Typically, at-home bathing conjures images of popping a pup in the tub, sudsing it up and calling it a day. But, as the popularity of at-home bathing grows and pet owners realize it provides benefits beyond cleanliness, this category is expanding beyond the porcelain walls.
While shampoo’s long been the shining star of bathing products (and always will be), there’s a litany of other products retailers should be carrying to ensure pets are getting the best, most thorough clean.
It’s all about convenience, so pet parents are looking for all sorts products that make the often stressful bathing process easier.
Bobby Johnson, CEO of Squish & Scrub, recommends pet parents stock up on cleaning wipes, bathing hoses that connect to faucets, dryers for coats and an assortment of grooming brushes and tools that can remove loose fur and sebum, but really, "any products that can make the grooming process simplified."
One of the primary benefits of bathtime (beyond prepping pups for cuddles) is the pet parent’s ability to get up close and personal with their pets in a way they usually don’t.
"[Pet owners] are able to take notice of skin or any other issues going on," explains Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of Glo-Marr Products, Inc. "It is also good just have that human touch as much as possible all over the dog’s body," which includes rubbing, massaging and itching.
Selecting the Best
Everything from conditioners to distraction items should be considered when curating a home-bathing selection. And, while high-quality products are certainly important, it doesn’t always have to be super-premium or bust.
"You need to have enough variety to appeal to different consumer segments," says Doug Gleason, founder of TrueBlue Pet Products. "Some retailers will think about price points and will want to have at least one ‘good,’ ‘better,’ ‘best’ offering. Another way to look at it is some consumers care most about ingredients, some care most about how it smells [and] some have a problem they want solved, like shedding or whitening."
When it comes to bathing products—and pet products in general—almost everyone’s looking to incorporate natural products into their portfolio. While the trend grows stronger in the pet industry each day, retailers have to do their research and be well-versed in the natural products they carry, as it can be nuanced.
"More and more consumers are looking for natural products, [but] natural can mean many different things," says Jenny Gilcrest, vice president of marketing for Skout’s Honor. She explains that many companies add essential oils to their natural products, but multi-pet households should be careful as some essential oils can be toxic to cats.
Gilcrest continues that, "it’s important to look at the ingredients to make sure there’s nothing in there that can harm any of the pets. Soap-free, tear-free, preventing it from their eyes, really matters. Look at active ingredients to make sure you’re not just stripping their coats to get them clean—what are the nourishing and hydrating ingredients?"
Laying it Out
Typically, humans have to visit a few different aisles to stock up on the lotions, shampoos and body washes that they need. While human hygiene is relatively compartmentalized, the line is blurred for dogs.
"In the human world, we think of hair care and skin care as two separate product categories, but with dogs, hair and skin are mixed together all over the body," says Gleason.
This overlap gives pet retailers the advantage of creating a one-stop shop solution to all of a customer’s bathing needs, which opens the door for a variety of placement and merchandising options.
"Well-thought out product placement will increase the basket value of shoppers in your store," says James Brandly, associate trade marketing manager of TropiClean. "We recommend brand blocking grooming products. Brand blocking will visually help pet parents find a specific brand and the products they provide. Then, within the brand, you can organize the products by fragrance/scent or specific function like de-shedding, itch relief or deodorizing."
While most manufacturers encourage the billboard effect because they want to see all their products housed together, Gleason explains that the effectiveness of the brand blocking is dependent on the individual function of each product. While the billboard effect typically works for shampoos and conditioners, solution-oriented products are a different story.
He continues that if, for example, pet parents are seeking out an ear cleaner, they’re going to want to have all the available products grouped together so they can make comparisons and ultimately pick a product that best suits them and their needs.
Word of Mouth
When it comes to educating customers, nothing is better than having firsthand experience. While merchandising is a necessity, a visually-pleasing display only gets pet parents so far. As a complement to their merchandising, retailers should be educating their staff on how to market these products.
"The best way to market is to know the brand you are selling," says Leoso Duncan. "You should be able to point to the shampoo needed for dry skin, and then know to tell them, ‘you should get this spray to for instant relief!’. Ask questions, inquire how old their dog is and if you are familiar with your brand, you should be able to point them in the right direction."
There’s two ways for retailers to learn about the products they carry: they can reach out to the manufacturers or they can use the products themselves. While most manufacturers are more than happy to send over infographics, signage and other marketing material, it’s hard to beat the power of a first-hand account.
"It’s super important for the retailer and their team actually use all the different products they carry on their own pets," says Gleason. "Each manufacturer can tell you something about their products, but I always say the proof is in the pudding. There’s nothing like being able to speak from personal experience."
Retailers shouldn’t let the idea of a first-hand account be limited just to their own experiences. Most pet parents would like the opportunity to test-run the products themselves, in order to see its effectiveness and get a feel for the strength of the scent, as noses can be notoriously finicky.
"We find that sampling is the single most effective marketing technique for bathing products," says Gleason. "[TrueBlue] provide loads of free trial size samples of our shampoo so that customers can ‘try before they buy.’ We make sure that our trial sizes are generous enough that you can actually bathe a very big dog with one sample."
The third component to marketing is to take advantage of all the opportunities social media presents. Online marketing isn’t always as straightforward as e-blasts or daily updates on Facebook/Instagram pages.
"Create mobile ads that are geo-fenced to their store’s perimeters," recommends Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing for Pure and Natural Pet. "With geo-fencing, you can market by creating a virtual fence around any geographic territory you want. Anyone with a smartphone that enters your fence’s digital perimeter is added to your audience and receives your ads. You can place your digital fence nearly anywhere; around your business or where your customers may congregate."
No matter what merchandising and marketing techniques retailers decide to employ, nothing will ever beat the tried and true method conversing with a customer and understanding exactly what they’re looking for.
"Retailers can help guide customers to the right bathing products by simply talking to them about what the customer is trying to achieve," says Johnson. "This helps to establish the retailer as an expert, and it builds rapport with a customer from the trust that is gained." PB