The newest member of the family comes with a long list of necessities, but retailers can help.
Shopping for new puppy essentials can be both an exciting and daunting experience, especially for first-time dog owners. Between products for eating, playing, training and sleeping, new puppy owners have a lot of decisions to make and potentially a lot of dollars to spend.
“Most consumers strive to find a balance between price and quality when it comes to pet products,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods, a pet food manufacturer in Mequon, Wis.
Food is a natural starting point when shopping for a new puppy. Retailers should know their foods well and start a dialogue with customers in order to understand their pet’s dietary needs and make recommendations, Nieman said.
“The greatest demand on a pet’s body is during growth,” he said. “Puppies require a more nutrient-dense food formulation to help support their growth and maturation. For that reason, Fromm has developed a number of puppy recipes, formulated for the specific life stage as well as breed size, to better support these critical months of life.”
Nieman said Fromm Classic Puppy Recipe, made from chicken, brown rice and eggs, is a good option for those who want an easily digestible food, are transitioning from a different brand or want to stay within a certain price point. Fromm Puppy Gold is chicken based, too, but includes more ingredients such as oat groats, barley, duck, lamb, vegetables, probiotics and salmon oil.
“Fromm Puppy Gold is an excellent introduction to complete and balanced nutrition and transitions smoothly to any of the adult life-stage offerings within the Gold collection,” Nieman said.
Finally, Heartland Puppy Gold is a grain-free, red meat option made with beef, pork, lamb, peas, lentils, vegetables and probiotics.
“This is an excellent option for a pet parent who may need to feed a grain-free diet or is looking for a red meat protein blend,” Nieman said.
Following food, a collar and leash are two of a new puppy’s most immediate needs. Rose Shattuck, founder and CEO of The Foggy Dog, a manufacturer in San Francisco, said floral patterns and prints are trending for collars and other pet attire.
“Our new puppy parents are excited to welcome their new family member home with a special collar,” Shattuck said. “Our luxe collars, with their signature gold or rose-gold hardware and natural fabric lining, are not only soft and comfortable, but make for a beautiful new puppy photo op.”
The Foggy Dog partners with independent artists to create exclusive prints using their hand-drawn artwork. The manufacturer also turns to human fashion, up-and-coming artists and illustrators on Instagram, and textile designers like Rebecca Atwood for inspiration.
In addition to fashion, The Foggy Dog focuses on sustainability. The company has minimum-waste production goals, and stuffs its beds and toys with 100 percent recycled polyfill made from plastic bottles.
The Green Pet Shop, a Chicago-area manufacturer, has made its mission to manufacture and distribute unique, eco-friendly products and bring them to market at competitive prices, said president Larry Wright. Among the company’s offerings for puppies are warming pads, bowls and training pads made from bamboo.
“Bamboo is probably the most sustainable product on Earth,” Wright said.
The Green Pet Shop’s Bamboo Training Pads also feature charcoal material that both attracts pets and controls odor.
Eco-minded retailers and customers might also want to check out the company’s Pooie Vuiton waste bags, which are made with a plastic-free cornstarch base. Wright said many eco bags are so thin and soft that owners’ fingers will go right through them.
“Thickness is measured in microns,” he explained. “Typically, most eco bags are made somewhere between 10-12 microns of material, which makes them satisfactory, but not great. We make them with 18. That was the thickest we could possibly make them so they would fit in a standard dispenser.”
Picks for Pups
Finding the right products for a new puppy can be overwhelming for first-time dog owners. However, manufacturers are introducing new products to help make the experience a bit easier.
In March, The Foggy Dog in San Francisco released a new line of gingham collars and matching bowties in purple, pink, yellow and blue. Founder and CEO Rose Shattuck said the line is for the “preppy puppy.”
Also in March, Fluff & Tuff released the Ally Starfish, Spicy Caterpillar, Phoebe & Joey Kangaroo and Soccer Ball. These new stuffed toys join the Troy, Mich.-based company’s lineup of about 70 cute, friendly, animal-themed toys, company officials said.
