innovation in the home-grooming segment, the obvious question is, what can retailers do to capture a bigger portion of this growing market?

“We encourage retailers to do in-store employee training and really understand our products and the benefits they offer,” says Smith. “We can provide in-store seminars to help retailers become more familiar with our brand. We feel that the more information the retailer has the more they are going to sell.”

In terms of merchandising, Onthank suggests that retailers create a dedicated area for grooming products and even subdivide it into categories. “Grooming supplies are destination items, not impulse buys, and retailers should combine shampoo, nail clippers, brushes, beds and other related products all together in a well-displayed and organized area,” he says.

Many experts believe that creating a special area in a store for organic and natural pet grooming products, in particular, can go a long way in establishing product credibility and customer awareness. “More and more stores now have all-natural sections, with signage that boldly announces, ‘natural.’ This is a great way to introduce consumers to the natural and organic market,” says Guardian. “Those in the know will gravitate directly towards these sections and products, but those who are uneducated can easily become believers with the help of the retailer.”

However, Guardian points out that it is vital that only products that deliver on their natural marketing proposition be included in this type of merchandising scheme. “When promoting a brand, it’s essential that retailers know which brands are truly 100-percent natural,” she explains. “There are brands whose packaging looks holistic, but a quick read-through of the ingredients will reveal that the product actually contains lab-synthesized chemicals.”

To Buscemi, a key part of driving sales of home-grooming products is ensuring that the department is well stocked and promoted. “Retailers have to allow adequate shelf space for pet bathing, grooming and sundry products in order to make their availability known to customers,” he says. “We also give retailers singles so that they can hand them out as samples to customers, and we’ve found that if customers try our towels, they will come back and purchase them.”

To help promote grooming product sales, Onthank suggests that retailers should consider incorporating related services into their store offerings—or at least a self-service bathing area—and merchandising grooming products nearby. “A lot of the larger retailers are offering grooming services of one kind or another, and that is a huge threat to independent retailers,” he says. “Independents can increase their market share and sell more products by adding those services.”


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