Pet Goods Provide Expanding Niche
By Cecile B. Corral -- Home Textiles Today, 5/5/2008 12:00:00 AM
New York —
It's been said dogs have owners, but cats have staff.
Regardless of the status of a pet's home provider, these coddling caretakers are doling out the dollars on quality comfort for their canines and felines.
The pet bed and product craze started for home textiles suppliers more than two years ago.
Since then, several vendors have cozied up to the category by carving out niches for themselves and perfecting their presentations by adding more fashion and comfort attributes to their wares.
New York-based Arlee Home Fashions was one of the first to enter the category aggressively with a broad range of pet goods — beds and apparel.
The company's two Yorkshire terrier mascots, Buffy and Daisy, also act as product testers, said Sean Frankel, national sales manager and head of Arlee's pet division. "We joke around that nothing ships to our customers without their paw of approval," he said. (Arlee's core business is decorative pillows, soft window treatments, throws, chair pads and table linens.)
The 150-plus sku category — about 100 in pet beds and about 50 in pet clothing — has consistently expanded annually for Arlee, and early into 2008 is poised to triple the sales of last year, Frankel said.
"We are forecasting a three-turn increase over '07," Frankel told HTT, "and the business is approaching one-fifth of our total sales. We've hired additional sales staff to help us grow."
Part of that growth has come from Arlee's recent efforts to include "specific bed makes," Frankel said, meaning beds with insulated bolster walls, water-proof bottoms and quilted linings.
Dog behavior specialist Cesar Millan, more commonly known as The Dog Whisperer in the TV show of the same name, is the authority JLA Pets consults for its new branded line of pet beds rolling out to pet supplies superstore chain Petco this month.
A division of JLA Home, JLA Pets combined Millan's dog care expertise with JLA's in-house fabric library and product lines to create this licensed program of higher-end pet beds that boast special comfort features — like bolsters and luxury-type fabrics.
JLA Pets takes a similar approach in its own pet bed line, which has ramped up particularly over the past year since the company purchased former pet bed designer and manufacturer Flexi-mat Corp. JLA Pets recently printed its first catalog of pet products to show retail customers the many fabric and fill combinations offered.
"The reason our business is growing so fast is because we've revolutionized pet bedding," said Scott White, president of JLA Pets. "We're using our own internal fabrics to upgrade the quality of all of our pet beds. We use our own fabrics from our other divisions — fabrics we use to make blankets, throws, robes, slippers — that the consumer has already purchased at retail and can now find in our pet beds. They can get the same luxury for their pets that they do for themselves."
White said JLA Pets' line is created by an on-staff designer formerly of the home furnishings industry.
Also using its best assets to create its own pet product assortment is Richmond, Va.-based Hudson Industries, whose "short line" of about six skus is concentrated on high-end, luxury-like pet beds.
More specifically, Hudson keeps in mind the older and sicker — and posh — pooch.
"We make the Rolls Royce version of pet beds," said Lonnie Scheps, svp, sales and marketing. "We use micro-suede on one side and artificial sheep's wool on the other side. The beds zip open and inside they have a memory foam pad, a polyester fill pod to use with or without the foam, and we've also included pockets for four hot-and-cold gel packs to heat or cool the bed for your dog or cat. It's the 'Ritz' for our dogs, who we truly love."
This high-end line retails for $100 to $199, depending on the size.
Westgate sees itself as an upscale house — but based on its fashion focus more so than on its price points. "We want to be the fashion resource," said Neil Zuber, evp. "Our whole approach is that we are a fabric company, so what we offer is not just a basic pet bed but also something fashionable."
Zuber said Westgate's customer is looking to coordinate her pet bed with her floor coverings, her own bedding, or her sofa and decorative pillows.
"Our products are made to look good in the living room, the den, the family room," Zuber said. "We don't offer a dumb-dumb plaid or berber fleece. We have jacquard chenille tapestries and animal skins and many others. That's what people want because it looks good in their home. And we find pet stores look at their pet bed assortments much in the same way we look at our own fashion bedding."
Top-of-bed looks are also where American Mills/Fashion Industries, based in Griffin, Ga., takes its pet bed cues.
"We're finding the niche in the pet world for fashion isn't just plaid or solid that you think you'd normally get at a pet store," explained Al Whiten, vp.
The company's core retail customer for this category, being off-price chains, is looking for pet bed styles "that match with our bedding. Most of our pet bed designs come from our quilts."
As the pet bed category becomes "one of our fastest growing categories" in tandem with bedding and dec pillows, Whiten said, pet stores are also rapidly becoming an important new distribution channel for American Mills/Fashion Industries.
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