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Celebrating Customers’ Pets

Breed-specific gifts and accessories are trending toward low price points and customization.
By Maggie M. Shein

For many retailers, the breed-specific gifts and accessories market is a sustainable, reliable source of revenue. Successful retailers in this market have done their homework; they know the popularity of breeds among their customer base and the types of gifts that sell well.

Many retailers find breed-specific gifts a reliable source of revenue. Courtesy of Fiddler’s Elbow/Toy Works Inc.
“You have to research in your specific market to find out what breeds are most popular, so you don’t have to carry all of them,” said Christy Phelan, art and licensing director at Fiddler’s Elbow/The Toy Works Inc., a manufacturer of breed-specific gifts for pet lovers. The company, located in Middle Falls, N.Y., sells its products worldwide to retailers and through distribution. 

One of the long-standing challenges for retailers is how to stock breed-specific items, which not only include a large number of breeds, but also color differentiations for each breed. To stay successful and competitive, retailers have learned to be creative.

Lori Dotterweich, owner of Tailsbythelake.com and Natural Paws, a pet retail store headquartered in Reno, Nev., deals with the inventory challenge by having suppliers drop-ship orders as they come in.

“Most of our items online are not stocked,” she said. “We can’t possibly stock 100 breeds of every item, so it’s really a benefit as a retailer to have items drop-shipped.”

In addition to the challenge of stocking, retailers face the challenge of physical display space.

Industry Voices
What is the sustainability and growth in the breed-specific gifts and accessories market?

“I think it will stay steady for a few years and it might grow again as newer breeds are introduced. Breed artists are starting to offer those types of breeds that we’ve seen an increase in such as Labradoodles.”
—Lori Dotterweich, owner of TailsbytheLake.com and Natural Paws in Reno, Nev.

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Christine DeGraaf“The trend to adopt rescues is increasing and with that breed specific will decrease. I definitely think made-to-order items will increase and that’s the way to go, because then you can special order and not have to stock too much.”
—Christine DeGraaf, owner of Bubbles & Biscuits in Grier, S.C.

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“I see the market growing. I see that potential for retailers to take custom made-to-order items picking up.”
—Rebecca Urey, design coordinator and owner of Purrfect Expressions in Harmony, Pa.

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“It’s a crystal ball answer. We have to look at the demographics of our customers and I see more and more people as baby boomers retiring and getting animals for company. They might not need anything, so a breed-specific gift becomes an easy idea.”
—Christy Phelan, art and licensing director at Fiddler’s Elbow/The Toy Works Inc. in Middle Falls, N.Y.

Many retailers are able to offer artistic breed-specific gifts made by local artists. Courtesy of Paw Prince
“I have to think about space considerations,” said Melissa Robokoff, owner of Paw Prince in Anchorage, Ak. “I try to stay away from breed-specific items that come in sizes. I stick to stuff that is practical and that I can hang on the wall or put in a basket.”

About 25 to 30 percent of Paw Prince’s inventory is made up of breed-specific gifts, including metal welcome signs, which pack flat and don’t weight very much; Ruth Maystead playing cards and list pads; and artwork by Lisa Ballard, DJ Rogers and Ron Krajewski.

“My shop is very limited in retail space,” said Christine DeGraaf, owner of Bubbles & Biscuits, a retail and grooming shop in Grier, S.C. “I choose to limit my breed-specific inventory because most manufactured items are the same top 10 AKC breeds—many of which don’t frequent a grooming salon.”

DeGraaf tries to carry breed-specific gift items that do not age, such as magnets from Paper Russells, High Cotton T-shirts and greeting cards, and most recently, Dandy Design hand-painted ornaments.

“The ornaments are ideal because the company stocks a wide variety of coat colors for each breed, and can be painted to match a dog’s color pattern,” DeGraaf said. “Customers love that the ornaments are unique and accurate to their dog.”

Accuracy seems to be a growing trend for this market. In fact, one might say that the market is taking breed-specific one step further—to pet-specific items.

Novelty items, such as this ornaments, may come in a wide variety of different breeds, and a large inventory may be necessary to meet customer demand. Courtesy of Joy to the World Collectibles
“Not every dog looks exactly like the breed standard,” said Jacqueline Adams, owner of Jacqueline’s Originals, a manufacturer in Newtown, Conn. “Owners enjoy knowing they can buy something that is crafted to look like the animal they own.”

