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Dog Marketplace: Have Gear, Dog Will Travel


Traveling with pets is becoming the new normal, and it’s a trend that retailers and manufacturers are taking advantage of.

By Keith Loria

An increasing number of dog owners are vacationing with their furry friends. For many, bringing dogs is preferable to boarding; this way, they can join in on the fun and owners can relax knowing that their pet is safe and happy—with them.

“We’re seeing a need for travel versions of everything from food and water storage to toys to containment,” said CJ Pomerantz, vice president of marketing for Advantek in Moorpark, Calif. “We’re not leaving our dogs in the backyard and paying a neighborhood kid to feed them when we go on vacation any longer. We’re bringing them with us, whether that’s on a camping trip or to a five-star pet-friendly hotel, our pets are travel companions now.”

Janene Zakrajsek, owner of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has several locations in Southern California, agreed that people are traveling more than ever with their pets, which translates into consistent sales of functional carriers such as the Sleepypod, which can be secured by a seat belt in the vehicle, and a variety of travel accessories that are ideal for both short and long trips.

“It’s a category that we have continued to expand,” she said. “We now sell a variety of travel bowls, offering different price points and styles that appeal to diverse travelers. Traveling over the recent holidays, we personally witnessed a record amount of travelers and their animals in the airport [and] on flights, which supports what we are seeing in our stores.”

Latest Trends in Travel
Safety is No. 1 for customers concerning travel products for their dogs, said Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer for Sleepypod in Pasadena, Calif. That’s why the company introduced its Sleepypod Clickit Sport safety harness last year.

“When crash testing the car seat function of our pet carriers, we thought it would be interesting to see how they performed next to existing safety harnesses in the marketplace,” he said. “Our testing revealed that none of the safety harnesses protected dogs in automobile accidents, so we developed harnesses that help keep dogs in their seats during a collision.”

Pet owners are looking for carriers that are all about safety, mobility and style, said Kristin Butler, marketing coordinator for Richell USA in Grand Prairie, Texas. 

Have Gear, Dog Will Travel

“People like to have more features on their pet carriers rather than just being a simple carrier,” she said. “Richell USA’s Mobile Pet Carrier is a hard-cased carrier that features casters and a handle to make wheeling pets around easy. It has a place to attach a car seat belt for added safety, and it also meets most airline requirements for pet travel carriers.”

Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear in Bend, Ore., said the company recently released its Load Up Harness in response to customers asking for a harness specific to the vehicle restraint function.

“A lot of the genesis for our new travel-focused gear has come from feedback from our customers,” she said. “As all of us travel by vehicle from time to time, our customers were showing us their creative ways to solve common road-trip challenges. We are excited to provide products that will let them get to and from their destinations comfortably and safely.”

In late 2014, Advantek introduced its Cabana Pet Gazebo, a smaller, 40-pound version of the Original Pet Gazebo, Pomerantz said.

Tommy Gruber, sales manager for Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., said there’s been a notable rise in the sale of portable carriers of late, and that the Pet Gazebo sells particularly well.

“Now that the recession is pretty much behind us, you see a lot more people out there traveling,” he said. “The Pet Gazebo is a great product for bringing your dog along, as it’s easy to set up and break down, and there’s a great tote bag that goes with it.”

The niche for travel gear that shouts luxury is expanding rapidly in response to the growing demand for exclusivity from dog lovers everywhere, said Elaine Doran, owner of The Puppy Hugger and Hugger Designs LLC in Greenwich, Conn.

“We introduced the pet stroller set this past year, which includes a gently bolstered, custom-sized crate pad, a small blanket to burrow under on cold days and a small bone pillow for amusement,” she said. “This year we also will be offering custom-sized versions of our beds to fit in crates for travel. Pair that with a matching crate cover to calm the nervous pup and you have the perfect travel car set.”

On Display
Jeff Merriam, owner of Teacups & Toys, a Pet Boutique in Birmingham, Mich., said that travel products are a cyclical sales item, and he encourages sales during the off season by showcasing the bright colors of the travel carriers and other items.

Merriam sought out a professional merchandiser for the store to help come up with ideas for displays. 

