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2:18 AM   April 26, 2015
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A Tough Sell

Retailers have mixed feelings about stocking pet-themed totes.
By Sandy Robins

There’s no question that pet lovers like all kinds of pet-themed merchandise, including handbags, totes and luggage accessories. The real question is, is it worth it for pet retailers to stock these items and compete with the gift market?

“There’s a definite trend that people will splurge on their pets in pet stores,” says Steven Cohen of Dogbar in Miami. “But if they are looking for a unique pet-themed item for themselves, they’ll shop in a gift store.

Consequently I don’t carry any themed handbags or luggage items at all and my customers don’t expect to find this kind of merchandise on our shelves.”

Janet McCulley of Muttropolis , headquartered in San Diego, agrees.
“Pet-themed totes and travel accessories were hot fashion items about five years ago,” she says. “We tried stocking them at the time, but customers don’t usually shop for themselves in a pet store. We stock a few pet-themed clothing items, such as sweatshirts and hats, during the holiday season, but that’s about it.”

McCulley doesn’t consider stocking handbags, totes or luggage but does make a concession with a few pet-themed luggage tags.
“It’s the type of item that people can place on pet carriers, too,” she says.

People Spoil Themselves, Too
Jay Horwitz of The Cat Connection in Dallas describes his store as a boutique for cats and their people. He offers a large selection of feline-related merchandise for people, including a selection of totes, messenger bags and other popular styles, such as weekend bags.
“It’s a huge market, and stores that don’t stock this kind of merchandise are losing out,” he says. “My customers love to shop for themselves as well as their pets.”

Victoria Son of San Franisco-based Tokyo Bay Inc., a manufacturing company that produces a variety of cat-themed totes and weekend luggage bags, says that when it comes to its pet-themed merchandise, pet store owners typically seek it out at a gift trade show.
“However, we haven’t ruled out the possibility of marketing directly to pet boutiques via pet trade shows in the future,” she says.
Jennifer Liu, president of Lafayette, N.J.-based Fuzzy Nation, a company that manufactures pet-shaped handbags, says she would like to develop a bigger customer base with pet stores.
“I do sell to a few pet stores, but unquestionably the demand is from department stores, such as Macy’s and Neiman Marcus and upscale gift boutiques,” she says.

According to Scott Rinehart of Wiskers in Belmont Shore, Calif., store location is a factor.
“I stock some totes and bags along with other general pet-themed interior design items, and they have a lot of appeal to tourists,” he says. “Shops with a passing tourist trade get a more general type of customer who isn’t necessarily shopping for his dog and will consider buying something for himself.”

Going Breed-Specific
Many manufacturers that have a substantial pet store clientele report that their customers are mainly dog people and that the appeal of their merchandise is that it’s breed-specific and thus appeals to a certain type of dog owner.

Maris Hanson of Maris and the Petables in Pawtucket, R.I., has been manufacturing hand-screened totes for more than 25 years.
“A tote is so versatile,” she says. “Both men and women carry them. They are particularly popular in pet stores that focus on specific breeds. They have great appeal primarily among people in the dog show world and are used by them to carry their own personal items to shows and everywhere else.”
Kay Bays of Havre de Grace Md.-based J.P. Ourse, which manufactures leather totes, agrees.
“People gravitate to a particular breed and feel very comfortable carrying an expensive bag that promotes that breed, even if the design is fun and quirky,” she says. “Cat lovers aren’t so fussy. If someone loves cats they will happily carry a tote that has any cat on it.”
Bays says horses and turtles are other popular designs, but that bird-themed items have less appeal.
In an effort to appeal to pet lovers shopping in pet stores, Shien-ru Tsao of From Scratch in Jersey City, N.J., has produced a range of canvas totes featuring a map of dog parks in popular dog-friendly cities.
“I have had people actually use them as maps in order to visit different dog parks,” she says.

Customized Items
Offering a customized service whereby pet lovers can put a photograph of their own pets on a bag may draw in pet-store clientele.
“People love anything personalized relating to their pets,” says David Zapata, public relations spokesman for Egami Lifestyle, whose U.S. office is in Stamford, Conn. “The process allows customers to create some very artistic styles with their images. The best way for retailers to offer this service to customers is to stock samples and take orders.” <HOME> 

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