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Finding the Right Fit in Apparel Sales

Posted: September 20, 2011

Even retailers who don’t have big store footprints can display pet apparel for greater profitability.
By Sandra K. Rea

Variety reigns supreme in the pet fashion realm. From pink parkas to velvet vests, consumers have a wealth of options for outfitting their pets. Retailers are no doubt accustomed to this concept as well, but for them, it’s about choosing from the variety of options for stocking, displaying and promoting apparel.

Cater to the Customer, Climate and Season

Retailers who are in tune with their customer demographics and geographical areas can benefit in the pet apparel category.

At Paw Prince in Anchorage, Alaska, owner Jann Palach said she sells a lot of apparel in fall and winter.

“Our top sellers are FouFou Dog, Howling Dog Alaska, Chilly Dog Sweaters, and Heidi & Co. booties and fleece jackets,” Palach reported. “We sell a lot of Alaska-themed and ‘Sled Dog in Training’ tees. Most of our customers are locals.”

Pet Christmas apparel

Further south in Orange, Calif., California Pets sees sales from different types of apparel.

“For fall, we sell a lot of sweatshirts, raincoats and boots,” said Vince Ramirez, assistant manager of California Pets. “Last year, we couldn’t keep rain gear in stock. We sell a lot of cheetah, jaguar and zebra prints for female pets. We use a mannequin to show off the newest seasonal outfits.”

Meanwhile, sports tees do well for Chuck & Toby, a retailer in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach, Calif, said co-owner Scott Rinehart.

“We carry a line of them for Long Beach State, USC, UCLA, the Dallas Cowboys and the Steelers, which we display on racks inside and outside the store,” he said.
Preparation can be crucial to sales success during fall, winter or any other time of year when customers seek out pet apparel. Retailers must plan seasons ahead of time, noted Jackie Corbett, product manager at The Worthy Dog in Worthington, Ohio
“You don’t want too much carryover, but you don’t want to face the meager accommodations of in-season reorders,” Corbett said.

Stocking the appropriate amount of apparel can also factor in to how much of it customers buy.

Chris Onthank, founder of Dog Gone Smart Pet Products in Wilton, Conn., said it’s important not to crowd or overwhelm customers with too many choices.
“Let customers know products are available in various colors and sizes and they can be special ordered or pulled from the back,” he suggested. “The best way to show off new apparel is on a mannequin or live dog.”

Clever Displays Catch Eyes

Displays offer retailers the opportunity to show off their pet apparel in creative and aesthetically appealing ways.

Palach uses her store’s two large front windows for eye-catching displays.
“Our windows draw customers inside,” she said. “We do something different every month. We include furniture and accessories.”

Windows are also display areas for Teca Tu, a retailer in Santa Fe, N.M. Owner Laurie Wilson said the store is in a mall and has two display windows.
“We have a new deck and window on the street side,” Wilson added. “We also get to use the mall’s display cases on a rotation basis with other retailers.”

Add a Little Holiday Hoopla

The winter holidays can be a prime selling time for pet apparel. Retailers and manufacturers shared their sales tips for the season.

“Retailers should run a contest with large signage and ads in local papers. This works even for the winter holiday season because customers purchase party dresses and apparel for their pets for Christmas. We run a promotion every fall where the winner receives a $100 credit to my Pet Haven store online.”
Dawn Jenness, owner of Dog Collar Fancy in Livonia, Mich.

“In store we will have a life-size Santa Claus, a fake fireplace with stockings hung and dog mannequins dressed in party apparel. Stockings are stuffed with toys, accessories and treats. In winter, one window shows a manger scene, and the other features an Iditarod theme with a sled, musher and stylishly dressed dogs.”
Jann Palach, owner of Paw Prince in Anchorage, Alaska

“Have you in-store dog wear a different-style jacket each day during the holiday season.”
Chris Onthank, founder of Dog Gone Smart Pet Products in Wilton, Conn.