“We have a glass wall system so people can see the products better, and I use white tables from Ikea to better display the items,” he said. “If you wrap yourself around the product and become knowledgeable, learn how to use it and train your staff accordingly, that sells the product better than any gimmick.”

Have Gear, Dog Will Travel
Calming products, such as the ThunderShirt, can make traveling with pets easier. Loyal Biscuit

Sleepypod’s Leung said displaying harnesses on a dog mannequin sitting in a car seat is a great way to get attention in-store.

This year, Ruffwear is rolling out new product packaging to clearly present the brand and make it easy to find in-store, Strible said.

“Retailers also will appreciate the new packaging because it will provide them with enough information to help them sell our products while also being attractive on the sales floor,” Strible said. “Retailers can display collections of products together to tell a story. Showing a collection of travel products together—a Bivy Bowl, our Dirt Bag Seat Cover and our Load Up Harness—gives consumers a clear idea of what they may need for their next road trip.”

Pussy & Pooch regularly features carriers prominently in its windows throughout the year as they make a colorful and eye-catching foundation for displays, Zakrajsek said. 

“We actively promote the idea of traveling with pets as it’s an important aspect of our pet lifestyle store concept,” Zakrajsek said. “We dedicate a pretty substantial area in each of our locations for merchandising carriers and related travel gear like travel harnesses, bowls and beds; plus other travel aids like calming sprays, anxiety wraps and the like can easily be added on to any travel sale as relevant to the human/animal companion needs.”

Gaining Customer Traction With Travel Products

To spread the word about travel products, Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., highlights these products in an email blast that it regularly distributes to its 7,000-plus customers, said Tommy Gruber, sales manager.

“This is important to do before summer or the holidays, when people are planning to go away,” Gruber said. “They’ll come in, see the products set up in the store and realize how convenient they are for traveling with their dog.”

Ruffwear also is leveraging social media to get the word out.

“We provide the content and imagery to our retailers in an easy-to-use format so they can both help spread the word of new products and let their customers know that they are their local retailer for Ruffwear products,” said Susan Strible, director of marketing for the Bend, Ore., company.

To help retailers with dog travel item sales, Richell USA in Grand Prairie, Texas, offers videos for all of its products to show pet owners all the features of an item and how to use it, as well as training tips from an expert on the best ways to use the product, said Kristin Butler, marketing coordinator.

“Retailers can make more sales by concentrating on carriers that offer many features as well as being a one-stop shop for all the items needed when traveling, such as a Sipper Nozzle to keep pets hydrated, or a blanket or toys for pet comfort,” Butler said. “It is also important to let pet parents know which size carrier is best sized for their animals to keep pets safe, secure and comfortable.” —KL


Expedia for the Pet Industry

Furlocity.com connects traveling pet owners with pet boarding facilities.

Life just got easier for customers who travel with their pets or need to locate trusted pet-related services—and for the businesses that offer those services.

Furlocity.com’s pet accommodations website and online booking platform enables pet owners to search, identify and instantly book trusted pet boarding facilities, veterinary services and pet-friendly hotels—and helps those businesses grow by becoming part of the website.

Co-founders Andy Smit, CEO, and Amber Kirsten-Smit, president, developed the idea after Andy interned for more than 18 months at boarding facilities and saw that most businesses’ and veterinary offices’ booking processes were outdated, inefficient and paper-based.

“Today, nearly 97 percent of consumers search for businesses online, and I saw first-hand that this industry needed an online booking solution to help more pet parents find them so they could grow their businesses,” Andy said. “Furlocity is the best way for pet parents to find trusted boarding facilities and book a stay with you 24/7/365. The best part is that it’s simple enough to use for both the pet parents and the boarding facility owners.”

Even better, Andy added, is the fact that there are no setup or monthly fees and no contracts.

“Furlocity keeps things simple because our No. 1 goal is to help your business grow,” he said.

If you offer boarding or other pet-related services and are looking to gain a wider audience, go to Furlocity.com, click on “List my Business/Apply Now,” fill in the form, and a Furlocity account manager will respond within 24 hours.

To help your customers find reliable and trusted sources for vacation stays, veterinary visits and more, be sure to share with them the features of the website.

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