The Green Pet Shop, a Chicago-based manufacturer best known for its cooling pads, released its CBD Pet Care Calming & Soothing Gel in May. For puppies, cannabidiol (CBD) can help solve issues like anxiety and hot spots, according to company officials. The Green Pet Shop’s gel is applied through a unique transdermal pen.
Transdermal application enhances CBD’s effect by bypassing the digestive tract, explained Larry Wright, president of The Green Pet Shop.
“The product absorbs completely and much more efficiently than chews, oils, anything that is ingested,” Wright said. “We recommend [applying the gel to] the inner part of the ear, where there’s no fur, so it can absorb quickly into the system, and the dog can’t lick if off there. If someone wants to use it for hot spots, they can rub it in directly onto the site.”
Make Puppy Products Pop
Displays that are neat, clean and colorful are the key to catching customers’ attention, said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods, a pet food manufacturer in Mequon, Wis.
When it comes to displaying puppy toys, retailers have a lot of options.
“Each store is so different,” said Ellen Lawson, owner and president of Troy, Mich.-based pet toy manufacturer Fluff & Tuff. “Some people peg them, some put them in baskets, some put them on shelves. Our toys just look really great if you can look at their faces and see them. They could be on a table up front with other puppy products.”
Retailers can get creative by highlighting assortments of puppy products on endcaps or other special displays, and they should also take advantage of point-of-sale materials and self talkers that manufacturers provide, Nieman said.
Although it may be tempting to set up a whole section just for puppies, it’s not a necessity.
At Natural Pet Essentials in Charlottesville, Va., puppy products such as treats, toys and collars are mixed in with all of the other dog products.
“I like that we don’t have a specific puppy section because it opens up an opportunity for discussion with the customer to talk about their new puppy and discuss appropriate products based on the needs of that individual, depending on size, breed, etc.,” said store owner Kim Matsko. “If it is a new customer, it also allows you the opportunity to establish a relationship that will hopefully last the lifetime of the pet.”
Must-Haves for New Puppies
First-time dog owners might not know where to start when it comes to shopping for their puppies. To help make it an easier task, pet retailers can provide a list of essential starter products for puppy owners.
Retailers Denise Strong, owner of Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., and Kim Matsko, owner of Natural Pet Essentials in Charlottesville, Va., contributed to the following list for puppy owners:
Strong said she works one-on-one with new puppy owners to make sure they have everything they need. She recommends they choose chew toys that are made and sourced in the USA.
The Foggy Dog, a manufacturer in San Francisco, makes its squeak toys in the U.S. with stuffing made from plastic bottles and bold-patterned scrap fabric that is left over from the company’s dog bed production.
“We find that our squeak toys are very popular as gifts for new puppies because they are not only durable, eco-friendly and U.S. made, but they are also attractive,” said founder and CEO Rose Shattuck. “As anyone with a dog knows, their toys will be scattered all over your home, so it helps if they look good.”
Fluff & Tuff in Troy, Mich., produces a variety of plush toys designed to look like animals ranging from flamingos, stingrays and alligators to dinosaurs, hedgehogs and lake trout. Owner and president Ellen Lawson designs them herself and aims for toys she thinks a child might like.
“Pet owners humanize their pets these days; they want something kind of cute,” she said. “They’re looking for something safe, something appropriately sized, something to keep them busy and entertained.”
Of all the puppy products Strong’s store carries, her personal favorite is Multipet’s 6-inch Lamb Chop plush squeaker toy, which is modeled after the famous puppet.
“It’s soft and tiny, and makes a great pacifier for the pups,” Strong said.
Matsko said the West Paw Bumi is “literally the perfect toy” for larger puppies. The Bumi is made of West Paw’s tug-able, toss-able, chewable Zogoflex material—the company’s proprietary non-toxic thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) material, which is BPA and phthalate-free, latex-free and safe for dogs.
Matsko’s other favorite recommendation for new puppies is a PetSafe Sheepskin Toy.
“After leaving momma and littermates, I find that these plush toys often bring them some comfort, as they can snuggle up with them and take a nap,” she said. “They are simple but classic, and puppies and adult dogs love them. No eyes or appendages for chewing off, which is a bonus.”