The Doze Zone
The dog bed category has its challenges, but it still offers pet specialty retailers a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd, send traffic through their doors and achieve higher register rings.
The dog bed category is not necessarily an easy one for pet specialty retailers to manage. For one thing, these items typically require a certain amount of real estate, something that many independent pet retailers have only in short supply. The other factor impacting the category is that dog beds seem to be everywhere. No longer confined to chain pet stores, pet beds are sold in mass retailers of all stripes, supermarkets and even drug stores. This has, in some sense, turned dog beds into a commodity, and when this happens, it is hard to sell on anything other than price.
However, while some pet specialty retailers may be tempted to reduce their bed assortment or omit it entirely, doing so might actually undermine competitiveness and the bottom line. The fact is that this category presents powerful opportunities to stand out from the pack and drive sales and customer traffic upward—particularly considering the trends currently in play. These trends are turning pet owners away from beds that are more about price than quality. Instead, consumers are increasingly making choices based on design, comfort, durability and value, looking for beds that reflect their dog’s individuality as well. as their own. This consumer demand makes it far more likely they will find what they want at a pet specialty store—if that store is ready for them.
The Great Recession is partly responsible for this change of mindset, says Art Simon, co-owner/co-founder of molly mutt, a Berkeley, Calif.-based manufacturer of pet beds, crate covers, collars and leads. These days, he says, many people seem hesitant to spend money on products that they do not think will last; consumers are seeking quality.
Lisa Hisamune, associate director of sales and business development for P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You, a San Francisco designer and manufacturer of eco-friendly pet bedding, says that although consumers are still price-sensitive, they are demonstrating a willingness to spend more for high-quality brands that offer something unique.
“Many consumers are no longer satisfied with average-looking dog beds that fall apart after two washes,” she says. “Different pet parents may seek different features, but in general, they want to learn about the qualities and innovation that set the bed apart from mass-market options.”
There are other influences afoot that are positively impacting this category. Pet owners increasingly consider dog beds a part of their home décor, and consequently, it is not unusual for them to purchase several beds for placement around the house, says Hisamune. The trend toward multiple-dog ownership is another factor driving sales, since dogs are not often expected to share the same bed, she adds.
Dog owners also like to change things up or have extra covers on hand during wash days, so the bed is never without one, says Jessica Pope, national sales director for Jax and Bones. Located in Baldwin Park, Calif., the company specializes in dog bedding and other items.
“We also find that comfort in every part of the dog’s day—from waking up in their own bed, to getting in the car, in a crate or at doggie daycare—is important to dog owners,” Pope says. “They want to make sure there’s a place for the dog to call its own.”
This illustrates another trend mentioned by Simon—dogs going more places with their owners, even to work. At the same time, dogs are spending more time indoors—as opposed to being kept in the backyard—resulting in a steadily increasing rise in bed purchases, says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products, Inc., in Hutto, Texas.
“As pets are thought of as family members more now than ever before, their individual needs are being considered, including having their own space in the home,” Benson explains.
Manufacturers are aware that retail space limitations can inhibit sales in this category and frustrate storeowners who might want to offer a full array of bed choices or display them to their best advantage, but just don’t have the room. In response, some manufacturers have developed display stands designed to showcase as many of their bed offerings as possible in as small of a footprint as possible. For example, Simon says molly mutt offers a new selling system—the molly mutt brand center display. Designed to showcase all the company’s products (not just the bedding), the display is “very space-efficient,” he says.
P.L.A.Y. has a stand that props a bed up at an angle. The stand is foldable, allowing it to be collapsed for easy storage, says Hisamune. The company also provides retailers with ordering flexibility, setting a no-minimum policy. Armed with swatch books and laminated product showcase sheets, retailers can essentially carry the entire line without having to load up on inventory, reducing space requirements and risk, and the company ships orders directly to customers.
