Petfood-buying consumers provide the regular traffic stores need to stay profitable. - Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

"Feed the pet and you'll win." That's one of the key lessons Roman Versch, owner of the Pet Depot chain of pet stores (based in La Verne, California, USA), imparts to new franchisees. For his business, in which sales of dog and cat food average 30% of a store's revenues, he knows petfoods build the foundation for success.

Even in tough economic times such as the current environment, everyone-including pets-still needs to eat. Except for the lowest-income pet owners, who may be forced to relinquish their pets, most owners will make sacrifices with other purchases or, at worst, trade down to a lower-priced petfood brand.

So, for pet retailers, petfood-buying consumers provide the regular traffic and sales stores need to stay profitable. Where do petfood manufacturers and marketers come in?

Price points and value

Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda & Pet City in Agawam, Massachusetts, USA, said he would like to see more petfoods at lower price points. "We all love the high-end price point customer, but that's not the bulk of the market."

Ratner made his request during a roundtable discussion, "Pet retailers speak," at Petfood Forum 2008 this past April in Chicago. He was joined on the panel by Mike Goldsmith of Mike's Feed Farm in Paterson, New Jersey, USA, who echoed Ratner's plea. "I lose sleep over incomes stagnating," Goldsmith said. "Will this eventually affect the industry, especially the high-end segment?"

Versch, also a member of the panel, said he could use help from manufacturers in communicating the value of their brands. As an example, he mentioned a petfood line that includes stickers on its packaging declaring that the food costs just $1.88 a day. "We could better communicate that petfood really doesn't cost that much," he said.

Training tools needed

In a follow-up meeting, Versch emphasized the need of all pet retailers for education and training tools for their employees. He said salespeople from some petfood manufacturers provide information to store employees, but it's often biased and inadequate.

Ratner said he encourages manufacturers' reps to come into his store with information, but it has to be nutrition-based, not brand-based, and it can't disparage other brands.

Versch suggested manufacturers provide brief, interactive training tools or videos on their sites or collaborate with other manufacturers to offer online pet nutrition and petfood information. Another suggestion was to possibly partner with an existing training program, such as Pet Store Pro, created by the US Pet Industry Distributor Association.

Petco wish list

Even the big pet retailers want more from petfood companies. During a conference earlier this fall, Rick Rockhill, VP of dog food consumables for Petco, gave his wish list and suggestions:

  • Use high-quality ingredients and formulasand describe them with an ingredient deck consumers can read and pronounce.
  • Invest in R&D to offer truly innovative products.
  • Implement the highest levels of safety standards and testingand clearly communicate your protocols.
  • Offer meaningful line extensionsfor example, ingredients with health benefits consumers can understand.
  • Commit to grow the pet specialty channel (independent stores, too).
  • Adopt sustainable practices and packaging.

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