It’s no secret that trade shows and conferences are important to the health of the pet industry and are understood to be by pet professionals; attendance records speak for themselves. As one of the largest and most well-known trade shows on the circuit, SuperZoo is a highly valued opportunity for pet industry players to come together, build partnerships and exchange important information about what consumers are looking for and where the market is headed. According to the show’s website, SuperZoo 2016 boasted 10,959 attendees (including 1,036 international buyers) and 1,197 exhibitors, the most in North America and a 22 percent increase over the year before.
What was also impressive about the show’s snapshot numbers was the number of new products launched on the show floor—820, to be exact. This year, the widely varied new products at SuperZoo 2017 are presented by vendors with a range of experiences: first-timers and trade show veterans, brand new startups and industry giants, as well as international manufacturers. And therein lies the beauty of the trade show.
We for Dogs’ founder, New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Arnold, is already a familiar face in the pet industry, having published three books between 2010 and 2016 and having founded Canine Assistants in 1991. The nonprofit organization trains service dogs for children and adults with disabilities and special needs. Through her work with service dogs, Arnold developed the BondBased Approach, or Bond-Based Choice Teaching, which is “a philosophy based on creating a special relationship allowing dogs and their human partners to trust and understand one another,” according to www.BondBased.com.
“It’s a philosophy that says we are better served, as are our dogs, by using our relationship with our dogs to help them understand what they need to know to function well in human society,” explained Arnold, who founded Canina Assistants 26 years ago. “As opposed to training them, we use social learning to educate.
“I noticed the deeper we got into positive reinforcement training, the more anxious our dogs became, and I was really perplexed by that because, you know, this is the ‘good way’—being positive,” she said. “I realized, in so many ways, we weren’t being positive… We were absolutely saying, ‘We love you when you,’ ‘We’re going to give you food, but only if you make us happy,’ and how nerve racking that must be for dogs who are so vulnerable.
“So we decided [that] instead of rewards, we use food treats as gifts,” she continued. “You don’t have to earn it, you just get it because I love you and then we encourage them to make good decisions on their own.”
The company’s inaugural product, the We Leash, was created with this philosophy in mind. It works by allowing dogs to feel more in control of their movements during walks without sacrificing safety. According to the We for Dogs website, the direct connection is between the owner’s hand and the do
g’s mouth, reducing the sometimes anxiety-inducing feeling of restraint “while increasing the opportunity for interaction.” Its handle is made with comfortable neoprene and has a slight stretch, and the dog’s end is made with organic plush.
“The goal is to not only change how walks work so that dogs have some control… and have a leash of their own to hold, but more importantly we want to change the conversation,” Arnold said. “We want people to think about walking with their dog as an interactive exercise.”
Though the We Leash’s official launch as well as the company’s introduction to the pet industry is set for SuperZoo, Arnold noted the success the leash has found with owners who have tried earlier versions. According to Arnold, dogs who used the We Leash for at least four minutes per day for at least five days—and not necessarily consecutively—showed a positive difference in interaction with their owner.
And Arnold is excited to bring this new way of thinking, as well as the first of We for Dog’s products, to SuperZoo (booth 2630). The author, non-profit founder and now entrepreneur laughingly cited “waiting” as the most nerve-racking part of preparation for the trade show.
“I am excited to share the philosophy with people—and certainly the leash—and the people who have early versions and who have sort of been our early customers, they love it,” Arnold said. “So I think it’s going to be successful, and I owe dogs my whole life. They mean a tremendous amount to me, and this is a way I feel like I can sort of pay them back.”
By Farmers, For Felines
Like so many in the pet industry, Blink (booth 2633) was a company born out of a need that its founders were unable to fill with products already on the market. According to the company’s website, it all started with a stray cat named Tabby.
“He appeared out of nowhere and turned us, the most unlikely of people, into crazy cat people,” the website says. “Tabby is the inspiration behind Blink, a company with a passion for creating products that connect deeply with cats. When we first met Tabby, he needed a sense of belonging—a place to call his own. After trying all types of products on the market, we set out to design our own. We took a different approach, one where we start by seeing the world through a cat’s eyes.”
The story behind the company’s newest product, the Nekohut, is even more interesting. They’re inspired by a traditional Japanese design and are handcrafted from renewable, dried stalks for an ecofriendly and naturally alluring shelter for feline friends.
“These enchanting huts, known traditionally as neko chigura (cat basket in Japanese), go back hundreds of years,” explained Ann Lee, owner of Blink. “Farmers in Japan meticulously hand-wea
ved the huts, even though it took many days to make one, because cats loved the all-natural huts for lounging and sleeping.
