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Fall Emporium: Dogs’ Holiday Delights

Posted: September 25, 2013, 9:20 a.m. EDT


Toys are primed to be big gifts this holiday season.

By Keith Loria

It’s no wonder that pet stores and pet boutiques stock plenty of dog toys for the holidays.

According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-14 National Pet Owners Survey, Americans spend an average of $5 billion on their pets during the holidays and more than $10 billion annually on gifts. In 2012, dog owners spent an average of $41 on pet toys throughout the year, with the annual amount spent per gift close to $10.50.

Further, the report shows that more than 50 percent of all dog owners purchased a dog toy as a gift for Christmas, 5 percent bought a toy for Halloween and 4 percent treated their pet to a Valentine’s Day gift.

Candace Canty, owner of Dog-a-holics Boutique in Chicago, said toys are a big part of the store, which has seen a 23 percent increase in the category over the past year.

"Toys are one of the easier categories to suggest to a gift giver,” Canty said. "Lots of times the giver doesn’t feel comfortable giving edible items because they are unsure if the owner has any diet restrictions for their dog.”

Janette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog Earth Friendly Pet Company in Portland, Ore., noted the gift-giving season between Halloween and the holidays as the busiest time of the year for the company.

"We see this in the form of people purchasing gifts for dog owners as well as owners themselves purchasing something special for their dogs,” she said. "Retailers are looking for innovative products with unique features and for more eco-friendly items.”

New for this holiday season is the company’s 3-play line of toys made from Ecolast recycled material. Each of the toys, such as its best-selling turtle, combines a treat-hiding tummy, a squeaking head and a float toy.

Jason Hart, director of marketing for PetSafe in Knoxville, Tenn., said that the company will tweak some of its offerings to provide merchandising with a holiday theme.

"Overall, our strategy is to tailor the messaging, particularly in looking at merchandising, to take advantage of a holiday,” he said. "Every retailer seems to have a cute collection of holiday-themed toys. One way to differentiate is to include some toys that may not be holiday themed but are great gift ideas for new pet owners.”

In Demand
Lauren Colman, marketing manager for San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), said the gift category for her company is approximately 15 percent of all business.

"Fun and intellectually stimulating, the P.L.A.Y. Wobble Ball is an enrichment toy for dogs,” she said. "Pop a handful of treats through the cloud-shaped openings and see how long it takes for your furry customers to get them out. The unique shape rolls around unpredictably, and the sound of dog treats spinning inside are sure to tease and captivate man’s best friend.”

According to Lisa Conrad, owner of Dogadillo in Austin, Texas, dog toys are relatively easy to purchase and make a thoughtful gift that is enjoyed by the pets and appreciated by the humans receiving the gift.

"We have tons of different types,” Conrad said. "Rope toys and soft rubber for teething puppies, tough rubber and toys made out of multiple layers of fabric for the destructive dog, puzzles to keep dogs busy, bones and antlers for dogs to chew on. And of course lots of squeaker toys. We have one line that makes toys look like real items—an iPhone, a beer bottle, a purse, a wine bottle, etc. Those are very popular.”

Toys that seem indestructible are very popular as pet gifts at TailsSpin, which has three locations in Georgia.

"Affordability, indestructibility and longevity are characteristics that our customers seek when shopping for dog toys,” said Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner. "Toys from Savannah’s Fluff and Tuff are selling quite well. It’s the durability of the materials, a combination of the plush fabric and inner mesh liner, and playful designs that make them popular among our customers.”

Canty said Charming Pet’s Christmas Henrietta and Westbrook, Maine-based Planet Dog’s Orbee-Tuff Snowball and Mint toys are always hot come holiday time.

Amy Rockwood, owner of Modesto, Calif.-based GoughNuts, which manufactures eponymously named chew toys for dogs, said the company is serious about making safe dog products.

"Retailers are asking for value in a dog toy,” she said. "GoughNuts should be in the store because they fill a market that dog owners want and need, including safety, value, durability, guarantee, bounce and floats. Our company concentration is on manufacturing the best that we know without compromise.”

GoughNut’s newest product is the K9 Kup, to which the company is adding a green/red color scheme as a holiday option.

Kristen Smith, brand ambassador for Planet Dog in Westbrook, Maine, said that the company’s fourth quarter is always its strongest, and the holiday line of toys sells strongly year after year.

"We launched the new Orbee-Tuff Lump o’ Coal this year—a durable chew toy for the holiday collection for the naughty dogs on the shopping list,” she said. "We have also recently introduced our Orbee-Tuff Snoop, our latest interactive puzzle toy. It makes a great gift and keeps dogs actively engaged and busy with dispensing treats or during festive holiday gatherings.”

Retailers’ Role
In general, retailers seek innovative dog toys with reasonable price points in order to make them more attractive impulse purchases.

"From listening to our retailer customers, we learned that stores can usually have a bigger chance of success if a line of products comes in well-designed, consistently themed packaging and merchandising display, as visual impact on causal gift shoppers is extremely important,” said P.L.A.Y.’s Colman. "Retailers should consider what manufacturers can offer and support in terms of merchandising displays. For instance, our Wobble Ball comes in either a counter point-of-purchase display or a floor POP display, and even though it’s still pretty new, we have already received very positive feedback from customers.”

Another trend Colman sees is that customers are drawn to products that are fun to give and offer a way to give back to charities or organizations they love.

"When someone purchases one of our Under the Toys, 2 percent of the profits is donated to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to aid in its mission to reduce the commercial exploitation of animals, protect wildlife habitats and assist animals in distress,” she said. "Retailers can also work with manufacturers to offer limited-time promotions or creative contests before the holidays, so more shoppers can be enticed to buy the products.”

Planet Dog’s Smith said retailers are looking for items that are USA made, are doggie durable and/or guaranteed and have a philanthropic commitment, like the store’s sales of Planet Dog’s Glow for Good balls, which contribute 100 percent of proceeds to the Planet Dog Foundation.

Dog-a-holics Boutique’s Canty added that toys staff can demo in-store or companies that send videos they can play for customers that show off the toy in realistic home environments helps make a sale.

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