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Teaching an old dog new tricks

Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, September 9, 2002

As we move into the next round of our semi-annual ritual, the market week, it may be time to take a look around, outside the tight world that is home textiles.

An article in the Wall Street Journal late last month reported on Americans' dedication to their pets. So what does this have to do with the world of home textiles, you ask?

Quietly, the world of pet care and food produced a bit over $31 billion in 2001 in sales, according to HTT's research — a significantly larger amount than that which was recorded in home textiles retail sales in the same year.

We're talking about some $7 billion in pet supplies which produce the gizmos and gadgets that are ever increasing in the pet world. Think about 63 million American households — where many pets are as important as the people.

Think of some necessities such as these and put them in relationships to the necessities such as towels, sheets and a bed in a bag set. There's the $500 CompleteCare System that dispenses food, opens doors and sends a signal when the pet wanders out of a proscribed space. Then there's the GoDogGo tennis ball launcher at $130 that serves tennis balls to the dogs. And for the truly fastidious, there's the LitterFree cat box at $300 that automatically cleans litter boxes.

And for a bargain price of $30 there's the Panic Mouse, that waves a piece of string in unpredictable patterns. The Panic Mouse sold out 25,000 pieces at a trade show after it was named the best new cat product.

Still don't see the connection?

There's not an iota of price sensitivity, commodity thinking or how-low-is-low mentality shown in what is happening in this market.

Most of the approach is emotional — enhancing the environment of a member of the family, and certainly to many of these 63 million households their animals are family members.

Looking even closer, there's not one item price that is as low as a sheet or towel in the mainstream marketplace. And in fact, the lowest price of the products cited can equal a one-price, all-size bed-in-a-bag promotion.

Maybe it's time for the home textiles industry to appeal to consumers' emotions in a radical marketing change. There's just so many towels and sheets they can stuff in their closets, no matter what the price.

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