Natural Selection

Natural grooming products go mainstream as more consumers seek out greener alternatives to pamper and care for their pets.


As a famous frog once said, “It’s not easy being green.” And while he was speaking in an entirely different context, the same can be said when it comes to retailing greener (meaning natural and/or organic) pet products–it takes a little bit more thought and a little bit more customer and staff education, but the effort is worthwhile.

Consider natural grooming products. Not so long ago, it was challenging for pet retailers to get their hands on anything other than conventional grooming items. Now, says Bambi Moher, sales manager/pet division for CANUS, the consumer clamor for natural grooming products has inspired the “big players” to launch their own natural lines. Although this has made the marketplace more competitive, especially for smaller manufacturers, it has given pet retailers plenty of product options to choose from.

This quest for natural isn’t going to wane, says Moher, whose company, headquartered in Waterbury, Vt., manufactures Nature’s Dog by CANUS, which incorporates goat milk as a primary ingredient.

“This isn’t a trend,” she says. “We’ll never go back to what we were. People are becoming more and more interested in sustainability, green and natural and this interest will just get more intense.”

Paul Armstrong, CEO and founder of San Francisco-based Earthwhile Endeavors, Inc., manufacturers of the earthbath brand of pet products, agrees.

“Consumers are demanding that their products contain a higher concentration of natural ingredients and that they be animal-cruelty-free,” he says. “Their focus is intensifying on minutia like preservatives and coloration. I [also] think that concentration is becoming more in demand as concentrated grooming solutions require less fuel to transport per ounce.”

Pet retailers must realize that natural/green is no longer considered a “fringe movement,” says Armstrong. Natural has gone mainstream, providing independent retailers with an important advantage over the mass merchants who tend to be less nimble and therefore not as quick when it comes to incorporating natural grooming products into their assortments.

Natural Considerations
Offering natural grooming products is a good move, says Derrik Kassebaum, vice president of sales for the Tropiclean Corp, manufacturers of the Tropiclean brand, headquartered in Wentzville, Mo. However, he adds, there are some considerations, pricing foremost among them.

“You have to keep pricing middle-market,” says Kassebaum. “Consumers want natural products, but they’re not willing to pay a high price. Even green products in other categories are struggling with price.”

This is because these products typically sell for 20- to 50-percent more than their conventional counterparts, he explains, something that makes staff education another consideration.

“You need to justify that price difference,” Kassebaum says. “Retailers need to educate their staff about the benefits of natural grooming products and how to discuss these benefits with customers.”

This will also help retailers cement customer loyalty, says Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director for Espree Animal Products, Inc., based in Grapevine, Tex.

“Providing knowledge to pet owners will create and/or enhance the relationship between retailer and pet owner,” she says. “Pet owners will feel comfortable coming to the store for advice on products or pet-related issues.”

The fact is, says Moher, even though the natural consumer is highly educated and reads product labels, she (the biggest percent of natural consumers are female, says Moher) is still confused and skeptical over what natural, organic and green mean.

“This is why, for us, education is a very big part of our product line,” adds Moher. “Not everyone understands the benefits of goat’s milk.”
According to Lorna Paxton, president of Los Angeles-based happytails Canine Spa, manufacturers of EyePack, a tear stain removal program, pet retailers who take the guesswork out of the shopping experience for their customers will find the effort worthwhile.

“When stores make a stand and promote themselves as a natural pet store, then that is a definite point of distinction,” she explains. “Consumers can trust that store only sells healthy products and it takes some of the burden off the consumer of having to do the research on each product or go through a complicated ingredients list.”

Merchandising Natural  
Independent pet retailers can’t possibly hope to compete with the mass merchants on price, says Moher.

“They just don’t have the volume,” she explains. “But small stores have tremendous customer service power. They’re educated. They can work with manufacturers on promotions and in-store samplings–the big boxes have a hard time executing sampling events. We encourage them not to compete on price but to focus on what they can do better than the big boxes.”

Samplings and promotions are a great way to boost sales of natural grooming products. How you set natural grooming products apart and identify them in your store will also make a difference. Creating special displays, or even designating entire sections or aisles as natural, organic and green will spark customer interest and make shopping easier for the natural-inclined customer, says Jordan.
Other merchandising/ selling suggestions include:

• Use shelf talkers to highlight product ingredients and identify why the product is valuable to the customer, suggests Armstrong. For example, earthbath has a shelf talker that points out the product uses essential oils for fragrance, is free of artificial dyes, and so on.

• Train staff to cross-sell, Armstrong says. If a dog owner complains that her dog has dry, itchy skin, the employee should first inquire about the dog’s diet, and might then recommend a different food or supplement in addition to suggesting a grooming product.

• Offer a price range, including value-priced items. For example, CANUS has a milled shampoo bar that lasts about as long as their 16-oz. liquid shampoo but retails for less than half the price, says Moher.

• Train staff on how to talk to customers and what questions to ask, says Kassebaum. “People go to mass stores for price,” he explains. “They go to independent stores to buy from somebody who has knowledge. If they’re coming to your store, you have to provide knowledge. You have to make sure your staff knows how to talk to them.”

“Quality products, knowledge of the products and customer relationships set specialty retailers apart,” Jordan sums up. “Retailers who know their customers, ‘Hello Ms. Jones. Did the spray I recommended for Skippy stop his scratching?’ are a huge plus in today’s shopping experience.”

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