To the Rescue
Housetraining can be one of the least enjoyable parts of dog ownership, and it can continue indefinitely, but pet specialty retailers can provide a huge assist, helping to save sanity and floors.
At first blush, dog housetraining products may not have the same shelf appeal as apparel or toys or even collars, leashes and harnesses—items that easily add color, frivolity and energy to the store. By comparison, the housetraining category is pretty utilitarian and straightforward. However, products in this category, from pee pads to crates to cleaners, are absolutely essential, and sales of these items are likely to continue growing in pet stores nationwide.
The category is a dynamic one. New puppy ownership makes having housetraining products a necessity. Yet, the truth is that the need for them doesn’t necessarily stop when the dog is housetrained. Problems requiring housetraining solutions can occur at any point in time as a result of medical issues, surgery or aging. And there are several other factors in play that make this a growth category.
Consider dog ownership. According to a recent survey conducted by Mintel, a Chicago-based consumer research firm, 70 percent of households own pets. Of these, 73 percent own dogs. And as the 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey reveals, lots of folks aren’t content to stop at just one dog; there are more than 11 million households with two or more dogs—20 percent of nearly 57 million dog-owning households. About six percent own three or more dogs.
Dogs are also spending more time alone at home, thanks to longer work hours and extended commutes. At the same time, the uptick in urban living means that fewer dogs have access to yards or have only tiny plots of land in which to do their business, escalating the need for and interest in house-training and waste-management options.
Then there is the issue of rescue dogs, which in many cases are traumatized or have never been housetrained and may never be completely house-safe. As a result, even if customers wish it were otherwise, a fair number will likely be making regular visits to the category, and this is a major reason why these kinds of products will remain strong sellers, says Katie Brennan, inventor of the Puppy Pad Wizard, which is headquartered in Laguna Beach, Calif.
“It is my belief that housetraining is always an ongoing effort,” says Brennan. “Our dog is now nine years old and continues to have accidents. And many small dogs, such as Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers for example, use puppy pads every day. Let’s face it; dogs will always need to go to the bathroom.”
Housetraining can be a daunting task, even for experienced dog owners, since every dog comes with different issues. Helping customers succeed in their efforts—or providing them with floor-saving solutions in the event that housetraining fails—will likely cement them to your side. But perhaps more important than fostering customer loyalty and upping the ring at the register is helping dogs to remain a part of the family and reducing the stress on all concerned.
An important first step in this process is helping customers open up about whatever housetraining problems they have.
“Being proactive with customers, many times, goes far beyond the words, ‘May I help you,’ when they walk in the door,” says Linda Jangula, CEO and manager of Jalyn Enterprise LLC, a Lavon, Texas-headquartered wholesale vendor for the Wiki Wags brand of disposable wraps for male dogs.
Pet specialty retailers can start the conversation by asking customers what kind of housetraining issues they are having, says Jangula. “Is it something that’s been going on for a while, or did it just start? Is there anything different in the house that could cause this behavior, such as a new baby, new pet, company dropping in, or arguments or illness in the household? Once a reason is established, direction towards a solution can be more clearly given,” she says.
But there’s more pet specialty retailers can do, Jangula continues. Her suggestions include holding potty training classes for new dog owners, and staying on top of new products designed to help owners more easily train their dog and being sure to call the customer’s attention to them.
“Too many times a product will be introduced to the shelf and not to the customer looking for help,” she adds.
Consider All Options
In addition to solutions like pee pads, sprays, diapers, indoor potty options and so on, think about other less-obvious products that may benefit customers and pets, as well as the store’s bottom line. For example, calming aids might not come to mind when it comes to housetraining tools, but upon further reflection, they make sense. A calm dog is less likely to have accidents and is more able to focus when being housetrained.
George Richter, owner of Dog Dog Cat in Lake Tahoe, Calif., says calming aids are particularly good sellers. A contributing factor may be that many of his customers are tourists traveling with their pets—an activity that stresses out many dogs. Locals also snap up calming aids, thanks to the area’s strong thunderstorms in the summer. Adding to the canine mayhem are the ski resorts that blast dynamite in the wintertime, he says.
