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February 27, 2015

Food and Shelter

One of the most common concerns new puppy owners have is how to handle crate training. Consider creating a flyer that outlines the proper way to crate train a puppy and be prepared to answer questions about choosing the appropriate size crate and bedding.

Brands like Richell offer expandable crates, so the owner may be able to utilize the same equipment for the life span of the dog, depending on how large he becomes as an adult. For owners who aren’t sure about crate training, another option may be to use a gate system like those made by Pupperton. Both companies offer stylish wooden crates as well as a range of other options like collapsible metal crates or plastic travel carriers. Having your staff well versed on the benefits of each type and the best choices for different breeds can also add to successful sales and customer retention.

Along with crate training, new owners worry about what to feed their puppy. While some breeders require a specific brand of food for at least the first year of the dog’s life, not all do and shelter dogs typically come without feeding instructions. Stock a range of price points to appeal to the demographics of your customers. Be prepared to answer questions about the brands on your shelf and consider highlighting a few favorite recommendations.

Also, while many brands offer “all life stage” formulas, some new owners may feel more comfortable with puppy-specific options, like Halo’s Puppy Spot’s Stew or Wellness’ Complete Health Just for Puppy. Include a mix of puppy-friendly treats in your food offerings as well and be prepared to guide customers to intermittent treats, like crunchy biscuits and training treats in soft, bite-sized options. Don’t forget to include food and water dishes with the food sale.

Out and About

New owners need to purchase collars and leashes. This provides another opportunity to educate and interact with the consumer regarding the specific needs of their small canines, such as getting a collar that fits correctly.

“Collar adjustability is really important,” said Ann Clinger, president of DazzlePet. “Many people get dogs and have no idea how fast the animal is going to grow or what the final size of the animal will be. Though many people do their research so they know the size of the animal they will end up with, a surprising number do not, especially if it’s a mixed breed.”

DazzlePet offers a flat-braid webbing collar that allows the prong of the buckle to insert at any spot to maintain a proper fit as the dog matures.
“Everyone who brings home a new puppy is excited about the new addition to the family,” said Clinger. “Stores need to capitalize on that excitement by offering a variety of patterns in the collars and leads.”

In addition, customers may be interested in training with their new dog, particularly on good walking manners, so a range of puppy-sized tools, like harnesses, are smart to have on the shelf.

Toys and Chews

Toys and chews are an integral part of puppyhood. Durable options like those from Fluff & Tuff are a great recommendation for strong chewers. Ropes and tug toys, like those from Petmate, are ideal for interactive play, which provides an opportunity to educate new pet owners about the benefits of exercise and mental stimulation. Toys like those from PetSafe and The Company of Animals offer puppies a fun way to stay busy while learning. It’s also important to let customers know that engagement toys are a great way to keep their puppy entertained in the crate or a good way to make feeding time interactive. Never underestimate the value of a toy or chew treat as positive reinforcement during training.

Of course, one of the most necessary items for any new owner is an appropriate enzymatic cleaner. Even the most diligent potty trainer will contend with accidents. Stock products like those from Nature’s Miracle, which work to remove the smell of the mistake, thus discouraging repeat performances. Many first-time puppy owners don’t realize that, in addition to potty training accidents, some dogs with sensitive digestion may experience vomiting. Enzymatic cleaners work to tidy up all types of messes and should be on the must-have list of puppy products.

While each of these items fits within your existing product mix—collars with collars, food with food and so on—consider setting up an endcap or designating an aisle for “all things puppy.” New owners will more likely gravitate toward a curated area of products rather than wandering the whole store and feeling overwhelmed in search of what they need. Incorporate educational signage but be prepared to answer questions.

Stock the basics and beyond so that you position your store as the reliable, go-to, one-stop shop. Consider creating a branded checklist of your top puppy product recommendations that customers can use to navigate their first round of purchases and refer back to in the months to come. By merchandizing these products effectively and using every opportunity to educate new owners, you can create loyal customers who will shop with you for the life of their dog.

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