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Product Merchandiser Focus: Happy Trails to All

Posted: April 29, 2014, 9:45 a.m. EDT

In-store displays and demonstrations, and the opportunity for customers to try before they buy sell pet travel products.

By Hilary Daninhirsch

When pet owners plan a vacation and hope to include their pets as part of the experience, they want their furred or feathered family members to travel in stylish safety.

Whether those products include airline-approved carriers, portable bowls and water bottles or seat belts and more, industry insiders weigh in with tips for merchandising travel gear.

Product Introduction and Presence
Trade shows provide a great venue for retailers to learn how products work.

"Demonstrations at the major trade shows are the best way for retailers to learn about all of [a product’s] features,” said Michael Leung, product designer and co-owner of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sleepypod, which manufactures a variety of air and car travel carriers as well as travel bowls, cleansers and a bike rack.

Trade shows can provide education as well as inspiration.

"Trade shows are a perfect gathering place offering great opportunities to meet with customers, gain industry insight and to be inspired,” said Richard Casey, president of 4x4 North Americain Stone Ridge, N.Y., exclusive North American importer of the AllSafe Harness and MIM Safe Variocage, and recently launched Traffic Guard, Dogwalk 3, PetBox and Roll Mat. "I find the knowledge, ingenuity and creativity of my colleagues inspiring and the force that will drive the continued growth of the pet products industry.


To help call attention to its line of dog seat belts, manufacturer Max & Zoey participates in national trade shows and small local events, according to Ilan Chekroun, founder of the West Hollywood, Calif., company.

"We also use social media platforms—Facebook and Twitter mostly—and we have relied on public relations efforts to increase interest in our product,” Chekroun said.

Pet Flys, manufacturer of carriers and totes for small to medium-sized pets, awards prizes to customers who post photos of their pets using Pet Flys products on the company’s Facebook page.

"We issue press releases to trade publications whenever we come out with a new product, and we communicate with our customers on a daily basis, via our website and social media presence on Facebook and Pinterest,” said Jana Ritter, public relations and marketing director.

Retailers, also well-acquainted with the power of social media, rely on it to merchandise and inform.

"We use our Facebook page to bring attention to the issue and our solutions, e.g., dehydration in the summer and Beowoof’s portable water bottles and bowls, or the New Jersey laws with respect to pet travel in automobiles and Beowoof’s pet car travel solutions,” said Laura Wrazel, co-owner of Beowoof Provisions for Pets in Hoboken, N.J.

Show and Tell
Some of Max & Zoey’s retail customers display the company’s car buckles in-store so staff can demonstrate to customers simplicity of use, Chekroun said.

Sleepypod clients have displayed carriers and harnesses with plush dogs and cats, Leung said; Pet Flys’ Ritter agreed that visual appeal is a key merchandising strategy.

"We encourage every retailer who carries our products to set up one and display it,” said Terry Gao, president of Baltimore-based Caitec Corp., manufacturer of the Perch and Go Parrot Carrier for small to medium-sized parrots. "We also have a colored carton that has pictures and illustrations of how to use the product.”

"We rotate our displays according to the season,” said Wrazel. "Of course, one of the wonderful things about shopping in a small pet boutique is the customer service—we not only will help you size your pet to a carrier, we also will fill your new water bottle at our water tap and help you install your car carrier in your idling vehicle at curbside.”

Retailers’ Report: Best-selling Travel Items
Beowoof Provisions for Pets in Hoboken, N.J., carries a large supply of travel products, from car seats to totes to messenger bags, along with travel bowls and bottles. The store’s best-selling travel gear includes Sherpa carriers, Outward Hound slings, Gulpy water bottles, Olly water bottles and Kurgo car harnesses, said Laura Wrazel, co-owner.
The best-selling travel category products at Wylie Wagg, with four locations in Virginia, are related to car travel, said Laura Clark, co-owner.
"Car seats move quickly in our stores, and any kind of seat restraints are very popular,” she said. "Next in line would be liners to protect car interiors. Outside of the car space, portable water bottles, especially those from Gulpy and Water Rover, do very well.”
"For overall travel, our preferred product partner, Sleepypod, does a great job with carriers that are airline approved and can double as a car seat; their travel bowls and new car seat keep them at the top of our travel list,” said James Stroder, director of stores for Pussy and Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has four stores in the Los Angeles area. "Additionally, Kurgo makes some great around-town travel items, from car seats to travel food and water bowls. H2O4k9 and Bliss Paws make functional travel products as well.”—HD

Wylie Wagg, with four locations in Virginia, frequently makes pet travel the focus of store displays. Merchandising all travel items together helps increase the average travel-related sale, said co-owner Laura Clark.

"When we make travel the focus of a display, we support it with vibrant, fun signage,” Clark said. "We also try to time the displays with predictable travel seasons. The holidays and summer obviously are periods when we see travel-related sales increase significantly, so those are times when we take advantage of front-and-center display space. We always allow animals to try on anything that requires sizing.”

While the summer and holiday seasons usually show an increase in travel products, many retailers display these products all year long, including Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has four locations in the Los Angeles area.

"The products have a dedicated area within the store, and we frequently use travel carriers in our various displays,” said James Stroder, director of stores. "We merchandise these products to tell a story—often in this category items work together, so we want our clients to see that and be able to choose the options that best suit their travel plans.”

Travel Talk
Most manufacturers and retailers stress the importance of ensuring customers know how to properly use the products. Education can take place right in the store through in-person demonstrations and comprehensive instruction booklets.

"Nothing we sell is more important than the customer, first and foremost, understanding the concept of pet safety,” said 4x4’s Casey. "We provide retailers with high-quality, high-impact and easy-to-digest marketing materials that demonstrate the features, benefits and quality of our unique product line. We offer sales training, product demonstrations, in-store promotional materials and product samples.”

"Each pet seat belt comes with a short pamphlet that details how to best use the product,” said Chekroun. "We have found that it is extremely important to provide that sort of education to our customers, primarily to increase safety.”

"We provide detailed information about our products—both on our website and on the hangtags and insert cards in our product packaging,” said Ritter. "It benefits both sides when customers can get the full use of their Pet Flys products.”

Wylie Wagg’s staff will install car seats in its customers’ cars as they leave the stores so that they can begin using the product immediately, said Clark.

"Additionally, we train our team members to ask the right questions in order to best assist our customers,” she said. "It’s our job to make sure that our customers understand all of their options.”

This corresponds with Clark’s philosophy that education is vital in all aspects of her business.
"Many of the products are not ‘one size fits all,’ meaning that the perfect solution for one traveler might be wrong for another,” she said. "Some products simply must be explained, i.e., how to fit a harness or how to collapse a crate. From a merchandising perspective, that means that we try to make the products very available to potential buyers. Customers can take a harness out of a package and try it on.

They can put their dog in a car seat to see if he or she likes it. They can take a cargo liner to their car to see if it fits.”

Caitec’s Gao said she shares this "Try before you buy” philosophy. Because customers take their birds in for grooming and boarding frequently, the company encourages its retailers to invest in a few carriers for their clients to test before they buy, she added.

"Quite a few are sold that way,” Gao said.

"We support our retailers who carry our products with samples and demonstration units,” said Casey. "Having products on display for the customer to see, touch and try before they buy is an excellent way to increase sell-through.”

Pussy & Pooch also extends its knowledge to its customers by ensuring staff is well-informed, not just about its products but also about all aspects of traveling with pets.

"Our pet experts test the travel gear, so they fully understand the products’ features and functions and how they benefit the pets and their owners,” Stroder said.



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