Dog beds offer more than a place to snooze; they can calm anxious dogs, keep those with joint issues more comfortable, and serve as a behavior-training tool.
The thing about dog beds is that they’re hard to hide. Walk into the houses of most dog owners and you’ll easily spot one—that is unless the dog has been relegated to sleeping in the garage, laundry room, outdoors or some other hidden-from-view place. Considering that most dog owners think of their furry charges as a true part of the family, this sort of banishment to the hinterlands is becoming far less common. Consequently, people are really starting to pay attention to dog beds, seeking out products that add to rather than detract from their décor, ones that are sturdy, comfortable and resist stains and smells.
“Stinky dog beds, dirty paws and pet odor are major concerns for pet owners,” says Chris Onthank, CEO of Norwalk, Conn.-based Dog Gone Smart Pet Products. “Consumers want the best for their pets and look for products that can help them solve [these] problems, [especially] since dog bedding not only provides comfort and support for pets, but also serves as accent pieces or furniture in the home.”
Another element working in favor of this category is the fact that dog owners are starting to understand the advantages of providing their pets with their own bedding, rather than having them sleep on the floor. This is important, since dogs spend much of their time snoozing, particularly those that are home alone most of the day.
“Dogs sleep a lot,” says Deborah Feng, co-founder and director of operations for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You). Based in San Francisco, the company specializes in eco-friendly bedding for dogs and cats, as well as toys. “Research shows that dogs sleep 12 to 14 hours a day,” she adds. “So a good dog bed is important because these fur babies are going to spend a good portion of their days on it.”
Dogs are also spending more time than ever before indoors—and this rate is only going up, observes Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products, Inc., in Hutto, Texas. This has driven more owners to provide a designated area for their dogs to sleep, she explains, and is helping to drive sales.
Sleep on This
Retailers (and customers) should be aware that dog beds can serve functions other than giving pets a place to curl up. Rather than simply providing dogs a place to rest, Benson says beds can be used for boundary-stay training.
“This is an obedience exercise where the dog stays within a defined area, where they can do what they wish—chew on toys, nap, etc.—as long as they remain on the bed,” she explains. “This exercise helps the pet remain a part of the goings on at the home and not be sequestered to another room or outside during meals or when company is coming.”
For example, the ringing of a doorbell can be linked to a boundary-stay command, deterring the dog from rushing the door when it sounds, says Benson. Boundary-stay training can also prove useful in households containing multiple dogs, giving each their own space that the others won’t violate. This training isn’t confined to the home but can be generalized to almost any other location owners bring their dogs to, she adds.
Beds can also calm anxious pets or provide therapeutic relief to older or convalescent pets or those on the mend from surgery, says Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets (a division of Mid-West Metal Products). Headquartered in Muncie, Ind., the company designs and manufactures a variety of containment products for dogs and other animals and also offers an expanded line of accessories that includes beds for dogs and cats.
Although Whitehead describes the bed category as strong, many consumers are still drawn to products with lower price points, since they anticipate having to replace the bed within a certain timeframe.
“However, on the reverse side of that, some consumers who want to pamper their pets seek beds at higher price points, beds that are fancier, perhaps personalized, or beds that are specifically purchased to match their home décor,” she explains. “Price doesn’t matter as much to this segment.”
Feng says she’s seeing steady growth in demand for their products from both existing and new customers, describing the industry in general as being in a “good position,” thanks to increasing numbers of customers willing to spend more for better quality.
“Now more than ever, they want to pamper their four-legged friends, and they want something beautiful and benefitting of their taste,” she says. “Moreover, most customers understand that buying a higher-end pet bed could be an investment for the long term and are willing to fork out more for a bed that is safe, high quality and will last.”
Pet specialty retailers should also be mindful that with mobile technology, customers can easily access information from wherever they are, and have likely done a lot of research before making their decision, Feng says. And some of these decisions will be influenced by values beyond price.
“They want to learn more about the brand, its philosophies, how exactly are the products eco-friendly or socially responsible, what kind of tangible impact they’re helping to make by supporting such products, and so on,” she explains.
As such, retailers should do their homework, really getting to know the brands they carry, their key selling points and the manufacturers’ stories so they can share them with customers. And of course, they need to try to identify what qualities will resonate with those shopping their stores, offering a range of options that can satisfy their needs and keep the registers ringing up sales.
Feng advises inquiring about what type of bed the customer is currently using, the dog’s age, its sleeping style and the owner’s preferences in design, material and colors.
“It’s extremely beneficial for retailers to train their staff to ask customers the right questions,” she says. “It makes a world of difference in customer service and encourages customer loyalty.”
Waking up Sales
Inquiring about how many dogs or other pets are in the house could not only spark multiple bed sales, it also might identify the need for boundary-stay training. It is also worthwhile to ask about the dog’s temperament (for example, if it is anxious), how much time it spends indoors and/or alone, and if the dog typically drools or slobbers, indicating a need for stain-resistance and beds that can be easily machine washed and dried. Portability and hypoallergenic qualities may be important to some customers, says Benson, who also suggests asking if the bed is for indoor or outdoor use. If both, then two beds, one specific for each environment, might be the best solution.
“By asking the right questions, the sales staff leads the customer to making an informed decision,” says Feng. “It also generates a positive shopping experience as the customer feels well taken care of. By being familiar with the key selling features of the different brands they carry, and asking the right questions, retailers can educate shoppers and find the right products for their needs.”
Bedding manufacturers know that retailing these often bulky products isn’t easy, especially since many pet specialty retailers can be strapped for space. “Even so, it’s important to have a baseline selection of bedding to help merchandise the products in an appropriate manner,” says Onthank. “We suggest merchandising with two to three colors and offering at least two styles for customers to choose from. Having additional sizes and colors in the back room or available for quick order is an essential selling tool and should be advertised to customers.”
MidWest offers a line of modular pet displays that enable pet specialty retailers to show off these products in a smaller footprint and keep them organized. And P.L.A.Y has developed several strategies, such as swatch books, laminated product showcase sheets, signage and a dedicated retailer resources page to help retailers deliver a big merchandising impact without taking up a lot of real estate. It’s worth the effort.
“Many stores offer lower-priced items like toys and treats since these are easy to purchase and stock. Dog beds may have a slower turnover compared to food and treats, but they typically offer healthier margins for pet specialty stores,” says Feng.
“Also, by selling products like dog beds, you’ll attract customers to your store because they know you have something different and unique; something curated for that customer usually willing to spend more on a high-quality dog bed,” she adds. “Plus, well-made pet beds can serve to complement a store’s décor, making it stand out and contributing to a great shopping experience, which will also bring a positive impact to the store’s bottom line.”