Travel Items Move Onward, Upward
With dog and cat owners taking their pets with them more places, the travel category enjoys expanding products and solid sales.
Beyond basic carriers for veterinarian visits and vacations, today’s market for travel products encompasses slings, harnesses, car safety restraints, essential oils and more. Overall, people are taking pets with them everywhere they go, from the grocery store and the office to restaurants and on vacation, said industry participants.
“People are really changing the way they see their dogs,” said Cristina Kulkowsky, retail operations manager for Healthy Spot, which has locations in Southern California. “[Dogs] and even occasionally cats don’t just stay at home anymore. They want to share life with their pets now.”
In a national survey conducted by Kurgo in 2016, the company found that 57 percent of dog owners take their pet with them on local errands weekly, said Gordie Spater, chief business officer and co-founder of the Salisbury, Mass.-based company.
“But millennials are doing it significantly more often,” he said. “We know it’s the younger set—gen X and millennials—who are doing this at a much higher rate. The dog is a member of their family, and millennials are the first generation to really grow up with dogs in the home their entire lives.”
Empty nesters also influence the travel category, said Joe Volpe, president of Car-Dek in Sarasota, Fla., adding that as kids leave the nest, the pet becomes the new child.
These factors have contributed to the uptick in sales of these products, according to insiders.
“I see the travel category growing steadily as more people realize there are products out there to meet their needs,” said Mandie Sweetnam, category manager of travel and access for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., maker of the PetSafe brand. “As we see the travel category rise, we can attribute much of that to awareness.”
Safety remains a prominent theme for dog and cat owners, followed by ease of use and style, according to retailers and manufacturers.
“We have noticed a growth in the request for travel products to increase safety, not only for the pet, but also for the driver,” said Steve Dunker, president of Tails to Remember Pet Services in Springfield, Ill.
According to Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Worldwise in Novato, Calif., the uptick in people traveling with pets in the U.S. and internationally has resulted from “the increased quality of product solutions that promote safety, convenience, and comfort for both the pet and the pet parent.”
The travel industry, from airline carriers to hotels and restaurants, is also “promoting pet travel and making great efforts to accommodate and welcome pet-friendly travelers,” so more consumers are taking their pets with them on family vacations, he added.
At Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, Wash., co-owner Jennifer Larsen said, “Front packs, especially slings, and strollers are popular for smaller dogs, with strollers and bubble pods [popular] for cats.”
For cats, ease of getting them into the carrier or stroller as well as harnesses are a prevalent request, according to retailers and manufacturers.
Spater noted the interest in harnesses for cats, too.
“We know a lot of people use our harnesses for cats as we’ve seen them posted on Instagram—there’s even a cat owner’s travel hashtag,” Spater said.
Products that Pamper
BarkLogic, a brand of New York-based Logic Products, is launching the BarkLogic Aloe and Flaxseed Deodorizing line, which consists of four products. The line is free from sulfates, phthalates, parabens and polyethylene glycol (PEG). The cruelty-free, vegan line is also infused with natural plant-based enzymes and lemon peel essential oil to break down odor-causing molecules, said Jill Taft, founder of BarkLogic.
Longview, Texas-based BioDerm Laboratories, maker of the Bio-Groom brand, recently added to its Indulge line featuring argan oil.
“This product is a crème rinse to complement the shampoo that has been reformulated to add extra benefits including extra shine and conditioning to the skin and coat,” said vice president Justin Pohl. “We have completely revamped the look of the Indulge line. We wanted to do something to the packaging that would enhance the retail shelf presence.”
Natural Paws in Scottsdale, Ariz., has released Dry Clean Dog, a natural spray to keep dogs clean and smelling spa fresh, said founder Elyse Horvath.
“It’s great for the spa segment because it’s clean and easy to use, it’s effective in removing dust and allergens from the coat, and it’s got that incredible natural aromatherapy of sweet lavender mint,” Horvath said.
Prioritizing Instruction Increases Sales
As the travel category grows, pet specialty retailers and manufacturers are prioritizing pet owner education, industry insiders report.
“Consumer education is paramount to making sure that consumers understand how to safely travel with their pets and understand the key features and benefits, sizing, airline requirements, etc.,” said Neil Werde, managing director of canine development for Worldwise in Novato, Calif.
Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, and founder and owner of Earth Heart in Dundee, Ill., agreed. “Education remains crucial in helping customers recognize and understand what makes a product safe, effective and affordable for not just the dogs, but for the entire family,” she said.
Repeatedly, industry insiders cited the following three key methods to effectively educate customers:
“Conversation is our top one,” said Cristina Kulkowsky, retail operations manager for Healthy Spot, which has stores in Southern California. “We try to use all outlets, even literature, but, generally speaking, conversation goes the furthest in reaching people.”
Jennifer Larsen, co-owner of Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, Wash., agreed, adding that talking to customers and inquiring about their needs can be particularly helpful in the travel section.
“We ask a lot of questions and go through the products with them,” she said.
2. Digital Media
From blogs and social media posts to videos and podcasts, pet specialty retailers and manufacturers are using all the digital mediums at their disposal for education purposes.
“We have done a lot of education in our store and on social media,” said Steve Dunker, president of Tails to Remember Pet Services in Springfield, Ill.
Pasadena, Calif.-based Sleepypod makes instructional videos available to its customers, said Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer.
“When well executed, videos provide a visually stimulating and easy-to-follow tutorial,” he said.
Lorien Clemens, vice president of sales and operations for PetHub in Wenatchee, Wash., said the company’s “partnership with GoPetFriendly.com has been key to helping us educate folks about important travel safety tips, as well as explaining how digital identification for pets is a critical part of keeping them safe. We’ve had tremendous success with infographics and online stories, and we’ve also started a podcast through Voice America called ‘Pet Lover Geek’ that helps us get out a ton of great pet safety and innovation news.”
3. Employee Education
Both retailers and manufacturers said they value store staff education and find it helps drive consumer education and sales in this category.
“We love to train the store associates,” said Gordie Spater, chief business officer and co-founder of Kurgo in Salisbury, Mass. “You must make people comfortable opening the conversation. We leverage videos in training store folks. Also, offer signage and infographics that tell the data, needs and why these items are important.”