Setting a Place

Dog owners are paying attention to what their best buddies eat and drink from, seeking out products that are not only attractive but also contribute to pet wellness.




While many pet owners are content to consume their meals standing at the fridge or over the sink, they would never dream of taking so careless an approach when it comes to their pets. As the humanization of pets continues to affect how we regard our canine pals, owners are looking not only at their dogs’ food, but also what they’re eating from. They’re opting for hi-tech feeding or watering systems, fashion-focused bowls and other statement-making dinnerware. In turn, manufacturers are providing pet specialty retailers and their customers with feeding and watering options to meet all manner of lifestyle needs.


Besides the humanization trend, pet specialty retailers may want to note the growing interest in feeding raw food, says Carol Gailen, co-owner of The Original mine Pet Platter in Chicago. Gailen, whose company makes a feeder that encourages dogs’ natural eating behavior, explains that raw-feeding requires owners to pay strict attention to hygiene during handling, preparation and clean up. These factors inspired both the form of their platter and the materials used.


“For pet parents looking to maximize the health benefits of today’s more popular natural diets, it makes sense to look at how they’re serving meals,” says Gailen. “Pet parents now have a great opportunity to think more holistically about feeding, considering the benefits that come not just from the food, but also from the way it’s delivered.”


Pets are also getting out with their owners more, sparking the need for lightweight and durable feeding options that look good and travel well, says Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs. Located in Burlington, Mass., the company offers an extensive selection of pet feeding products. 


Desiree Howell, national marketing director for Heyrex Limited, has noticed a trend favoring products that making pet ownership less taxing. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company provides several products for dogs, including an all-in-one water bowl. 


“Although statistics recently show there has been an increase in pet ownership across the U.S., we’re also seeing a shift in products and technologies that make the lifestyle of being or becoming a pet parent more convenient,” Howell says. “Consumers want convenience and will pay more for these added benefits.”


Kate Jones, president of Platinum Pets, says trends they’re following include the increase in small-dog ownership, an aging pet population, greater concern over feeding dogs healthier foods, and Millennials becoming the largest sector of pet owners. Located in Vancouver, Wash., Platinum Pets provides a range of dog and cat bowls and diners, along with other products and accessories.


Considering how highly visible dogs and their various accouterments are in the household, pet owners want feeding systems that are attractive to look at, jibe with the décor, protect flooring and keep the areas around food and water bowls clean, says Cara Holland, co-founder and creative director of Ono LLC, in Parker, Colo. The company offers all-in-one placemats and bowls for dogs and cats that suction to the floor.


The Right Location

Bowls can’t be put on some far-off shelf and treated like an afterthought. Given their sales potential, pet specialty retailers and store employees need to put some effort behind this category, impressing upon their customers how these products can contribute to their pet’s wellbeing.


Elevated diners are beneficial for older dogs or those with arthritic conditions, says Milan Bhandari, partner with Pets Stop, a Chicago company that designs and manufactures high-end dog diners, slow-feed bowls and other products. However, adds Bhandari, pet specialty retailers will likely need to educate customers about the help these can provide.


Jones explains that older dogs are often prone to digestive and joint issues. For these pets, elevated diners can make mealtime much more comfortable, which could lead to the dog eating and drinking longer, supporting better nutrition.


It’s also important to offer a range of bowl sizes and diner heights to meet the requirements of a variety of breeds, says Jones, adding that the company has created a SwitchIn campaign to promote multiple diner bowl purchases.


“Why would your customers want multiple bowls? It goes back to the humanization aspect of pet owners,” she explains. “They want design variety to celebrate a pet’s birthday and other landmark dates with gifts, the addition of a new pet to the family and other reasons.”


As Holland observed, how the bowls will fit in with a home’s décor is an important consideration. Because it’s common for pet owners to place bowls around the house, pet specialty retailers should offer an array of choices to help encourage multiple bowl sales.


Finally, don’t overlook the opportunity to cross-sell with food, says Gailen. “Every food purchase at retail presents the chance to engage pet parents in a discussion about feeding devices,” she says. “We encourage storeowners to think about how to include messages about feeding devices into the food-buying experience.


“This might involve incorporating signage or feeding devices into the food section—especially near the fresh and frozen aisles,” she says. “Sales associate talking points and displays for use with food have also proven effective in jump-starting a conversation.”


Talk the Talk

Starting a conversation is almost a requirement to succeed in this category. There are so many feeding and watering products available that it can confuse and overwhelm consumers, says Howell. “I recommend specialty retailers narrow down the most important factor of pet ownership to the customers,” she advises. “The typical response will circulate around to ‘something easy.’”


From there, retailers can hone in on other elements customers are factoring in. “There are many things to consider,” says Bhandari. “The size of the dog, the size of the diner, the volume of the bowl, the décor of the home—modern, minimalist, traditional—price, all play a role in helping customers find what’s best for them and their dog.”


It’s also important to get an idea about the dog’s and owner’s daily routine, says George. “If a pet goes to work with the owner, their routine is much different than that of a dog that stays home all day. For example, a pet that stays with the owner all day may not need a large-capacity bowl since the owner is there to refill the water bowl. But, a pet that spends the day at home may need a bit more capacity in the water bowl to stay properly hydrated.”


In addition to the dog’s size, pet retailers should also try to get an understanding of how frequent the dog’s meals are and what it is eating, since this could impact what kind of material is going to work best.


“Stoneware is heavy and gets even heavier with food and water added, so for larger dogs, stainless steel may be a better option,” George explains. “For smaller dogs, stoneware may be a better choice as these bowls come in many more colors and patterns.”


The customer’s age and capabilities could also influence the choice of materials, since elderly customers or those with physical limitations may find stoneware too heavy to easily handle, even if the person’s dog is on the small side. Additionally, for customers who have trouble bending over, elevated diners may be a more comfortable option.


For customers with busy lifestyles, automatic feeding and watering systems may prove just the ticket. These can provide assurance that the pet has the water it needs, thus potentially avoiding a host of medical issues, Howell explains, and automatic feeders are equally beneficial.


Howell says one of the biggest retailing mistakes they see is product unfamiliarity. Perhaps the best way to boost sales is to know the products inside and out so you can talk knowledgeably with customers. It’s also wise to dive into how the products are made and the advantages the manufacturing process offers, says Jones.


“[This way] retailers are better able to give their customers a more personalized shopping experience,” she says. “Specialty retailers aren’t looked upon any more as just a place to buy pet food. They’re gathering places for pet owners who know they can get trusted advice.”


As for merchandising these products, think creatively about placement. Don’t limit them to just their own shelves, which need signage, shelf talkers and so on to call attention to them. Look for opportunities to locate them throughout the store—placing bowls in the travel section or by the collars and leashes, or stocking elevated diners by the joint supplements, for example. If you create seasonal displays, particularly during gift-giving holidays, consider including bowls and feeders. Your bottom line will thank you for the extra effort you put into this category. 


“Retailers really have an opportunity to capitalize on the humanization of our pets today,” says George. “By offering consumers a variety of options in patterns, colors and materials, retailers can appeal to pet owners’ desires to freshen up their pets’ dining areas and give their pets the best. Keeping up with the Joneses now includes how spoiled your pets are compared to your neighbors’, friends’ and family’s pets.”


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