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Pop Culture, Human Halloween Costumes Inspire Pet Costume Manufacturers

Posted: June 7, 2011, 6:15 p.m., EDT

Pet Halloween costumes reflect pop-culture and human trends.
By Angela Pham

While trick-or-treating for chocolate may be out of the question for pets, costumes aren’t. Today’s privileged pets, typically dogs, often celebrate holidays when their owners do, with Halloween being no exception. From pilgrims to princesses to penguins, costumes sized for dogs are commonplace in stores during the holiday season, especially in boutiques that cater to small breeds, many of which tend to dress up daily anyway.

This year, many manufacturers are looking to pop culture and human Halloween trends to get their pet costume inspiration, and the results will line store shelves come fall.

In-store photo-booth areas, costume contests and trick-or-treat events can draw in customers during the Halloween season.
In-store photo-booth areas, costume contests and trick-or-treat events can draw in customers during the Halloween season. Photo courtesy of Debbie’s Pet Boutique
Puppe Love of Costa Mesa, Calif., is adding 20 costumes to its lineup this year, which brings the company’s total to more than 110 costumes, said owner Bill Viscome. One new aspect that Puppe Love has been working on for three years is set to debut: LED lighting in costumes that comes complete with a battery pack and controller.

“We have, for example, a witch, and one of the layers of the skirt portion we have Velcroed in an LED light network,” Viscome said. “We’ve got LED added in six Halloween witches this year.”

To determine his costume themes each year, Viscome monitors what the human costume market is doing, then uses the inspiration for his original designs, he noted. A measurement-specific size chart for dogs and a vigorous exercise test for each costume design ensure every fit is precise and comfortable, making the company’s costumes suitable for finicky and uniquely sized dogs, he added. Retailers that stock and promote his costumes on live, store-dog models throughout the year do well on sales year-round, he said, as little dogs are often dressed up in costume regardless of the season.

The “cute factor” of pet costumes can make using a store-dog model a successful sales technique. PCPB Wholesale of Carlsbad, Calif., produces pet costumes for retailers. Its owner, Christi Silbaugh, recommended having a dog or dog mannequin displaying the company’s clothing.

Industry Voices
What do you do with leftover costumes?

“There are times during the year that I’ll offer a bigger discount than some of the items in stock, but I keep them for next year.”
—Patti Hasner, owner of Bow Wow’s Best and Meows Too LLC in Delray Beach, Fla.

“We’ll mark them down for a little bit, and whatever hasn’t sold in a week or two, we box up and store away for the next year to bring back out.”
—Dawn Bell, store manager at Pets in the City in St. Louis

“We put them on clearance and leave them out for maybe three weeks or so, and then they go in the box for next year. We try to move them as much as we can to get our money back instead of storing it for the year.”
—Beth Staley, owner of Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, Ill.

“Last year, we put a bunch on clearance for probably about a month, and whatever we still had left, we put out at a discounted price for this year and the beginning of the [next] year. They go pretty quick, and then we have all our new stuff out.”
—Nancy Maida, co-owner of Pawsh Dog Boutique & Salon in Boston

”Usually we clearance them, though it depends on what it is. If it’s a staple that we use and there’s going to be enough left for next year, then we save them, but for the most part we put them on clearance because we get new ones every year, mostly.”
—Jaime Calderbank, owner of One Lucky Dog Boutique in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Stores can also have a picture-booth area where pets can get their picture taken for Halloween,” Silbaugh said. “They can also do trick-or-treat events, with dogs getting treats instead of candy. The photo ops seem to be a big one because they can do it from October through November for harvest season, with hay and pumpkins and everything set up.”

PCPB is working on new superhero costumes for this year, with Silbaugh getting trend advice from her teenager. Still, she expects the company’s old standby, its penguin costume, to sell big this year:

“It sold out last year, and people are still trying to buy it even though it’s not Halloween, so we’re re-releasing it in August,” she reported.

Animal costumes are consistent top sellers for a number of retailers. Bow Wow’s Best and Meows Too LLC, an online pet boutique based in Delray Beach, Fla., has shark and panda bear costumes as its best-sellers, said owner Patti Hasner.

