From fruity facials to “pawdicures” and soothing herbal bubble baths, a little pampering is as rejuvenating to the canine set as it is for the pet owners who love them. As the expression gains momentum in the canine world, spa treatment options are expanding.
The term “spa” often means many things to different people, according to Doug Gleason, founder of TrueBlue Pet Products, a manufacturer in Los Angeles.
“To some it conjures up images of pampering—things like doggie facials or doggie pedicures,” Gleason said. “We think of spa products in the context of a health spa; products with the best-quality ingredients, and also some health and wellness benefits above and beyond looking great.”
Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of Glo-Marr Products, a manufacturer in Lawrenceburg, Ky., noted that when it comes to the overall comfort and appearance of their furry friends, pet owners are seeking spa products that deliver.
“Anything that helps the mood, skin and hair coat,” she said. “Anything that stops itching.”
Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., agreed.
“Customers are asking for anything to keep down shedding and summer scratchy-itchies,” she said. “While we do work with customers on diet changes to help the dog ‘from the inside out,’ we also recommend the products we use in our grooming services. Earthbath has a great groomer product program, which gives us rebates on our gallons.”
On the sales floor, Zeller noted that Earthbath, Nootie and Earth Animal shampoos are popular offerings, along with brushes and combs, nail clippers, Wondercide flea/tick products, paw balm and tear stain wipes.
At Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., owner Denise Strong carries the Earthbath line, including grooming, ear and eye wipes. ConAir Pro dog brushes, combs, de-shedders and nail clippers round out the mix.
“I’m not big on spa products for the dogs—just the basics here,” she said. “I have found that most of my customers use grooming salons, but my shampoo sales have picked up due to COVID-19 with the salons being closed.”
Space can also determine the range of spa product offerings, according to Jeff Manley, co-owner of Wag Heaven Pet Supplies and Dog Wash in Georgetown, Texas.
“Because of limited shelf space, we carry a narrower choice of products,” he said. “Tropiclean and Vet’s Best are two of our favorite products. We have several types of grooming brushes for various coat styles, and our nail clipper selection includes options with more precision, such as the Zen Clipper, and nail grinders with safety guards.”
Products that are gentle and won’t wash away essential oils are another consideration, particularly if flea and tick topicals are in use, he added.
“These products can be used often without drying out the pet’s skin,” he said.
When bath time rolls around, consumers want shampoo products that will make their dog look and smell good, but won’t dry out the skin, Gleason noted.
“There’s much more interest in keeping the skin moisturized and healthy,” Gleason said. “We are finding many more people understanding the benefits of using a conditioner. Even with short hair, a conditioner can be great for the dog’s skin.”
Consumers are also calling for wellness products that can keep a pet healthy with a little preventive maintenance, Gleason said.
“For example, pet parents are increasingly interested in ear care,” he said. “They understand that keeping the ears clean can prevent infections, which are the No. 1 cause of visits to the vet. Our ear cleaning pad makes it much easier to use than messy liquids and powders.”
Further, pet owners are expecting greater efficacy in products formulated using natural ingredients, Gleason added.
“It used to be that people would have to accept a trade-off—products that were all natural but less effective than conventional ones,” he said. “Today, that has changed. Pet parents want and expect both: products with all-natural ingredients that also offer best-in-class performance.”
Justin Pohl, vice president of Bio-Derm Laboratories, the Longview, Texas-based maker of Bio-Groom products, agreed, adding that today’s consumer is also seeking luxury grooming products that are healing and nourishing for pets.
“We consider all of our products to fall under that definition because we always use the highest-quality natural ingredients; oatmeal, argan oil, even baobab fruit are ingredients that consumers look for when ensuring the best for their pets,” he said.
Targeting Specific Needs
Manufacturers are developing spa products that target the desires of pet owners and meet the specific needs of their furry charges.
TrueBlue Pet Products’ Healing Hemp Skin Repair Spray, released in early 2020, contains cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other natural ingredients, such as raspberry seed oil, to help soothe the skin of pets suffering from hot spots and other serious skin conditions.
“A natural bittering agent helps prevent licking, which can make the problem worse and lead to moist dermatitis,” said Doug Gleason, founder of the Los Angeles-based manufacturer.
Bio-Groom’s Natural Scents line is the newest spa product offering from Bio-Groom, according to Justin Pohl, vice president of Bio-Derm Laboratories in Longview, Texas.
Shampoos and colognes feature natural fragrances such as lemongrass and lemon verbena, pink jasmine, Tuscan olive or desert agave blossom. Shampoos are sulfate free and fortified with organic baobab protein.
“We call it the ‘Essence of Mother Nature,’” Pohl said. “Baobab fruit is known for instantly hydrating, moisturizing and rejuvenating the skin and coat.”
“Customers are asking for anything to keep down shedding and summer scratchy-itchies.”
—Pattie Zeller of Animal Connection
The Creative Process
When it comes to the research and development of new spa products, Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of Glo-Marr Products, a manufacturer in Lawrenceburg, Ky., noted two key considerations.
