Dog Marketplace: Rise To The Vacation
Offer a range of travel products to help dog owners explore the world with their canine companions.
By Nikki Moustaki
These days, it’s not unusual to see a dog flying with an owner in the cabin of an airplane, and dogs traveling in cars are commonplace. The American Pet Product Association’s 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey showed that in 2012, 32 percent of dog owners took their dogs on road trips for two or more nights, and that 28 percent of dog owners used a safety restraint in 2012.
In another survey from the American Automobile Association and Kurgo, 56 percent of respondents said they had driven with their dog in a vehicle at least once a month in the past year. With all of those miles come safety, convenience and comfort concerns for the pet. Fortunately, the pet marketplace has risen to the occasion—or the vacation—and is meeting and exceeding the needs of canine travelers.
Jack Savdie, vice president of sales for Age Group Ltd. in New York, said that growth in this category has been astronomical.
“As the economy eases out of the recession, more people can afford to travel with their dogs,” reported Savdie, whose company is launching a two-in-one collapsible travel bowl this year with a compartment for food and a drawstring to keep it in place. “Many new state laws require dogs to be restrained in a vehicle. As legislation continues to get stronger and spreads to other states, so too will the travel category.”
Products that dogs can carry themselves are popular with pet owners. Pet Portables
Dogs are increasingly top of mind for traveling pet owners, said Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear in Bend, Ore.
“People are considering space for their dogs when purchasing a new car, and dog-friendly hotels and campgrounds continue to grow, making it easier than ever to travel with a dog,” Strible said.
Ruffwear has several new travel products, including its Kibble Kaddie food storage container, its Urban Sprawl bed with an integrated side handle, and an updated version of its Mt. Bachelor Pad travel bed, Strible said.
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said that a store needs a complete selection of travel products to respond to every need and every mode of transportation, with specific attention to the activity options indigenous to its geographic location, such as boating or sledding.
“This segment is very mercurial,” Grow said. “We see huge spikes, and then it quiets down for a while.
But travel is not a category that a full-line store can ignore. Travel is always a consideration at one time or another for pet parents.”
Travel safety products exploded last year because of a safety harness study conducted by the Center for Pet Safety, said Michael Leung, product designer and co-owner of Sleepypod in Pasadena, Calif.
“Many products, such as booster seats, zip lines, harnesses and crates, are just not safe in a 30 mph collision,” said Leung. “Sleepypod tests and certifies every carrier and harness using the 30 mph FMVSS 213 child safety seat crash test.”
Sleepypod recently introduced the Clickit Utility dog harness.
“Restraining pets while driving is on the rise, but only 14 percent of people restrain their dogs,” said Gordie Spater, president of Kurgo in Salisbury, Mass. “We recognize that not all dog owners and dogs can use the same solution, which is why we offer everything from deterrents to jumping into the front seat to a crash-tested harness and seat belts. We want to encourage the 86 percent of people who are not restraining their pets to take at least one step toward reducing distracted driving.”
Kurgo is launching a 50-piece first aid kit that folds to fit in a car’s glove compartment or center console and comes with a downloadable guide for conveniently treating minor injuries, Spater said.
Grow said that the best-sellers in her store are seat belt clickers that, when attached to the dog’s harness, act as a tether restricting movement, especially in a sudden stop.
“The other best-seller is the Lookout car seat by Snoozer,” said Grow. “We also have the full line of containment options from Kurgo. Air travel bags, especially those with wheels, and bags that look like purses are consistently popular.”
|Seasons & Travel Sales|
Travel is seasonal—the winter holidays, spring break and summer are prime get-out-and-go times for all travelers, dog owners included. It might be tempting to rotate travel items on and off shelves to maximize seasonal buying trends, but this impulse could result in lost sales.
“In my experience, many retailers consider portable water dispensers to be a seasonal item and replace water dispensers on display with winter gear and clothing,” said Larry Wechsler, category manager of New Angle Pet Products Inc., maker of the Gulpy water dispenser, in Great Neck, N.Y. “It’s important to have portable water devices available in a travel section, even in winter months, and to educate the consumer on the need for proper pet hydration year round, not only in the warm weather months.”
Skip Whiting, owner of Wise Tails Pet Boutique in Ojai, Calif., said that his store sells everything from roll-out beds to one of its biggest sellers, Earth Heart’s Travel Calm, from March through December. Outside these months, travel product sales slump.
“We have two markets—the locals and the tourists—and our travel products sell pretty evenly between them,” Whiting said. “We carry the John Paul Pet product line, and the Full Body & Paw Bath Wipes sell well during season. Tourists go on hikes with their dogs and will wipe their dog down before going back to the hotel. No one wants a $200 charge on their hotel bill because their dog came in with muddy paws.”
Jack Savdie, vice president of sales for Age Group Ltd. in New York, said that many big-box stores have a dedicated travel section on their floors year round, and that many do a summer promotion for pet travel.
