The Ethical Experience

For more than a half-century, Ethical Products has been helping pet specialty retailers succeed by offering a well-rounded product lineup that is constantly updated.


No one can say that executives at Ethical Products sit around, resting on their laurels. The fact is they are simply too busy introducing new products to their ever-expanding list of pet supplies items—as many as 100 new items every year. 

Sounds like a lot of work for the employees at the 50-plus-person company, based in Bloomfield, N.J., but that strategy has rocketed the 64-year-old firm into the top echelon of pet product companies. In fact, company executives anticipate that new product introductions combined with an aggressive acquisition strategy will help the privately held Ethical double in size over the next five years.

“We don’t sit still. The goal is to keep our product assortment fresh and continue to give consumers innovative items to choose from,” says Jonathan Zelinger, president of the company and the son of its founder Alan Zelinger. “Our growth over the last number of years is directly due to the innovation we offer and the new products we launch every year.”

Those new products do not appear by themselves. It takes a great deal of work, and Zelinger is quick to note that a dedicated team of designers and product specialists routinely travel around the world—going to pet, toy, housewares and apparel trade shows—and even to remotely located factories—looking for the next hot trend, item or concept to add to the Ethical assortment. The result is a strong, value-priced 800-SKU product line that has wide distribution among pet specialty retailers across the country and around the globe.

“It all starts with having the right people and giving them the freedom to do what is necessary,” he notes. “We have a great team of dedicated professionals who are self-motivated and have a high desire to succeed. As a result, we are in all the major pet chains across the country, present in most of the independents and have gained the respect and brand recognition of retailers and consumers in the USA and abroad.”

Zelinger stresses that the Ethical team’s well-earned reputation of working closely with pet retailers for decades has helped the company. “This is an industry in flux, with new players entering and others exiting, and I think retailers benefit from a relationship with a steady, experienced and battle-tested company like Ethical,” he says. “Our team has had a great, long-term relationship with distributors and retailers. 

“Retailers trust us, and they know that we always have a great pipeline of innovative products backed up with a deep inventory position that will enable them to grow their businesses. Ethical salespeople are trained in fact-based selling and support their proposals to customers with published market information gathered from such sources as Nielsen and IRI, which gives retailers confidence in our product recommendations.”

Company officials know that they need to back up their claims with programs to move products through stores and help retailers make more money. Ethical offers a “Dealer Loyalty Program,” where retailers that sign up can qualify for a rebate at the end of the year. It also produces numerous point-of-purchase displays and pre-set planogram programs to help retailers maximize sales and profits from the pet supplies section. 

Getting pet owners on board is also extremely important to Ethical officials. This includes offering value pricing to consumers with products that are designed to sell quickly at retail and stepping up its social media reach. “We offer consumers the trifecta—products that meet their expectations on quality, value and price,” Zelinger adds. 

Ethical offers products in five categories: dog and cat toys, feeding bowls, USA-made treats, pet apparel, and pet beds. Its brands include the well-known Spot line, which offers dog and cat toys, dishes, beds and treats; and Skinneeez, which offers stuffing-free dog toys. The Fashion Pet line offers year-round apparel under the Outdoor Dog and Lookin’ Good brands. Sleep Zone offers pet beds in an assortment of styles, sizes and colors and is designed to coordinate with a home’s decorative theme while providing comfort for the pet. 

Some categories are increasing at a faster rate than others. “Toys, for example, are growing at a very rapid rate,” Zelinger notes. “There seems to be a never-ending demand for products that allow consumers to spoil and engage with their pets.” 

Of course, Ethical is constantly innovating items in this category. In January, it is introducing three new SKUs of Red Alert, a line of durable nylon toys, with an MSRP of $5.99 each. Red Alert toys feature a design that will indicate to a consumer if the toy has been compromised by the pet, and Ethical is even offering consumers a 100-percent money-back satisfaction guarantee. The company is also adding to its Skinneeez line of dog toys, including reinforced quilted products, emoji and bungee products. 

Not bad for a company that started when Alan Zelinger realized that stainless steel from the family’s restaurant supply company could easily be converted to bowls for the pet trade. “In the early years, we were an importer of pet products from Japan,” Jonathan Zelinger says. “Production then moved to Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. Now we predominantly import from China and India.”  

Despite some bumps in the road, including a slowing U.S. economy and housing market, Zelinger is confident about the future of the pet industry. He says that Baby Boomers and Millennials have the disposable income and desire to own a pet and give that animal the best care. 

As for his company, he says it is on the right track. “Sure, we are always looking for ways to increase sales,” he adds. “We look at possible acquisitions, especially companies with good distribution or that have a specific niche patented product. We are also not averse to looking at and entering other categories. I think that is what makes us unique. We never stand still.”

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