Keeping Kitty Clean
by Melissa Breau
September 1, 2012
Cat grooming is on the rise, as a result of increased knowledge about feline care. Wise retailers would do well to leverage the category’s growth to increase product sales.



Cats have long been deemed self-sufficient. In many ways, they are easier to care for than dogs. They are also regarded as cleaner than their canine counterparts and less needy overall. Those beliefs, combined with the frequency with which cats groom themselves, has led many cat owners over the years to assume cats don’t need grooming.

Yet like many misconceptions about cats—such as the idea that they don’t need attention or can’t be trained—when the pet humanization trend took off, the benefits of grooming became clear.

As a result, cat grooming has become increasingly popular in recent years, both for professional groomers and for the do-it-yourself crowd. “Bathing cats used to be thought of as taboo; [but now] cats are more socialized and live as indoor pets more than ever before,” says Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director at Espree Animal Products.


More than Beauty
Cat grooming comes with a wealth of benefits beyond having a better-looking cat. The most obvious are those that address a common pet owner complaint: shedding. As with dogs, brushing cats helps eliminate dead hair that would otherwise come off on the sofa or on their owners’ pant legs.

“Grooming is an essential part of keeping a cat’s coat clean and healthy,” says Katie Pusateri, communications specialist at Coastal Pet Products, Inc. Coastal manufactures a line of cat grooming tools, including a nail trimmer, deshedding tools and brushes. “Regularly brushing cats distributes natural oils, leaving a shiny, healthy coat. Deshedding tools eliminate excess hair, which in turn can create less fur balls. Keeping cats’ nails properly trimmed can keep the cats from scratching items around the house.”

Regular grooming also helps prevent and alleviate a number of cat health issues. “Ringworm is probably the most common skin problem,” says Deborah Brown, vice president of Pet King Brands, which makes products to help cats with problematic ears and skin. “Ringworm is a fungus and can make a cat very itchy and cause hair loss.” Itchy skin—often caused by an allergy to parasites, food, dust, pollen or other triggers—can also lead to other issues, including infection. Frequent grooming, however, makes it much more likely that a cat owner will notice when a condition develops and will be able to address it early on.


Leverage Learning
Despite all the benefits, many pet owners still have questions about how to groom their cats. That’s where a pet specialty retailer can really shine. Unlike dogs, cats typically don’t accompany their owners to the store, making product demonstration difficult. Retailers may wish to keep a cat mannequin to demonstrate on, use a video display or offer handouts. They may also consider stocking products that include detailed instructions to help first-time groomers through the process.

Adding to consumers’ uncertainty over how to groom is the sheer number of products on the market these days, making it hard for customers to decide which tools to use. “If retailers are knowledgeable about their products, they will be prepared to offer recommendations and information to address their customers’ needs,” says Jordan.

The first step in steering customers to the right items is carefully selecting which products to stock. Retailers need to strike a careful balance—despite the category’s growth, most stores don’t require the breadth of selection found in their dog grooming sections. However, it’s important to have enough of a selection that cat owners can find a product that is a good fit for their feline.

A solid grooming selection will include one or two SKUs of brushes, combs (including a flea comb), nail trimmers, deshedding tools, shampoos (including flea and tick shampoos) and conditioners. The assortment should be a mix of traditional products and natural options. In addition to these basics, Brown suggests stocking products that treat the most common feline skin and coat conditions, such as itchy, allergy skin or ringworm.

Retailers should also take into consideration how practical and safe products are before stocking them. For example, products that require the customer to pin down the cat and hold it in place for any length of time are unlikely to make a good impression. And topical products should be non-toxic, in case some of the product is ingested while the cat self-grooms.

Scent is another important factor; the way a product smells can also impact the frequency with which it is used, since neither the cat or the owner will be pleased if the product smells bad.


Merchandising Tips
Since cat owners want feline-specific products, marketed and sold specifically for their needs, it is a good idea to include these grooming products in the cat section, rather than just placing them in the overall grooming aisle. “It is important to offer a cat grooming section because customers are likely not going to shop in the small dog section to buy the product,” says Pusateri. “They will want a tool that is made just for their cat.” Coastal offers a cat-only grooming display, with some of its best selling items.

Brown suggests merchandising grooming items near the cat food, one of the most commonly shopped sections within the cat aisle. “When promoting new cat products, many retailers have had great success leveraging their feline nutrition area to generate sales of new cat products,” she says. “An endcap strategically placed near the food will help to promote new cat grooming products.”

Even if a store has a grooming section, a stand-alone display, clip strip or endcap within the cat aisle can inspire impulse purchases and raise customer awareness of cat-specific grooming tools.

Sales in the category will likely continue to grow as more cat owners come to understand the benefits—after all, kitty shouldn’t have to look like something the cat dragged in.