Bath time is not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about cats—after all, cats are notorious for their tendency to self-groom. But the cat-grooming category is more important than many retailers realize.
“Many cat and kitten owners develop allergy symptoms to cat dander,” explains Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director at Espree Animal Products. “A regular bathing schedule will aid in the decrease and control of dander.”
In addition to being beneficial for their human friends, Jordan says grooming is actually good for cats, too. “Cats can become tangled, dirty and oily—[they] need grooming assistance beyond their self-cleaning.”
Yvonne Roth, head of marketing at earthbath, agrees. “Not all cats are able to clean themselves as thoroughly as they or their owners would like, due to illness, old age or simply personality.”
Unfortunately, there is a misperception among some retailers that cats hate any kind of grooming assistance and, therefore, they don’t carry cat grooming products—or when they do, they settle for adding a few cat products in with the dog grooming items.
“There’s this fallacy that cats don’t like water and that you shouldn’t groom your cat,” says Bobbi Panter, president and founder of Bobbi Panter Pet Products. “Actually, they begin to really love it, if you do it right.” She recommends using warm water, and she includes aromatherapy in her cat shampoos to help calm and soothe cats.
Kim Raisanen, president of the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America (PCGAA), says that most of the time it’s not the water itself cats don’t like. “They dislike the hissing sounds and the splashing of water,” she says.
For cats that truly do hate water—or pet owners who don’t want to risk it—there are a wide range of waterless cleaning products available, including wipes, waterless shampoos and bathing foams.
Roth says earthbath grooming wipes and waterless grooming foam are actually more popular than the company’s traditional cat shampoo. “People tell us that they like the wipes because they are the right size to be able to take a couple, put one in each hand, and rub down the cat from head to tail in a jiffy. The grooming takes less than a minute, and it is a really quick way to shine up their feline friend and mitigate the accumulated dander and residual saliva in the fur, thus reducing allergies in the household for both residents and their guests.”
As for the waterless grooming foam, Roth says people who have more serious allergies find it to be a good solution. “The grooming foam is still a waterless option, plus it cleans deeper than the wipes, therefore removing more of the dander and residual saliva that are the culprits to the human/cat allergy syndrome.”
Recognizing that cats have different needs than dogs is step one to assembling a feline grooming assortment. “It is imperative to read the labels of any grooming product that is applied to a cat,” says Raisanen. “There are a number of ingredients that dogs can tolerate, whereas cats can have serious reactions [to those same ingredients].”
Many pet owners don’t realize the effect that common product ingredients can have on cats, making it important that retailers educate their staff and help inform those customers who may have both dogs and cats. That’s not to say there aren’t any products that are safe for both species—there are—but it’s important to confirm that and to make sure employees know the difference.
Even if the store has some cross-over products that are safe for both dogs and cats, the store should also stock cat-specific grooming items. Cat owners typically prefer products specifically developed for their feline friends, and the grooming category is no exception. Stocking a good selection of feline-specific offerings is a great way for a store to build a loyal cat-owning customer base.
“Consumers are continually barraged with super brands and one-size-fits-all offerings,” says Dwight W. Holcomb, president and CEO of LifePet. “By giving consumers something that drills down into a specific category of need, [independent retailers] can better differentiate themselves from the big-box stores and megabrands where margins are thin and competition is thick.”
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that experts recommend merchandising cat-grooming products near other feline products, and not in the dog grooming section.
Holcomb says retailers should consider the cat aisle a destination. “By helping cat owners get to a retail space that helps to serve all of their cat needs, [retailers] can help drive greater spend from the consumer by saving [shoppers] time and providing convenience when they locate all of their products in a central area,” says Holcomb.
How the store chooses to present those products within their cat aisle, however, will depend on the amount of floor space the store has available and how much room is devoted to cat grooming.
“Depending on the size of the store, we typically see two strategies,” says Roth. “Larger stores will have sections for shampoos, grooming foams and wipes within their cat assortment. Smaller stores will often present a brand’s offerings together, such that a person looking for a cat grooming products could select between earthbath’s assortment of shampoo, foam and wipes.”
In either case, the key is to stock quality products that the store knows can deliver on their promises. If the store’s selection is limited to one or two brands, retailers should talk to their manufacturer partners about promotional tools. Many companies offer free or low-cost displays and point-of-purchase materials.
Signage can offer the store huge benefits in this category, since there are so many misconceptions about cats and bath time—not to mention that many cat owners may not know waterless bathing options exist.
Retailers can also cross-merchandise grooming products for skin and coat problems near food items. Not only is this a high-visibility area, shoppers are becoming much more knowledgeable about the impact of food allergies on skin and coat care.
When a cat owner picks out a new food because his or her cat is scratching, staff members can also suggest a complementary shampoo, says Panter—perhaps something with essential oils to help soothe the skin and improve the coat. There are many grooming products designed to help with skin and coat problems, and these products can offer cats some measure of relief while their owners figure out what’s causing the problem.
Whether it’s helping a cat lover solve an allergy issue or an older cat keep itself clean, a little bit of time spent educating customers and a knowledgeable staff can boost sales in the cat grooming category. And everyone can come out smelling a little sweeter.