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Specialty Pet-Themed Gifts for People Grow in Popularity


From the Pages of Pet Style NewsThe increase of specialty products mirrors how more people view their pets as family members and signals a return from the recession.
By Marissa Heflin

It’s no surprise that pets increasingly are regarded as family members, as evidenced by pet owner spending statistics. For instance, pet owners spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011, up 5.3 percent from $48.35 billion in 2010, according to an annual spending and data report from the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Insiders expect the trend to continue. Pet owner spending, including money spent on pet food, supplies, live animal purchases, veterinary care and other services, is estimated to increase 3.8 percent to $52.87 billion in 2012.

Pet-Themed Gifts for People Grow in Popularity
Danny Gordon, an artist/illustrator for Danny Gordon Art LLC, said his prints are popular because customers enjoy having a unique and lighthearted keepsake of their pets.
However, another indication that four-legged animals have achieved “family” status is the amount of money spent on pet-themed gifts and specialty products for their human counterparts. This category includes bookmarks, calendars, cards and stationery, clocks, picture frames, jewelry, magnets, mouse pads, mugs and other dishware, key chains, paintings and treat jars, among other items.

Although APPA does not have concrete statistics on how much people spend on pet-themed gifts and specialty products, the money spent on this category has increased and will continue to do so, according to Bob Vetere, president of the Greenwich, Conn., organization.

“As we’re starting to come back [from the recession] and people are feeling a little more comfortable in the way things are going, they feel that they owe a debt of gratitude to their pet because [it was] the one thing that stayed with them during the hard times,” said Vetere, adding that humanization plays a large role in people’s attachment to their pets. “Now they want to reward their pet by buying [pet-themed] gifts and trinkets.”

Although the reward is meaningful on a human basis, versus an owner buying a new toy or treat for the actual pet, the reward can be seen as a representation of how they feel about their pets, Vetere said.

Kelley Carpenter-Conijn, owner of Gilman Hot Springs, Calif.-based online pet specialty store Max & Plugs, agreed.

“Pet people love their pets like family,” she said. “They’re not just dogs and cats; they’re your best friends, integral members of your family, your partners in crime and your furry children. They’re deeply entwined in your life, heart and home. Friends and family of pet owners recognize this and know that pet-related products and products for the pets make terrific and thoughtful gifts.”

What’s New and Popular
More than half of the items Max & Plugs carries fall into the pet-themed gift and specialty product category, according to Carpenter-Conijn. This includes products for “Her,” “Him,” “The Kids” and “The Home.”

Best-selling products include a line of ceramic mugs by Our Name is Mud and the Pet Party barware line.

“They are popular because they are unique, fun and clever, and they make great gifts because you don’t need to know the recipient’s size…just whether they love dogs or cats or both,” Carpenter-Conijn said. “Our line of handbags, sunglasses and readers, nightshirts and Snoozies also are very popular. They are great gift items you won’t find everywhere.”

The kids category is taking off, she added. Popular products include pet-themed clothing, toys (both educational and just for fun) and crafts they can do with their pets, such as the Art Kit for Pups & Kitties, Picasso Pooch DIY Bed and the PetCakes Kit.

Pet-Themed Gifts for People Grow in Popularity
Moochie & Co. stores have "people tables," where they showcase pet-themed items.
Recent product additions include a line of jewelry from artist Mark Poulin and the Pet Haven Indoor Folding House. Although the pet house is technically for the animal, it makes a great gift for the owner because of its added storage, stylish design and portability, Carpenter-Conijn said.

Magnets are the fastest selling pet-themed products for Worthington, Ohio-based Moochie & Co., according to Mike Dagne, president and founder.

“They have been one of the most explosive categories we’ve brought in,” he said, adding that Moochie & Co. has been carrying magnets for about two years. “We have a hard time keeping them in stock.”

The company, which has 12 retail stores, also carries picture frames, ceramic mugs and holiday items, and it soon will add welcome floor mats, among other products.

Revenue from this product category remains pretty steady during the year (about 5 percent), but jumps up to 15 percent during the holidays, according to Dagne. At one point, he considered cutting the product category altogether, but the recent upward swing made him reconsider.

“It was very difficult for a very long time,” Dagne said. “Leading up to 2008, it was a very healthy business. After 2008, a lot of customers cut back [due to the recession] and weren’t buying that extra gift. We’ve seen it come back steadily to the point where we are adding new lines for fourth quarter.”

Chroma Graphics, a company that produces aftermarket automotive accessories, such as car decals, recently launched its My Pet product line specifically for pet enthusiasts.

Pet-Themed Gifts for People Grow in Popularity
Merchandising displays are one way to attract customers to pet-themed gifts and specialty products.
“A lot of pet owners kept asking us if we made [breed-specific] decals,” said Matt Bagne, president of The PlastiColor Companies, parent company of Chroma Graphics. “We got together and said, ‘There’s a whole market segment out there that would really enjoy our product.’ We make the highest quality decals on the market, and we used to do pet mats, so we thought we could put a larger program together.”

