Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending this year's PIDA Management Conference, and I found it to be one of the most informative industry events I've attended in the decade that I've been working with Pet Business. The conference gathered a host of pet industry distributors and manufacturers together for four days in Carlsbad, Calif., where they got a chance to network and learn from insightful presentations on the latest consumer trends, the state of the pet specialty channel and the various dynamics affecting all of the retail channels competing for pet shoppers' dollars.
Overall, I came away quite heartened by what I heard at the conference. It seems that the pet specialty channel is doing more than holding its own against outside competitors. While pet stores continue to grow their slice of the pet care market, grocery, discount, dollar and club stores have apparently been stealing market share from each other. This trend appears to largely be driven by pet retailers' ability to differentiate their assortments from cross-channel competitors. Simply put, while Walmart, Kroger and Dollar General are competing for the same customer base, pet stores are courting an entirely different—and growing—group of pet owners; those who are more focused on quality than on price when shopping for their four-legged loved ones.
While this is good news for pet stores, specialty retailers cannot rest on their laurels. Outside competitors have already begun trying to attract the premium pet shoppers that are a pet store's bread and butter. For example, last year Walmart introduced its first natural private-label dog food brand, called Pure Balance. And although this and other attempts at dressing up non-specialty stores' pet aisles have largely proven unfruitful so far, pet retailers must expect that some of these outside competitors might eventually get it right.
With this in mind, pet store owners and operators must always strive to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the pet product trends, using their inherent nimbleness to react quickly—something that their bulky competitors simply cannot do. Pet industry distributors can be a great help in this regard, as can publications like Pet Business and trade shows like the upcoming Global Pet Expo. Each of these resources can present retailers with unique insight into the latest and greatest developments in the pet care category.