Posted: September 25, 2013, 10:05 a.m. EDT
The frequency of pet travel these days is causing retailers to expand their pet travel inventory—and category profit.
By Audrey Pavia
Pet owners are traveling more than ever with their animal companions. Whether it’s a short car trip to the veterinarian or a plane ride out of state, pets are frequently leaving home with their owners.
Manufacturers of travel products are rising to the occasion, offering a variety of items that make travel safer and more comfortable for pets. Everything from carriers to supplements is designed specifically with travel in mind.
"Due to drastic weather changes throughout the year in our area, we find that many of our customers look for escape routes,” said Jusak Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin, with three locations throughout Georgia. "Pet travel products must always be in the equation when it comes to our inventory.”
To meet the needs of pets and owners on the go, TailsSpin sells travel supplements, such as Rescue Remedy and Vet’s Best Travel Calm, crate and travel bowls, Thundershirts, life vests and travel crates.
According to Jaime Van Wye, CEO of the Zoom Room, a dog training facility and retail outlet with locations around the country, two of her stores’ best-selling travel products are seatbelts and travel water dishes.
"We promote seatbelts with new puppy owners in puppy classes, as well as during first-aid and safety seminars,” she said. "And travel water dishes are a no-brainer. We like the silicone ones from Kurgo, as well as the patterned nylon folding dishes from Ollydog.”
Van Wye added that offering a variety of dishes encourages purchasing.
"We rotate stock to promote one brand a quarter,” she said.
Healthy Spot, a pet supply retailer with locations in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Marina del Rey, Calif., offers a wide variety of products sold for travel.
"We carry food and water bowls, backpacks, car seats and covers, carriers and crates, travel mats and beds, canine apparel for cold weather, and calming products, such as supplements and vests,” said manager partner Andrew Kim.
Kim noted that he has seen increased demand for travel products due to the rise in pet owners traveling with their pets.
"They can be day trips hiking or even travel abroad,” he said. "It’s important for the owners to feel like they are providing their pets with the same level of care and comfort on the road as they get at home.”
Kim adds that traveling can be stressful for pets, and the products he carries can reduce a pet’s travel-related anxiety.
Two of the most popular products for traveling with pets are crates and carriers, according to retailers. Pet owners often look for safe and comfortable ways to transport their pets on planes and automobiles.
Elizabeth Lakamp, vice president of Pet Cooler Carrier in St. Louis, said her company has created a new category in pet travel.
"Our carrier design features a shallow built-in chest that keeps the pet inside cool and hydrated for hours by using natural ice,” she said. "Standard convection draws the cool air down to the pet, while the melting ice runs to a self-sealing water spigot, so the pet has fresh drinking water for hours.”
The Pet Cooler Carrier comes with five storage trays, three curtains and six threaded fasteners for airline travel.
The Sturdi Bag is another carrier designed for the comfort of pets, according to Penny Johnson, executive vice president of Sturdi Bag in Gig Harbor, Wash., who said they are lightweight and do not collapse. They also come in a variety of sizes and colors.
"The flex-height Sturdi Bag is perfect for airline travel, while the Sturdi Cargo fits in the back seat of your car,” said Johnson. "Sturdi Products also has a hanging travel organizer for your cosmetics and toiletries or for your pet’s grooming supplies.”
Carriers that can be used for airline travel must fit airline specifications, according to Lisa Kelly, CEO of KC Pet Airline Travel Products in Portland, Ore., who noted that her company’s products are designed specifically for pets traveling on airplanes.
"We offer individual accessories and/or kits one might need to fulfill the airline’s requirements for pets traveling in the cargo area or in cabin of the airplane,” she said. "Some of our most popular items are the DryFur Travel Pads, TSA Fast Pass Leash & Harness and Fasten Tight Kennel Securing Hardware.”
Kelly noted that KC products were designed as a result of first-hand experience and by studying airline pet incident reports. Kelly’s second business is running an upscale cat boarding facility, which gives her the opportunity to see how pets travel.
"Many pets have been transported to our luxury kennel, and seeing the condition of the pets’ kennels after a long transport motivated us to make things better for the pets and the owners,” she said.
Travel products lend themselves to holiday promotions, according to manufacturers of these items.
Demonstrating the Sturdi Bag during the holiday season, and using red- and green-colored bags can help market the product during the holidays, said Johnson.
"Sturdi Products do very well when they are demonstrated, and the merchandiser really understands how they are used,” she said.
Customer education is vital when selling travel products during the busy holiday season, according to Kelly.
"Educating customers with an accurate printed airline requirements checklist for the three different modes of pet airline travel—cargo, checked baggage or carry-on—is important,” she said. "Brand these checklists with your store’s contact information, and include coupons so when the pet parent is ready to travel, they know where to find the airline-required items that appear on the checklist.”
At HealthySpot, travel products are promoted in a variety of ways during the holiday season.
"We promote these products through a variety of channels, including social media, a newsletter, in-store promotions and an online store,” said Kim. "To make customers aware of the products, we tend to merchandise them together near the front of the store. This way, the category will be at the forefront of mind for both staff and customers.”
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