’Tis the Season to Shine
Retailers can turn their stores into a holiday destination with everything from Christmas and Hanukkah toys to winter coats and snuggly beds.
It might be hard to envision it now, with summer still winding down, but before you can say “Santa Claus,” winter will be bearing down, bringing with it cold weather for much of the country. Although they have their very own fur coats, pets still need to be kept comfortable this winter, and they can often benefit from warm beds, booties and coats.
Style and function are important to consumers when it comes to cold-weather gear.
“Pet parents are not only looking for elevated functionality, but they also expect exceptional design and a fashion flair,” said Jacqueline Prehogan, founder and CEO of Canada Pooch Ltd. in Toronto. “More and more, we see pet parents looking to share their love of fashion with their pets, and for their dogs’ wardrobes to reflect their own personal sense of style.”
A winter wardrobe can add excitement to a store’s selection.
“Holiday colors and sparkle perk up a retail floor,” said Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann, director of merchandising and product development for Beverly, Mass.-based PetEdge.
This year, the company is launching new silhouettes of its Zack & Zoey Sparkle Sequin Velvet Santa Coats and Dresses.
PetEdge’s ThermaPet collection protects dogs from the harshest elements with thermal technology “inspired by the space emergency blankets that rescue workers use to wrap around people suffering from hypothermia,” Karpinski-Fuhrmann said.
The new ThermaPet Nor’Easter Coat features a solid-color, water-resistant shell that reverses to soft plaid fleece. The ThermaPet collection includes coats, boots, beds, mats and blankets.
Other trends that PetEdge sees continuing into the holiday season are “cozy sweaters made of natural yarns, chunky-knit sweaters with a homespun look, and sweaters adorned with unique details like the ones we offer with antler or bear ears sewn into the hood,” Karpinski-Fuhrmann said, adding that PetEdge will release new designs of jacquard-knit sweaters and hoodies, which were popular last year.
At Bentley’s Pet Stuff, which has stores around the U.S., owner Lisa Senafe reported that last season’s best-sellers were functional clothing items, such as coats with built-in harnesses as well as Wellies, rubber booties by Canada Pooch.
“As fall comes and the days get shorter, reflective wear and collars and leashes are great to put out,” she said. “People still want to walk their dog, and it’s important to have reflective or light-up gear on.”
Senafe said she anticipates bringing in more tech-based items, such as USB rechargeable light-up collars and leashes, as well as flashing LED light-up raincoats.
Warm beds are big-ticket items that many pet owners will buy for their pets this season.
“While bedding is an all-season category, we now offer a wide-ranging collection of pet beds, and some of them are perfect for the colder season—for example, the ultra-soft Snuggle Bed or the classy Houndstooth Beds,” said Lisa Hisamune, associate director of sales at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.
Holiday Gift Giving
Part of what drives winter buying trends is the increased humanization of pets, which includes the notion that pets should be part of holiday celebrations—complete with their own presents and themed accessories.
“Consumers love the holidays, so expect a continued solid market this year,” said Robin Kershner, executive vice president of Sykesville, Md.-based Pet Palette, a distributor of pet products.
Pet Palette carries 11 brands, and Kershner anticipates offering the largest selection of holiday items yet: 250 items, half of them new.
“Almost all of our vendors have new products this year,” she said. “The biggest new introduction is from Lulubelles, who is featuring their second year of holiday products and launching new toys under their POW-er Plush line.”
For many retailers, toys and accessories are the biggest holiday draw.
“Christmas is all about the Christmas-themed cookies, toys, collars, antlers and hats,” said Jill Bladon, owner of Tailz in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
When it comes to winter items, especially apparel, geographic location can be a big predictor of what items will fly off the shelves.
Bentley’s Pet Stuff has stores in multiple states and carries merchandise based on location.
“We won’t carry the same gear in our Colorado stores that we would carry in our Georgia stores; we cater to our store surroundings,” Senafe said.
“Geographically, here in the Rockies, people want the traditional Rocky Mountain Christmas feel,” said Charlene Cherniwchan, owner and CEO of Mut Hut Pet Emporium in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. “Anything mountain-themed is always popular.”
Product styles change from year to year. For example, last year’s customer for Christmas-themed collars might expect to see new patterns to choose from this year.
“Most consumers will not keep pet toys or neckwear from season to season, so they will come in for fresh products,” Kershner said. “They might ask for their favorite products from last year, or they might want to try something new and fresh. Consumers will buy across category segments, so a retailer will want to be ready for this demand.”
When is the best time to stock holiday and winter items? The earlier, the better.
