Sleep On It
Dog beds offer customers plenty of appealing options, providing retailers with a good opportunity to add in-demand products to their inventory and generate high-profit sales.

Dog owners tossing and turning on lumpy, unforgiving mattresses might be tempted to boot Mr. Woofus or Baby Girl out of their dog beds and crawl in for a good night’s sleep. And who could blame them? Pet beds have become so soft, cozy and comfortable that it’s almost like checking into a first-rate hotel.

Consider: there are dog beds that resemble high-end furniture, or are specifically designed to address particular ailments like hip, joint or allergy issues. Dog beds come in a variety of color, style and fabric choices, enabling pet owners to match the bed to their décor or to reflect their particular aesthetic sensibilities—an increasingly attractive selling point, says Spencer Williams, president of West Paw Design. Based in Bozeman, Mont., the company makes high-quality dog and cat toys, bedding and apparel.

“People love to choose a ‘look’ that complements their own taste and style,” Williams says. “Choosing a color and pattern is a fun way for customers to indulge their inner designer.”

This requires that manufacturers stay on top of the latest fashion trends, says Kimi Proffer, owner of Luca For Dogs, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based pet bedding company that also offers travel/crate mats.

“Choosing the right fabrics is a very important part of the pet bed industry,” says Proffer. “We have to stay fresh and modern with our fabric choices.”

Brad Cantwell, president of MidWest Homes for Pets, agrees that consumers want modern and chic. MidWest, located in Muncie, Ind., designs and manufactures containment products for dogs, cats and other animals. Additionally, says Cantwell, pet owners want up-to-date, innovative bed lines and lots of options.

For certain consumers, environmental sustainability is also an issue, says Craig O’Keefe, vice president of sales and business development for San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You, which specializes in designing and making “eco-chic” pet beds and accessories for dogs and cats.

Some pet owners seek fabrics with special properties, O’Keefe says, or products made in the U.S. He adds that most consumers are looking for beds that are “more than just a lump of cushion,” and they’re getting choosier.

Decision Assistance
“With the wide variety of products and retail channels available, consumers have more options than ever, so when they shop, especially in boutiques, they’re becoming more selective and want to understand the value-adding or differentiating feature of the bed if they’re going to pay more for it,” says O’Keefe.

Asking questions will help customers make a more satisfying bed choice, says Patricia Tinnerino, sales manager for Dog Gone Smart Pet Products, located in Wilton, Conn. In addition to inquiring about the size of the dog, determining where the bed will be used—car, crate, living room, outdoors—will help customers narrow down their choices. For example, she advises, style, colors and fabric are major considerations if the bed will be used in the home. If being used outdoors, however, a bed should be waterproof and ideally have antimicrobial properties to combat mold, mildew and bacteria, adds Tinnerino, whose company develops pet products using nanotechnology.

Does the dog sleep curled up or spread out? Dogs that let it all hang out may require a larger bed or one without sides. Dogs that prefer sleeping in a ball might feel coziest in a donut-shaped bed or bolster. Are there any joint or hip issues? If so, an orthopedic bed/pad is a good recommendation. Steer owners whose dogs have allergies toward beds with hypoallergenic properties. Also, inquire about chewing since aggressive chewers will require beds designed to discourage or withstand chewing. The age of the dog is another factor to consider. “Older dogs will need firmer support,” says O’Keefe.

Proffer suggests leading the discussion off with the “best question of all”—how often would the customer like to wash the bed? This can help determine whether more than one cover should be purchased and even what shape might work best. “A rectangle bed can easier to wash than a bolster bed with sides,” Proffer says.

It’s also good to ask if the dog is incontinent or has related problems, she adds. If so, water-resistant liners would prove beneficial and will make a nice add-on sale.

Maximizing Sales
The primary challenges facing retailers when it comes to beds are offering a broad enough assortment and merchandising the products effectively—both are crucial to bed-selling success, particularly for high-end beds, says O’Keefe.

“Even a great bed will be a tougher sell if they’re stacked in a messy pile or buried in a bin in some dark corner of the store,” he says. “Dedicating an appropriate amount of space and utilizing effective displays would go a long way in attracting customers towards these premier boutique products.”

One of the best sales strategies is offering a “healthy stack of beds,” says Proffer, and in a range of sizes, styles and price points—think good, better, best. Because beds—often the most profitable item in the store—are frequently an impulse buy, placing them in a central location is another sales-boosting tactic.

Tinnerino stresses the importance of having ample inventory. “One or two beds on their own will never sell,” she says. “It prompts the customer to ask, ‘What’s wrong with these beds? Are they leftovers?’ To prevent this, retailers can opt to select one style within a brand, but various sizes and colors within this style to create a full presentation.”

Manufacturers make it easy for even small stores to offer customers plenty of options. Tasman’s Natural Pet, located in Louisville, Ky., designs and manufactures custom-made bison leather orthopedic memory foam pet beds, and encourages retailers to take the same approach to merchandising that a furniture store does. Manager Ken Ludwick says Tasman’s offers retailers a “floor model” for $145 to display in their stores. The extra-small sized model has leather and cover swatches attached allowing the retailer to offer all five sizes, in eight colors, with all three cover options. Retailers simply phone in the order. The turnaround takes about a week or less, and the bed is sent directly to the customer.

“It’s like having all 120 beds in the store,” says Ludwick.

Luca also provides retailers with swatches so customers can place special orders, while P.L.A.Y. has fabric swatch books as well as display stands to help merchandise the beds.

MidWest has developed two new displays—the Wire Bin, and the Kaboodle Bed—that are space-saving but still hold a lot of product, says Cantwell. “Displaying beds is the most successful tool in retailing,” he says. “Having the beds available for customers to touch and feel hands-on is the best way for them to know exactly what they’re getting.”

According to Tinnerino, this hands-on aspect is especially important since research indicates that 80 percent of beds are purchased by women, who typically buy on touch. To this purpose, retailers should be certain to locate beds within easy reach. “Beds placed too high will never sell,” she says.

Tinnerino suggests using uppermost shelves for overstock beds already displayed on lower shelves and using the bottom shelves for items like crates and pet carriers that can handle floor dust and other debris.

But even the most spacious store must make choices—giving customers too many options will just confuse them and probably your staff as well. Retailers can’t be everything to everybody, says Tinnerino. Decide who you are and inventory accordingly.