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Man’s best friend is living larger than ever before. Last year, Americans spent over $31.5 billion in pet food and litter alone. Total spend in the pet care industry was up 4.4 percent and is projected to be up 3.9 percent in 2019, according to the APPA’s annual report on industry-wide spending figures. With shoppers across all demographics wanting the best for their pets—and opening their wallets to prove it—independent retailers must seize the opportunity to grab pet owners as customers.
IGA is helping retailers attract and retain pet owners with content available from our first category webinar, Building Pet Care Profit, with IGA CEO John Ross and Purina Category Team Lead Pat Patterson.
Check out the video recap of the webinar above, or read on for insights into this growing category, as well as tips and tactics to attract and retain pet care shoppers.
Shopper Behavior in Pet Care
“When you make a purchase for your pet, it’s something you’re doing out of love,” says Patterson. As shoppers shift to taking better care of themselves by purchasing more natural and organic products, they are doing the same for their pets. From products with real meat and fewer by-products to looking for human-grade ingredients, like duck or venison, shoppers are seeking premium pet foods.
"People have spent more money on their pets than they do on themselves,” Patterson says. “As they see the availability to meet their pets’ needs—they might have a sensitive system, or hairball control could be a piece of it—they’re willing to spend that extra dollar to make sure their pets are happy and they manifest that love back to them.”
The Right Assortment for Increased Sales
Which is precisely why retailers must have the right assortment for shoppers. If a shopper needs to pick up a specialty pet care item while they’re in the store, it’s crucial that the store meets the shopper’s needs—or they risk losing that shopper for good. As Patterson explains, if you lose a pet owner, six trips walk out the door with them, and a higher ticket trip at that.
So how can retailers offer the right mix of products to attract and retain shoppers? Patterson recommends offering a strong product variety, because many pets—especially cats—don’t like to eat the same thing repeatedly.
Then, stay competitive with the main line SKU pricing. “I think pricing is important—people are looking for value," Patterson says. "As long as I’m competitive on a few key SKUs that’s showing that I’m actually competitive in the department, people aren’t just buying one thing when they purchase for their pets.” That’s where a variety of offerings in treats or smaller SKUs will help you keep the customer.
Marketing and Merchandising Tactics
Dedicating more space to pet care can feel scary for an independent retailer, notes Ross, especially when there are big chains like Walmart nearby. But Patterson thinks the numbers support IGA retailers expanding their offerings. “I wouldn’t be scared at all,” Patterson says. “When we know that a pet owner spends 31 percent more dollars across the entire store, that’s a powerful motivator for me. These people aren’t just buying pet—they’re buying everything else. So the more trips I can get them into my store, the better off I’m going to be in totality.”
To attract and retain pet owners, IGA retailers must focus on their shopping needs and experience. Patterson says that 84 percent of people decide to purchase a pet product before they walk into the store, so it’s important to give shoppers knowledge of what pet care offerings they can expect in your store.
1. Promote pet care frequently
“It’s all about the marketing plan that is going to get the people in your stores and make them realize that you’re a place for pets,” says Patterson. Develop a strong frequency of promotion online and in your weekly circulars, as well as in-store between end caps. Work with your brands, like Purina, for a national merchandising plan.
2. Meet shopper needs with a variety of products
“Make sure that you're offering the variety that the shoppers need,” says Patterson. “It's going to be a product mix, there’s going to be a cross-promotion opportunity, so dry-wet on dog, dry-wet on cat, and a litter. If you have five different boxes that you can talk to, you’re going to meet most of your shoppers’ needs. If you get too specific, you’re probably not going to meet everybody—you want to definitely make sure that they’re in the store first, and then they can see what you have as far as your mix.” Additionally, Patterson notes the better-for-you trend applies to pet care as well as human food consumption, and is boosting profitability in grocery stores across the country.
3. Create a friendly, appealing shopping environment
Patterson recommends keeping the pet aisle clean, simple, and visually appealing. Provide an organized aisle with easy-to-read labels help the shopper locate what’s on their list while discovering supplementary items.
What Resources Does IGA Have in Pet Care?
IGA plans to implement a case study over the coming months to help retailers merchandise their pet care aisles, according to Ross. First, IGA will select a store to partner with Purina and Patterson on pet care. This store will use Purina's data to optimize their pet care assortment for their market while IGA provides updated signage for the aisle. After the store has had time to operate at this optimal level, IGA will host another webinar in the store, speaking with the owner about the results, sharing pre- and post-market research, and offering strategies for merchandising. "It's way easier to follow a plan that you know works than it is to talk in theory," Ross says.
Until the case study is complete, IGA stores can boost shopper interest in pet care by promoting the IGA–Purina Pet Photo Contest this May on their social media pages and website, and following the merchandising tips Patterson outlined in the webinar.
IGA retailers: Click here for digital resources to promote the IGA-Purina Pet Photo Contest.