Buster Williams has a pretty sweet life. His parents own an eco-friendly pet products company, so bouncy balls, chew toys and stuffed animals are all within paw’s reach for the rescued pooch.
There’s only one problem.
“He doesn’t play with toys,” says Spencer Williams, CEO of West Paw Design. “But he sure loves to test our beds.”
Fortunately for Buster, West Paw’s Bozeman, Mont., facility makes plenty of beds with fun names like Bumper, Eco Slumber and Tuckered Out. When Williams purchased the company in 1996, he wanted to produce gear for pampered pets while maintaining a small carbon footprint. As a result, mouse-shaped cat toys feature certified organic catnip, and Buster’s favorite beds get filled with material made out of recycled plastic bottles. From design to manufacturing, about 99 percent of the gear is produced at the company headquarters, a building designed with insulated concrete and other eco-friendly features. West Paw also launched a “Join the Loop” recycling program that encourages customers to mail in used toys from its popular Zogoflex line.
While stuffed mice toys filled with USDA certified organic catnip may have been considered a luxury in 1996, Williams’ early gamble has paid off. Pet owners spent $21 billion on goods and services for their fur kids in 1996, according to the American Pet Products Association. That number is expected to reach $52 billion in 2012 as pet owners seek more options to pamper their furry friends.
“We definitely are looking for new and interesting products,” says Liz Hochberg, merchandising director for Wag.com. The online retailer launched in 2011 with a mix of national brands such as Iams dog food as well as hard-to-find specialty items like preppy Vineyard Vines collars that feature sailor's knots (right) and colorful embroidered details. “We’re expanding, but not as much as when we first launched. We’re doing more expansion from existing products.”
So what are the must-have items for today’s pampered pets? Experts offer a sneak peek at the latest trends heading to a store, online retailer or doggy day care near you.
Mealtime gets an upgrade
No longer satisfied with red or blue plastic food bowls, Hochberg says more companies realize that pet owners want items that match their home décor. Harry Barker responded with an assortment of storage items — from treat jars to recycled steel food storage containers (right) — in classic silver, French toile and leopard print. ORE Pet also upgraded mealtime with colorful placemats that replicate cheeky diner script or hardwood to blend with flooring. Storage container company Simple Human has joined the mix as well, offering sleek stainless steel storage containers with food-safe buckets that hold up to 40 pounds of kibble.
When D Pet Hotels opens its third franchise in New York later this year, co-owner Kerry Brown says the retail area will be stocked with colorful, retro-chic elevated feeders from ModPet New York and Skate Dog Studios, which gives old skateboards new life.
“We are really working to make ourselves different from any random pet shop,” she says, adding that posh New York pooches will be able to select from “the coolest of the cool” doggie fashions, furniture and accessories.
YouTube has no shortage of videos showcasing destruction caused by bored pets. Puzzles and interactive toys that hide treats serve two important functions: They burn calories and keep pets mentally stimulated. I’ve learned the hard way that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, so my Lulu’s toy box overflows with durable squeaky toys, rubbery bones and colorful tennis balls. Williams says his team regularly brainstorms ideas for new products that will keep cats and dogs entertained and occupied.
“We always ask, ‘What do our customers need that isn’t already out there?'” he says. “We want something that can be thrown, hold a treat, and provide interactivity.”
Designers recently responded with the Tizzi (right). Made with rubbery, recyclable Zogoflex material, the buoyant toy spirals through the air, then rewards curious dogs with treats that owners hide inside. It’s available in three colors — aqua, Granny Smith and tangerine — and two sizes, a 4.5-inch mini version for smaller dogs ($10) and a 6.5-inch version ($16) for the larger pups. To help dog owners find the right toy for marathon sessions of chewing, fetch or tug-of-war, West Paw breaks down the features of each item in the Zogoflex line.
Cats get love from West Paw, too. I know a dynamic feline duo that would go batty for the company’s popular Hair Ball toy ($7, right), made with faux fur and stuffed with catnip. Felines can cut directly to the chase with $7 bags of Rocky Mountain High, organic cotton sacks tied with reclaimed cotton string and filled with that certified organic catnip.
Salon-quality grooming gear
Mainstream hair care companies now focus on taming four-legged customers’ tangled tresses. Fans of Paul Mitchell products can purchase shampoos, conditioners and ear wipes from the company’s John Paul Pet line. There’s no fur gel, yet. But golden retriever owners can check out the paraben-free Awapoochi Shampoo with Shine Memory ($2.95) that was tested on humans first, according to the company.
Wag.com also carries Fears for Tears Tearless shampoo ($12.99), So Spoiled conditioning crème rinse ($12.99) and a No More Drain Clogs fur catcher ($3.99)from I Heart Pet Head, an extension of the popular Bed Head hair care line. Warmer weather also has created a higher demand for flea and tick treatments, which Hochberg says will continue into next season. Customers are stocking up on pesticide-free pet wash, spray and coat conditioner from BarkLogic (right), a newly launched division of Logic Product Group. New York mom Jill Taft started the company with a nontoxic, biodegradable product called Lice Logic that was used to treat and prevent head lice in children.
Raw food options
Pet food recalls over salmonella or high levels of melamine have caused many owners to question what’s in that bag of kibble. Others have already ditched commercially manufactured pet food in favor of raw diets prepared at home. For those of us who lack the time to even whip up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for ourselves, companies have premixed raw food formulations that are frozen for convenience.
“It’s a small segment of our sales right now, but it’s doing really well,” Hochberg says. “There’s definitely interest in it and we have customers who want to feed their pets raw and can’t find it near them.”
Fans of Nature’s Variety dried kibble now have raw options from the company’s Instinct line, which includes pouches of frozen chicken medallions for cats and dogs ($22.99 to $34.99 on Wag.com). The online retailer recently added products from Bravo! Balance as well. Its raw diet variety Beginner Box ($24.99, right) includes a dozen, 4-ounce patties of beef, chicken and turkey. Be sure to consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist before changing your pet’s diet, and remember to use caution when handling raw meat to avoid the risk of E. coli exposure.
The comforts of home
People who let their pets lounge at the foot of the bed wouldn’t dream of confining pampered pups in stark metal crates at a veterinarian’s office. Instead, dog day cares and boarding facilities replicate the comforts of home. Los Angeles-based D Pet Hotels sets the bar high by offering such perks as car service, grooming and pint-size treadmills in its Pant gym (below). At the Los Angeles location, suites range from $65 to $110 a night. The 12 foot by 22 foot über suite features a queen-size bed and 42-inch flat screen, rivaling some New York apartments. Day care rates start at $35 for six hours of playtime in sunny L.A.
Like Williams’ gamble on pet gear in 1996, Brown admits that the 10,000-square-foot dog day care and boarding facility in New York represents a mastiff-size leap of faith. But the APPA expects grooming and boarding services to remain strong in 2012. Last year, pet owners spent $3.79 billion keeping pets clean and comfy away from home. This year, the association expects sales to reach $4.11 billion.
“You can always be scared of these kinds of [investments], but without a lot of risk there’s not a lot of reward,” Brown says. “It’s so fun to launch in New York City. Going to all these doggie events — whether it’s a dog wedding, an animal rescue event or a fashion show — people are so passionate about dogs and so receptive to our concept that, at this point, we are excited to be part of the community.”
These days, it’s certainly good to be a dog or cat anywhere in the United States.
— Morieka Johnson
Share your favorite pet products with Morieka on Twitter @soulpup.
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