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Holiday Gift Lists Increasingly Include Pets

Retailers can help pet owners check items off their holiday gift lists this year through holiday-themed stock and creative seasonal displays.


With the holiday season just around the corner, now is the time for pet specialty retailers to start strategizing for this festive time of year. Retailers might want to think about what their customers want and how to best meet their needs so that they are inspired to purchase gifts for their own pups, as well as those canines that are loved by their friends and family members.

Around the holidays, pet owners are typically willing to spend more—and they often do, according to Anthony Santarsiero, president of Milford, Ohio-based TruDog, a manufacturer of pet treats, chews, freeze-dried raw food and other pet supplies. Holiday gifts for friends and family are usually emotionally driven purchases, he noted, and it’s no different for pet owners shopping during this season.

“It makes sense that a pet parent would want to splurge on higher-end items they wouldn’t normally purchase for themselves or their fur baby,” Santarsiero said. “That includes everything from top-shelf food to nonperishable hard goods.”

With the economy continuing to increase consumer confidence, Santarsiero said, TruDog foresees customers putting their extra income toward pampering their best friends.

“The most noticeable segment is a younger generation of pet owners spending more on their pets than previous generations,” he said. “While there will always be holiday bargain hunters who tend to be less brand loyal and more brand agnostic, you will see retailers focus on personalizing the brand buying experience.”

Lisa Hisamune, director of sales at San Francisco-based pet bed and toy manufacturer P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), agreed. She said the holiday season is definitely a time when people are willing to spend a little more—and retailers should prepare for that by giving them options.

Traditional holiday-themed or festive-colored products are popular with consumers, according to Hisamune.

“For instance, classic holiday objects like candy canes, gingerbread men or turkeys will always appeal to shoppers,” she said. “It’s the time of the year where many people are looking for gifts, so smaller items like toys do very well as they are compact and perfect for stocking stuffers.”

One trend that cannot be ignored at this time of year is the connection that pet owners have with their animals.

“The market is trending for anything that makes pets part of the family Christmas or holiday celebration,” said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent, a Washington, D.C.-based manufacturer of pet toys and accessories. “Families want to include their pets in the gift opening on Christmas morning with a stocking, or at holiday parties with seasonal neckwear. It’s also a time for holiday photo cards to send out to friends, and we see a lot of those featuring our neckwear or hats to make the photo fun and festive.”

Kershner advised that all retailers should consider holiday merchandise to boost fourth-quarter sales.  

“Each year, at Huxley & Kent, we see a variety of products including toys, treats, neckwear, hats, scarves and stockings for the pets move quickly,” she added. “We design a lot of toys and neckwear especially for this time of year, to capture holiday-specific sales.”

Assortment Optimization

Stocking the Right Stuff

Keeping an ideal product assortment is not always an easy task for the holiday shopping season, as it requires quite a bit of forecasting. This is particularly true for perishable goods, said Anthony Santarsiero, president of Milford, Ohio-based TruDog, which manufactures pet treats, chews, freeze-dried raw food and other pet supplies.

“Seasonal items can be tricky for some retailers when it comes to constantly delivering on quality and freshness when ingredients are out of season or right timing,” he said. “But if presented in the correct way, retailers can forecast demand for the supply chain, keep inventory balanced and not lose margins on expiring lots. Because we are a natural food products company, we’ve built up our customer base through education, superior customer service and diversification of products.”

Looking at all of the seasonal holidays is also an important part of assortment optimization, said Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), a manufacturer of pet beds and toys.

“We observe that the most successful retailers tend to be conscious of many other holidays that are celebrated by different communities,” she said. “For instance, many of our partners do well with our Hanukkah toys. Bringing in different toys for various holidays not only allows retailers to capture more sales with specific groups of customers, but it also serves the purpose of refreshing the assortment from time to time and, hence, giving a fresh look to the shoppers who frequently visit.”

Grouping also matters.

“We notice one of the best practices is to have a variety of items that group well together in a themed display or even as gift bundles,” Hisamune added. “Another obvious, but no less important, consideration is to have a robust range of products that serve the different needs of pet parents who have pets with different sizes, play styles and more.”


Festive Displays & Inspired Gifting

The time leading up to the holidays is prime for pet specialty retailers looking to create enticing displays.

At Salty’s Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., the store’s big front windows offer the staff the opportunity to design creative holiday displays that draw shoppers in.

“We are lucky as far as location goes that we get a lot of foot traffic on our street, but the window displays absolutely draw people in,” said Tim Gonzales, store manager. “Impulse buys are popular around the holidays, and displays go a long way toward encouraging them.”

Of course, displays and decorations inside of the store matter, too. Steven Esposito, owner of Pets Unlimited in Clearwater, Fla., said that something as simple as adding ribbons to items in the store can have an impact. It’s about getting customers to think of items—even those that they might be purchasing anyway—as gift ideas.

Anthony Santarsiero, president of Milford, Ohio-based TruDog, which makes pet treats, chews, freeze-dried raw food and other pet supplies, agreed that getting shoppers thinking about gift giving is a great approach.

“One of our favorite tactics to use is the buy for yourself and gift to a friend option, or what is commonly known as referral and word-of-mouth marketing,” he said. “As a consumer, you get rewarded for spending a little bit more, and we’ve created convenience for you to check that special recipient off your list of people to buy for.”

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