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Promote Dog- and Cat-themed Gifts That Pet Lovers Can't Resist

Posted: Oct. 16, 2012, 4:45 p.m. EDT

Dog- and cat-themed presents for people are a hit with shoppers—both during the holidays and year-round.
By Sandy Robins

The market for petcentric gifts for people has become a very buoyant and lucrative one for retailers, as pet lovers continue to spoil themselves and their friends with clothes, jewelry, stationery and home accessories on a regular basis.

“We have definitely seen this market grow considerably despite the downturn in the overall economy,” said Kara Wahlstrom, owner of Hot Joe Jacket in West Linn, Ore., maker of pet-themed beverage insulators for both hot and cold beverages that are available in retail stores nationwide, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. “We have seen our business increase by 300 percent in the second year of our business.”

Dog and cat jewelry
Dog- and cat-themed items that can generate an emotional response from pet lovers can lead to more sales. Courtesy of Paw Prince
The company’s newest collection of beverage insulators for pet people is called Pet Couture and features dogs, cats and paw prints. Hot Joe Jacket is currently looking to expand its retail distribution.

“The retail appeal has been that the product is for people of all ages, including kids, and is also very environmentally friendly, saving our landfills from trash from throwaway paper coffee sleeves,” Wahlstrom said.

At The Cat Shoppe & The Dog Store in Nashville, Tenn., about 75 percent of merchandise in both stores, which are connected to one another, is dedicated to petcentric gifts, reported Chris Achord, owner.

“This type of merchandise sells well year-round apart from specific holiday times of the year,” Achord said. “It can be anything from an impulse buy, a special occasion gift and also to memorialize a pet that has been much loved that has passed away.

“I am constantly rotating the merchandise in the stores to keep things fresh,” she continued. “I regularly purchase new display tables and racks and have special displays for collectibles, which are also hugely popular, such as those created by Jim Shore.”

One company keeping things fresh is Dog is Good, based in Los Alamitos, Calif. It recently added canine-themed merchandise called Never Walk Alone to its collection of dogcentric, people-focused products, and also launched two lines, Cat is Good and Horse is Good, to appeal to cat and horse lovers.

Pet-themed gifts for humans
Stores offering a range of gift items can benefit from customers’ love of all things pet-related. Courtesy of Teca Tu: A Paws-Worthy Emporium & Deli
“In our experience, petcentric gifts are a growing market segment,” said Gila Kurtz, co-owner of the company. “We’ve noticed more and more retailers creating sections in their stores to accommodate gifts for dog, cat and horse lovers to the point where we have doubled our business each year and are currently experiencing a 40 percent increase in growth over this time last year.

“We have displays for stickers, dog water bottles, magnets, greeting cards, and now our coffee mugs,” Kurtz added. “We are constantly coaching stores on how to best display our apparel, and are also working on branded displays that stores can purchase.”

People enjoy treating and spoiling themselves and their friends, in the same way that they enjoy treating their pets, noted Gina Swansburg, owner of Gone to the Dogs in Wakefield, Mass.

“We keep large displays of people products right next to our pet treat section,” Swansburg said. “Apart from holidays, birthdays bring a lot of regular year-round business. My range of merchandise has been reduced in recent months because of the economy. But I would love to extend my selection again once things begin to improve and people have more disposable income.”

Knock Knock, publisher of quirky stationery items, reported huge success with its pet-themed gift cards and other stationery items.

“I have a personal bond with pet-loving customers because I am one myself,” said Jen Bilik, president of the Venice, Calif., company. “Plus, on a practical level, pet people are a big market.”

The company recently produced a special journal for first-time dog owners called “It’s a Dog’s Life,” an interactive book that allows pet lovers to add photographs and other mementos.

“We plan to continue coming out with pet-oriented products,” she said. “I consider much of our merchandise to be impulse buys. Consequently, product placement is important in a store.”

Industry Voices
What is the huge appeal of petcentric gifts, and what is pushing the growth of this category?

“We attribute our success to our emphasis on pet-human relationships and the daily experiences we have with our pets. We believe the use of humor and poignant sentiments generates an immediate emotional response and resonates with pet owners.”
Gila Kurtz, co-owner of Dog is Good in Los Alamitos, Calif.

“If you have merchandise at every price point, people feel they are able to indulge and spoil themselves and their friends. I have an extensive range from low-priced friendship bracelets to Chandler designer dog-themed pillows, retailing around $40. The demand is huge. I could easily double the space allotted to petcentric merchandise in my store.”
Ann Kjelsberg, owner of The Salty Dog in Pacific Beach, Wash.

“Pet lovers have a special bond, too. Thus pet-themed merchandise gives them something to talk about.”
Kara Wahlstrom, owner of Hot Joe Jacket in West Linn, Ore.

“The market continues to grow despite the economy because people love to gift merchandise that depicts their pets.”
Sara England, owner of Sara England Designs in New Market, Md.

“There’s no question pets have huge appeal. That’s why after 40 years in the automotive aftermarket business we have extended our line of automotive decals to include petcentric ones named Express Your Pet.”
Matt Bagne, president of Chroma, a division of PlastiColor Inc., in Fullerton, Calif.

Following on the success of its pet-themed luggage tags, FouFou Dog has launched a gift line called Love Your Breed. The full line of breed-specific products includes rhinestone stickers, acrylic key chains, key covers and pens.

“Pets may come in many shapes and sizes, but each has a personality all of its own,” said Cheryl Ng, CEO of the pet fashion house in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. “Nothing shows you care more than giving your fellow pet lovers a thoughtful gift to remind them of their pride and joy. We also added 3-D bookmarks and notebook covers to the product line this past August. As more and more ideas come to mind, we will continue adding to the line. The possibilities are endless.”

At Outer Barks in Duck, N.C., the store’s owners have added their own line of T-shirts to the selection of pet-themed gifting merchandise they sell.

“They have proved to be good sellers, along with hand-painted tiles and jewelry items,” noted Kevin Carey, who co-owns the store with his wife, Robin.

“We have displays throughout our stores, to keep customer interest piqued as they browse,” he said. “Items that show off well include mugs and photo frames. Recently, with the whole adoption trend and the promotion of mutts and mixed breeds, we have moved away from breed-specific items to more generic cat and dog stuff.”

The Pavilion Gift Co. and H2Z, a division of Pavilion Gift, in Bergen, N.Y., also saw a strong trend in rescued pets, reported Lauren Andolina-Wrobel, marketing and sales coordinator.

“This is what prompted Pavilion Gifts to launch its Rescue Me line of merchandise, which is based on real life pets,” she said.

“People also enjoy novelty gifts such as dog or cat salt and pepper shakers or fun martini glasses,” Andolina-Wrobel continued. “We have a range that has little pet figures sitting in the glasses. They can be removed to be placed on a little stand. The idea is that you never have to drink alone.

“The whole idea of such fun, petcentric merchandise is to make people smile and appreciate their pets,” she added


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