Jax and Bones offers a swatch book program, as well. Customers can order hundreds of beds that are ready to ship within 72 hours; a strategy that allows retailers to keep only a few beds in the store in order to demonstrate their features, says Pope.
Manufacturers are also encouraging sales through signage, banners and other materials. For example, BuddyRest Pet Products, a Wichita, Kan., company specializing in providing sleep science for pets, has developed a special endcap program, says Trevor Crotts, executive director. This consists of a “three-pronged attack” of shelf-talkers, demo videos and brochures and has “proven very successful” in generating sales, says Crotts, explaining that this material is necessary to help retailers “articulate our message of Sleep Science to the customer.”
Dog Gone Smart Pet Products offers several merchandise shipper displays, says Craig O’Keefe, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., the company provides a variety of products to the pet industry, including bedding and apparel containing nanotechnology. These shippers highlight the bedding collection’s colors and sizes and utilize hangtags that clearly explain to consumers the benefits and features of their technology.
As for displaying beds, O’Keefe says retailers should stock a variety of colors, shapes and sizes—ranging from extra-small to extra-large to avoid missing out on any of the market—in order to give consumers plenty of options. He also recommends merchandising beds in an inviting and well-lit area.
Crotts concurs. “Don’t put product on the shelves in the back of the store and expect it to sell itself,” he says. “This strategy is counterintuitive to why people come to independent retailers in the first place. You should offer unique products they can’t get at the big-box stores, and you need to have your well-trained people willing to engage the customer.”
Staff education is an essential component when it comes to selling beds. Today’s high-quality beds are far more sophisticated than in the past. Therefore, employees must be educated in order to talk knowledgeably about them and provide value-added customer service.
“It’s vitally important,” says Crotts, speaking of staff training. “People are coming into independent retail stores seeking that expert advice and quality interaction. You have to equip your people with the tools they need to be successful.”
And customers want to be educated, especially when they’re shopping for bigger-ticket items, such as beds, says Hisamune. “So, if the shop assistant can present useful information in a friendly and effective manner, upselling and cross-selling a higher-margin bedding product is certainly feasible.”
Connecting and Selling
Being able to assess customers’ specific needs is also critical. “Once you ask the probing questions that determine the needs of the customer, you’re equipped to truly recommend a solution and provide the help the customer is really after,” Crotts says.
It’s important to inquire about the dog’s overall health, says Benson. “Does their pet have any special needs or conditions that mean one type of bed will be more comfortable and easier to use than another?” she says. “Also, ask if they’re looking for any particular features, such as portability, easily washable, antiallergenic, orthopedic support and so on.”
Other questions that Pope says make sense to pose include:
• How old is your dog? Older dogs might need beds with more support or cushioning.
• Does your dog shed? If so, material that hides shedding might be recommended.
• Does your dog slobber? If so, consider recommending a water-resistant bed.
• How does your dog sleep (curled up, sprawled out)? This will help determine the shape and style of bed.
• Where does your dog sleep? Is it indoors or outdoors, in the den or somewhere in another part of the house?
• How often do you wash your current linens? If they don’t like to wash frequently, a fabric that hides dirt, or can be easily vacuumed or resists staining might be a good choice.
• Does your washer have an agitator? “If so, tufted bedding is harder to care for,” Pope explains.
• What color décor do you want to match/complement? Are you interested in solids or patterns?
It’s also a good idea to ask about how destructive the dog is with toys and other objects, and if it tends to lick and/or chew, says O’Keefe. “[Retailers should] explain that all beds are not created equal, and that customers should not just consider style, but function and quality as well,” he says. “Explain the benefit of one style of bed versus another. Encourage them to consider any health or joint issues their pet may have.”
And don’t limit this outreach to customers already set on purchasing a bed, says Benson. Casually conversing about the various beds, their features and benefits may very likely inspire a sale from someone who wasn’t even considering buying one, resulting in a more comfortable pet, a happier customer and a nice ring at the register.