Dogs are getting ever more mobile as more public spaces become pet friendly, and products to make these outings easier are in demand.
Dog owners know that regular walks are an important part of their pet’s health regimen. But these days, a lot of owners are doing more than just taking leisurely strolls—they’re taking their dogs hiking, running and on other various outdoor adventures, as well as everyday outings. That makes outdoor activity products a vital category for independent pet specialty retailers.
With so many pet owners taking their dogs on all kinds of adventures, the products on the market are starting to focus more on specific activities, said Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator for EzyDog in Ponderay, Idaho.
“This enables pet parents to venture to new places with their dogs or just bring them on more casual strolls with peace of mind,” he said.
There is definitely a trend toward owners wanting to involve their dogs in more aspects of their lives, added Irene Diaz, sales assistant for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif.
“As dogs are settling in as prime members of the family, more companies, businesses, cities, and even airports are taking note and creating more dog-friendly locations,” Diaz said. “Now, there are even apps that you can download that will let you know of locations to take your beloved pup.”
George Parente, founder of Dogs & Cats Rule, which has five locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, agreed that the acceptance of dogs in an increasing number of public settings has definitely encouraged owners to take their pets out and about.
“It’s becoming the norm to bring your dog along when you leave the house,” Parente said. “Naturally, that has generated more interest in better-quality leads and harnesses. I think more pet parents are also educated on the benefits of using a walking harness for safety purposes. A collar and lead alone can put stress on the dog’s trachea. If dog owners are going to be walking their dogs more often, they want them to be safe.”
Jan Hopper, owner of Living Pawsitively Natural Pet Supply and Gift Store in Lafayette, N.J., also noted that safety is incredibly important when it comes to walks.
“Both safety for the owner and the dog are important,” Hopper said. “We sell a lot of leads from Marine Dog, which makes a very strong lead. We also get a lot of interest in Ruffwear’s harnesses. Good-quality products definitely encourage safety.”
Thinking Outside the Box
Getting creative with in-store displays as well as selling opportunities is a great way to attract more attention to the dog walking and outdoor activity product category.
Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore., said that her stores have been exploring unique ways to sell even more leads, harnesses and outdoor adventure accessories. At the beginning of the summer, Bend Pet Express has a big camping sale, which is always successful for the stores, McCohan reported. But going forward, she added, the stores are considering more interactive opportunities that would create value that pet owners would never be able to get from an online purchase.
“We would love to be able to have a play section in the store that allows pets and their parents to try items before they buy them so that they can understand not only what they are buying and how to use it best, but also have an opportunity to learn if a product isn’t right for them,” McCohan said. “Another future marketing approach we’re considering would be to get out to the popular walking and hiking destinations and have items for sale that customers may have forgotten.”
In-store displays can also have an impact. Susan Strible, director of marketing for Bend, Ore.-based Ruffwear, said the company encourages retailers to leverage Ruffwear lifestyle photography in store displays and use the imagery to “evoke emotion and inspire customers to seek their own outdoor adventures with their dogs.”
“We also like to bring the outdoors in with product displays, using natural elements like pinecones, sticks and rocks,” Strible said. “Our dog mannequin can wear Ruffwear gear to add visual context for how the product is worn or the intended activity. These concepts can make it easy for customers to understand the design intent behind Ruffwear products and get a better sense of our values.”
Irene Diaz, sales assistant for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., said that engaging customers with options and with education in product displays can also be helpful.
“We feel that dog owners at times aren’t even aware of the options that are available when it comes to going out with their pets,” Diaz said. “When creating a store display, you can take the opportunity to also make it both informational and alluring. Stores can generate more interest by providing tips for successful trips with your dog or providing information for local dog-friendly events or sites.”
The Importance of Variety
With all of the options that are out there, having the right product assortment is key to stimulating sales in the outdoor accessories category.
Susan Strible, director of marketing for Bend, Ore.-based Ruffwear, said that giving thought to grouping like items can be a successful strategy.
“Grouping products together by activity, such as camping or trail running, can guide customers to make purchasing decisions as they look to complete their activity ‘kit,’” she said. “Ruffwear lifestyle photography supports these outdoor activities and can ideally showcase the product collections while inspiring a sense of adventure.”
Irene Diaz, sales assistant for ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., added that the assortment of products should always reflect the objective a retailer is aiming to achieve.
“For instance, if the goal is to have owners want to go out with their dogs more, then the assortment should be items that are compact and portable,” Diaz said.
Retailers could even create three categories for “outdoor adventures with dogs,” Diaz added. Basic items might include waste bags, treats and collars. A travel grouping could include leashes, car seat covers and compact bowls. Diaz also suggested having an outdoor toy grouping for keeping pups entertained while out of the house. Retailers could use these groupings to come up with creative display ideas as well, she noted.
New products have recently been introduced to the market in the outdoor adventure and walking category.
EzyDog has a new denim range. Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator of the Ponderay, Idaho-based company, said that this makes the company’s most popular products now available in a “fashionable look that’s fit for all dogs—male or female, from city to countryside.”
In addition, ZippyPaws in Chino, Calif., recently released its Adventure Car Hammock, a car accessory to help keep backseats free from dirt and pet hair.
“Soon to come will be our Adventure Car Front Seat Barrier and Adventure Support Lift Harness,” added Irene Diaz, sales assistant for the company. “The front seat barrier is great for keeping your pup safe in the backseat, allowing you to drive without distraction. The lift harness assists pups with mobility issues to get into the car, making it easy on your pup and your back.”