How to Get Your Product in Pet Stores

Written by Brandie Ahlgren, founder+editor | CityDog Magazine

Like most petpreneurs, you’ve spent months, maybe even years turning your incredible idea into a real creation. From sketches, patterns, prototypes and samples, to more prototypes, more samples and finally, the finished product.

So, what now? We sat down with Melanie Wells, owner of Pet Elements in West Seattle, and asked her advice on how a new product makes it into her pet store. Melanie says, "If I am going to make shelf space for a new product, especially if I'm buying direct, it needs to be special and unique from what I already carry." That means knowing your product AND your competition AND her store. In other words, learn everything you can about a retailer -- know their customer, their service, their standards, their pricing, their locations, their preferred communication method (email or phone), etc. 

Then, once you make contact, be prepared to discuss the features and benefits of your product -- how is it better or different than similar products on the market and why should a pet store make the shelf space to carry it in their store? If you're like Seattle-based Swell (gelato for dogs), and lucky enough to be both unique and relatively competition free, then simple persistence pays off. "First they emailed me," says Melanie. "Then they called. Then they emailed again. Then they came in with samples and a two-minute pitch."

Even in a highly-competitive market like pet food, again persistence can pay off. "I said no at first to Zignature. However, they persisted, sending store samples and product to sell or giveaway -- whetever I wanted. It sold and I've carried them ever since."

Also, be thorough -- something as simple as a price sheet can set you apart from the pack. "I get samples all of the time, with nothing else," says Melanie. In other words, always include a catalog and price sheet. Include details like wholesale price, suggested retail price, shipping costs, packaging specs, payment terms, returns, etc. 

When asked how she sources new products, local distributors play a big role, but also shows like SuperZoo. It's an investment, but a show like SuperZoo can put you in front of new distributors, independent sales reps and pet store owners like Melanie. "I purchase the majority of my products through distributors like Animal Supply Company, then independent sales reps like Debbie Dean Promotions, then direct."

Melanie says most of her pet food and staple products like Chuck-It and Kong are purchased through distributors. Collars and harnesses are purchased through independent sales reps. And, products she purchases directly from the manufacturer run the gamut from Green JuJu, Goat Milk from St. John's Creamery, and Tuffy's. Speaking of Tuffy's, Melanie commends them for a flexible returns policy, extending the credit back to Pet Elements if a product is returned by the customer. In other words, don't expect the retailer to take a chance on you and shoulder all of the risk -- offer returns if a product doesn't sell and product guarantees on customer returns.

Also, consider providing display stands, signage and samples. Melanie says her best-selling treats are sampled at the counter, which makes sense -- in other words, the less work she has to do to merchandise, sample and sell your product, the better.

What else makes you stand out from the pack? Dig deep. Also, do you have any press clips to share? Favorable press shows a retailer that your product is “worthy” of being on their shelves, that it has real salability. At CityDog Magazine, we feature cool products in every issue -- here are some tips to pitching me or any other editor, for that matter.

The takeaway from our talk with Melanie? If you're new to market, know your product and what makes it unique, be persistent, be flexible, be thorough, shoulder the risk, and provide outstanding customer service.

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