American Tails

As retailers satisfy consumer demand for pet products that are made in the USA, customers are discovering local sources for quality goods.




The pet industry continues to experience a push for products that are made in the United States, but even popular trends must evolve over time. Independent mom-and-pop retailers are relying more on local manufacturers that can offer greater transparency and authentic, regional products that speak to a discerning consumer who seeks quality goods for their pets.


In its 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) revealed that 61 percent of pet parents still consider whether products are made in the United States as an important factor when buying goods for their animals. While domestic manufacturing of pet products remains top of mind for many consumers, the demand for some products is stronger than others.


At Knoxville, Tenn., retailer Citifid-o, which is owned by spouses Terri and Paul Karlsson, approximately 80 percent of the store’s goods are sourced domestically, including products from local vendors. The origin of their stock remains a strong selling point and characteristic that is highlighted on products throughout the store.


“If the messaging isn’t clear that it is made in the USA, we will put a little sticker on it,” explains Terri Karlsson. “We have some locally sourced treats and you can go to the farm and see the stuff.”


For consumers, looking at a package and seeing product labeling isn’t always enough. Customers want to learn more about the products they are buying, as they want to make informed decisions regarding how to best provide the most healthful and helpful items for pets.


“At least 80 percent of our regular clientele flip over the packaging to see where the products are produced/sourced or ask us questions about manufacturing and sourcing,” reveals Ben Prakobkit. Prakobkit owns The Modern Paws, a Tampa-area store, with his wife, Lisa. “They strive to be educated consumers. Customers are more lax about USA-made toys and accessories, but do know that ‘USA-made’ typically means better quality, but may also come with a higher price tag.” 


Giving Love to Local Business

One shift in the Made in the USA segment of the pet-goods market is the move toward supporting smaller, local manufacturers at the state and city levels. In addition to backing their fellow local businesses, some retailers find that promoting area manufacturers elevates recognition to a global level. At Seattle’s Pioneer Pet Feed & Supply, a single-store operation owned by David James and his husband Charles Waller, the local business pride is part of their initiative to bring tourism dollars to the area.


“It’s important to shop local to keep money local,” James emphasizes. “The money I am paying for a product that is Washington state-based means the money is staying here. A lot of the products are local—a local distributor carrying local products makes things pretty special. I love seeing one of my stamped bags with a cat crawling into it from another part of the world. I created a memory for those folks.”


The initiative of retailers promoting regionally made products from local manufacturers is growing as a subcategory of the Made in the USA segment. As Michael Furr, store manager of Howl in Baltimore, Md., reveals, the single-location retailer not only brings greater attention to products that are made in the United States, it also places greater emphasis on advertising locally sourced goods.


“Most of our USA-made products are labeled as ‘Made in the U.S.A,’” he says. “We will use Made in the USA as a point of interest when we are promoting a new product, but more than that, we do love to promote items made locally, rather than just in the USA.”


By endorsing products that are manufactured at the local level, retailers are not only investing in their communities, they are able to identify a clear path to the source, providing greater transparency and comfort for pet parents.


Buying Domestic for the Little Guys

Consumers who buy products for dogs and cats aren’t the only pet parents who are considering the origin of the items they provide for their animals. From budgies to guinea pigs, consumers are thinking about where supplies for smaller animals are made, but the focus is limited to specific products.


“Small mammal items are mainly things they will be eating, such as wooden chews. People would rather choose the simple wood blocks that are made in the United States rather than the cute colorful blocks made in China,” says James. “Pet parents don’t want those things going into their pets’ mouths.”


Though some pet parents might splurge on accessories and toys that are manufactured in the United States, most are primarily concerned with the quality of the food that they are serving—regardless of the species they have. As a retailer who caters to different types of animals, Furr recognizes the concerns of his customers and the most important aspects of the food they are buying for their birds and small mammals.


“[Customers don’t request it] as much as they do with dog and cat food, but we do make sure to offer ethically sourced, responsibly produced bird and chicken feed, small mammal and rodent food.”


Catering to this segment of pet parents is extremely important, but retailers should realize that the effort doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Keep the formula simple when stocking shelves with domestically sourced products for birds and small mammals. Retailers can serve as a trusted source by simply providing quality food and, in some cases, bedding for these animals.


Marketing Pet Products in America

Though today’s consumers are informed and dedicate time to researching pet products, retailers want to ease the shopping experience by identifying products that are manufactured in the United States. Retailers may want to think about bypassing the idea of dedicating an entire section to this segment in favor of using tags to promote the origin of goods.


“Three or four years ago, they were on television with David Muir, talking about pet products that are made in America, and I said, ‘Everything in our stores that is made in America will have a red price label,” reveals Zack Grey, owner of The Urban Pet, a 10-year-old Los Angeles-based retailer that has four stores and will add a fifth in December. “We did a big push on that. Our stores are 5,000 square feet and people can navigate toward the products with these tags.”


Tagging products as manufactured locally or within the United States is necessary on site, but retailers are also becoming social when it comes to marketing for domestic manufacturing. While James uses tags that show a silhouette of Washington state to promote local products in his store, he cannot ignore the positive impact social media has had on his business over the last five years.


“Piner Square receives a lot of tourist traffic…I love to use ‘#ShopLocal’ when appropriate, or ‘#LocalBusiness’ and I like people to see that. For me, that is the sticker that says, ‘Local Company.’ It reminds people to shop local.”


Many retailers agree that the Made in the USA trend is here to stay, but they feel it is going to shift to bring greater focus on regional state- and city-based manufacturers. By working with local manufacturers, retailers can offer unique products and greater transparency to pet parents, thereby promoting a sense of a closely-knit community, which is a defining characteristic of the American way.  PB


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