“Are consumers asking for it? And, how safe is it for both pet and pet groomer?” she said.
At Bio-Derm Laboratories, the Longview, Texas-based maker of Bio-Groom products, research begins by looking for what is missing in consumer offerings, according to vice president Justin Pohl.
“Bio-Groom has its own lab and chemist, so special formulations are made for each individual product,” he added. “This makes sure that every single product is up to the standards and quality that our company upholds.”
At TrueBlue Pet Products, the objective of a potential product is initially measured.
“Our approach is to first look at what we want the products to do, and then to find natural ingredients that serve that purpose,” said Doug Gleason, founder of the Los Angeles-based company. “For our shampoos, we want them to be food for both the hair and the skin.”
For instance, the use of green tea and chamomile, both rich in antioxidants, can help neutralize the free radicals in the environment that can cause skin damage, he said.
“Chamomile also benefits the skin because it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties,” he said. “Horsetail is a natural conditioner which helps strengthen hair and adds sheen.”
Marketing & Merchandising
Sharing the Product Mix
To give pets the spa treatment at home, pet specialty retailers are cross-promoting products and offering samples, as well as other marketing and merchandising tactics.
Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a store in Charlottesville, Va., noted that products utilized in the store’s grooming and self-serve washing facilities are also available for customers to purchase for home use.
“We sell what we use; it’s a great way to promote these products. Our groomers are our best sales tools,” she said. “Spritz for in-between grooming or baths makes for an easy sell when a client walks out with a freshly groomed dog.”
Products are featured prominently in both self-serve dog wash and grooming areas, accompanied by larger-than-life framed photos of muddy dogs enjoying the great outdoors, Zeller said.
“It just brings home the concept that by using our products, pet parents will get a clean dog, no matter how dirty he or she is,” she said.
Sampling also plays a role at Animal Connection.
“We often receive trial sizes from our distributors, which we put in the ‘bark bags’ our customers receive with their purchase,” Zeller said. “They love trying something new.”
At Wag Heaven Pet Supplies and Dog Wash in Georgetown, Texas, co-owner Jeff Manley noted that local nonprofit organizations often hold fundraising events in conjunction with the self-serve dog washing facilities.
“We donate all of the money from the washes that day to the organization,” Manley said. “Because of these events, we get press from local newspapers and social media.”
The events create excitement within the store. Customers waiting for their pets to be washed spend time browsing treats, foods and supplies as well as the spa products utilized in the self-serve dog wash stations, which are also available for purchase, he said.
“Using the products in our self-serve dog wash stations is a good way to introduce them to our pet owners and caretakers, who will ask about them when they are done washing their pets,” he said.
When it comes to merchandising canine spa products, the decision to group products by brand or type of product is a difficult one, said Doug Gleason, founder of TrueBlue Pet Products, a manufacturer in Los Angeles.
“Many manufacturers want to see all of their products together on the shelf, for the most impact—the billboard effect—and that can work for shampoos and conditioners,” he said. “But when it comes to solution-oriented products, like ear cleaning, I think the answer is different. When the pet parent is looking for ear cleaning products, for example, they really want to see all the different products together in one place so they can compare and make a choice.”
Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president Glo-Marr Products, a manufacturer in Lawrenceburg, Ky., suggested merchandising sprays with shampoos.
“Sprays and creams are great to use in between baths to provide instant relief without having to go through the whole bathing process again,” she said.
Product knowledge and stellar customer service are also essential components to sales success.
“I think that the more successful retailers are knowledgeable of both their consumer base and the products they carry,” said Justin Pohl, vice president of Bio-Derm Laboratories, the Longview, Texas-based maker of Bio-Groom products. “Consumers can feel overwhelmed when there is a sea of colors and names, so the retailer carrying a smaller variety of quality products and who engages with the consumer on their particular needs will get the win and keep them coming back.”
“There is such a demand for quality, made in the USA shampoos. Dogs are an integral part of the family now, and they get pampered. This has driven sales. Self-serve dog washes have also really grown and will continue to grow.”—Dawn Leoso Duncan, vice president of Glo-Marr Products in Lawrenceburg, Ky.
“We believe the category is evolving from the narrow focus on grooming to a broader notion of care and wellness. In the human world, this is called the health and beauty category. I believe that in the pet world, we are going to see a little more focus on the health side of the equation.”—Doug Gleason, founder of TrueBlue Pet Products in Los Angeles
“Social media plays a big role in today’s marketplace with instant customer interaction through reviews and word-of-mouth. Also, pets are family members, and people are researching the types of products they want used on their ‘family.’ They look for groomers and retailers using natural cleansers derived from re-growable and biodegradable sources that are safe. That is why we ensure quality by putting the INCI [International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient] name on the label, which is recognized worldwide. It’s a great way for customers to see exactly what is in the product they are purchasing.”—Justin Pohl, vice president of Bio-Derm Laboratories, the Longview, Texas-based maker of Bio-Groom products