Thy Neighbor's Products
By Seth Mendelson

At the Global Pet Show this month, suppliers need to take a look at their neighbors in the booths right next to them.

If many of your neighbors’ products seem too familiar, it may be time to re-evaluate your merchandise mix and come up with a product assortment that is truly unique in an increasingly crowded pet marketplace.

Let’s be clear, the pet category remains one of the darlings of Main Street and Wall Street. Annually, we receive a number of inquiries from Wall Street private-equity groups asking us about companies that might be worthy of their seemingly endless flow of investment capital. Though not a habit, we even sometimes lead them in the right direction based on their specific demands and the information they want.

Sales of pet products, while off their highs of several years ago, are still stronger than many other segments of the retail world. As we often say, consumers refuse to significantly cut back in two areas: their children and their pets.
Yet, the pet category is not invincible, and it must do the right things to ensure that it stays above the fray in this tough economy. One thing at the forefront is making sure that products offered to retailers are unique and offer the merchant the opportunity to bring in real incremental sales growth, as opposed to simply stealing volume and profits from an existing product line.

In fact, retailers—big and small—report that one of their big pet peeves is that so many suppliers offer product lines that are simply knockoffs of existing items on the market, usually because they are offered at significantly lower price points. They want to make it clear to the trade: offering knockoffs does little to help grow sales and profits and only serves to hurt the category.

Now, this does not mean that similar new products with true enhancements are not welcomed. The fact is that significant improvements to existing products will help build sales and profits.

So, as you work the show, spend some time looking at the competition and making a note of what is catching the retailers’ eye and what is being ignored. The bet here is that the truly unique items, which are backed by strong promotional support, will be the ones that draw the crowd.