Jacqueline’s Originals manufactures “functional items” for the pet lover, including kitchen timers, ornaments, paper towel holders, clocks and wine stoppers.

“We love to work with individual artists because they will accommodate customization,” said Robin Carey, co-owner of Outer Barks, a retailer in Duck, N.C. “We have the ability to add a spot or a change in color to make the item specific to their dog.”

Outer Barks’ breed-specific products make up about 40 percent of the store’s inventory, including mugs by Karen Donleavy, hand-painted tiles by Pumpkin Tiles and customized animal ornaments featuring lighthouses specific to the area from Dandy Designs.

“This idea of made-to-order breed-specific products seems to be an answer to the retailer for how difficult it is to stock these items,” said Rebecca Urey, design coordinator and owner of Purrfect Expressions, Harmony, Pa.

Purrfect Expression is a supplier and online retailer of customized, breed-specific denim shirts, fleeces and other embroidered items. Urey accommodates customers by adding personalized touches such as a change in nose color.

Another trend in this market is the shift toward lower priced, breed-specific products.

“Our most popular items seem to be between the $20 to $25 price tag,” Robokoff said.

Display space is a concern for store owners when it comes to stocking breed-specific gift items. Courtesy of Outer Barks
At Fiddler’s Elbow, Phelan said that products under the $20 range are performing well in this market.

“Our Pupperweights retail for $10, and they have become an easy, quick gift with a great price point,” she said. “We’ve also expanded our mouse pad line that retails for $8.”

The company thought long and hard about introducing breed-specific mouse pads three years ago and has been surprised by how many they have sold, Phelan said.

“I think it says something about the market—right now it’s driven by the economy of what is cheap and cheerful,” Phelan added.

The trend toward increased demand for breed-specific gifts and accessories of designer breeds, such as Labradoodles and Puggles, is receiving mixed reviews from many sources.

“We have seen a demand for designer breeds in the past few years and we’ve begun to offer those in our ornaments,” said Lisa Kelechava, president of manufacturing for Joy to the World Collectibles in Knoxville, Tenn.

The company produces ornaments for more than 1,500 retailers in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Retailer Outer Barks is just starting to investigate this trend, according to Co-Owner Carey.

“One of the things we hear time and again is that we’re the only store that carries a customer’s breed,” she said. “We’re trying to get into the designer breeds with the ‘doodles’—our customers expect that from us.”

Stationery and other gift items are popular breed-specific purchases, and some may be customizable. Courtesy of Paw Prince
Carey offers her customers more than 180 different breeds to choose from in the breed-specific gift items she stocks.

Merely expanding the number of breeds available, however, doesn’t mean a retailer will succeed in this market. Retailers insist that the first key to success is knowing their customers.

“We learned the hard way which breeds sell well,” Robokoff said. “For us, shelties are popular, as well as Bernese mountain dogs. They may not be popular by AKC standards but they are here and when people find them, they buy them.”

Customer knowledge is what convinced Janene Zakrajsek, co-owner of Pussy & Pooch based in Los Angeles, to avoid carrying breed-specific gifts and accessories year-round. Instead, she offers her customers a direct link from the store’s website to order Obey the Pure Breed gifts and accessories through an ongoing affiliate deal with the company.

“It’s a beautiful thing to not have the risk of all the inventory and still provide a place for our customers to order such items,” Zakrajsek said.

Another approach she’s taken to offer breed-specific products to her customers is a promotional event called Obey the Pure Breed and Celebrate the Mutt, complete with shirts and posters of popular neighborhood breeds.

Others echo the effectiveness of this approach.

“If a retailer is familiar with their customer and location and they pick the right breeds, you seem to have a win-win situation,” Phelan said. “After that, all you need to do is get that owner to the store and once they see their breed, they will pick that up.” <HOME>


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I, too, found that a wider range of products, with choice of images, has increased our sales. At this point, we are a small boutique that travels to two county fairs each summer. Last year, using a new supplier with a wide range of available items, our sales increased by 1/3 over the previous year.
Pat, Sioux City, IA
Posted: 6/28/2010 9:33:10 PM
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