“Not surprisingly, today’s modern cats—no matter how pampered or finicky—still adore the natural hideaway,” Lee said. “The hut brings the outdoors inside, transforming the indoor environment into one that feels more like a feline’s natural home
Lee explains that she was inspired by the Japanese design’s ingenuity as well as its clean and minimal appearance, calling it “timeless.” According to Lee, the products have many features desirable to both cats and their owners.
“There are so many ingenious features,” Lee said. “Calming: natural soothing scent of the straw; secluded: intricate tight wea
ve keeps the interior secluded and dark, the ideal hideaway; insulated: breathable, natural fiber that provides natural insulation so the hut can be used year-round; lowmaintenance: natural fibers do not attract fur; and eco-friendly: created from agricultural byproducts.”
The company hopes that exhibiting at SuperZoo will prove to be a successful avenue into the independent retail market, and Lee reported that the company has already gotten requests from retailers for the NekoHut, Blink’s first product.
“As a small business juggling many things, time is always in short supply,” Lee said. “Fortunately, we already launched our first product, NekoHut, directly to consumers and are already getting requests from retailers. So, much of the preparation for the online launch will help us for SuperZoo. We would like to learn about industry trends, explore creative partnership opportunities and collaborate and build relationships with owners of boutique pet shops.”
Perhaps one of the best things about trade shows is their ability to bring the pet industry together, creating opportunities for pet business owners to form partnerships with those in every sector of the market, every region of the United States and many parts of the world.
The attendance of Australian-based Pisces Aquatics is a prime example. The company will be launching the new United States-based Pisces USA, as well as several new products at SuperZoo. According to the Pisces USA website, parent company The Pisces Group is “Australia’s and the
world’s largest combined producer and wholesaler of aquarium plants, live food, frozen feeders, natural décor, aquarium fish and other quality products,” including a few for birds, cats and dogs.
“We could see a gap in the natural décor market and, being Australia’s largest supplier of natural product, we saw an opportunity to supply quality pieces from around the world,” said Jamie Napier, business development manager for Pisces Group. “Our global sourcing of natural décor reaches from the United States to Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
And though Pisces is making its debut in the United States pet market, the company is confident that the business practices that have made them so successful elsewhere in the world will translate stateside.
“For over 47 years, Pisces Enterprises has been the Australian leader of live plant cultivation and the production of live foods, such as crickets and mealworms. Pisces was the first to wholesale live foods in retail packaging to the pet industry of Australia,” Napier explained. “With our extensive kno
wledge of the aquarium and reptile keeping hobby, we then branched out into natural décor such as woods, rocks, substrates and sands to become Australia’s largest importer and exporter.”
Because SuperZoo will serve as Pisces USA’s launch into the U.S. market, the company’s entire range will be new to U.S. independent retailers. The items to be showcased at the trade show include New Zealand River Substrates; New Zealand Iron Sand and Scoria Substrates; New Zealand Red and Purple Lava Rock; natural woods, including Ghostwood, Swamp Cypress, Gold Vine, Manzanita, Grapevine, Portuguese Cork, Mopani and Malaysian driftwood; natural aquarium and reptile sand, including Coral Sand; natural aquascaping rocks in four beautiful colors and shapes; aquarium water treatments; and live Anubias grown in the USA on Malaysian driftwood.
As one could imagine, the launch of both a company and such a wide range of products is quite an undertaking, but Napier insists that Pisces USA is up to the task and excited for the new venture.
“Although the work behind the scenes is tremendous, Pisces USA is passionate about the aquarium and reptile hobby and happy to take on an
y challenge,” Napier said. “We feel our product range is exciting and will succeed in pet retailers across the United States. But most importantly, we are excited to deliver quality and assurance to the end consumer.
“At SuperZoo, we hope to engage with all pet retail professionals,” Napier continued. “We invite everyone to drop by our booth (4218) to meet our U.S. and Australian team and check out what we have to offer. By the end of SuperZoo, we hope to have found many new partners joining us on our exciting new venture, as we are ready to ship!”
Functional and Fashionable
According to the PetRageous Designs website, the company’s president, founder and primary product designer, Gretchen George, “works from a simple premise: dogs and cats should fit comfortably in their homes.” Luckily for pet owners, George’s playful designs keep them in mind, too, resulting in functional and fashionable items ranging from toys and clothing to diners and travel products.
“We create a wide variety of unique products for dogs, cats and the people who love them,” reads the company’s “About Our Products” statement on the PetRageous Designs website. “We’re constantly updating our product lines in response to current design trends and pet owners’ needs.”
At this year’s SuperZoo, one of the newest products to be showcased by PetRageous (booth 3267) will be “The Jackson Collection,” a line of fashionable red and black plaid garments. It’ll also be featured in the trade show’s New Product Showcase.
“This collection of sweaters, pajamas, outerwear, comfy throws and hard goods will be available this fall,” George said. “Most of the items in the collection feature a silhouette of a moose, bear or squirrel, [and] each item… coordinates with the trending rustic look. Customers will love this collection and their pets will be toasty warm and stylish this fall/ winter.
