Treats and chews represent a unique product category for retailers, as they contribute to high profit margins and all the marketshare-generating, repeat-business benefits of food sales. Perhaps even more important is that because snacks, treats and body parts come in a seemingly endless number of choices, this uniquely versatile category has the power to speak to an amazingly broad range of customer needs at easy price points.

Training

High-value treats are a staple of any puppy- and dog-training program, and customers are always on the prowl for reliable recommendations. One particularly important issue to note, from a retailer's perspective, is that no single treat will hold a dog's attention as long as a variety of treats will. Recommend a mix of flavors and textures–beef, chicken or salmon; crunchy and soft–to hold the pup's attention during training. Not knowing what's next often keeps dogs interested and helps storeowners sell across a broader product offering.

Note that training treats should be small and flavorful, not filling. Avoid cookies for training purposes.

Behavior Modification and Motivation

The behavior-modification and motivation category covers a broad area of customer needs. Sometimes treats and chews help alleviate separation anxiety when the owner must leave their little buddy home alone. Some dogs need a little coaxing to get into the car for a visit to the vet or the groomer.

Dietary Supplements

Snacks and chews can contribute to a dog's nutritional needs, and many pet owners work hard to manage dietary issues for their pets. Fortunately, there are a number of choices–from high-protein, supplement-packed health bars to organic, low-fat, vegetarian snacks.

Natural bones, tendons, bully sticks and body parts also deliver rich protein and calcium while providing enjoyment and relaxation.

Dental Health

Bones, body parts and other natural chews are great for working plaque off of a dog's teeth. Many pet owners know they should pay attention to good dental hygiene, but they can't manage toothbrushes and toothpaste. It's helpful to talk to these customers about the benefits of bones and tendons, dental treats and crunchy biscotti treats that go beyond simple snacking.

Love and gifts

Just as our beloved canine companions want to please, pet owners also want to give back. A quick pass along the chews and body part section or the packaged treat shelves of a store will encourage customers to purchase a satisfying treat to give their dogs after returning home from a long day at work.

Packaging and Placement

Unlike food, packaged treats display with all the power and attention-grabbing impact of high-margin merchandise, such as toys, collars, leads and harnesses. Retailers should use that power by showcasing visually appealing graphics and package designs. Work with colors and reach out to shoppers with package shape and form.

Also consider the potential functionality of treats–training, dietary supplement, etc.–and consider in-store merchandising strategies that group various types of treats according to functional use. This helps customers consider broader issues as they scan the various treat options, and it presents opportunities for storeowners to introduce related products that might address those issues, such as training harnesses, pee pads, low-fat or vegetarian foods, and digestive enzymes for sensitive stomachs.

Always remember to ask customers questions before making suggestions: Is the dog big or small, old or young? Are there medical issues, such as allergies?

Digestible chews and natural body parts come in a variety of choices and can stand alone in most store layouts as a single section. Smoked meaty bones, natural, clear kneecaps, tendons of all shapes and sizes, ears, esophagus, trachea, heart muscle, pig snout, ox tails and bully sticks–long, short, twisted, braided, shaped, packaged and bulk–comprise a veritable buffet of body parts that invite customers in.

Again, body parts and natural chews sold in bulk command impressive margins at price points that make customers feel good about the purchase they're making and the value it brings to their dogs in terms of sheer pleasure.

Storeowners should promote variety. Pet owners tend to fall into predictable buying habits for their dogs' treats, but by offering a rich lineup of options, retailers help insulate themselves from potential supply disruptions that disappoint customers. Retailers can also help these customers see how much fun it is for their dog to try something new every once in awhile, which cultivates buying habits across your full product offering.

Repeat Traffic

Depending on a store's physical configuration, a retailer can use snacks to optimize repeat foot traffic and boost the profile of other products. For example, customers might come through the door intent on making a beeline for food and snacks, but a retailer can make sure they pass by the toys, collars and leashes on their way. Make it easy for customers to notice grooming supplies and cleaning products as they make their way to the body part section.

Chews and treats are great tools to build good customer relations. Keep a selection of treats on the counter to offer dogs (always ask the owner's permission first) when they come in. Purchased in bulk, this inexpensive investment helps to cultivate a warm, friendly environment in a store–and it sells treats.

Include treats in sample gift bags, along with in-store discount coupons and promotional materials, and give the bags to non-competitive pet businesses in the market, such as trainers, pet sitters, groomers and vets, to hand out to their clients.

Treats and chews are powerful, versatile tools that can help boost the bottom line, drive repeat business, build positive customer relations and, best of all, get those tails wagging.

Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, N.C. The couple, former corporate burnouts who just got fed up with having to leave their dogs home alone all day, opened Wag in 2003. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.