Retailers and manufacturers offer insider tips for stocking hot selling gifts for pets and pet lovers during the holidays.
By Scott and Ann Springer
Pets show unconditional love to their owners 365 days a year, so it’s no surprise that many owners put them on their holiday gift list to reward their pets for that love. In 2008, more than half of all pet owners reported that they purchase a gift for their petsr, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey. However, retailers, such as Lee-Ann Litterst, owner of Anything Canine Inc., in Laguna Hills, Calif., reported that as many as 90 percent of customers buy gifts for their pets during the holiday season.
“It’s a growing trend,” Litterst said. “People are treating their pets as part of the family, and that includes giving them gifts.”
In fact, one of Litterst’s most loyal customers comes in every Christmas season and purchases half a dozen gifts, has them individually wrapped, and enjoys watching his pooch pull them out from under the tree on Dec. 25 and unwrap them one by one.
To help encourage that gift-giving spirit, Sheila Spitza, owner of Wet Nose, with locations in Geneva and Oak Brook, Ill., plays classic Christmas tunes from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to engage the five senses of her customers and boost sales. She serves hot apple cider and butter cookies from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve in her decked-out shop trimmed with twinkling lights and garland.
“We try to create a throwback to when we were kids and everything sparkled during the holidays,” she said. “It really gives customers a nice shopping experience and makes shopping more festive and fun.”
The two largest categories each year for Spitza are toys and treats because they make easy grab-n-go gifts, she said.
“These are great gifts for the person that is buying for a neighbor or relative and has budgeted to spend $15 or less,” Spitza said.
Customers prefer to spoil their pets in a fashion similar to how they spoil their children, according to many retailers. Accordingly, toys and treats are always a safe bet for pleasing the recipient, said Melvin Gehrig, owner of Planet Pets in Lake Charles, La., adding that they also make great stocking stuffers.
Jen Rosner, manager of Raising Rover & Baby, in New York City, stocks up for two of the major December holidays by buying both plush dreidel toys as well as Christmas tree-shaped puzzle toys with ornaments that a dog tries to wiggle out.
“We place the toys under the big trees in the displays and people can’t help but look at them,” Rosner said.
Placement of treats and other impulse buys can be essential for hitting projected sales goals in this category.
“Treats make great impulse buys, so they should be placed where customers will see them when they walk in and when they check out,” Gehrig said.
Placing treats near treat jars offers retailers an opportunity to upsell, said Jack Drasner, the vice president of sales and marketing for Mercedes Pottery, a Belleair Beach, Fla.-based manufacturer that makes sport-themed treat jars. These functional art pieces may make great gifts for male pet owners, especially since football season overlaps the holidays, he added.
“Retailers may want to display the jars with the treats and offer free treats with the purchase of any jar,” Drasner said. “You can put a red bow on the treat jar during the holidays to give people the idea that this would make a great gift and then take the bow off on December 26 and make a profit on it the rest of the year, too.”
Another top-selling holiday gift is key chains, said Dan Troiano, CEO for LittleGifts, a Secaucus, N.J.-based manufacturer of gift merchandise. Troiano listed this item as his company’s top seller each season.
“Key chains are popular because it’s a nice accessory for someone, and it’s like giving someone jewelry or fashion for their keys,” he said.
Key chains sell well all year long for Gehrig, but they do especially well during the holiday season.
“We don’t really carry a lot of gifts for pet owners but those are great sellers,” Gehrig said.
Mouse pads, luggage tags and stationery items are also popular each year among retailers because they are practical and cost less than $10, according to Troiano.
“People will pretty easily spend $10 without giving it much thought,” he noted.
While perennial best-sellers are always a good way to ensure sales, customers are always on the lookout for new items. This year, Rosner added breed-specific piggy banks to her lineup of items geared towards pet lovers.
“They’re really cute and great for someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot,” she said.
Retailers with high-end clientele should consider stocking new products that appeal to consumers with sophisticated taste, Litterst said.
Beds are a way shoppers can indulge their four-legged family members, both Rosner and Litterst reported. As the fourth quarter kicks off, Litterst is introducing the Lillibed line, which is where Bo, the White House dog, lays his head each night, according to the company.
“I think it will be excellent for the holidays because everyone wants to give their dog the same treatment as the presidential dog,” Litterst said.
Apparel in all forms, from Oscar Newman sweaters to Dog in the Closet holiday dresses, top Santa’s list for pooches that escaped The Naughty List, said Bonnie Bitondo, owner of Maxwell & Molly’s Closet, which has shops in Newton and Hardyston, N.J.
“I’ll bring in some of these lines in time for the holidays, but I can continue to sell them throughout the year,” Bitondo said.
Shoppers looking for the best of the best may find abstract pet sculptures make the perfect holiday gift for the pet lover in their life, said Mercedes Rivera, the artist for Mercedes Pottery.
“I create sculptures of pets in very abstract forms because I see pets in a way that everyone can see their pet in that form no matter what their breed,” Rivera said.
Pet-themed art, an emerging category in the industry, can evoke emotion about a pet owner’s love for his or her canine or feline, according to both Rivera and Drasner.
“Customers feel that emotion from viewing art, and that translates into profits,” Drasner said.
Many customers may not think to shop for gifts at their local pet stores, so Troiano emphasized the importance of high-traffic placement of gift merchandise.
“If you can catch their eyes with a good display, they’ll stop and look at it and say, ‘That would make a great gift for so-and-so,’” Troiano said.
Rosner’s customers love rewarding themselves, as well as their pooches, and she recommended retailers stock plenty of options for pet lovers, too. Her clientele’s favorite indulgence from last year was chic-looking, pocketbook-style pet carriers.
Jewelry for both pets and pet lovers can be slipped into a stocking and make easy gifts that have sold well for Bitondo.
“During the holidays we do a large feature in our store of pet-specific custom-made pieces,” she said.
Judy Horst, owner of FlyingPanda.com, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based manufacturer, said retailers frequently request pins and watches. In fact, FlyingPanda.com has expanded its popular watch line this season because of success in previous years, she reported.
Practicality and versatility are important product features for today’s savvy shoppers, according to Bitondo. She’s started carrying a line of red, raw silk dresses that have interchangeable Velcro-appliqués, such as a heart for Valentine’s Day to a patch of holly leaves for Christmas.
“The economy is more challenging,” Bitondo said. “If you can show a product has versatility, then it will do well.”
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