Better Get Grooming
Cat grooming product sales are on the rise as pet owners become more educated about caring for their pets, but there are still many ways retailers can maximize sales in the category.
Cat grooming products have come a long way in the last few years, says Debbie Guardian, founder and president of Opie & Dixie, which manufactures all-natural organic and vegan grooming aids. However, a few years ago, sales of the company’s cat shampoo were so slow, Guardian discontinued the product, thinking no one would miss it. She was wrong.
“To our surprise, we began to receive inquiries as to where our cat shampoo had gone,” says Guardian. “So, we decided to reintroduce it.” Now, she says, it is one of Opie & Dixie’s best sellers.
Other companies have similar stories—cat grooming products have exceeded expectations in recent years. Kim Price, vice president of sales and operations at Pet Head, says the company’s cat grooming products have been outperforming sales forecasts by about 70 percent. Price attributes the spike to high—and growing—demand, while competition has remained fairly low.
Unfortunately, she says, while many manufacturers have yet to catch on to the opportunities that exist in the category, the same can be said of many retailers. “I think that’s where the stall has been in progressing cat products more quickly; I think retailers don’t see the need—and there is a need, for certain,” Price says.
Meanwhile, the category is proving extremely profitable for pet stores that capitalize on its potential. Still, retailers need to understand the category in order to take advantage of the growing demand for these products. The cat grooming category consists of several segments—brushes, combs, shampoos and conditioners (including dry shampoos and wipes), other hair care products such as detanglers, nail clippers, ear cleaners, and specialty items designed for hotspots or other skin conditions. Retailers should carry at least a few items within each of these segments, even if they limit the assortment to a good-better-best selection, with just a few SKUs.
With a proper assortment in place, retailers then need to turn their attention to promotion and customer education. Danelle German, CEO of the National Cat Groomers Institute of America and director of the National Cat Groomers School, says the retailers that seem to do best with the category are those that make a continued effort to inform cat owners about what products are available and how to use those products properly.
Sara Nash, brand manager at MiracleCorp Products agrees. “The biggest overall concern for cat owners is, ‘What tool do I need to buy for my cat?’” Retailers need to ensure that their staff knows what tools are best for which cats. For example, Nash says owners of short-haired cats are typically concerned with shedding, so retailers can recommend brushes, such as a slicker brush, that will help reduce shedding. Owners of long-haired cats are more concerned with matting, so the store should recommend a fine grooming comb that helps with dematting.
But education efforts should not stop there. “If you simply sell a tool, without the proper training, the customer will be challenged to use the tool to its full potential,” says German. Instruction can be delivered in a number of ways. For example, retailers might have a DVD playing at point of purchase or a book available for purchase. Some stores may host seminars either in-store or online. Any of these can help teach cat owners what they need to know to safely and effectively groom their cats.
Signage can also help shoppers make smart purchasing decisions. “Coastal Pet Products developed rack danglers for more training and product information,” says Ashley Sickles, account manager at Coastal Pet Products. “These danglers feature QR codes that consumers can scan with their phones to link to our website for additional product knowledge.” The signage then “helps consumers determine the right selection and usage of products,” she explains.
Coastal also offers an interactive web-based sales presentation for store associates, to help ensure staff members are well informed. “Having a staff that is educated on the products is key to succeeding in this category,” says Sickles.
Education is also critical, since pet owners are often misinformed about cat grooming. “They think that cats don’t like water and don’t like to be bathed, which isn’t necessarily true,” says Bobbi Panter, president of Bobbi Panter Pet Products. If cat owners use warm water, Panter says, cats often end up enjoying the bathing process.
Many cat owners also still operate under the assumption that their cats groom themselves and therefore don’t require further grooming. “When cats are older or heavier, they can’t get to certain areas,” Panter says. In addition, regular grooming allows owners to notice irregularities and catch potential health issues early.
But grooming is important even for cats that are healthy. “The truth is that long-haired cats tend to mat, and they cannot demat themselves,” explains Nash. “In addition, it is important to know that regular brushing decreases the amount of dead hair that ends up on the furniture or swallowed by the cat while grooming himself. Regularly grooming your cat can decrease the amount of ingested hair, which can decrease hairballs and other-digestive concerns.”
Regular grooming also leads to a reduction in dander within the home. “Lots of people have mild allergies to cats, and typically, studies have shown [that those allergies are] due to the dander on the skin,” says Price. Many shampoos and even dry washes, such as Pet Head’s Fizzy Kitty and Dry Clean products, are designed with that in mind.
A Whole Different Animal
What is the other problematic assumption people make when it comes to cat grooming? “The assumption is made that if it works for a dog, it will work for a cat,” says German. “That’s simply not true.”
Bob Erler, national sales manager of the animal division at Andis, explains that physically, cats and dogs are very different. “Cat skin is not attached to the muscle like dog skin is, and it can tear very easily, so not all grooming brushes and combs are interchangeable between felines and canines.” He recommends pin brushes, steel combs and flea combs as good options that are both comfortable and safe for cats.
Fortunately, Erler says, “More retail locations have a cat enthusiast who really understands the needs of cats.” Those in-store experts can talk to customers about proper tools and safety techniques—for both the cat and themselves, including warning signs of an irritated cat and what to do if they get bit.
Despite the differences between dogs and cats, however, experts agree that retailers should place some cat grooming products alongside dog items, as well as within the cat aisle. “Products should be located in both the grooming section and the cat set,” says Sickles. “Having cross-selling points will help [shoppers] gain knowledge of the products and provide shopping convenience.”
For retailers who have experimented with cat grooming products and have been underwhelmed in the past, it is likely worth giving it another try. “Be brave, and look at the fact that you have consumers that are coming in your store, and you aren’t addressing their needs,” says Price. “Then make a bold move.”