“The Jackson collection is the first cross-over collection we have offered that incorporates both clothing with other categories,” she said. “For example, the pajamas, jackets and sweaters coordinate with bowls, placemats mugs and blankets/throws. The rustic look of this collection will make a great seasonal endcap.”
Continuing its foray into the mealtime market, PetRageous will also be featuring the new Fiji Stainless Steel Bowl collection, which George calls “a perfect mix of function and style.” The bowls’ design prevents them from moving or scratching flooring without sacrificing appearance. They are available in three sizes and two color options: white/light gray and black/light gray with PetRageous Designs’ swirl paw graphic accents. Fiji Stainless Steel Bowls’ exteriors are made with polypropylene with a durable stainless steel interior. They’ll also be featured in the SuperZoo New Product Showcase.
In addition to presenting the opportunity for business partnerships to form, trade shows like SuperZoo give retailers and vendors the valuable chance to discuss best practices for displaying and selling pet products. What better place to get such advice than from the manufacturers themselves? “We hope and expect to educate all of our existing and potential new customers of all the great new products we have available this year and provide insight and tips on merchandising and selling our products to their customers,” George said.
“We have so many new products across several categories. SuperZoo is the launching pad for our Fall Clothing line. The timing is ideal for retailers to see, touch and feel all the new styles just weeks before the clothing season kicks off.”
And of course, while exhibitors do much of the information dispensing at SuperZoo, retailers visiting booths can give vendors valuable information as well, often in the form of feedback on products and how they are doing with consumers. Almost any conversation at a trade show proves to be mutually beneficial.
“It is of great importance to us to continue to build relationships with our wonderful and supportive customers and make many new contacts as well,” George said. “Gathering feedback on all of our products, new and existing, is also of great value. We place great value on the responses retailers provide to us on our products.”
Pond Provisions and More
While many of those launching new products at SuperZoo are newcomers to the trade show, sera is one company that’s had ample experience on the show floor. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that preparing to exhibit has been a cake walk.
“This is the third time in a row that we are exhibiting at SuperZoo. I came here the first time four years ago as a visitor, and after that, we decided to exhibit here as well,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for North America at sera (booth 3721). “I think, with each show you do, you are gaining more and more experience and thus it is getting easier all the time. But, of course, there are always things coming up that you did not take into account before, so it can still be challenging. Overall, the whole sera team always enjoys the shows and especially to meet a lot of people from the industry. And this is the most important part for us personally, but also for the business.”
This year, the company will be showcasing a wide range of new products for the aquatics category, perhaps the most notable being sera crystal clear Professional. The high performance filter medium, which hit markets at the end of May, can be used in garden ponds, freshwater and marine aquariums. It works via its 3D fiber structure to clear up dirty tanks within a few hours. The filters also keep their shape, and 80 percent of them can be washed and used several times.
“Also, with the next two containers from Germany, we will receive a whole new line of marine foods,” Frenken explained. “With this, we extend our marine line enormously, as, especially here in the USA, there is more and more demand for marine products.”
Items included in this new line are sera marin O-nip, tablets that stick to aquarium glass and are alluring to even the shyest fish; sera marin Veggie Flakes, a flake food for vegetarian fish and made with spirulina; sera marin Spirulina Tabs, which are veggie tablets with spirulina and that stick to aquarium glass; sera marin Plankton Tabs, which are tablets for plankton and corals; and sera marin Spirulina Grazer XL, which are extra-large spirulina tablets that stick to glass and are ideal for big fish.
In addition, Frenken explained that the positive response from consumers to the company’s first foods with probiotics for aquariums and ponds, launched in Europe several months ago, has prompted sera to make the products available in the U.S. as well. sera ImmunPro, also available in a “mini” for small fish and juveniles, is the new probiotic food for freshwater aquariums. For ponds, sera Koi All Seasons Probiotic will also be available in a version for smaller koi: sera Koi Junior All Seasons Probiotic. These products will be available just after the trade show in July.
“The most challenging part is to figure out which products we’d like to display at the show,” Frenken said. “We have to evaluate what retailers and distributors we can expect to visit our booth and what products they are looking for. We have a very wide range of freshwater and marine aquarium products as well as pond and reptile products. Unfortunately, the booth space is not big enough to show our whole assortment. Therefore, we really have to think about what items are most important to display at this particular show…
“We hope to meet a lot of retailers and distributors. It is not possible to visit all our partners on a regular basis, so a trade show helps a lot in order to inform the people about new products and to stay in touch,” Frenken said. “But, of course, also very important are new customers. We hope to get in contact with many stores that do not carry our line yet, but that are interested in our products and the quality we offer.”