As more dogs join their owners on new adventures, demand for pet travel products has soared.
These days, dog owners are taking their four-legged friends everywhere—including on vacation with them. With the option of taking their pets along for the journey, owners can arrange to stay on holiday longer and relax more. As such, travel products continue to gain popularity.
“Pet-friendly travel continues to increase with staycations and with more hotels accepting pets, allowing people to take longer vacations if their furry friends can join them,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo. “As a result, dog travel products have evolved. Usability and style are converging to create more travel product options than ever.”
Dog owners shopping for travel gear are driven by product safety, said Mandie Sweetnam, travel and access category manager for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
“Pets are becoming more and more mobile, and the need to keep them safe in the car is a top priority,” she added.
Along with safety, Alina Marsch, director of operations for NYC Pet in Brooklyn, N.Y., said that reliability and ease of use are also important.
“Consumers want products that make traveling—which is an adventure with your pet to begin with—as comfortable and as easy as possible,” Marsch said.
In addition to gear, Janet Monaco, owner of Pet Pros in Rockledge, Fla., said it’s important not to overlook the fact that a lot of dogs get anxious about travel and could benefit from anti-anxiety
supplements. She sells a lot of these type of products to customers who are traveling with their pets.
Find Meaning in Displays
When it comes to promoting travel products, displays can serve many purposes and chief among those is educating shoppers.
“Many people have never thought about their pets’ safety while traveling, even though they would never drive without buckling up their kids and themselves,” said Gordie Spater, co-founder and chief business officer for Kurgo in Salisbury, Mass. “Displays that have educational aspects to them and get the consumer to consider their own habits when traveling are really provoking and can drive sales.”
Spater said displays can be used as a way for customers to familiarize themselves with the products and suggested that pet specialty retailers take items out of the box so that customers can see how they work. For instance, he said a car seat harness can be displayed on a stuffed dog, demonstrating the product’s purpose. Associates should also be trained on how to fit and use the harness, he added.
In addition to being educational, displays can also be inspiring. They can be used to encourage shoppers to take their dog along on adventures. Alina Marsch, director of operations for NYC Pet in Brooklyn, N.Y, said that she tries to keep the store’s travel section creative.
“We have hot air balloons that we have hovering over our travel section,” she said. “We also cut pictures out of travel magazines and put them on poster boards in the front window and in the travel section to create displays. We’ve even put a small pop-up kids’ pool outside and put all of our floating dog toys in there.”
Caroline Gunther, owner of Wag! A Unique Pet Boutique in Hendersonville, N.C., said that last summer her store did a “get out and play”-themed display that was all about spending more time outside with your dog. It included life jackets, backpacks and even toys. Gunther said that displays can definitely serve as inspiration for dog owners to be more active with their pets.
“We also use a series of the large stuffed dogs to display different items, so we might put them in raincoats or show off different collars,” Gunther said.
Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo., said that giving customers the opportunity to “touch, see, feel and try travel gear on their dogs” can make a huge difference in landing the sale. He is a big fan of using a dog mannequin to create displays.
In addition, Parness said that there are many “moment of truth,” opportunities to get customers excited about the idea of purchasing travel gear.
“Merchandising the relevant benefits of types of travel gear should convince consumers of the ‘why buy’ scenario,” he said. “People don’t always think they need more stuff for their dogs, but if you identify a need, and something that makes travel easier, you have now created a chance to turn a shopper into a buyer. Solving problems consumers have with products that are the answers is a winning retail formula, with seasonality playing a role in purchase behavior.”
Find a Balance
Optimizing a product assortment for the travel category isn’t exactly easy for pet specialty retailers. It’s a vast category that encompasses a lot of potential product, and it can be challenging to know what to keep in stock.
“Having assortments made up of products people love helps to create meaningful store experiences with high customer satisfaction,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo. “This is what retailers should strive for.”
Parness said that retailers should rely on their advantage of having “touch points” with customers—and even their dogs—which online retailers do not have. Paying attention to what shoppers gravitate toward and understanding what the store’s best-sellers are, including even small details such as size and color, will help retailers plan their product assortment, Parness said.
Of course, retailers must recognize that they can’t please everyone, but they can aim to do their best to have a good variety so that people know their options, even if the exact product for their need isn’t in stock at the time they come in, said Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va.
“When it comes to something like a life vest or a travel backpack, it’s simply not possible to have every size and color a dog parent might want,” Boden said. “But we try to keep a good representation of what’s available, focusing on the sizes and the colors that would likely reach the most customers, and then we can always special order a different size or color and have it in-store in two to three days. Most dog parents do plan ahead for travel, and this isn’t a problem.”
At the very least, retailers should make sure that they are covering the basics, said Mandie Sweetnam, travel and access category manager for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
“An ideal assortment for a travel set should cover the necessities—safety, clean-up, access and containment,” she added. “Accessories are a bonus, but if you have limited space or just want to test the set out, these basic categories will meet customer needs.”
Products to Get Up and Go
Manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of travel products for pets. Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo., said the company has added products in the lifejacket, backpack and accessory categories. These include the Standley Sport Lifejacket, the Dawson Lifejacket, several new coats, five new Dublin Dog collars, a Hipster Waist Pack and a 2-in-1 Bottle and Bowl.
Gordie Spater, co-founder and chief business officer for Kurgo in Salisbury, Mass., said Kurgo has also debuted new products. The company redesigned its K9 Courier Pet Carrier, and it is now available in red. Pet owners can wear Kurgo’s G-Train Backpack to carry a dog. For the car, the company introduced the Tailgate Dumpster, which eliminates the need to have used poop bags in a car by attaching to the outside of the car, storing poop bags until you can dispose of them, and the Shed Sweeper, a hand-held gadget that will quickly remove pet hair from car seats, hotel furniture and clothing.