Green House Effect
Today's green, or eco-friendly, stain and odor products are revolutionizing the way people clean up after their pets in the home.
Until recently, eco-conscious pet owners seeking a product to lift a pet-related stain out of a carpet or neutralize a particularly noxious and persistent odor had two options. They could buy a product that was “green,” or they could buy one that worked. The two propositions—eco-friendly and effective—were mutually exclusive.
These days, people are demanding cleaning products of a higher order.
Call it the dawning of a new age of ecological awareness or call it the war against chemicals. Or simply call it progress. Any which way, many consumers today are insisting that the cleaners and deodorizers they use in their homes—and most importantly, around their pets and children—be safe for both the environment and everyone living in it.
“The category for natural pet cleaning products continues to grow and shy away from chemical-based products,” says Jeff Fowler, national sales manager for Natural Chemistry, which makes Healthy Habit brand natural cleaner. “[Pet parents] want to protect their families and pets from any potential harmful chemicals.”
Yet, the demand for green formulas aside, customers also want—and need—these products to work. Technology, fortunately, has given rise to a host of alternatives to traditional stain-and-odor and clean-up products that are both effective and eco-friendly. Rewind a few years, however, and pet owners would hardly have thought this possible.
The category’s growth was stunted at the outset as manufacturers struggled to address pet-related stains and odor in ways that were both potent and green. “The greatest challenge the clean-up space has had with green and eco-friendly solutions has been efficacy,” says Brian Collier, advertising manager for TropiClean, which includes eco-friendly clean-up solutions among its many product offerings.
He points out that while pet owners may be inclined to choose the safest, most environmentally inspired product available, that desire does not override the need for an effective solution. “When it comes to a urine stain in your home, you most likely will be more concerned about cleaning and removing it than what is in the product,” Collier says.
Bill Hadley, CEO and founder of Bio-Pro Research—the maker of Urine Off brand urine odor and stain remover—concurs that manufacturers’ foray into the arena of eco-friendly cleaning products was thwarted early on by failed attempts to create green products that were as powerful as conventional ones. “Trying to solve such a daunting problem was difficult enough for most manufacturers,” he says. “Trying to solve the age old problem, and the ‘green cleaning’ initiatives have made their task even harder because if they are actually using greener chemical technology, it is often not as powerful as traditional chemistry that was developed over many decades.
“At the end of the day, I believe people want to be ‘green,’ but not at the expense of performance,” he adds
But it seems many product developers have finally solved the riddle. For example, Urine Off, which proudly boasts its USDA green certification on its packaging, puts the power of biological science to work conquering stains and odors. “The biggest challenge in the effective eradication of urine stains and odors is eliminating the source of the odor, not simply covering it up temporarily,” he says.
Urine Off, he adds, tackles odor using bioremediation—a bio-chemical process through which enzymes “eat” away the stubbornly pungent and virtually insoluble uric-acid crystals that remain after urine has dried. “Bio-Pro Research developed the biological technology to safely and naturally bioremediate urine, no matter how old it is,” Hadley says.
Still, despite some manufacturers’ victorious wins against the scourge of pet stains and odors, customer perceptions about the efficacy of green clean-up products have not turned around in one fell swoop. Hadley says it is revealing that the question the company fields most frequently is whether or not the product “really works.”
“Think about what a powerful question that is,” he says. “It denotes that [pet owners] have tried virtually everything, have never been totally satisfied, doubt that there is anything that actually works, but still hold out a glimmer of hope, as they still have the problem.”
Many consumers cling to the idea that only a combination of water, soap and elbow grease will solve their problems—only to be disappointed by poor results. However, Cindy Rimer, director and vice president of sales and marketing for Biokleen, says that while many pet owners continue to favor traditional products based on the expectation that a green cleaner will be less effective than a traditional option, customers’ views are shifting.
“There are still the pet parents out there that think disinfecting is the only way to clean, but as more education gets out about the consequences of overusing disinfectants, and that it’s really not necessary, perceptions are starting to change,” she says.
In fact, consumer awareness continues to build as it relates to the products people use in every aspect of life—from household cleaning to cosmetics—and the possible effects these items have on the environment and on their health. As a result, increasingly knowledgeable customers are energizing sales in the eco-friendly cleaning product category, despite the poor reputation suffered by early entries into the market.
“Consumers [are] driven by the conviction that it is our responsibility to take care of our environment, and from that conviction, they are giving the products a second chance,” Collier says, also noting that there has been a recent lift in sales in the category as word spreads that these products do indeed work.
Hadley agrees. “As a whole, buyers are more comfortable buying eco-friendly products, as they experience efficacy that meets their expectations.”
On the Front Lines
As is the case in many pet product categories, pet specialty retailers are at the forefront of the movement to introduce new, innovative and green cleaning products to the pet-owning public. These stores are strongly suited to both becoming category experts and sharing that expertise with consumers.
“Pet specialty retailers are in a very unique position to positively affect their customers’ perceptions of green cleaning products,” Hadley says. “One of the reasons customers shop at their pet specialty shop is because they have a higher perception of quality offerings and the availability of a perceived expert, compared to a cheap product and a checkout clerk at a mass retailer. By taking the opportunity of personal service to educate their customers on the efficacy and safety of products that are proven to be effective, [pet specialty retailers] can garner sales at a higher value and have a happy customer.”
Of course, first, retailers need to be informed about the category and the product properties, functions and distinctions. They need to understand what makes a formula eco-friendly and how to determine which manufacturers are true to their word when it comes to making green claims.
“Retailers can become educated on the brands they sell and offer samples for consumers to try for themselves,” says Rimer. “We are always confident when a consumer uses Biokleen [that] they will come back for more.”
Most importantly, Collier says, retailers can help customers understand the value of these products by demonstrating in the store how effective they can be. “Many times it comes down to education,” he says, adding that TropiClean can provide point-of-sale videos that demonstrate the products at work. “Engage with your pet parents and help inform them on how well products can work and why it will benefit their home to make the change.”