Continuing with the theme of my last blog, I want to offer retailers a chance to read some additional insightful comments that vendors contributed for the cover story of the annual Guide to Natural Products, which was published with Pet Business’ July issue.
Pet Business: With customers becoming more educated than ever about natural products, how can retailers stay ahead of the curve?
Take advantage of manufacturer training! Manufacturers will often offer product presentations where staff can pick up some good nuggets of information
Employees should use the products! While it’s hard to be an expert on each product in the store, stores could have “subject matter experts”—one employee who learns all about grooming supplies and ingredients, one about food, etc. That person would really know all the difference between each product and become familiar with the ingredients—natural or otherwise—that exist in that type of product.
The store manager could make a cheat sheet of all of the natural ingredients and their benefits, with a cross-reference to its unnatural counterpart so employee could easily explain the difference.
– Lorna Paxton, chief marketing officer, Eco Well Dog
Pet Business: In a recent survey of pet specialty retailers, a large majority (80 percent) indicated that at least 50 percent of their customers purchase natural products based on retailer recommendations. Does this surprise you? What does it say about the opportunities that natural products provide to pet stores?
This doesn’t come as a big surprise. In our most recent consumer research study, we found that people place a lot of trust in retail associates, sometimes more so than their own vet. It is important that retailers take advantage of this opportunity and make sure all associates are fully educated on the products they offer.
– Marco Giannini, CEO and founder of DOGSWELL
Pet Business: What are some common mistakes that you have seen pet retailers make in selling natural products?
I think the most common mistake is lack of product knowledge. With Swheat Scoop, consumers need 3-4 inches of litter in the box for our product to work properly. We put instructions on the package, but as we know, not all people read packaging directions. If store personnel have working knowledge of all of the products offered in the store, they would be more valuable to the consumer.
– Mark Hughes, national sales and marketing manager, Pet Care Systems/Swheat Scoop
Pet Business: In a recent survey, when retailers were asked, "In which product categories is a natural marketing proposition important?" Food and treats were at the top of the list, with supplements not far behind. Why are nutrition products a particularly good fit for the natural message?
It’s not about the need; it’s about marketing and what the consumer understands. The food companies have done an amazing job getting pet guardians to step up to the plate. As for treats, treats make no claims as to benefits, so if it says “natural,” the consumer buys them—it does not require any consumer or retailer savvy.
Now, as for supplements, again consumers and retailers have traveled mental light years from where they were. A combination of efforts from companies like [Ark Naturals], veterinarians who are starting to think natural, the Internet and blogs made the category grow.
– Susan Weiss, president of Ark Natural Pet Products
Pet Business: Should pet stores be concerned about how much attention the popularity of natural products has drawn from other retail channels? How can overcome this increased competition?
The stores certainly should be concerned, just as they need to keep abreast of what natural foods are showing up in other retail channels. Many of those other channels do not have the key elements of selection, value and service. The value may be there, but [the pet department] in many of those channels is a small section with little room for expanded assortments. The service element is, in most cases, totally absent.
– Vin Hourihan, vice president of sales, Natural Chemistry