Taking the Lead
Manufacturers that pioneered the eco-friendly pet accessories segment continue to improve the market through new partnerships and retailer education.
Growing concern over trash and pollution has convinced many consumers to consider practices that reduce waste through reuse and recycling initiatives. Now, the demand for responsibly made human goods has moved into the pet-accessories market, where manufacturers are reimagining these products to promote environmental responsibility.
When selling within the eco-friendly corner of the market, retailers must keep in mind that many consumers who purchase these goods are educated about the brands whose environmental concerns are authentic, but they might not realize the higher cost that these products incur.
As the partner and co-owner of Earthdog, based in Brentwood, Tenn., Dave Colella, launched his hemp-based pet-goods business in 1995 with his wife, Kym. Now, as a business with an established following, they have seen the eco-friendly segment evolve and are committed to showing retailers the value in hemp to start the conversation of justifying costs to consumers.
“If you’re looking at a wall of collars and leashes, and there is a nylon collar with cute trim on it that is $10 and there is another one next to it with a cute trim that is $20, you’re going to need to know why that collar costs double,” he explains. “The education from the retailer is really helpful there. Knowing what it is and how to answer the question, ‘What are the benefits of a hemp product?’”
The decision to sell eco-friendly products requires retailers to make a genuine effort to learn more about the materials used during production and manufacturing processes, and their overall impact on the environment. Though consumers who choose to purchase eco-friendly goods are making a decision based on a need beyond a basic collar or leash, retailers should start with the simple questions when stocking their shelves with these products, says Tracy McCarthy, who works in marketing at Center Conway, N.H.-based Lupine, Inc., which offers an Eco Collection made from recycled plastic water bottles.
“Adding environmentally friendly products should follow the same decision process as any other product: Is it attractive, durable and appropriately priced? Does it fit in with the clientele? Are people asking for products like it? Will it sell itself or will it need extra signage or presentation to sell well?”
Established names in eco-friendly pet goods are able to stand behind the innovative methods through which they changed how accessories are made. As they have become trusted resources for these sustainably made products, they have also built a reputation as the authority regarding how manufacturing eco-friendly pet accessories can solve waste issues.
“Cycle Dog has reclaimed over one million tubes since we began in 2009. In addition, we have helped raise awareness to the billions of tubes that end up in landfills,” says Lanette Fidrych, founder and president of Cycle Dog, which manufactures its products in Portland, Ore. “Interest has been growing exponentially. We have increased our efforts in retailer education and expanded POS solutions to help spread the word.”
Benefits Beyond the Eco-factor
As many companies make sustainable claims, only those that are genuinely committed to making eco-friendly products will enjoy success within the market. With this longevity, manufacturers will often see additional benefits to their products. Through the years, after receiving feedback from retailers, consumers and working with their own pets, some accessories manufacturers have found that pet wellness isn’t always an issue of the food that is going into an animal’s body, but the materials that are covering it.
“If their [customers’] dog has been intolerant of another collar, which leads to scratching and fur loss most of the time, a hemp collar will be the solution. For those particular dogs, we always drive them to our natural color, which is the undyed hemp webbing,” says Colella. “For the most natural and raw version, the undyed hemp webbing would be the choice.”
While a dog’s own odor might not cause it discomfort, pet parents are often faced with solving issues of overwhelming smells from their beloved animals. Though responsible pet parents know that regular bathing is integral to animal health, using products that neutralize odors between baths is also helpful.
“While consumers gravitate to our eco-friendly message, they love that our collars and leashes do not get stinky,” says Fidrych. “In fact, we tested collars worn on dogs for a number of months and Cycle Dog’s reclaimed-rubber-back collars had over , times less bacteria growth than standard nylon.”
The desire to purchase eco-friendly products stems from a commitment to promote the health of the planet, but this is secondary to the well being of a pet. Many companies that manufacture products in the United States might be forced to source materials overseas simply because there is a lack of availability stateside, but pet parents should find comfort in manufacturers’ commitment to product safety.
“Our products are made with a mix of domestic and imported components, and everything is ‘proudly built in New Hampshire,ʼ” reveals McCarthy. “Very broadly, it seems that consumer concerns about the origin of a product’s components are based on product safety concerns, while concerns about manufacturing have more to do with supporting U.S. jobs.”
The Future of the Category
While some manufacturers have established themselves as trendsetters in the eco-friendly segment, there is still room for them to develop new offerings to meet customer needs. Though the initial goal might have been to create pet accessories from sustainable materials, these companies are now open to bringing lifestyle solutions to the eco-friendly leash-and-collar corner of the market.
“We want to develop a hands-free option from Earthdog. We tend to appeal to the functional side of things in terms of product use,” explains Colella. “One thing that people might like to see from us that we’re not offering currently, is a hands-free option, so when they’re out with their dog, they’re able to enjoy that experience without being encumbered as much.”
For other manufacturers, developing new products means branching out to support additional initiatives outside the eco-friendly segment. Blending an eco-friendly products initiative while promoting other important issues, allows companies to serve as ambassadors for a variety of causes.
“We recently met a tattoo artist here in Portland who is one of the best among her peers, a field normally dominated by men,” Fidrych reveals. “We teamed up with her to create a new collar-and-leash collection. She hand drew each piece of art, which we used to create our new tattoo collection, which will debut at SuperZoo.”
This spirit of channeling energy to other causes can help manufacturers bring greater efficiency to production. In an effort to retain greater control over their materials sourcing, some manufacturers of eco-friendly goods are hoping more relaxed government regulations over textile crops will yield greater accessibility to domestic sources.
“We would love to one day be able to buy domestically grown hemp textiles to use and right now, the U.S. is starting that process, various states are legalizing different versions,” explains Colella, whose leashes and collars are made locally. “Our costs will go down and we can pass that onto the consumer and, just from a general operational standpoint—we make our stuff here—we would love to be able to keep the raw materials here as well.”
Working with manufacturers who have experienced success within the eco-friendly accessories segment can help retailers. By forging strong relationships with these companies, pet-products retailers are gaining reliable resources for an education that includes the most environmentally beneficial textiles and manufacturing practices. PB