Resting Assured
Shoppers will have a lot to consider when purchasing a dog bed, and retailers are their main resource for guidance.

Dog beds rank among the biggest-ticket items that customers will purchase in a pet store, and for that reason alone, they deserve thoughtful consideration.

From the customer’s point of view, the purchase decision starts with the need to find a place for Scruffy to sleep. Before long, the thought process becomes, “a nice place to sleep.” Then, it evolves into a nice place to sleep “that looks great with my home décor and that I like to look at.”

And that’s just the beginning of the process. How much should I spend? How long should the bed last? How do I clean it? Will my dog like it? These are all valid questions, and the better retailers and their staff are able to address these issues, guide their customers through the decision-making process, present options they might not have considered and reinforce the idea that the customer has made a smart purchase, the better the stores will do with this critically important product category.

“Dog beds are one of the biggest item spends in a pet store, so customers will want to ensure that they are getting durable and practical products,” says Will Chen, owner of P.L.A.Y.

Indeed, durability has become a watchword for dog bed makers across the spectrum. It’s the value proposition that consumers look for when balancing other important considerations such as fashion and functionality.

When buying a dog bed, the least expensive bed is not always the most cost-effective solution, says Patricia Tinnerino, sales manager with Dog Gone Smart. “It is important that customers are aware that typical dog beds last only four to six months. Dog beds are typically discarded, because the foul ‘doggie odor’ does not disappear, even after multiple washings. If you purchase a standard dog bed, you will have to replace it frequently.”

Dog bed manufacturers, across the board, recognize the importance of communicating value to the customer, and value can be defined and discussed in many different ways.

“’Re-use’ used to be such a major component of American life—think about patchwork quilts as an example,” says Art Simon, co-owner of Molly Mutt. “But during our economic boom since World War II, re-use was replaced with the idea of a never-ending supply of ‘replace.’ For dog beds, this means so many of the mass-market beds go right from store shelf to the landfill within a matter of months.”

Simon encourages retailers to help consumers to see the value of quality products that can be “reused” for some time and not merely discarded and replaced. “We were fortunate that even in very dark economic times people recognized the value,” he says.

More than just a pretty place to sleep, beds also address important health needs for many dogs that are aged, sick, injured or convalescing. “Orthopedic beds that feature convoluted foam to help relieve the pressure points on the pet’s body during rest continue to be a growing segment,” says Brad Kane, with Petmate, adding that demand for beds designed specifically for a dog’s size and breed, such as toy and small breed dogs, has soared in the past few seasons.

Other manufacturers are noting the same trends. “There seems to be a trend toward increasing specialization in functionality,” says Chen. “There are beds that are specifically designed for aging or convalescing dogs, ‘super fabrics’ that use state-of-the-art technology to repel water, stain, or even bacteria, or carrier-type beds that are made for traveling.”

Travel and portability, indeed, continue to be important functional qualities consumers look for when shopping for dog beds, and dog bed suppliers encourage store owners to stock mats and pads for the car and overnight stays, and to remind consumers that these travel options offer the same durability and cleaning attributes as beds for the home.

Selling In the Store
Beds are unique in terms of your store’s merchandise mix. Beds blend fashion and function, home décor, health, wellness and creature comfort. They can get big, taking up valuable floor space, and they beg to be touched. With so many selling points to consider, it’s not surprising that bed makers say staff training is critical to successful sales in this category.

“We believe it is important to fully educate salespeople,” says Tinnerino, with Dog Gone Smart, which emphasizes the materials technology of its products. “We suggest demonstrating the technology whenever possible. We suggest pouring water, coffee, honey, or even your ‘$4 mocha latte’ on our beds and watch it miraculously rinse right off.”

Keep it simple, she adds. Sales staff needn’t master the chemistry and structural technology of the fabrics. They just need to understand the benefits and be able to discuss differences in quality of materials and construction.

Chen suggests stocking smaller quantities with wide range of prices points and placing more frequent orders to avoid overstocking. It’s important for retailers to tailor their selections to appeal to their customers, he says.

Simon encourages his retail store customers to have their staffs try Molly Mutt beds at home and offers discounts for store employees to help them become very knowledgeable about the beds and better sales people in the store. He also emphasizes the need for stores to create a “point of view” with merchandise, instead of trying to be all things to all people. Customers then have a stronger motivation to seek your store out when they’re searching for that special item.

Still, merchandising presents some challenges. “Boutiques usually have the biggest space constraints,” says Tinnerino, with Dog Gone Smart. “The best displays utilize tabletops to show off one to three beds in various shapes and colors. The remaining inventory is either stored in the back or on top of shelving. This allows the consumer to touch and review the product, and when they are ready to purchase, the shopkeeper can pull the bed from the overstock.”

She points out that larger retailers tend to have larger shelving displays, such as pallet racking, but stores should keep in mind that beds placed at waist height allow for easy viewing and touching. Industry statistics show, Tinnerino adds, that approximately 80 percent of beds are purchased by women, who typically buy by touch.

“The consumer needs to be able to reach the bed where they can feel its surface and the plushness of the fill. Beds placed too high will never sell,” she says.

What’s Coming
Dog beds continue to reflect the urge among consumers to reflect their sense of style and suppliers say storeowners will have plenty to choose from for their customers.

“We see a continued demand for more home decor-inspired bedding,” says Brad Kane, with Petmate, adding that bed design will track closely with the trends in home furnishing trends, in terms of colors and fabrics. Pet owners more often than not will also have beds in multiple rooms of the home, such as the family room and the bedroom.

Simon said Molly Mutt will focus on brighter colors and bolder patterns, but always with an emphasis on reuse and durability. Meanwhile, Chen’s P.L.A.Y. says demand continues to increase for evermore personalization in dog beds.

Manufacturers say they are working to keep costs down so that retailers can continue to offer these big-ticket items at affordable prices and attractive margins.

Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Dan and his wife Pam Guthrie opened Wag Pet Boutique in 2003. The store received numerous community and industry awards.