As dog bedding manufacturers devise increasingly sophisticated products, pet specialty retailers should know their customers’ needs and train staff to deliver the best solutions.
When it comes to what we sleep on, humans have come a long way—not so long ago, mattresses were little more than straw-stuffed sacks. But in a quest to satisfy our demand for a sound night’s sleep, mattress manufacturers have proven exceedingly innovative, incorporating new materials and technology. Today’s mattresses have advanced to the point where you almost expect them to flip over and tuck in the sheets themselves.
Naturally, the same thing is happening with pet beds. Sure, there may be some old-school holdouts who think a blanket tossed on the floor will do for Buster or Bella, but for most dog owners, this won’t do at all. Instead, they’re increasingly drawn to beds promising to deliver certain benefits, whether orthopedic support for arthritic dogs, cooling or warming beds, beds with antimicrobial qualities, fashion beds that make a décor statement, or just luxuriously snuggly ones.
Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You, says pet beds have become much more diverse and complex over the last 10 years, driven by the mindset of pets as family members. P.L.A.Y., a San Francisco-based company, designs and manufactures eco-friendly bedding for dogs and cats.
“When it comes to buying a pet bed, a lot of customers may employ some of the same criteria when buying a bed for themselves,” says Johnson. “As such, there is an increasing shift towards beds offering form, function, eco-friendliness and aesthetics. The days are gone when the basic boring bed will do.”
Also, giving a dog a bed of his or her own can benefit pet and owner, says Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design, a Bozeman, Mont.-based company that designs and sustainably manufactures eco-friendly dog toys and beds. As Williams observes, it’s fairly common for dogs to sleep on owners’ beds, disrupting the sleep of both.
“It’s actually really important that dogs have a bed of their own,” he explains. “The key is finding a bed the dog actually wants to sleep on.”
Knowing what dog owners are looking for will help pet specialty retailers create an appealing—and profitable—bed assortment. One of their biggest concerns is avoiding that “dog smell that often gets trapped in dog beds,” says Christopher Shipton, president of Messy Mutts. A subsidiary of Jascor Housewares, the company is located in Toronto and provides stylish and functional products for dogs and cats. To address the odor issue, Messy Mutts recently launched a bed containing a natural probiotic technology designed to provide odor control.
Related to this is the ability to keep the beds clean and fresh, which has traditionally proved challenging for many pet owners, says Roberta MacDowell, president of Snappy Snoozers, a Loxahatchee, Fla., manufacturer of orthopedic inflatable pet beds constructed from easily sanitized PVC.
“Many times we can’t see the scariest things that live in our pet beds, some of which includes thousands of microorganism—parasites, bacteria and fungus,” says MacDowell. “It’s imperative to provide pets with a clean bed to keep them healthy and happy, particularly since most pets spend the majority of their time resting in their pet beds.”
Although MacDowell says that consumers are looking for reasonably priced beds, when it comes to older pets or dogs with certain issues requiring orthopedic support, she says consumers seem willing to spend “an enormous amount of money” to make their pet more comfortable.
Trevor Crotts, president of BuddyBrands, the Wichita, Kan.-based manufacturer of BuddyRest and PupIQ pet products, says U.S.-made products also appeal to many pet owners since it tends to instill higher confidence in the product’s quality.
“Even companies that are importing are cashing in on the trend with ‘designed in the USA’ and big American flags—you have to be careful what you’re looking at these days,” he cautions.
Consumers are increasingly demanding style with durability, says Williams, explaining that dog owners want beds that will withstand biting and scratching and that won’t tear easily. This desire for durability also ties into concerns about products’ eco-friendly attributes. Longer-lasting beds not only keep people from having to replace beds more often, it also sends fewer of them to landfills, Williams says.
West Paw’s beds contain material made from recycled plastic bottles, upping their appeal to the “green” crowd. And the numbers of sustainably focused consumers are continuing to climb, making this a still-growing trend, says Johnson. P.L.A.Y. also offers bedding containing 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.
Johnson adds that consumers want to purchase from companies that give back to their communities, a desire especially prevalent among Millennials.
“We find that many of our consumers appreciate that we’re committed to giving back to the animal community with programs like our partnership with the Petfinder Foundation for our Warm Bellies Initiative, in which we donate a sleeping mat to a shelter in need for every bed we sell,” Johnson says.
Knowing the trends and attributes important to customers and stocking accordingly isn’t enough; pet specialty retailers need to call attention to the features and benefits of their bed and mattress inventories and be aware of buying trends in the category.
Although beds sell pretty well year-round, retailers should plan for seasonal spikes. Typically, sales rise in the winter months because of colder weather and the gift-giving holidays, says Johnson. Also remember that weather will affect what kinds of beds are in demand. For example, Williams says that some of their beds do really well in fall and winter in cold-weather climes since they’re thicker and have a higher loft (and are easy to clean; a consideration in areas that have a “mud season”), while other styles, such as those that are lightweight and travel well, are popular in warmer areas and in the summer.
Merchandising beds can prove challenging, says Johnson, explaining that while pet owners may visit a store to purchase food or treats weekly, beds aren’t usually on their shopping lists. As such, pet specialty retailers must think strategically, devising effective merchandising and promotional strategies, she says. Some ideas she offers include bundling discounts on total orders when purchasing a bed, pet adoption events, “yappy hours,” creating a dedicated and well-organized section and developing a curated bed and mattress inventory. And because buying a bed is such a tactile experience, displaying beds so people can easily see and touch them is especially important, Johnson says.
“Stacking of beds, especially by size, has always been successful,” she says. “Alternating colors or stacking a single color looks great and creates a focal piece in the store. Also, if the store has a resident dog or cat, consider giving them a bed to draw more attention on a daily basis and to help pet parents visualize their pet using the product.”
Another merchandising issue is that beds are bulky, says Williams. “Some of our retailers do something clever. When they can’t stock every color, style and size of our beds they instead display our catalog nearby so customers can see our full line,” he says. “We encourage retailers to do this because we’ll ship the bed to them so they can get credit for the sale.”
Crotts recommends putting some smaller beds on a gondola in a higher-traffic area to call attention to them. “You can always stash some larger-sized beds with a bigger footprint in a not-so-prime space, ready if the customer needs it,” he says.
Because dog beds can be pricy and space limited, retailers should be choosy about what beds they sell and know their customer base, Williams says. The latter requires conversing with customers as well as training staff to ask the right questions that can direct them towards the best option, says Crotts.
“Customers come to independent retailers searching for solutions,” he explains. “Being able to differentiate your product lines and engage customers in solution-based selling is pivotal to the survival and success of independent retailers these days.”
Crotts says employees should ask about the dog’s size, breed and age; how long the dog tends to sleep and where (inside, outdoors, both); and if the dog has any special needs or mobility issues. Other good ones include how the pet likes to sleep (curled up, spread out); if matching the décor is a consideration; the pet’s habits (does it chew, drag the bed around, and so on); and if the owner wants a bed that can travel easily or one that will remain in place.
Creating a personal experience that shoppers can’t find in larger stores or online will serve pet specialty retailers well and may help combat the showrooming that has become so endemic, says Johnson.
“Investing in training and educating your sales staff can ensure they provide expert help and services to shoppers who may be looking but are not sure which pet bed to get,” she says. PB