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’Tis the Season for Shopping

With the holidays just around the corner, get ready to deck your store with gift-able merchandise and winter-themed displays to pull in pet owners.


According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey, 50 percent of surveyed dog owners purchase a Christmas gift for their pet, while 37 percent of cat owners do the same. With so many shoppers looking for that special something for their pet, it’s important that retailers cater to them with innovative marketing, fun displays and holiday-themed specials.

Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has stores in Georgia, said the stores usually hold events where they can attract a large number of people, such as a picture session with Santa or a holiday open house. 

“During picture sessions with Santa, we proudly place wonderful items that pets would want to devour or play with,” he said. “If nothing else, this will serve as reminders to buy the items on their next visits to the store. We also ask our customers to submit pictures of their pets wearing items bought at TailsSpin, and we display them throughout the store, as well as ornaments on the tree.”

"Customers are buying presents for everyone else in their lives ... why not for their best furry friend? Play on their guilt."

Holiday products must be merchandised in the front of the store in an appealing way, said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas.

“You want a customer to be ‘compelled’ to buy their dog a present for the holidays,” she said. “It’s an impulse purchase usually. Customers are buying presents for everyone else in their lives ... why not for their best furry friend? Play on their guilt. Or, customers might be buying presents for their friends’ dogs. Sometimes it’s easier to buy for people’s pets than it is for the people.”

“Jungle” Bob Smith of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, N.Y., said holiday shoppers are always stressed and oftentimes make quicker decisions than during the rest of the year, so he makes things simple by offering preassembled products put together by animal type and aimed at the first-time user.

Prepare Early
While the majority of the big holidays come toward the end of the year—think Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah—pet owners also will buy holiday-themed merchandise for holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and even the Fourth of July.

Robin Kershner, executive vice president of Pet Palette LLC in Sykesville, Md., said the company starts to present its ideas at Global Pet Expo in the spring, and that retailers already should be pre-booking merchandise at that time for the fall and winter holidays.

“We only order a certain amount, and once that is gone it is out for the season,” Kershner said. “Pre-booking helps them to secure the inventory that they want. This year, we have new holiday sweaters, toys, neckwear and more. We also have bow ties and long ties to match our scrunchy collection for Christmas and Hanukkah.” 

Every year retailers prepare earlier and earlier for what often is the busiest time of year, said Amanda O’Brien, director of marketing for Planet Dog in Westbrook, Maine. Planet Dog recently launched a holiday red and green star-shaped Orbee-Tuff Nook, whimsical 2.5-inch balls perfect for stuffing with a dog’s favorite treats. 

“Those with the space for storage want to stock up when they have promotions available to them, while smaller retailers are keeping a closer eye on their inventory to be ready when the season hits,” she said. “Retailers also are more sophisticated now, and many have robust technology systems to help them plan. Suppliers and manufacturers are becoming more flexible and booking future ship dates.”

It’s good for stores to start thinking about holiday-themed products early, said Lisa Hisamune, associate director of sales for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.

“Start to research what kinds of products are out there for the holidays, and then start to plan what you will want to bring in,” she said. “I know a lot of my boutique customers use the holiday season to really deck out their stores and make it festive, fun and inviting for their loyal customers.”

Michael Becher, COO of Fab Dog in Lodi, N.J., said retailers shouldn’t wait too long, as most suppliers have a limited supply of holiday items available. 

Display winter sweaters and jackets in a way that makes these items easy impulse purchases.

On Display
When stores really get creative with the holiday season and decorate their space with all things iconic to the holidays, it makes customers want to come in and see what fun and novel gifts they can find for their pets.  

“Festive window displays will also help to attract window shoppers that mightnormally pass your store by but will be curious to see what holiday gifts they can find,” Hisamune said. “Gift baskets with small things like treats, toys and other accessories are a favorite with pet parents and easy for them to just pick up and go.”  

Making an attractive store display of assorted holiday products is essential for taking advantage of the seasons. At TailsSpin, the store gets decked out for all holidays.

“Often, we use holiday decoration as innovative displays,” Bernhard said. “As an example, we use sale items as ornaments on a Christmas tree. We hang toys on Christmas garland, and we often decorate the store with items that are being featured for the holiday buys. We make sure that customers don’t forget that their pets have been nice all year, and they more than deserve all of our love.”

Pet Palette’s Kershner suggests retailers build around a theme—especially around Christmastime. For instance, one of her retailers takes all of the polar bear toys she has and makes a diorama in her window of the polar bears having fun.  

“Go to the arts and crafts stores to look for little stands, furniture and fun novelty items that play into the theme,” Kershner said. “And use lights. It’s a dark time of year, so lights make it more fun and festive.”

At Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, the store is dressed up with seasonal lights and cardboard cutouts, creating a festive atmosphere, Smith said. 

“Halloween is a great time to boost sales of invertebrates like scorpions and tarantulas,” he said. “For Valentine’s Day, we always run specials on red-eyed tree frogs, red-footed tortoises, etc., and ditto on St. Patrick’s Day, where we wear green and do very well as there are a variety of reptiles and amphibians that wear green all year round.”

Planet Dog’s O’Brien said that using your “shop dogs” as models for sweaters and outerwear can really help show off wearable items come the holidays.

“Many owners have a difficult time visualizing what a product like a jacket, sweater or shirt will look like on their dog, so having a living model can help show off the features, benefits and cuteness of doggie clothing,” she said.

Odyssey Pets’ Redwine always takes note of what the fashion industry is doing for the season and how places such as Bath & Body Works or Starbucks display their seasonal merchandise.

“It’s great to get some inspiration from the big guys,” she said. “Last year, we purchased gingerbread-flavored treats, put them nicely on a big display table when you walked in the store, and put a chalkboard sandwich board outside saying, ‘Gingerbread treats are back! Limited availability.’ It creates desire and action in the customer. We sold 10 times more treats that year than any other year because of that sign.”

Keep in mind that a cute holiday purchase for a pet can be a memorable experience for a consumer and keep them coming back to the store all year long.  

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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