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Dog Marketplace: Get Them In Gear

Posted: April 17, 2012, 8:30 p.m. EDT


Pet owners are turning to the latest car travel products to make hitting the road safe, stylish and comfortable for their dogs.
By Jodi Harris


Everyone knows that dogs enjoy a good car ride, whether it’s during a family vacation or just a trip around the block, and retailers have reported rising consumer interest in auto accoutrements for the family pet.

Manufacturers are seizing this opportunity, creating new and improved products that make traveling with a dog easier and more convenient. From safety equipment to creature comforts for car-loving dogs, there are a few trends that are really starting to take off.

Rising in Popularity
With the continued mobility of dogs and their owners, Gerardo Herrera, owner of YepYup, a manufacturer in Agoura Hills, Calif., has observed a jump in sales of travel items.

Remarking on why consumers are increasingly focusing on these products, he noted: “Most of these ideas are coming to light because of the usefulness of baby products and [that industry’s] travel innovations.”

Auto safety products aren’t just for infants anymore, retailers confirmed.

“Seat belt harnesses and car seats have become more popular,” said retailer Lisa Conrad, owner of Dogadillo Inc. in Austin, Texas.
 
“I like the new carriers where there is a spot to slide the seat belt through, so that it can be used as a car seat, too,” she added.

Other retailers are encouraged by the rise in travel safety gear.

Dog car travel products
Consumers are picking up on the fact that dog car seats go a long way toward improving travel safety for dogs. Photo by Sherri L. Collins/Bowtie Inc. at PetStop Warehouse
Sue Gunter, store manager at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., advises customers who travel with their dog by car to invest, at the very least, in a good, padded seat belt harness with straps that can be adjusted to the proper size.

“There’s also a really nice booster seat made by [Kyjen’s] Outward Hound for smaller dogs, so that they can see out the window [of the car] and still be safely strapped in,” she added.  

Kurgo’s K9 Courier offers similar features. The product, released last year, can be used three different ways, as a shoulder tote bag, car booster seat and a travel bed, reported Gordie Spater, president of the Salisbury, Mass., company. Last year, Kurgo also introduced the Backseat Bridge, designed to connect between car seats and extend a dog’s space while acting as a front barrier.
 
However, it’s not just the safety products that are experiencing a boost in popularity. Spater has observed broader discussions in the media about the right way to travel in a car with a dog. He’s also found that the pet travel segment is starting to expand beyond the early-adopter phase, indicated by an overall increased interest in items that make trips with dogs easier—such as seat covers and barriers.

As these products become more mainstream, there also seems to be a growing demand for more variety in colors and styles.
 
“This makes sense because consumers [who] are putting a seat cover in their car and going to look at it every day want it to look nice,” Spater said.

Customers have progressed from basic concerns about pet safety to interest in products that cater to more personalized travel and lifestyle options, said Nichole Handwerk, owner of Sure Fit, a manufacturer in Alburtis, Pa. 

“We’re seeing more fashion accessories, hypoallergenic and orthopedic foam products for pets,” she said. “Safety is the top priority, followed by comfort, function and fashion.”

Motor Hounds
Of all the outdoor activities that pet lovers share with their pets, there’s one surprising trend that requires special consideration when it comes to travel safety: riding on a motorcycle.

Though the sound of a roaring motorcycle engine might cause a barking frenzy from your average pup, hog-riding hounds are a special breed—one that has inspired everything from videos and enthusiast websites to its very own motorcycle club.
 
Jesse Lane, director and “pack guardian” of Biker Dogs Motorcycle Club in Fairfield, Calif., recommends dogs be fitted for Doggles, dog goggles designed to offer UV protection.

Other motorcycle safety products include The Helmet, by Zoomer Gear. —JH

With its Mobile Pet Organizer, YepYup has responded to that desire for stylish, functional products. The organizer is designed to be both an urban messenger bag and a hanging car organizer, and it comes in modern prints such as Corona and Flare.

Stocking Considerations
Recent growth has made travel gear an encouraging category when it comes to revenue potential, according to retailers and manufacturers. But, as with all trends, it’s important to use good judgment when it comes to deciding which product lines to expand and stock up on. Still, there are a few items that retailers can feel confident in carrying, as they serve more than just the activity-related needs of consumers.

“Seat covers continue to be popular because they solve a major problem people have with bringing their dog in the car—hair,” said Kurgo’s Spater. “We hear stories of people who put one of our hammocks in when they buy their car and take it out when they sell it. After all those years, the seats look as good as new.” 

Manufacturers are also seeing an emerging market in products such as pocket pet info organizers, travel first-aid kits, and even some digital technologies, which can be lifesavers when pets and their owners are on the road.

Smartphone apps, such as YepYup’s Pet Dossier, are useful for keeping a pet’s vital information on hand, and can help assure pet owners that, with the push of a button, they’ll be able to find a vet hospital in case of an emergency, Herrera stated.

Advice for Consumers
Despite the surge in pet auto products, it can still be a challenge for retailers to advise their customers on the products they carry and help them make smart purchasing decisions. So what techniques do industry insiders suggest?

Industry Voices
Over the past year, have you made any changes in the types of dog auto gear products that you sell?

“I’ve noticed that most pet stores, including ours, are selling more dog travel gear overall, especially high-quality seat belt harnesses, which we highly recommend for all dogs—even those that travel in crates.”
Sue Gunter, store manager at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif.

“We made many changes in this area. We carry car seats and Kurgo harnesses, but it’s pretty much the same products we’ve always carried.”
Paul Rowan, owner of Pet Essentials in Charlotte, N.C.

“We keep up to date with all of the latest products, and we still stock all of the old standbys, but we haven’t seen much change here. I still like Midwestern Crates. Personally, I’ve had mine for years, and they’ve been great for my five dogs.”
Terry Defelice, manager at Diane’s Discount Pet Supplies & Adoption Center in Pottstown, Pa.

If a customer comes in her store with a dog, Jodi Kresel, owner of KaJo Pets in Fork, Md., starts the travel gear conversation by asking her customers if they have a special seat belt, car seats, or a harness for their dog.

“If not, I show them how they work and play a video that shows them how important it is for their dogs to be restrained during a car ride,” she said.

At Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet, Sue Gunter takes even more of a hands-on approach to making sure customers select the right gear for their pet—and for the particular type of vehicle they have: “I’ll go out to the car and help the customer learn to install and use their gear and adjust it to fit the dog properly,” she said.

Kurgo’s Spater recommended that retailers display travel gear items together in one place in the store, so customers can compare options and see which products will fit their dog best. He also stressed the importance of making sure employees are knowledgeable about the auto products a retailer carries.

“They should try out the gear on their own dogs to gain a familiarity with the products and an understanding of why it is so important to use them,” he said.

Social media has been a powerful tool for Herrera, who said he’s used it to inform YepYup’s customer base about the company’s new travel products.

“We have found that targeting popular blogs—both travel and pet focused alike—together with educating our retail partners has significantly increased our overall reach,” he said.

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