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Product Merchandiser Focus: Pet Carriers and Totes

Posted: April 18, 2013, 6:15 p.m. EDT


Emphasize Style and Safety
Displays with pizzazz increase sales of totes and carriers.
By Amy K. Hooper

Pet product manufacturers and retailers report that traveling customers—primarily dog owners but other pets, too—typically buy shoulder bags and carriers in June and early November. Are you ready for the biannual spike in sales of these travel items?

Stores such as Best Buddies Dog Boutique & Bakery in St. Pete Beach, Fla., offer pet travel products year-round.

"We’re lucky to be in a tourist destination and on the beach,” said owner Alan Ronay. "We get a lot of people who are traveling, and a lot of times, people come in to ask for shoulder bags or carriers. We have a section of the store devoted to travel, with a variety of totes and carriers available all the time.”

Pet carriers
Stack airline-approved carriers to create a visually appealing display.Courtesy of Best BuddiesDog Boutique & Bakery
That strategy coincides with the perspective that pet owners typically plan to buy these travel products.

"A pet carrier generally is a destination purchase,” said David Fine of Bark N Bag, based in Culver City, Calif. "It’s not an impulse purchase.”

Joann Buchanan, manager of Teca Tu in Sante Fe, N.M., said customers come into the store with a specific purpose.

"When people want something to go on the airline, they ask us,” she said.

"When creating displays, consider the typical buyer: female and/or an "empty nester,” Fine said. "The kids are out of the house, the couple gets a small dog, they’re traveling, and they’re not kenneling their dog.”

Your tote and carrier displays can appeal to buyers’ eye for style.

"Women today are very fashion-conscious,” said Danee Fleckenstein of Kurgo Products in Salisbury, Mass. "Traveling with their small dogs is an extension of who they are style-wise. There is a strong move toward the ‘see and be seen’ mentality.”

When you see customers bring their pets into your store, you have an opening to ask about the animals’ safety during the trip to and fro. If the pets aren’t restrained or contained in vehicles, the owners are doing their pets an injustice, said Brenda Brewster of Pioneer Pet Products in Cedarburg, Wis.

What’s Selling
Travel products approved by airlines rate highly for some retailers and their customers.

Alan Ronay, owner of Best Buddies Dog Boutique & Bakery in St. Pete Beach, Fla., said he prefers the airline-approved models, with Teafco’s Argo carriers standing out as best sellers. He also recommended Jaradén pet carriers.

"Jaradén basically look like purses,” he said. "They look better in a group; especially when you have a full line; that looks good together.”

While Joann Buchanan, manager of Teca Tu in Santa Fe, N.M., said airline-approved bags traditionally have been good sellers, they’ve seen a drop.

"We don’t sell nearly as many of the airline-approved bags as we used to,” she said. "It’s a lot stricter than it used to be.”

Regardless, Sherpa pet carriers remain strong sellers at Teca Tu.

"The Sherpas do guarantee that you get on board with the right size,” Buchanan said, referring to its Guaranteed On Board program with many airlines (www.flygob.com).

Buchanan said the store sees more sales of roller bags and carriers now, including ODonnell Industries Snoozer Roll Arounds.

"It’s been gradually growing,” she said. "Why carry your pet if you don’t have to?” –AKH

"The animals are more prone to injury when they’re not in a carrier,” she said. "Nobody plans that an accident happens, and the last thing you want is your animal being thrown from the seat to the floor or injuring your child. We try to have our retailers stress that it’s best for the animals.”

Some retailers find that it’s best to stock airline-approved products that make it easier for their customers to travel with their pets. Ronay said he found success by displaying colorful, airline-approved carriers together at the front of the store. Buchanan said Teca Tu’s staff will measure the pets to ensure that the animals fit comfortably inside airline-approved carriers and their owners aren’t turned away by airline personnel.

Using stuffed animals along with shoulder bag or carrier displays might prove helpful to customers, said Fleckenstein.

"Show the customer what one of the bags looks like with a small dog in it, and then direct them to where the remaining inventory is on display,” Fleckenstein said. "They can use the stuffed animal to try out any of the bags that suit their fancy.”

When you have many shoulder bags and carriers on display, you might become pressed for space. Fleckenstein said a stand-alone waterfall rack offers a nice option.

"This spiral rack has bars that stop every few inches and allow the bags to hang freely,” she said.

If shelf space is your only option, consider products that come in compressed packaging. Brewster said Pioneer Pet Products’ carrier arrives sealed and flattened.

"You can put them on the shelf, storing them on top of each other and keeping just one out on display,” she said.

Floor space provides the opportunity to stack carriers of different sizes for customers’ easy perusal.

"If you stack them with the largest on the bottom, it makes a great display,” Fine said. "It makes customers think the products are safe and sturdy.”

A window display offers an even more enticing visual, Fine said.

"If you have the window space, it’s great to showcase products that way with travel posters behind the stack.”

Make sure to ask customers about the timing of their travel plans.

"We suggest that the pets get used to getting in the product at home before the trip,” Buchanan said.

With the pets’ comfort and ease in mind, work with customers before the peak travel seasons and show off travel totes and carriers in attractive displays.

More Than Vacations and Holiday Travel
Even though manufacturers and retailers see sales spike before summer vacations and fall holidays, consider talking with customers about other reasons to keep totes and carriers on hand at all times.

1. A pet’s safety in a vehicle depends on its owner’s willingness to restrain it during travel. Like the California Department of Motor Vehicles say in its Driver Distractions brochure, "A loose pet in a moving vehicle can be very dangerous. ... Never allow your pet to sit in your lap while you are driving your vehicle.”

2. Aging pets can remain on the go with their owners after getting out of the car. David Fine of Bark N Bag, based in Culver City, Calif., said carriers can benefit small senior pets with mobility issues. "You just pick up the whole bag, and away the pet goes,” he said. Fine also mentioned wheeled bags as good for senior dogs and senior citizens. "There’s no weight that you have to bear while pulling it,” he said. Click here to see new products for senior dogs.

3. Some states, such as Nevada and Washington, require that animals be safely restrained inside vehicles. Officers with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can issue tickets with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000. Your customers must research vehicle codes and animal cruelty statutes whether they run errands with their pets or plan to travel with pets by car in other states.

4. June is National Pet Preparedness Month. Do your customers’ emergency supplies include totes and carriers that can reassure and protect their pets during emergencies, natural disasters and evacuations? Do they regularly practice using these products with their pets so the animals feel more comfortable getting into these portable spaces at any time?—AKH


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