Free-Flowing Sales

Retailers that devote some shelf space to automated feeders and fountains can enjoy higher transactions and repeat customers.




It’s not enough to set down a bowl of water and a bowl of kibble for pets. Some pet owners prefer to give their feline and canine companions filtered water and automatically portion-controlled food. Just as consumers are shopping for high-quality, healthful foods for their pets, they are also looking for ways to present the food and water in convenient, attractive dispensers.

Manufacturers of automated feeders and fountains say that retailers can benefit from offering these high-ticket items. Although the products take up some space on shelves and might require a little explanation, they provide big sales that can boost transaction averages.

The key to success for these products, says Jason Hart, director of marketing for PetSafe in Knoxville, Tenn., is to offer a combination of function and aesthetics. PetSafe offers battery-operated automatic pet feeders that hold food in an airtight container. The human can program the feeder to open and make food available to the dog or cat at specific times. The company also offers fountains that circulate and filter drinking water.

Hart says the items tap into the well-documented trend of pet parents seeking healthful items for their loved ones. The fountains give pets not only water that is filtered from impurities, but also flowing water that encourages animals to drink. “The noise and movement gets their attention, particularly felines,” he says. “The more hydrated they are, the healthier they are.” Meanwhile, the automated feeders can feed the pet if the human is away from home, and it controls portions to keep the pet from overeating.

The category also taps into another trend. “We are noticing consumers want something that gives the pet wellness, and they want that combined with aesthetics. The feeders and fountains have to fit in with their overall choice of color palettes for the house,” says Hart. 

PetSafe offers porcelain Pagoda fountains, and ceramic porcelain Avalon fountains. The stoneware is available in colors that match the décor of many people’s homes, and it also provides a safety benefit. Unlike plastic, Hart says, stoneware does not get scratches that can store bacteria.

Lane P. Labbe, president of American Valley Pet, Inc., agrees that pet owners want an attractive fountain. The Reno, Nev.-based company recently launched its natureSPA pet water fountain. “I saw the fountains that were on the market didn’t have a lot of design,” he says. “If you have a nice place, you don’t want to put in something that doesn’t really go with your décor.”

The natureSPA is square, which Labbe says some consumers find more attractive than the typical round fountains. There are practical features too, such as a UV tube that removes microorganisms. The charcoal filter removes bad tastes and odors, Labbe says, and the fountain even has an LED nightlight. The pump also has a shutoff feature. “We heard pumps were burning up because they would run out of water,” says Labbe. “We put a water shutoff on ours, which is a good safety feature. You don’t come home and find something burned or melted.”

Some companies offer feeders that are not automated but still offer benefits such as portion control. Pontiac, Mich.-based Automated Pet Care makes Feed-Safe brand feeders. Feed-Safe is a closed dome with stainless steel bowls inside, and a sliding door to let a small pet enter. The feeder is designed to provide small pets with a safe haven, so they can eat without being interrupted by larger pets. The product is designed for multiple pet households, says Brad Baxter, president of Automated Pet Care. “If you have two pets that are the same size, our product wouldn’t work; but generally speaking, it is a larger dog and a cat,” he says.
Feed-Safe is also designed to keep everyone else’s food safe too. Some pet owners put the cat’s food bowl on their kitchen countertop. That can keep the dog away, but it could create unsanitary conditions if the cat jumps onto the counter after using the litter box. “The goal is to keep that down,” says Baxter.

A domed feeder can serve other purposes at feeding time. Cedarburg, Wis.-based Pioneer Pet Products, LLC makes Tiger Diner. The food dish has a cover with openings, so a cat can reach in and pull out kibble, one piece at a time. The activity acts on cats’ natural desire to hunt, and it helps the cat eat more slowly, which can aid digestion and help keep their weight down.

“We were saddened by the trend of obesity in cats,” says Shannon Supanich, marketing manager for Pioneer Pet Products. “This is very unhealthy, and unnecessary. We want what is best for cats and their health.” Tiger Diner is available in black and white ceramic as well as white plastic. 



Water, Water Everywhere
Manufacturers say retailers can boost sales of these items, especially the fountains, by demonstrating how they are used. “I recommend all my retailers display a fountain running,” says Labbe. “It needs explanation.”

Labbe adds that American Valley Pet provides retailers with videos of natureSPA being featured on a television program, and he thinks retailers should set up the video in-store so shoppers can see how the product works.

Hart says consumers also like to touch things before they buy, so it makes sense to set up a feeder and fountain in the store. After all, says Hart, that’s how electronics stores encourage people to buy big-ticket items. PetSafe provides display pieces, so retailers can set up the products and consumers don’t have to guess what is in the large box. Besides, he says, the fountains are attractive. “You have the health benefits, and you are adding aesthetics. You can have a piece of art on your kitchen floor.”

According to Hart, it helps to offer a variety of feeders and fountains at different price points, so consumers can choose what works for their pets and budgets. “They might not want the highest end product, but they still want the health benefits,” says Hart. “The smallest pet might not need 96 ounces.”

Baxter agrees that fountains need to be explained to consumers, but he says Feed-Safe handles this with packaging. The boxes are octagonal shaped, and almost every panel features a description of the feeder. The consumer can see a panel with information, no matter how the box is displayed on the shelf. The boxes also have handles for easy carrying.

He explains that retailers should prominently display these large items, because they can bring a big sale to the store. Some retailers might hesitate to give feeders and fountains much space because the items have lower margins than toys and accessories. “These are high-dollar items, and the margins decrease with the expense of the item,” says Baxter. “The silver lining is you are selling a $100 item. You have to sell a lot of leashes and collars to get to that level.”

Selling these items also gives the retailer opportunities to sell accessories such as spill mats and replacement charcoal filters, so the store can build repeat customers from these sales.

“I think the retailer should be looking for new products and take a risk and see how it does,” says Baxter. “If it does well, it could be good for them.” 

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