“As the weather turns cooler, winter apparel sells itself, but it never hurts to set up themed windows, in-store displays, special promotions and extra in-store marketing early on. Sweaters should be highlighted in a prominent, central location of your store [in] early September. Run promotions that work and add on to the sale, such as “Buy a sweater, get a set of boots half off.”
Jackie Corbett, product manager at The Worthy Dog in Worthington, Ohio

“Fashion shows draw customers’ and media attention. If your store is small, have it in the parking lot under a tent. Let customers know about seasonal deals in all marketing and advertising. In holiday fashion shows, focus on styles and utility to drive sales.”
Steve Rook, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

Other display types are used at California Pets.

Ramirez carries different clothes for every season on a rack at the front of the store and on endcaps, he said, adding, “We also have a double-sided shelf for sports and warmer wear.”

Steve Rook, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., suggested having an 8-to-12-foot display area, placing mannequins on display where possible.

“If apparel is only on shelves with no mannequins and no POP signage, retailers won’t turn as much volume as they would with mannequins and displays in high-traffic areas,” Rook said. “Add something unique, like a display targeting men with larger canine mannequins in camo gear wearing masculine collars.”

Along with location and creativity, space is a consideration for many retailers when figuring out how to display apparel.

Palach said she is mindful of in-store space.

“We use flat walls with metal arms,” she noted. “This makes it easy for shoppers to find the right size. We encourage customers to bring their pets for fittings.”
Having pets try clothes on is also a practice at California Pets.

“People bring their pets in to try on clothing,” Ramirez said. “It’s always best to fit the pet.”

Indeed, fittings boost sales, Wilson stated.

“We suggest customers bring their dogs in because we want to make sure apparel fits,” she said. “Plus, it’s good for business.”

Another strategy retailers can use is suggestive selling with merchandising, which Corbett said is critical. 
“Neatly stacking sweaters on a table or hanging them in a cabinet looks nice, but add a few accessories and a carrier and you’ve built a whole wardrobe for the consumer to visualize,” she noted. “They’ll buy the sweater and the matching hat, scarf or boots you’ve merchandised next to it.”

Offer Events

Retailers can make their apparel selections stand out not only with displays, but with special events as well.
“In the fall, we carry football jerseys and have a Super Bowl party,” Palach said. “We serve Personal Paw doggie pizzas and Bowser Beer for dogs. We donate proceeds to local pet rescue groups.
“We create pet apparel events like our Howl-o-ween doggie dress-up day,” she continued. “We take pictures and upload them to our site, which creates more customer loyalty. We use Facebook and share about new items, sales and events.”

Teca Tu puts on apparel-related events, too.

“In December, we host a pet fashion show that includes human models with dogs dressed for winter,” she said.

It Pays to Communicate with Customers

Product education can also help increase sales.

“Our staff is very well trained and can answer all customer questions about pet apparel,” Palach noted. “Customers receive a quality experience, which keeps them coming back.”

Indeed, retailers should be knowledgeable about the products they sell, advised Tammy Ann Arnett, owner of Pet Flys in Burbank, Calif.

“Our catalog is very detailed but without pricing, so retailers can share with customers to show the various styles without carrying the whole line in their store,” Arnett said.

Education stems from other forms of communication as well.

“We take ideas from our staff and customers, and we talk to pet owners online,” Wilson said.

Social media helps create a buzz about a brand, Onthank said, but it shouldn’t be used exclusively to promote products.
“Participation at large trade and consumer events is a fun way to educate retailers about new and exciting products,” he added. “In February, we participated in the Pre-Westminster Fashion Show to showcase our new Aspen Parka. Retailers who attended got a sneak peek at what the industry has to offer for fall and socialized with other pet industry fashionistas.”

All in all, customer interaction is key, Arnett noted.

“Know the names of your customers’ pets, their sizes and their likes,” Arnett recommended. “Make customers and their pets feel welcome. Keep low-cal snacks behind the counter for dieting pets. If you have a clothing item that is ‘slimming,’ show it to the pet’s owner. Have fun with your customers and they’ll keep coming back.”



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