“We do get so many sales for Halloween,” she said. “[Customers] start shopping around in September, maybe around the end of August. I do a newsletter and send out a coupon with my newsletter, and I usually change my front page to include costumes.”

In Los Angeles, manufacturer California Costume Collections Inc. has teamed up with Animal Planet to create a series of pet costumes based on endangered and extinct animal species, such as the African elephant, stegosaurus, triceratops and hammerhead shark. A portion of the each sale from the Animal Planet line, which was introduced at this year’s Global Pet Expo, is donated to organizations that aid in animal conservation and pet rescue, according to Jessica W. Holt, account manager for California Costume Collections.

While the costumes could fit a cat or pig, the models for all the costumes are dogs, Holt said. Currently, the line is sized to medium, but second-generation costumes set to debut in 2012 will cater to larger sizes, she added.

With price points typically well under $20, the Animal Planet line is a pretty easy sell for customers who might use the costumes only once in a year, but even better for those who use them more, Holt noted.

“A lot of these costumes aren’t seasonally specific,” she said. “For instance, the hammerhead shark is cool for a warm summer night and a walk on the beach.”

The company also is planning a line called Pupparazzi, which will feature costumes based on popular musicians and groups, such as Lady Gaga, Elvis and punk rockers.

Big Dog Love
Small-breed dogs may have more options for pet costumes, but large dogs have carved their own spot in the category.

PetEdge of Beverly, Mass., has seen an increase in customer requests for big dogs, so the company has expanded the size range of its popular classic costumes to include an XXL size this year, reported Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann, director of product development.

Customers who might have a hard time finding costumes to fit big canines can shop for Halloween-themed accessories that aren’t as cumbersome. At the Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, Ill., owner Beth Staley said she stocks simple items such as bandanas, decorative collars, headpieces and capes that are easy to get on and off a big dog that might not be used to being dressed up.

“I think the bigger ones don’t tolerate clothing as much because they’re not as used to wearing clothes,” she noted. “That’s why the smaller pieces and fluffy-collar kind
of things work better for them.”

At Pets in the City in St. Louis, store manager Dawn Bell said big-dog owners have a harder time finding costumes, but the demand is there.

“If more of them were available, I think more and more dog people would buy them, especially since Halloween can be so chilly,” she said. “People seem to like dressing up their Great Danes, and the piggy costumes for a pit bull are a big favorite, too.”AP

Come Halloween season, Holt suggested that retailers have customers create costumes of their own and compete in a costume contest. Whoever wins can score a store costume.

“It draws in more customer interaction, draws them into the door, anyway,” Holt said.

At Pets in the City, a retailer in St. Louis, store manager Dawn Bell said pig, bunny, monkey and princess costumes always do well, but she tries to source new, unique costumes each year for regular customers who want something different for their dog every season.

Customers with black and white dogs like to get cow costumes, she said, adding, “And there’s always a traditional hot dog for the dachshund.

“We also try to get as many costumes as we can from a local lady’s business called Doggy Duds,” Bell noted. “Local is usually better made, and you can get more for your money.”

The animal theme continues with new costumes from manufacturer PetEdge of Beverly, Mass. It is adding a collection of plush animal costumes, such as Casual Canine Panda Pup, Zack & Zoey Lil Honey Bear and Zack & Zoey Penguin Pup. Fitting in with the princess-theme trend—especially relevant considering the royal wedding this year—PetEdge is introducing a royalty-themed assortment called the Zack & Zoey K-9 Kingdom Collection.

“When developing new Halloween costumes, a great deal of our inspiration comes from trends in the children’s and adult markets, popular movies, as well as feedback from our independent retailers and their customers,” said Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann, director of product development for PetEdge. “Another trend is that pet owners with multiple dogs—or sets of friends who own dogs—are looking to dress their pets up together using coordinating themes.”

Costumes selling in bulk to group shoppers—it’s a trend retailers can live with.  

In-store photo-booth areas, costume contests and trick-or-treat events can draw in customers during the Halloween season.
The “cute factor” of pet costumes can make using a store-dog model a successful sales technique.Photo courtesy of Puppe Love


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