The Fullerton, Calif.-based company entered the pet market several years ago by selling pet placemats. Eventually it phased the placemats out to focus resources on automotive.

This time around, the company will offer several products as part of its My Pet line. These include placemats, license frames and decals, which will make up the bulk of the line. The products are doing well so far, Bagne said.

“We were at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., our first pet show, and it was very well-received,” he said.

Danny Gordon, an illustrator/artist for Oklahoma City-based Danny Gordon Art LLC, said his prints typically are the most popular because customers enjoy having a unique and lighthearted keepsake of their furry friends.

“Consumers always are seeking something different or at least something old with a new twist,” he said.

In addition to prints, Gordon’s designs appear on mugs, coasters, magnets, bookmarks, vehicle tags and key chains, among other products. He has created about 400 images representing 90 dog breeds. His newest line is called Danny’s Doggies.

Gordon sells his products direct to customers through his website, and he has wholesale options for pet retailers.

Mary Badenhop, president and artist for Pipsqueak Productions, also has a large artwork collection available through her website in addition to pet retailers. The Honesdale, Pa.-based pet greeting card and gift company includes more than 400 designs featuring more than 90 breeds of dogs, cats, birds, fish, farm animals and ferrets.

People tend to buy her products based on a following that extends outside the United States and into Japan and several countries in Europe, she said.

Badenhop releases 15 new watercolor designs each year. They are then printed on greeting cards, bookmarks, light switches, T-shirts, mouse pads and more. New designs this year include the basenji, the Chinese crested and the American bulldog, among 12 others. Badenhop also recently added several new products featuring her designs, including paw-wipe towels and license plates.

Making the Most of Sales
Because pet-themed gifts and specialty products can be found almost everywhere, from stationery stores to grocery stores, pet retailers might have to put in a little extra thought on how to maximize sales.

’Tis the Season for Pet-Themed Gifts
The holidays tend to spark increased spending on many product categories, including pet-themed gifts and specialty products.

“Fourth quarter is the time to sell pet-themed gifts to people,” said Mike Dagne, president and founder of Moochie & Co. in Worthington, Ohio. “Everybody is looking for a unique gift. There are a lot of pet owners who are crazy about their pets, so it makes a real nice gift for those people. You also get a lot more credit when you bring a gift that is pet-themed than a bottle of wine.”

Revenue in this product category typically jumps from 5 percent to up to 15 percent during the holidays, according to Dagne. As such, the stores offer a host of holiday gifts including ornaments, a paw print ornament kit and stockings.

Kelley Carpenter-Conijn, owner of Gilman Hot Springs, Calif.-based Max & Plugs, an online pet specialty store, agreed that the holidays play a role in product popularity.

“Clothing, such as shirts, hats, robes, slippers and lounge wear, especially is popular during the Christmas holiday season,” she said. “We have a category on our website called ‘This Time of Year’ which caters to products relevant to the current season and holidays.”

Danny Gordon, an artist/illustrator for his company, Danny Gordon Art LLC, in Oklahoma City, reported selling more product variety during the holiday season.

“It’s because people want to provide something functional, such as mugs and key chains, as well as humorous to their family and friends,” he said.—MH

“What’s become really clear to manufacturers and retailers over the last several years is that the same person is buying for humans and pets,” APPA’s Vetere said. “My golden is not going to the store and saying, ‘I want this.’ Marketers used to market as if my golden was going in for something.”

Retailers know who their clients are—whether they are blue collar, holistic or whatever—so they need to market products that match each type of clientele, Vetere said. For example, one retailer might have customers that gravitate toward finer pet-themed products like dishware and barware, while another might be more into little knick-knacks.

“Retailers know who walks through their doors on a regular basis,” Vetere said. “Look for those supplementary pet-themed products for humans.”

That’s how Los Angeles-based Pussy & Pooch approaches it.

“In our Long Beach location, we get a lot more tourists, so we’ve been offering some of the human line of jewelry and accessories from the Rockin’ Doggie line,” said Janene Zakrajsek, co-owner.

The line includes bracelets, earrings, rings and charms, among other items. They are not fast sellers, but they are good impulse buys, she added.

Pussy & Pooch also carries pet-themed cards, books and candle box sets, which seem to be very popular, Zakrajsek said. It has an annual Obey the Pure Breed campaign that showcases artwork by Kevin McCormick. The artwork is a spin-off of Shepard Fairey’s propaganda posters, only with pets. Pussy & Pooch has sold merchandise around the artwork and most recently included framed collectibles to help boost sales.

Overall, pet-themed products make up about 7 to 10 percent of the company’s revenue.

For pet retailers looking into incorporating this product category, Moochie & Co.’s Dagne suggests starting small and learning what you can sell. Magnets are a good core, he said. Offering handmade gift bags, such as gift wrapping a mug with dog treats inside, is another option.

Moochie & Co. stores have a “people table” where they showcase pet-themed products. It’s easier to point customers to one area for this product category, according to Dagne.

Merchandising displays are another way to attract customers to these types of products, said Badenhop, who offers such options to pet retailers.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Pet Style News.


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