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Beyond Personal Grooming: Spongeables Expands into Pet Care

By: Leslie Benson, with input from Lynne Merrill
Posted: November 3, 2008, from the November 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.
Spongeables' Haute Dog Bath Buffer

Spongeables' Haute Dog Bath Buffer

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GCI: What are the best retail channels for selling/distributing pet care products?

Elaine Binder: The biggest chunk of sales comes from the chain stores. Discount stores, the big multi-purpose drug chains and discount pet suppliers such as PetCo and PetSmart represent the largest block of sales potential. But pet products are also being seen more and more frequently where personal grooming products for people are sold. Spas and salons have pet sections, almost like “mommy and me collections.” If the product is appropriate, any shop like Sephora could someday be a potential retailer. Right now, we are focusing our sights on the chain stores, pet stores and pet grooming/boarding facilities. Once we open up this relatively new area for us, we can explore more creative placements.

GCI: What regions of the world are the most lucrative for brands selling pet care?

Elaine Binder: Right now, we aren’t looking beyond the North American marketplace. This is our first venture outside of personal grooming, and we’re viewing it as a learning experience. With our personal care products, we used trade shows and international distribution networks to place our products in the global marketplace. Europe is probably equal to the U.S. and Canada in terms of pet obsession. Going by the statistics alone, you see that the global market is tremendous. There are about 43 million dog owning households in the U.S. and about 78 million pet dogs. In the U.K., half of the population owns at least one dog, accounting for about 8 million animals. The French and Spanish are famous for their affection for their dogs. Even in Japan, the hunger for dog companionship is so great that space-challenged urbanites go to “rent-a-pet” centers where they hire dogs for a day’s worth of companionship. We’re going to focus on Europe, the U.K. and the North America as our target markets. Given their size and their growth, they should keep us busy for a good while.

GCI: What types of ingredients and fragrances are best (or worst) for pet care products?

Elaine Binder: I prefer simplicity when it comes to grooming products. Dogs have surprisingly sensitive skin. Aloe vera is a soother, it helps reduce hot spots, it’s a skin and coat conditioner and it moisturizes and promotes healing. Tea tree oil is a very effective antiseptic and antifungal ingredient. We were aware that there’s some talk about tea tree oil being toxic, but this is simply not correct if you are dealing in appropriate doses. Like most things, too much of a good thing can be bad. Tea tree oil is effective at very small volumes, so we are absolutely within the safety range. There’s simply not enough of the tea tree oil in our product to produce a harmful reaction, even if your dog were to eat the Haute Dog, which we do not recommend, by the way. In terms of other ingredients, it’s important to remember that they should be pH-balanced for that particular animal. Harsh soaps are out; they’ll dry out the coat, irritate the skin and burn the eyes. A gentle gel like the one used in Haute Dog is easier on the animal, cleans the fur and skin thoroughly without drying, and will result in less stress for the bather and the bathed. Human shampoos aren’t made for dogs and should never be used on a pet. Detergents and dishwashing liquids are also inappropriate.

GCI: What are the marketing claims you offer for these pet bath and body care products to address their health or wellness issues?