By Kerri Danskin
Jennifer Ernst has been selling Halloween costumes for pets in her shop, Dapper Dog, for 15 years, and in that time has seen a lot of changes.
“Costumes have become more sophisticated and more affordable,” says the manager of the Bridgehampton, N.Y., store. “When we first started selling them, they were not inexpensive.”
As dressing dogs has become more widely accepted, dressing them up for Halloween has become a no-brainer. Many people like to involve their dogs in practically all the fun things they do.
“Where we grew up, in Santa Cruz, California, Halloween is a big thing,” says Gary Ochs of Doggie Design, a pet apparel manufacturer in Surfside Beach, S.C. “When we started doing doggie clothes, we just thought the enthusiasm for Halloween would translate into the doggie world.”
Spooky Spider Costume, Sherpa Pet Group
“We have found that even people who never dress their pets all year will have their pets sporting costumes for this holiday,” says Michele Ochs, also of Doggie Design.
“There are a lot of people who only dress up their dogs for Halloween,” agrees William Viscome of Puppe Love, a manufacturer in Costa Mesa, Calif. “It’s the hit of the party. [Halloween] is a way of introducing them and their dogs to wearing clothing other than costumes.”
How can a retailer motivate a customer to make that Halloween-season enthusiasm a year-round thing? Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann of the manufacturer Pet Edge, located in Beverly, Mass., says the key is to position pets as members of the family.
“It’s about educating them on the fact that this is not just a trend, but the humanization of their pets,” she says. “People are treating pets as they would their children. They want to dress them up, take them out and parade them around in the latest fashions or just a basic tee, sweater or sweatshirt, just as they would do with their child.”
Some retailers have found that once the costumes come out, customers request them at other times of year besides Halloween.
“The bulk of sales are done in-season, but they do sell year-round,” says Karpinski-Fuhrmann.
“Over the years, I learned my lesson,” says Ernst. “Especially here in the Hamptons, there are parties. People come in and say, ‘I need something to put on my dog.’ I used to put all the Halloween stuff away [when Halloween passed] and then we started bringing it back out again.”
Ernst says that despite the small retail space at Dapper Dog, she makes it clear to customers that there are a lot of choices in her storage area and when a customer requests a costume at another time of year, she can simply pull out some options.
Kathy Thaler, owner of Decadent Dogs in South Haven, Mich., had upset customers when she put her costumes away too. She tried to do away with costumes entirely.
“We try to carry something for every season and though it’s not a huge seasonal item for us, when we thought about eliminating them, we had requests,” she says.
Viscome says costumes sell well year-round for his company, but there is a 60 percent increase in sales around Halloween.
When deciding what kinds of Halloween costumes and other items to stock, retailers are wise to remember the basic desires of their customers.
“Rather than the full-blown costumes, for us, people prefer neckwear and headgear,” says Thaler. “We carry things like devil horns, capes and collars that are seasonally themed, things that dogs don’t mind. We find those sell the best.”
Monkey Costume, Doggie Design
Ernst, on the other hand, finds that full costumes and all kinds of accessories, like bandanas, collars and other items, sell well in her store. In fact, when she spoke with Pet Style News in June, she had just sold a pig costume and a skunk costume to a customer in her store.
Options abound in the marketplace, with subtle celebratory apparel like T-shirts and collars in orange or black, pumpkin and witch toys, treats and—of course—the costumes.
Unlike the human Halloween costume market, pet costumes are expected to be high-quality, not throwaways.
“It has a lot to do with the fabric choices,” says Gary Ochs. “We choose good quality, durable fabrics. Color is also really important, as is the finishing work on the costumes.”
“Our costumes are designed for repeated use. Many are designed for multiple holidays,” she says. “They are constructed for years of fun and can be traded between pet owners, multiple pet households or donated to a local shelter.”
Ernst says costumes have changed a great deal since she started selling them.
“Some of the old-fashioned costumes just didn’t fit the dogs,” she says. “These newer ones you put on the dog and it fits more like a coat.”
Commit to Win
After 15 years of selling Halloween items, Ernst has advice for other retailers.
“Bring [Halloween merchandise] in because it will sell,” she says.
She also recommends changing displays as frequently as possible, particularly to support sales around certain holidays,. Display changes draw people into the store and once they come in, they see items they may not have noticed before even if they have shopped there.
“That truly is the magic of retail,” she says.<HOME>
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