Pet owners are more focused than ever on keeping their dogs clean and looking sharp. Grooming products manufacturers are making the task easier with inventive solutions that put a shine on both pets and sales.
If maintaining our own appearance is a somewhat painstaking and time-consuming process, how much more so is it when it comes to keeping our doggie buddies looking sharp and well-groomed? In the past, this concern may not have been so acute; but now that our pets are pretty much going everywhere with us, their appearance and hygiene have become more important than ever.
Adding to that need is the fact as we have embraced increasingly active lifestyles—hiking, running, biking, camping, swimming, etc.—and our dogs’ lives have followed suit. The result of all this action is a growing interest in grooming tools and products, such as brushes and combs, bathing/grooming gloves, shampoos, detanglers, towels, scrubbers and related accessories that make the task of cleaning up dogs easier on both the pet and human.
As Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas International Ltd., a Coppell, Texas-based manufacturer of a pet travel line (among other products), explains, the “adventure lifestyle” many dogs lead today has made grooming—especially grooming on-the-go—essential.
“It’s become almost as important as feeding and hydrating,” he says. “Experiences like going to the beach or the lake, hiking a dusty trail or even playing in the snow with your pet, create some unique clean-up challenges, particularly if a nice SUV or car is involved. Also, these dogs are just like athletes in that they need a shower of some sort before they get back into the house and on the furniture.”
Driving product development is the desire on the part of dog owners to give their pets the same sort of experience they themselves want to have. And as the boundaries between people and pets continue to blur—thanks to the deeply entrenched humanization trend—there is a strong interest in products that are human grade, says Joel Weinstein, vice president of sales for Bass Brushes. Located in Las Vegas, the company makes luxury, high-end brushes for people, dogs, cats and horses, with an emphasis on using natural and sustainable materials such as premium-grade bamboo and natural boar bristles.
“What you see is pet parents wanting products that are good enough for people,” he says. “The other major trend is natural and sustainable.”
Price has become less and less of an issue, Weinstein says, observing that in some cases, people are willing to spend more on their pets than they do on themselves. This is something Jay Michaelson, founder/CEO of HandsOn Gloves, LLC, is also seeing. Located in Mansfield, Texas, the company makes fitted, all-in-one gloves for shedding, grooming and bathing for species like dogs, cats, horses, livestock and others.
“We’re seeing that price doesn’t matter as long as it works,” he says. “We have a lot of people who purchase multiple pairs, either for each animal or to have a pair in the house and a pair in the car, or barn, etc.”
If people aren’t overly concerned about price when it comes to this category, what are they focused on? One thing pet owners want from grooming products is to be assured that the product doesn’t hurt the animal or stress it out, says Michaelson. Reducing the level of anxiety pets feel around grooming is one of the main issues, agrees Daniel Lentz, founder and CEO of Aquapaw, LLC. Headquartered in Campbell, Calif., the company develops and manufactures bathing products, primarily used for dogs but also used for horses, cats and pigs.
“This in turn would make it easier to bathe them,” he explains. “Pet bathing is tough, mainly because it typically involves a stressed and squirming animal. Additionally, pet owners probably find it confusing, what with all the differing opinions about how to bathe their pets.”
It’s not only the dogs that develop anxiety around bathing, says Mark Schreiber, president of Mi-Way Inc. Located in Sarasota, Fla., the company manufactures grooming combs for dogs, horses, and other species likes pigs, cows, goats, etc.
“We find the buyers [of our products] are people who prefer not to have to transport their dogs to wash them,” Schreiber says. “Also, they often find the bathing task difficult for larger dogs, as well as getting all the dirt and shampoo off and getting them dry after the washing.”
This difficulty could be leading to the growth of professional bathing services that Weinstein has noticed, calling this a “new niche.” As he explains, since only washing is provided, pet owners will still have the need for grooming tools and products.
Another alternative for pet owners reluctant to undertake the bathing effort within the confines of their own bathtubs or yards are the do-it-yourself grooming stations, which are also becoming more popular.
“These are a great way for owners to avoid the mess of bathing their pet at home,” Lentz says. “And I think more user-friendly tools will be offered for use with these stations. I think DIY stations would reduce both at-home grooming and the number of people who take their pets to a groomer as they see it as a viable option to do it themselves.”
These DIY stations won’t likely reduce the demand for grooming products, as dog owners will more often than not take these items with them or use them at home before and after the bath. The bottom line is, pet owners are treating their dog’s grooming a lot like they do their own, says Sara Schrekenhofer, advertising manager/graphic designer for Leather Brothers, Inc., a Conway, Ark., provider of a large selection of dog and cat products, ranging from collars, leads, harnesses and crates, to stainless dishes, toys and grooming products.
“Good pet hygiene is very important,” Schrekenhofer says. “With pet shampoos and conditioners marketed similarly to human products, more pet owners are treating their pets to high-quality and specialty grooming products, such as aroma-therapy shampoos and bath bombs. I know that I personally want my dog to have a pleasant and enjoyable bath time.”
Shining up Sales
According to Weinstein, the most common grooming-related complaint dog owners are seeking to address is around shedding and how to better manage it. Other concerns are the condition of the skin and coat along with making the dog look beautiful, he adds.
Of course, making the grooming process as pleasant as possible and getting good results from the effort are also going to be top-of-mind for dog owners. Pet specialty retailers can provide invaluable assistance in helping their customers find the optimal solutions. The process starts with asking the right questions in order to narrow down the choices. Schrekenhofer suggests first asking about the breed and hair length.
“For example, with the doodle fad—Poodles bred with just about every other dog—we see that more pet owners are seeking professional grooming,” she explains. “This is due to the fact that poodle grooming in general is quite time-consuming for your average weekend DIYer.”
Hair length will also help determine what kind/length of comb or brush will work best on the dog, says Schreiber. Staff should also inquire about the products currently being used and how they are working for bathing, daily grooming, shedding and so on, says Michaelson.
Be certain to ask about any skin conditions or allergies, says Lentz, adding that it’s also useful to query about where they will be bathing the dog. It’s also important to know the dog’s activity level and the kind of activities engaged in, says Logan.
Additional questions Schrekenhofer advises focus on how often the customer grooms the pet, how the pet handles being groomed, and if they know the proper tools for grooming and how to use them. This last subject can be especially important, since Weinstein says that, unlike professional groomers, many pet owners need more education in this respect.
One way pet specialty retailers can assist is in how they set up the category. For example, their line is based on function, says Weinstein, explaining the company offers pet brushes for shining and conditioning, detangling and setting the coat, and for dematting. Arranging the brush assortment in this way creates greater coherency, he says, making customer education easier and improving their shopping experience.
Arranging the entire grooming category via this format can reduce confusion, thereby improving sales and profitability. Offering a sufficiently broad product assortment is also essential. Still, it’s important not to overwhelm customers with too many options, says Lentz.
“Create a grooming section with a small assortment of all the different products one might need,” he says. “I would say that retailers should do their research and simplify their product lines as much as possible, while still offering an adequate assortment.”
But don’t confine these products to one section or area of the store. For grooming items that are easily transportable, placing them in the travel is another effective sales-boosting strategy, especially as pet travel continues to upswing, says Logan. Retailing grooming items throughout the store, as well as on endcaps, counter displays and so on can stimulate impulse buys, he adds. And don’t neglect to include grooming items in your seasonal displays; there are products in this category appropriate for every season and holiday. Most importantly, pay attention to this category, says Lentz.
“Grooming is an important part of pet ownership,” he says. “And if retailers want to be a comprehensive place for consumers to shop, then they should offer solutions.” PB