Getting Into the Waste-Management Business
By Sara Hodon
Published: March 1, 2014
Retailers can help their customers take some of the unpleasantness out of cleaning up after their pets by tapping into the evolving pick-up product category.



Just because picking up waste is one of the more unsavory tasks associated with pet ownership, that does not mean the cleanup tools have to make the job more unpleasant. Manufacturers are responding to customers’ suggestions for more stylish, durable and effective products in the pick-up category, and the results have translated to increased sales.

Pick-up products have always had strong earning potential, but manufacturers and retailers are focusing their attention on this market like never before. “There hasn’t been much innovation,” says Jenna Buhagiar, vice president of marketing for PoogoStick. “The same products have been on the market—some of them didn’t work too well, but pet owners kept buying the same items.

“Retailers were taking notice, and they wanted innovation. There was a lot going on in other markets but not much in the pick up category.”

However, things are changing in the category. As with other consumer markets, products that stress convenience and ease of use are trending at the moment. “For dog owners, hands-free pick-up devices are popular, as are waste bags that provide a barrier between a pet owner’s hand and the waste itself,” says Kate Foster, corporate communications specialist with The OurPet’s Company. “For cat owners, newer technological advances—such as automatic litter boxes that scoop and contain waste, and products that employ carbon filters that control odor—can alleviate a great deal of frustration for consumers and provide solutions to the typical problems inherent in litter-box maintenance. Odor is definitely an issue in the arena of feline waste management, and many consumers have health concerns about the litter box as well.”   

While technological advances have certainly helped the pick-up products category, changes in grocery store operations may actually be helping drive sales more than any single innovative product. “As plastic bags disappear from grocery stores, people have recognized a need for more products in this market,” says Tara Garland, project manager for EarthRated. “If stores do have bags available, more and more are starting to charge for them, so it’s getting expensive.”

Factors such as grocery stores charging for bags, municipalities banning plastic because of environmental factors, and the tendency for grocery bags to sport unexpected holes or tears from sharp-edged items—often discovered too late and making the bag essentially useless—have all sent consumers seeking alternatives for effective waste disposal. As a result, all-in-one products, such as leashes with built-in bag dispensers, have been seeing strong sales.

“It’s convenient,” Garland says about EarthRated’s pick-up bag rolls. “We have 15 bags per roll, so the dog owner is always prepared. Plus, with the roll format, they take up less space than bulky grocery bags.”

Once the owner runs out of bags, stopping at their favorite pet store to buy replacement bags ensures repeat business for the retailer.

Odor is another concern for consumers, and there have been more scented bags on the market to diminish the pet waste smell. This is helpful for consumers who are out on a walk with their pet and may not be close to a waste receptacle. Manufacturers are now also offering pick-up bags in various sizes, so whether on a walk or doing weekly backyard cleanup, there is a bag to handle the job.

As always, manufacturers stress the importance of reading labels and understanding the features of each product. For example, bags advertised as “biodegradable” or “earth-friendly” can be very misleading.

“Unfortunately, there has been a lot of green washing in our industry,” says Jennifer Blaese of Loft 312. “Prior to developing our GreenLine Poop Bags, I was under the impression that vegetable/corn starch-based plastic bags were the most ‘eco-friendly.’ These bags are promoted as compostable, but after doing research on these plastics, I discovered that these bags required commercial composting [high temperatures] to break down. Poop bags are not allowed in compost, due to the pathogens found in fecal matter.”

Another label to watch for are bags advertised as “oxy-degradable,” Blaese cautions. “These bags require sunlight and oxygen to degrade, elements missing in a landfill environment,” she says. “A recent change in legislation by the FTC restricts these bags from being labeled biodegradable, since they do not break down in the customary place of disposal.”

At the end of the day, success comes down to taking time to learn about each product and listening to the customer, Garland says. “For us, customer service is important. Retailers should talk to customers to find out what they need. Learn about all of the products and what they do, because not all are the same.”

Of course, many consumers invest in both bags and pick-up scoops—relying on bags for walks, and scoops for backyard cleanup. Scoops have been strong sellers in the pick-up products category and have also evolved to address common issues among pet owners. One such issue with these products is handle length. Older pet owners, in particular, often find it difficult to bend so they can tend to proper and thorough cleanup. Buhagiar says there has been strong consumer demand for products to “pick up the wet stuff” and have minimal contact with it.

“Cat owners do a lot of bending over or crouching down, and they wanted a product that would clean up all of it,” she explains. “Consumers were getting tired of just bags.”

Category experts say that the best type of scoop has teeth of adequate width that can pick up an entire waste pile. Other major selling points for most consumers include products that are lightweight but durable, contain the waste without spilling, have an adjustable handle and are easy to clean.


Pick-Up Products on Display

In order to increase sales and maximize visibility, Foster suggests that retailers display pick-up products in various locations throughout the store.

“Cross-promote them with other waste management staples such as litter boxes and litter,” she says. “In the dog section, merchandise pick-up products near leashes and collars to remind consumers of all the supplies they need while they’re on the go with their pet. Merchandising with clip strips throughout the store is another way to get consumers’ attention.”

Some retailers put the products right near the register at the front of the store. “Many stores do counter displays, and we recommend this,” Garland says. “They’ll put them by the register as an impulse buy. It also helps to keep the bags and dispensers together.”

Because of the very nature of the products’ intended purpose, some retailers choose to have a little fun with their displays, which is another way to call attention to the products’ features and functionality and hopefully drive sales. Manufacturers understand this and encourage retailers to get creative. “It’s not the nicest product to talk about, but it’s necessary,” Garland says.

When it comes to merchandising pick-up scoops in the store—especially those that incorporate new features that pet owners may not be acquainted with—there is probably nothing that will be more effective for inspiring customer trial than product demonstrations. To this end, Buhagiar says PoogoStick provides retailers with video demonstrations of how its product works, which she says has been quite effective in highlighting the product’s features. She says that these videos have proven particularly helpful for smaller retailers that can’t always offer live demonstrations.