A Day at the Spa
By Lindsey Wojcik
As consumers become more inclined to pamper their pets, the spa product category can be a lucrative one for retailers.

Gone are the days when hosing Sparky down in the backyard and lathering him up with whatever shampoo was around was considered suitable at-home grooming care. Now, pet parents consider their furry companions valuable members of the family and are looking for new ways to pamper their pets. While a day at the local grooming salon can feel like a day at the spa for our four-legged friends, pet parents are turning to specialty retailers for products that extend pampering treatments from the salon into their homes.

“We want our dogs to live a full happy life know that we did everything possible to make them happy,” says Eric Bittman, CEO and president of Warren London. “Giving them a spa day or simple pampering items, which have health benefits, is just a small token of appreciation for the amount of joy they bring into our lives.”

Retailers have long considered shampoos and conditioners staples of the grooming aisle, however, manufacturers say consumers are looking for more than just the average shampoo. They are looking for products that can enhance the physical, mental or emotional health of their dogs, and the market is beaming with products aimed at accomplishing that goal. In today’s market, spa products for pets range from specialty shampoos and coat conditioners, to paw and skin balms, to gentle ear cleansers, and even nail polish.  

While the abundance of spa products may seem intimidating, retailers are wise to include a variety of pampering products in their grooming sections. “Some retailers underestimate the demand their customers have, or could have, for upscale spa-type products and simply do not offer them because the retailer thinks they will not have a market for such products,” says Joe Zuccarello, national sales accounts manager at Tropiclean.

However, even in a down economy, experts say consumers are not overlooking the value of these products, and the growing demand makes the category a lucrative one for retailers. “It’s always a challenge for retailers to drive average ring and margins up,” says Debbie Guardian, founder and owner of Opie & Dixie, LCC. “Spa products offer both—higher prices and higher margins.” 

Though price may make retailers hesitant to add more spa products to their selection, it’s important to note how consumer perception of spa products has changed over the last several years. “Pet parents are recognizing that [spa products] are not just luxury items, but they are essential to their pet’s health,” says Bobbi Panter, owner and creator of Bobbi Panter Pet Products. “Once pet parents use these products, they see how great they are, and it seems that people are willing to spend more money on their pet.”

The Natural Touch
Natural is one trend that has gained traction in the food and treat segment, and one that consumers are paying closer attention to in the spa product category. As consumers become more educated about the ingredients they feed their pets, they are also considering the ingredients that go on their pet, and over the last few years, the category has shifted its focus to a more natural approach.

“The target consumer is knowledgeable about ingredients and shops consciously for natural products for themselves and their family,” says Guardian. “They know that toxic ingredients used externally can affect the body internally, and as they begin to experience and understand the benefits of natural, holistic ingredients for themselves, they inevitably gravitate towards the same high-quality ingredients for their families, which includes their pets.”

Guardian says consumers are not just looking for natural options in the shampoo category. Natural solutions for conditions such as dry paws, “yeasty” ears, and flea and tick treatments are becoming just as popular among consumers.

With a focus on natural, many consumers will be more inclined to check the labels. While listing every ingredient is not required in the pet industry, manufacturers are doing just that. Bittman says a lot of Warren London’s customers asked about the products ingredients, which prompted the company to focus on its ingredients label. “We list every single ingredient on all of our products, even though you do not have to do that in the pet industry,” he says.

Still, some products will not have every ingredient listed and it’s important for retailers to know the ingredients in the products they carry. “Retailers need to know what ingredients are in the products and stand behind those good brand names,” says Lynda Winkowski, president of Angels’ Eyes.

Panter agrees. “Know the products. It’s good to get product training from the company,” she says. “It’s extremely important to get samples for the employees to try. Once employees try it, they know how it feels, works, and can really talk about it.”