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Best Gift Ideas

Posted: August 9, 2013, 11:30 a.m. EDT

Successful specialty gift manufacturers appeal to pet owners’ love of nostalgia and whimsy—and sense of fun.

By Arden Moore

Tapping America’s love of cars, particularly classics such as the first generation of Ford Mustangs, is revving up interest in a new line of pet-themed license plate frames created by Chroma Graphics in Maryville, Tenn. This company started off customizing lettering for race cars 41 years ago and plunged into the pet market a few years back when company leaders saw a direct link between car enthusiasts and pet lovers.

"People who restore old Ford Mustangs tend to take good care of these cars, much in the same way people do for their pets,” said Nikki Hayes, the company’s national accounts sales manager. "We have new automotive license plate frames with fun, whimsical pet designs from Friendly Doggy and pet artist Gary Patterson. That frame around the license tells people what drives you and what you live for, and we’re discovering for many people, that means the pets in their lives.”

Courtesy of Gabriella Collection.

The Bagne family-owned company is boldly unleashing a Crazy Cat Lady frame and decal kit for friends of felines to proudly declare on their back windshields just how many cats they have.

"Some people who might not have a family or children should be able to tout across the back of their vehicles how much they love their cats,” Hayes said.

At Saltbox Signs in Wichita, Kan., the right pet quip displayed in the right font on a sign gets people talking, laughing and buying, said its president, Rhonda Savoy. Among her top new sellers is a sign sporting the message: "Dear Dorothy: Hate Oz. Took Shoes. Find Your Own Way Home—Toto.”

Carrie Scott, owner of Good Dog Goods in Oak Bluffs, Mass., carries much of Saltbox Signs’ inventory and reports that the signs wow her customers.

"Our customers love the sentiment that her signs express,” Scott said. "Everything from a sign that simply says, ‘Woof!’ to a big seller, ‘What part of woof don’t you understand?’ cause people to chuckle through my store.”

Pet-related signs represent about 15 percent of her company’s business, and Savoy said that percentage is growing steadily each year.

"Our goal is to have our signs cause people to stop, pause and smile, and through our signs, we bring a lot of joy into people’s lives,” Savoy said.

Two companies—Lisa Welch Designs and Pipsqueak Productions—are owned by talented artists who focus on creating keepsakes for pet lovers. Lisa Welch designed upscale jewelry for 25 years and listened to client feedback to produce pet-themed jewelry described as "whimsical and sophisticated.”

The result is her Open Paw collection of necklaces, earrings and rings that are proving to be popular gift items for the Dayton, Ohio-based company. She also sports a clever company motto: Go ahead. Drool.

Welch recently added a line of horse-themed jewelry after discovering that some people in the dog show world also have horses. The result is expanded sales into a new market. Welch also fosters customer loyalty by quickly providing a replacement earring if a customer loses one—for free.

"A lot of people are shocked by this service, but I want to prove to my customers that we are there for them,” Welch said. "They appreciate this and end up buying more jewelry.”

Mary Badenhop is president and artist of Pipsqueak Productions in Honesdale, Pa. In addition to an extensive line of breed-specific cards, stationary, tote bags and other items, she recently expanded into kitchen-related items sporting her artistic designs.

One of her kitchen towels depicts a basset hound with the words, "Wipe your drool.”

"These terry-cotton towels come with grommets and a hook, and look similar to the towels golfers hang on their golf bags,” Badenhop said. "We are adding kitchen items, such as cutting boards, trivets and mugs, in all breeds.”

Gaby Gotzens exemplifies fulfilling a niche in the pet industry. Her Gabriella Collection caters to fashion for large-breed dogs, particularly those with small necks, long bodies and shorthaired coats, such as Doberman pinschers and greyhounds. Her source of inspiration is Carlo, her 6-year-old Doberman.

They live in St. Chrysostome, Quebec, Canada, where winters are long, snowy and bitter cold.

"I got Carlo when he was a puppy, and there were no coats in the pet stores that could fit him,” she said. "I noticed that there is too much clothing on the market for small dogs, so I decided to fit the large dogs with big chests, slim hips and small necks. My coats are made to fit them perfectly and to keep them warm and looking good.”

On her website, customers provide their dogs’ specific measurements, and Gotzens custom designs sweaters, coats and stylish collars. Quality is paramount, Gotzens said, adding that she selects the finest materials, such as wooden snap buttons and Velcro strips, to properly fasten the coats. She expanded her line to include clutch purses that match the collars to give a smart look to fashion-conscious people taking their dogs on walks.

Being bold and edgy is working for Jeffers Pets, especially with its sales of a pink shirt proclaiming, "Protect Those Puppies” from Dog Is Good’s line to raise breast cancer awareness and shelter animal adoption, said Renee Jones, pet marketing and canine specialist for the Dothan, Ala.-based manufacturer.

"This shirt has been a big seller, because it is cute and has a double meaning, but it is not so risqué,” she said, adding that breed-specific products, especially T-shirts sporting popular breeds like Labrador retrievers and dachshunds, are strong sellers.

Canine cool captures the essence of Teddy the Dog’s line. The poster pup for this Needham, Mass.-based company is a non-breed-specific dog sporting sunglasses on a line of T-shirts, caps, dog bandanas, leashes, tote bags, plush blankets, cookie jars and notepads.

"We always try to provide signage to our retailers for Teddy items, such as ‘Come check out Teddy over here,’ or we provide them with content that runs LED messages across their register,” said Jon Sneider, manager and designer.

The perennial popular Teddy message—Dirty Dogs Have More Fun—remains a strong seller in T-shirts as do shirts proclaiming, "Never heel, never roll over,” Sneider said.

Chad Lopez, owner of The Urban Mutt, with stores in Berwyn and La Grange, Ill., carries eight different Teddy the Dog T-shirts in his store.

"Visibility and fresh styles definitely have a major impact on how the shirts sell,” said Lopez, whose store’s most popular items are dog-themed wine accessories in addition to the T-shirts. "Teddy the Dog has some quirky shirts with just a little edginess that our customers get a kick out of.”

Teddy the Dog is unveiling a line of plush gift blankets measuring 50 by 60 inches and treat jars with the slogan, "Show me the biscuit.” Customers love the opportunity to customize beach towels with monogrammed text when placing their orders, Sneider said.

"Other competition caters to people in love with dogs, whereas we convey a fun, loving, adventurous spirit in our products that appeals to more than just dog lovers,” Sneider said. "All can identify with Teddy drinking, biking and paddle boarding. You might not have a dog, but if you like those activities, our shirts help you relate.” <HOME>


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