Cleaning Up, Naturally

Many pet owners want to avoid chemicals in the stain and odor products they use around their animals, and retailers should be ready to meet this growing demand.


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Most pet owners, at one time or another, are in the market for stain and odor products. Puppies arrive not housetrained, and old dogs are sometimes incontinent. Even good dogs sometimes cannot wait one more minute for their humans to come home from work, and there are days that guest dogs and cats feel the urge to leave their smelly mark.

Consumers looking for stain and odor solutions often find a large selection available to them, and some important differences in what these products contain and how they work. Manufacturers have developed new methods of removing stains and odors, and they say that retailers that educate shoppers about these formulations can really thrive in this segment.

 “Odor control is one category that is experiencing continuous growth,” says Joel Solly, chief executive officer of Lancaster, N.Y.-based Kanberra Group, manufacturer of Kanberra Gel. “People love their pets, but typically don’t love the associated pet odors. There are even some pet retailers that are becoming more interested in having their pet store not smell like a pet store.”

Consumers are moving away from chemical-based products and instead seeking all-natural solutions. “People are realizing the effects these chemicals have on their environment, both their specific home environment and the larger environment that we all share,” says Solly. Kanberra Gel contains tea tree oil that becomes airborne and neutralizes and eliminates odors.

The all-natural trend is driven not only by a desire to save the planet, says Scott Androff, founder, president and marketing director of Ah! Products in Minneapolis. Some consumers want to avoid chemicals because they only mask the odor. Other shoppers have more dire needs.

“There are multiple chemical-sensitivity customers who are walking around with a mask,” says Androff. “Fifteen percent of the general public cannot walk down the detergent aisle because they get a headache and get congested, and [some] are claiming by 2025, half our population will have some kind of reaction to current deodorizers on the market.”

Androff explains that Ah! All Clear Odor Eliminator is a water-based non-toxic, odorless odor eliminator. “You cannot add a fragrance to a product without adding an oil,” he says. “For odor elimination, you want to oxidize odors. You are capturing the oxygen, like taking oxygen away from a fire.” There is also a cat version, called Shhh! Litter Box Formula.

Cats do indeed cause stain and odor situations in the home, and some new products are geared specifically toward feline companions. Wolcott, N.Y.-based Marshall Pet Products recently launched Cat Urine Extractor. “It’s a concentrated cleaner that extracts the urine from the sub-floor, padding and carpet surface by blotting the urine out of the carpet and not simply wiping it away like other cleaners,” says Linda Cope, global marketing manager.

Safety is also important, says Julie Holmes, general manager of Unique Natural Products in Arvada, Colo. “People ask, ‘What if my dog licks it? What if my cat walks in it?” she says. “That’s huge. They want to know it’s safe.”

Holmes adds that consumers also look for stain and odor products that are made in the USA, high quality and natural. Unique Natural Products Pet Odor and Stain Eliminator, which is available in concentrated and ready-to-use formulas, works with enzymes and bacteria. The bacteria reproduce and create enzymes, which then break down more complex molecules into something the bacteria can eat, eliminating the stain and odor.

Even if pet owners do not know exactly how the products work, they want to know what ingredients the cleaners contain. “Full disclosure is another trend,” says Barry Firth, general manager for Vancouver, Wash.-based Biokleen. “There are still a lot of companies that don’t disclose what’s really inside their products, believing that a small amount of harmful ingredients is OK. Ingredient disclosure for pet cleanup is and has been under-regulated, especially on a product label.”

Firth says Biokleen uses guidelines of the Washington, D.C.-based Personal Care Council, the trade association of the cosmetic and personal care industry. Biokleen manufactures Bac-Out Stain & Odor Remover and other Bac-Out products such as Bac-Out Fresh, a fabric refresher. The Bac-Out products contain natural enzymes and essential oils.

“There are a lot of stain and odor products on the market,” says Firth. “A lot of times, the product has a green or natural look, but the company doesn’t have an established background in natural products.” He adds that Biokleen manufactures its products in its own natural-products-only manufacturing facility.

Earth friendliness extends beyond just natural ingredients. Manufacturers say another way to help the environment is by not wasting resources on shipping stain and odor products that contain mostly water. For example, Carson City, Nev.-based PetKeeper Secrets offers a just-add-water Pet Odor & Stain Remover. The 32-ounce bottle contains only the mineral-based concentrate. “We don’t deliver water,” says Chris Elliott, founder of PetKeeper Secrets. “We believe in delivering concentrates and reusing the bottle.”

The company launched the product last year. Elliott says the challenge was that the bottles would tip over on store shelves, making them seem empty. It took a while to get people to realize they were to buy the bottle, add water, then later buy a refill pack and reuse the plastic bottle.

Another challenge with natural products is that consumers might think they need to use chemicals on stains and odors. “In many categories, true natural solutions have been viewed as safe, but not always effective,” says Brian Collier, creative marketing and public relations coordinator for Wentzville, Mo.-based TropiClean. 

TropiClean manufactures Fresh Breeze products, including 2X Carpet & All Floor, Crate & Kennel, Upholstery and others. The cleaners use microorganisms and a bio-enzymatic process. Fresh Breeze is available in a 32-ounce bottle, and TropiClean recently added a gallon size for refills.

Offering large sizes also helps the consumer buy at a value price. Natural Chemistry, which has offices in Norwalk, Conn., and Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, now offers a three-liter (.79 gallon) size of its Smells & Stains. The non-toxic product works with enzymes, breaking down stains molecule by molecule.

Since stain and odor products vary in environmental friendliness and whether they work with enzymes, bacteria, minerals or other ingredients, pet owners have to take in much information. Manufacturers say the pet specialty retailers that succeed in the category are the ones that train their staff, who then educate the consumers.

“Our independent pet supply retailers are leading the growth charge in this category,” says Collier. “They are passionate about the products they carry, and it shows by their relentless search for products they can believe in enough to recommend to their loyal patrons.”

Androff says pet specialty retailers have something in common with hardware stores. Shoppers go to the big-box stores for the selection and price, but they go to the smaller stores for the expertise of the sales staff. “You have Home Depot, but if you go into Ace Hardware, there is a retired electrician on the floor to answer your questions,” he says. “That’s what these small specialty pet shops need to concentrate on. They sell service and knowledge.”

To aid retailers, Ah! Products supplies training manuals on how to use its products, and how to sell them. “This is something that most of the small pet store owners should request from all of their suppliers,” says Androff. “It’s about knowledge and service for these small owners.”

Steve Hadley, vice president of Bio-Pro Research LLC, the Hickory, N.C.-based manufacturer of Urine Off, agrees that consumers visit small shops to learn about products. “They go to talk to experts,” he says. “Otherwise, they would go to Walmart.” Urine Off uses enzymes and bacteria that “eat” the uric acid crystals in urine.

Retailers have much to learn, and manufacturers can help. “We offer point of sale materials I call ice breakers to engage the clerks with the buying public,” says Hadley. He adds that it is important for retailers to be able to differentiate good products from hype. “A lot of products come out with fancy marketing and really are not that effective. Some stores have 10 or 12 types of stain removers, and most consumers are not chemists or biologists so they don’t know the mechanics of stain and odor removal.”

Manufacturers also try to make it easy for stores to display the products. Unique Natural Products offers a freestanding shipper display, to help retailers save shelf space. The display holds 48 bottles and is customizable so the retailer can add or remove layers.

Cope agrees that store employees need to know about the products. “Education and training store employees on how the products works will boost their sales,” she says. “Consumers want to know why a certain product is better than the other, and the packaging may not deliver the full message at first sight.” 

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