Hyping Oral Hygiene

Having the right oral-care product assortment creatively displayed will go a long way in helping retailers promote the dental hygiene category.


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The days when pet owners relied heavily on a veterinarian for their pets’ dental hygiene needs are long gone. In order to save on expensive dental procedures at the vet, today’s pet owners are taking a more proactive approach to their animal’s oral care needs. From traditional products like toothbrushes and toothpaste to additives formulated to be put in a pet’s water, the pet care market offers a wide assortment of products that make oral care easier and more convenient for pet owners.

The increasingly diverse category—which also includes sprays, wipes, gels, foams, and treats and chews that help combat bad breath and scrape away plaque and tartar—has positioned pet specialty retailers as a premiere destination for pet owners in need of dental solutions for their pets.  

“Customers typically seek out pet specialty stores to help them properly care for their pets, and pet owners like to feel like they are taking the best care of their loved ones that is possible,” says Glenn Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing at Emerald Pet Products, which offers Smart ‘n Tasty dental treats for cats and dogs. “The retailers see the pet owners much more often than their veterinarian sees the owners, thus they really are providing guidance on how to properly raise and care for their pets.”

While pet owners should still see a veterinarian for serious health concerns—and when necessary, retailers should advise this—customers place value on the guidance that pet store staff can offer in this category. Education as well as strategic merchandising with the right product assortment will make specialty retailers top of mind for consumers shopping for all of their pet’s oral care needs.

Experts say that retailers are wise to build a solution center with all the oral-care products available in one area of the store. “Often, dental products are merchandised in different areas of the store, so simply putting them together will encourage consumers to explore and try multiple products,” says Tracy Quillin, category manager, consumables, at PetSafe, which makes the indigo Fresh line of dental products. 

However, while simply putting oral care products together in the same section of the store can draw more shoppers, a section that highlights multiple products with different uses can be more confusing for a pet owner looking to solve a specific problem. A successful oral-care solution center at the retail level starts with customized advice, says Jeff Camosci, vice president of marketing and sales, North America, at Whimzees, manufacturer of the Whimzees dental chew. “Help pet parents to identify the oral care issues their pet friends are experiencing, and offer them specific solutions,” he says.  

In order to understand the specific needs of the animal and its owner, retailers must be educated on the products offered in their stores—and suppliers are more than willing to help in this arena. “We encourage our retailers to do some non-manufacturer directed homework,” says Susan Weiss, president of Ark Naturals, maker of Breathless Brushless Toothpaste dental chews and the Plaque Zapper water additive. “However, we are very proud of our online training manual that is available to all of our retailers. Our in-house sales reps also make periodic calls that are designed to help educate the retailer.”

Having a manufacturer sales representative visit the store to train employees can also be key in understanding the benefits of the oral-care products available, and these education sessions can even be extended to customers. David Frye, sales manager, eastern region, at PetzLife—a company that offers oral-care sprays, gels and treats—suggests inviting a representative to the store for an oral-care education day. “Have an in-store session where your customer can come bring their pets to talk oral care and sample products,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to let your customers smell, feel and even taste the products.”

While understanding the ingredients and benefits of products and being able to communicate these facts to the pet owner is crucial for retailers, merchandising these products in an engaging way is just as important. “Retailers who can get creative and develop their own signage or unique displays based on a theme, such as oral care, can really help draw attention to the category,” says Naomi Kirby, DVM, MS, technical services veterinarian at Pet King Brands, which makes the Zymox brand of oral care products, which includes a water additive, gel and breath-freshening spray.

February may be the perfect time of the year to highlight the oral-care products a pet store offers year-round, as it is National Pet Dental Health, an awareness campaign sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Retailers should take advantage of increased awareness generated around this time, says Quillin.

“Boldly displaying key messages, such as ‘80 percent of dogs show signs of oral disease by age two,’ reminds pet parents to address dental issues,” she says. “Retailers can offer instructional materials or training to help owners learn to brush their pets’ teeth and should recommend effective dental treats, like the indigo Fresh line, to support owners that struggle with tooth brushing.”  

Creating a dental section with clear signage that communicates the benefits of proper oral care and highlights the products is just one way retailers can draw more customers to the category. A retailer lacking the square-footage to dedicate a large space to oral-care products should take advantage of point-of-purchase displays, shelf talkers and other literature provided by suppliers.

“Like the customers that come into the shop, every store is different,” says Brian Collier, advertising manager for TropiClean, which offers gels, water additives, chews, a flossing toy and liquid floss, foams, and oral-care kits for both dogs and cats. “We understand this, so we have many merchandising tools to create the best strategy for optimal success in the store. Some stores might have a more cozy footprint, so an easy two-foot-by-two-foot floor display will be better than a full endcap,” he says.

PetSafe also offers eye-catching POP displays, signage, video and other promotional support for its retailers; while PetzLife has countertop and floor displays, informational pamphlets, and banners and posters available for retailers. Pet King Brands has a countertop shelf unit available, along with free consumer literature and small sample packets that pet owners can take home. Ark Naturals is also among suppliers that offer samples for retail customers.

Supplier materials like countertop displays near the register can go a long way in emphasizing the need for oral care products to customers. “Retailers should follow up regularly to ensure the message about the importance of oral care health is still being delivered,” says Camosci. “Setting up a simple display at the register gives the cashier an opportunity to discuss oral health care, and this could result in an impulse purchase. Once the pet parent sees the benefits, they will return with the intent to purchase these products specifically.”

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