“We’ve seen a trend in buying earlier for unique holiday items,” said Matthew Moorefield, co-founder of Yarn and Bone Pet Supply Co., which has locations in Camden and Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Yarn and Bone started merchandising holiday items at its beach location in July, Moorefield said.
Hisamune reminded retailers to keep Hanukkah in mind as well during the winter holiday season.
“We get many comments that there are not enough Hanukkah-themed dog items available, so that’s why we created a Hanukkah plush toy set,” she said. “Customers truly appreciate a store that can cater to all holidays.”
Getting in the Holiday Spirit
With so many opportunities for visual merchandising, the fall and winter seasons will likely spark a retailer’s creativity. Props, themed scenes and window displays are all sales boosters.
“The best part about the holidays is that it’s one time of year that you can have fun decorating and go a little crazy with props to create strong visuals around your themed products,” Hisamune noted.
Stores can use displays to cover a wide range of winter-themed product categories.
“We suggest retailers create a scene that features cold-weather gear and holiday products,” Kershner said. “They need to set a scene to show gift giving, outdoor play, gifts under a tree, stockings on the mantle, etc., to get the consumers thinking.”
Seasonal displays are important at Yarn and Bone stores.
“We typically change the theme of the store with each season by adding Christmas trees, cobwebs for Halloween or other interesting added themed boxes or canisters for our bulk bar,” Moorefield said.
Merchandising should start with windows, which offer the perfect opportunity to inspire consumer thoughts of gift giving.
“The best holiday display windows conjure amazing designs, both to delight window shoppers and to lure them toward the registers inside,” said Torrey Haywood, director of sales and retail services at PetEdge. “Retailers must remember that the principle behind display windows is that there’s a retailing element as well as a theatrical element.”
When it comes to apparel, having a pet try the merchandise on and helping the consumer with proper fit can increase sales, Kershner said.
When live animals refuse to walk the runway for a fashion show, dog mannequins are a great way to display winter gear, which is the method used at both Bentley’s Pet Stuff and Mut Hut Pet Emporium.
Creating an inviting, warm ambiance throughout the entire store can help shoppers get into the spirit of the season.
“Turning our store into a winter wonderland with decorated Christmas trees, lights and garland draped through the store and playing holiday music all December ensures customers get in the festive season early,” said Cherniwchan, who also puts toys around the Christmas tree.
Serving cider and treats for both humans and dogs encourages shoppers to stay in the store longer, she said.
Making up gift bags in advance with holiday or winter items and placing them near the register is another way to boost sales, Hisamune noted.
Halloween Costumes for Pets
Forget kids’ costumes—what is cuter than a dachshund dressed like a hot dog? Or a cat dressed like a ferocious tiger?
“People are putting off having kids into well into their 30s to be more financially stable,” said Jill Bladon, owner of Tailz in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “They end up getting a dog or cat instead. Millennials tend to really nurture their pets and really spoil them.”
Consumers like to make their pets a part of the festivities, said Kayti Hylden, business manager for Best Furry Friends, which is based in Hong Kong.
Cat costumes are gaining in popularity, despite what cats have to say about it, Hylden added. In addition to the success of Best Furry Friends’ cat hats and wigs, pajamas and T-shirts for dogs are selling well, as are coat costumes, which serve the dual purpose of being a costume and keeping pets warm, Hylden said.
Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann, director of merchandising and product development for Beverly, Mass.-based PetEdge, predicted that functional costumes that can be used year-round will be a key trend again this year.
“We’re seeing the costume category grow alongside the rise of digital technology and social media,” she added. “It doesn’t hurt that costumed pets are visually attractive—perfect for an Instagram feed.”
Costumes depicting sidekick characters and critters, as well as funny get-ups, tend to be best-sellers, said Erin Breig, managing director of Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique, a division of Richmond Hill, N.Y.-based Rubie’s Costume Co. Inc. and a manufacturer of costumes and accessories for pets.
“Sidekicks like Yoda, Ewok and Chewbacca sell better than Darth Vader and Princess Leia,” she said.
In the “funny” category, food costumes or those with stuffed arms to make the pet look like it is standing upright are popular.
“Blockbuster movies always help with sales, so expect to see a lot of licensed costumes such as Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Minions and Transformers,” Breig added.
Placing pet costumes in a high-traffic area of the store is key, because they can be an impulse buy for many consumers, Breig said.
“I also think stores need to have enough product to make a statement,” she said. “You do not have to spend a lot of money to make a statement: I usually recommend starting with mix-and-match accessories, like hats, collars, wings and tutus, which have low costs and amazing markups.”