In addition to the calming aids, door hangers, and other housetraining and behavioral modification products, Richter also carries crates and kennels—items that can be particularly useful at addressing (and preventing) an array of behavioral issues.
“Crate training can mitigate problems like excessive chewing and barking, and it can significantly aid in the housebreaking process by teaching dogs a schedule and helping them avoid accidents,” explains Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets. Located in Muncie, Ind., the company designs and manufactures a variety of containment products for dogs and other animals.
“With a crate, pet parents are taking advantage of the dog’s natural instinct to keep his home clean,” she continues. “Therefore, when he has to go, he will try to hold it until he is taken outside to the proper area.”
When it comes to crate-training puppies, Whitehead recommends that pet specialty retailers provide their customers with the following pointers:
• Understand that puppies need to go about every two to four hours.
• Implement a schedule, such as after feeding, before bedtime and first thing in the morning.
• Teach him the route to the door, praise him at the door, and take him to the area of the yard where the puppy is supposed to go.
“Very quickly, they will teach him an elimination schedule that will stay with him for the rest of his life,” she says. “As the puppy gets older—four to six months—they can gradually leave him in his home for longer periods of time. Soon, he can be in his home all day if necessary, until someone arrives to let him out.”
Crate training provides an effective remedy for new puppies or newly adopted dogs that may become anxious or hard to control during potty-training attempts, says Noriko Scott, senior marketing coordinator for Richell USA Inc. Located in Grand Prairie, Texas, Richell distributes pet containment, furniture and training accessories.
However, Scott adds, some customers might think of crating as trapping the pet in one area—a misperception that pet specialty retailers should be certain to address. “Instead, giving a dog or puppy his or her separate space allows them to play or rest safely when pet parents are not at home,” she says. “Pet specialty retailers should step in and help explain the benefits of having a crate to the pet owner.”
In addition to the housebreaking assist that crates offer, benefits include:
• Providing peace of mind when the owner is away.
• Making pets feel safe in their own space and keeping them out of harm’s way.
• Teaching pets how to be calm.
• Preparing them to gain access to other parts of the house as they mature.
• Helping pets travel more comfortably.
Still, the housetraining category is not always an easy category for pet specialty retailers to promote and merchandise. Space can be an issue when it comes to items like crates and kennels. While displaying an assembled crate is often the best way to boost sales, many retailers don’t have the square footage to do that. In this case, stores have to rely on product packaging and other point-of-sale materials to make the sale.
Also, items such as pee pads aren’t always eye-catching, says Nadine Jolie-Coeur, co-owner of Natural Pawz. With 18 locations located throughout Houston and surrounding areas, the stores offer only natural and organic products for dogs and cats, either made in the U.S. or in Canada. Included in the Natural Pawz inventory are pee/potty pads, dog diapers, enzymatic cleaners, a corrective behavioral spray and dog kennels, along with a kennel-training DVD. These items are merchandised in the stores’ holistic solutions and training sections.
It is a wise strategy not to confine the products to a single area of the store. Instead, explore cross-merchandising opportunities. Keep them visible and promote them. Stock a variety of housetraining solutions and, if space allows, offer larger-count sizes since customers often view these as more economical.
Keep the time of year in mind when managing your inventory. For example, stores located in regions that see a lot of snow or inclement weather in the winter may want to stock up on pee pads, diapers or other indoor options to meet the heavier demand. It’s also important to understand your customer demographics and lifestyles. Younger urban dwellers may need permanent indoor solutions, as opposed to retirees living in suburban areas who have the advantages of more time and outdoor space.
Also consider creating a new-products section featuring housetraining items, suggests Jangula. Eye-catching displays and instructional DVDs will grab shoppers’ attention and generate sales.
“People love on-screen training, especially in the potty-training area,” she says.
“[Housetraining] is an area in the pet world that will always be an ongoing part of pet ownership,” she adds. “It is not breed-specific, although some would like to think so. But potty training is just a part of reality; it’s the most important factor in one’s commitment to pet ownership.”