“Give travel products the best spot on the floor during travel season and holidays,” he said, adding that gift buying during holiday season might spike travel product sales.—NM
Taran Dosanjh, manager of operations for Jonkoping, Sweden-based Petcare USA Inc., said that retailers can increase interest in this category by emphasizing safety. Petcare USA is the exclusive importer/distributor of 4pets. The 4pets Penthouse carrier, made for smaller-breed dogs, is expected to launch this summer.
Giving consumers products that make traveling with their dogs easier comprises a big part of the travel segment.
“Sherpa’s proprietary ‘Guaranteed On Board’ program offers a helpful site for pet parents trying to figure out the confusing paperwork of pet travel to make it stress free, fun and easy,” said Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Whippany, N.J.-based Quaker Pet Group, which makes the Sherpa brand.
“Sherpa is partnered with all major airlines. Sherpa’s founder Gayle Martz was a flight attendant and spent years working with airlines to pass regulations that encourage people to travel with their pets.”
Quaker Pet Group just launched the Sherpa Safety Suite, a system that holds and positions any soft-sided pet carrier in a car safely, working with the car seat latch system to protect both the pet and the driver, she said.
“People are more likely to use a product if it’s convenient,” said Nancy Cribb, owner of Furry Travelers Inc., manufacturer of the To Go Bowl, in Delray Beach, Fla. “More people are aware of buckling their pets for safety but want an easy way to do that, such as a seat belt tether that allows a dog’s regular harness to be attached to the vehicle’s safety belt, which can be left in the car at all times, making it easy for a pet owner to buckle up their pet.”
Water and the motion of traveling don’t coexist well. Yet hydration is one of the most important needs for a traveling dog, said Larry Wechsler, category manager of New Angle Pet Products Inc., maker of the Gulpy water dispenser, in Great Neck, N.Y.
“As recently as 15 years ago, products specifically designed to provide a portable water supply for pets simply did not exist,” Wechsler said. “Today, many such devices are available in forms ranging from collapsible bowls to no-spill bowls to hand-held waterers with built-in water storage.”
Comfort and Clean Up
“We know that, dogs being dogs, they’ll get into all kinds of ‘situations,’” said Chip Sammons, owner of Holistic Pet Center in Clackamas, Ore. “Some of our popular products for these issues are Earth Friendly Products’ Pre-Moistened Pet Wipes, Lumino’s Dry Deodorant Shampoo, Halo’s Cloud Nine Herbal Healing Salve and Mad About Organics’ [Organic] Insect Relief [Spray].”
And because a dog’s digestive system can become compromised on trips, Sammons suggests carrying Animals’ Apawthecary Phytomucil Powder from Animal Essentials to soothe the tummy.
“Also, some kind of first aid kit is always advisable—a newer product that we think highly of is Pawflex Bandages,” Sammons said.
For several convenient solutions in one, Janene Zakrajsek, owner of Pussy and Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has four stores in the Los Angeles area, points travelers in the direction of Sleepypod’s Stay Clean Travel Kit, which includes Little Germs products such as cleaner, shampoo and conditioner, stain and odor remover, dishwashing liquid, and either a dog urine or litterbox odor remover and cleaner.
She added that the store’s No. 1 seller in the travel category is Sleepytime Tonic from Heart United Pet.
“When people are traveling over the holidays and popping into the store for a carrier and other travel products, we always ask them if they need Sleepytime Tonic, especially if they’re flying and would use a sedative—this product is not a sedative, but it’s a natural alternative calming aid,” said Zakrajsek.
She recommends taking easy-to-care-for bedding along when traveling as well.
“From the psychological aspect of traveling with a dog, it’s good to have something from home, and flat mats or pads are easy to travel with,” said Zakrajsek. “The one we like and sell is the Eco Nap from West Paw Design. I suggest it to people because it’s lightweight, easy to wash and dry, fits in the car, and if you go somewhere where the dog isn’t allowed on the furniture, you can put the mat on the couch. I also like it because it’s made from recycled bottles.”
Marketing and Promotion
A well-educated staff is critical to selling travel products, and videos are a great way to demonstrate a product’s proper use, said Vicki Rae Thorne, owner of Earth Heart Inc. in Dundee, Ill. Earth Heart recently created a video demonstrating how to use its remedies, including its Travel Calm essential oils and Travel Calm mist.
Peter Vanags, product designer at H2Rover in Cardiff, Calif., said that some travel products do need to be opened, assembled and demonstrated, such as H2Rover’s water bottle, which is designed for hygienic use by both dog and owner.
Ruffwear offers authorized dealers point-of-purchase options, from dog boot displays and dog mannequins to a free-standing display with Ruffwear logo signs or lifestyle image signage, Strible said.
“One effective way to highlight Ruffwear gear at retail is to create product ‘vignettes’ that show several products together; for example, a camping-theme vignette,” Strible said.
Rather than grouping like items together, such as travel bowls with everyday bowls, Furry Travelers’ Cribb suggests grouping travel products together to make a greater impact.
Kurgo uses social media to market its products, asking customers to share photos and stories of their dogs using Kurgo products.
“Social media helps demonstrate that pet travel products are essential and puts your customers in the position to sell the category, which is more authentic,” Spater said.