Put it to Bed
Beds hold healthy margins and, with the right in-store merchandising, can help differentiate a store from its competitors.
Dog beds are both beautiful and comfortable. However, they can also be pricey and a bit challenging to display in the store due to their bulky nature. But even though beds can be large and eat up valuable retail space, they hold high margins. They also come in lots of sizes, styles, price points and quality standards, lending themselves to creative merchandising efforts. Carefully look at the store’s layout, factor in the demand in the market and the customer base, and think about the impact the bed selection can deliver visually.
Merchandised well, beds generate excitement, especially those with vibrant colors and rich textures. Beds displayed close to the store’s entrance or in a window can stop passersby in their tracks. It’s always interesting to watch how routinely people come into our store, hang a hard left and head for the beds displayed in our front window, arms outstretched to pass their hands over the different pillows and fabrics. We used to stack the beds toward the back of the store, appearing almost as an afterthought, but in that location, they just tended to collect dust and fur.
When merchandising beds, avoid the appearance of “stocking.” Nice looking, cushy pieces of doggy loungeware piled high up on shelves against the wall or crammed into a corner don’t attract customers. Instead, try to showcase them in the middle of the floor or in a window, creatively sculpted and towered so a customer can walk around them, touch them or even throw them down at their feet to judge which size is right for his or her dog. Create display architectures with framed, ornate beds for dramatic in-store displays. Retailers should not be afraid to be bold. Create “scenes” in the home, using stuffed animals and accessories like water bowls, toys and a coiled leash to suggest, perhaps, that Rex is napping after a long, playful walk.
Try to avoid stacking beds on the floor. Though lovely pyramids of profit they might appear, dogs coming into the store will likely pee on them, and dust and fur and dirt is bound to cling to them. One good option is to place the beds on a coffee table-height platform, at least 18 inches off of the floor.
Price & Quality
Try to provide the broadest possible price points and product quality. Cheap beds and ho-hum styles might sell occasionally, but they also make you the cheap, ho-hum bed store. By including a few more expensive, high-quality beds–merchandised with flare– retailers can hold onto the margins, broaden appeal with customers and elevate the store’s brand profile.
Beds often are pretty expensive for customers, so it must be pretty important to them to spend that much money. Needless to say, it’s just as important that store employees understand the issues that customers weigh when making purchasing decisions.
Be sure you know a lot about the products–the company that makes them, how the beds are made, how they can be washed and cared for, etc. Be prepared to discuss the durability of fabrics and range of sizes and styles. Many companies provide swatch books of fabrics and patterns, often updated seasonally or annually. These sales tools not only offer customers lots of choices, they help limit the in-store merchandise investment, but only as long as the retailer knows how to make it easy and fun for customers to order in specific sizes and styles.
Also, understand function in a dog bed. Remember, it’s not necessarily just about sleeping. People buy beds for their dogs for all sorts of reasons, both practical and otherwise. Many pet owners want style for their dog’s dedicated sleep space. Some people are looking for great comfort and orthopedic support for aging dogs or for animals convalescing after surgery or illness. Some beds are made with specific therapeutic qualities. Some dog bed makers offer pads that maintain hot and cold temperatures or that have botanical materials such as lavender that sooth and calm.
It’s worth it to take the time to help customers choose the right bed for a particular dog. Be prepared to discuss how a customer might anticipate their dog’s reaction to a new bed and strategies they might consider to prevent the dog or puppy from chewing it to bits. For example, suggest covering the new bed with familiar blankets, old towels and even favorite toys and items of clothing from other family members to help the dog incorporate its new sleep space into the family pack.
And finally, retailers should never underestimate the importance of style. It may just be a dog bed, but really, for most people, the dog’s bed is furniture and it needs to look good and present well in the home.
A store might not have the floor space, or the budget, to display a big range of bed sizes and styles, but it can still offer choices to customers. Try to offer a broad set of price points. Inexpensive beds with foam pads can represent the bottom end, but then scale up in price, quality and style. This strategy gives employees lots of opportunities to find the right fit for the customer.
Tis the Season
Seasonal cycles often influence purchase decisions. Fall and winter months often generate higher sales in many markets, but each store should gauge its own customers and local competition. To keep sales moving in any season, be sure to vary the style selection. From simple crate pads, to inexpensive pillows, to high-quality bolstered pieces, to ornate framed beds just for fun, try to offer a wide choice, to excite customers’ imaginations.
Catalogues and swatch books are, indeed, useful sales tools, but beds are costly to ship and it’s probably a good idea to work out policies that help offer customers some additional value they might not expect. For example, if a store takes special orders for particular beds in specific fabrics, give the customer a choice of either paying the additional shipping charges for immediate delivery or waiting until the store can collect more special orders (along with regular restock orders) and absorb the shipping charges itself. Many customers will wait to save on shipping and leave happy they struck a good deal.
Dog beds, as an important merchandise category in the store, do far more than support the bottom line. They can help define a store in its market because they can be so unique. These gorgeous, stylish, even luxurious products can help a store differentiate itself among customers and competitors. Rather than present a challenge in terms of cost and size, dog beds in their many forms and functions are great engines moving business forward.
Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, N.C. The couple, former corporate burnouts who just got fed up with having to leave their dogs home alone all day, opened Wag in 2003. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.