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On the Road Again

Posted: September 20, 2011

Grouping travel products together can lead to increased retail sales
By Joan Hustace Walker

As pets become increasingly intertwined in their owners’ daily lives, more of them are serving as traveling companions for their human counterparts. Additional pets in planes, trains and automobiles mean that manufacturers have more reason to produce pet travel products, and in turn, retailers have more opportunities for marketing and displaying these items.

“Pet travel is big and getting bigger” said Chris Sides, director of category management for Petmate in Arlington, Texas. “[Despite the recession], the number of people who include their pets on vacations has been on the rise.
“Canines are the most popular travel companions,” Sides continued, adding that an estimated 78 percent travel with their owners, while cats are in second place at 15 percent.

The down economy may even be helping the pet travel industry. Tibor Siklosi, director of marketing and new product development for Bergan LLC in Monkey Island, Okla., noted that the recession may actually be the cause of some increased travel.

“As folks stay closer to home on vacation, they also save money otherwise spent on boarding by taking pets with them,”  he said.

Pet Carriers

Bergan’s Vox Capio consumer research related to travel trends “shows 60 percent of dog owners and 35 percent of cat owners…expect to travel more than last year,” Siklosi reported. 
Also, although air travel might be declining, Bergan’s research indicates that the incidents of pet air travel are rising, Siklosi added.

Increased accommodations may also be making a different in the pet travel category.

“It seems more hotels and towns are dog-friendly, which in turn allows people to travel with their dogs,” said Michelle Kownacki, co-owner of Paws Pet Boutique in Annapolis, Md. “So, even if it’s a day trip, people appear to be getting out and enjoying activities with their dogs.”

Reporting a similar observation is Michael Leung, owner of Sleepypod in Pasadena, Calif.

“We see people traveling a lot more with their pets as more hotels are allowing pets, with some hotels offering travel packages for pet owners,” he said.
Leung also pointed out that pets are becoming more welcome at shops, outdoor restaurants and other destination locations, making travel increasingly inviting to pet owners.

What Owners Want

As people travel more with their pets, it stands to reason that they buy more travel products. Before marketing and displaying these items, retailers must decide which ones their customers would want to buy, and therefore, which ones to stock.

“Many of these people will seek out travel products to make traveling with a pet simple and safe,” Sides of Petmate stated. “Travel products appeal to anyone who needs containment for any method of travel, whether it’s a long-distance plane trip or a short drive to the veterinarian.”

Petmate’s most popular travel product is the Vari Kennel Ultra, which was introduced in 2007, he added.
“Plastic and soft-sided carriers are consistent sellers among pet owners,” Sides said. “Carriers are required for pets traveling by plane, and more pet owners each year report using some type of containment device for their dog while traveling by car.”
When evaluating carriers, the No. 1 concern is pet comfort and security, Siklosi said.
Bergan’s top-selling travel items include the Comfort Carrier, the Poncho Seat Protector and the Auto Harness, he reported.
In addition to searching for travel products that make travel safe and more convenient, some pet owners are searching for the connection where fashion meets function.
“The 84 million strong ‘Millennial’ generation is beginning to drive more purchases of pet categories across all channels, compared to [the] 78-million [baby] boomer generation who are beginning to pull back on spending,” Siklosi noted. “This means retailers must start to provide relevant, on-trend design with the features these younger folks demand. Millennials search retailers and products online extensively before making purchases, which are influenced by consumer reviews.”

Staying on top of current trends is a focus for Pup Hollywood in Staten Island, N.Y.
“With my customers, fashion is everything,” said owner Lisa Toscano. “I carry a carrier from Pet Gifts International in a houndstooth fabric. It’s a classic design and it lasts forever.”
More importantly?
“It’s paramount that the customer looks good with the carrier,” she added.
Another popular seller at Pup Hollywood is a multifunctional stroller by Pet Gear that converts from a stroller to a car seat to a backpack, and comes in pink and blue colors and a Louis Vuitton styling, Toscano said. Also selling well for her is a car booster seat for small dogs made by Snoozer. It has a Cadillac emblem on the seat.
“The Cadillac Lookout is one of my biggest sellers,” she reported. “I just wish they made a version with BMW or Mercedes, too.”

Fashion is also selling function in the Midwest.
“Pet carriers have continued to get more and more popular as the manufacturers are beginning to make them with better designs and they take more of a fashion approach,” said Lisa Lasack, vice president of the companion animal division at Animart, Inc. in Madison and Beaver Dam, Wis. “There is a lot more variety out there, which customers seem to enjoy.”

Animart’s popular sellers include a “small, cutesy” carrier from Hagen Corp. and a booster seat from Kurgo.

“This summer especially, we have sold more booster seats than ever,” Lasack said.
For larger-breed dogs, she added, seat harnesses remain most popular.
Selling Travel

To attract sales to travel products such as water bottles and life vests, Kownacki of Paws Pet Boutique offers specials to people “following us on Facebook or who receive our email newsletter,” she said.

Lasack, meanwhile, uses what she calls “enews blasts” to promote travel product sales.The blasts go “directly to our customers at seasonal times of the year to promote the items that best fit the time of the year,” she said.
When an item is included in an enews blast, the products are moved up in the store to increase their visibility, Lasack added.

On the display end, a key to travel product sales is grouping travel products all together, Siklosi said. 
“Vox Capio shows that an effectively merchandised Travel Center is expected by shoppers,” he noted.

Sides also recommended grouping a variety of travel products together, as this serves “as an effective tool for marketing and selling multiple items to travelers with pets,” he said.
The grouping can encourage additional sales.

“It may not have previously occurred to a customer, for example, that a collapsible bowl or a durable travel bag would nicely complement the purchase of a new kennel,” Sides said. “Also, better positioning of travel products during peak travel times will increase visibility of such products. Using merchandising displays that show an assembled product’s size, design and structure will help consumers identify appropriate carriers for their pets.”

Holiday Promotions

Leung of Sleepypod takes grouping travel products one step further for the holidays.
“Pull together an assortment of toys, snacks, leashes, a Yummy Travel Bowl and other items that could be used for travel and pack a Sleepypod with the travel items,” he advised. “Many people just don’t want to spend the time to think through what they need or want for travel, or they don’t have the imagination to visualize what they need. If you put these items together with a carrier, you’ve done this work for them.”
Now, put a bow on it, and the pre-packed travel carrier becomes a ready-to-give holiday gift, Leung added.

Larger travel products, such as strollers, carriers and booster seats, make perfect holiday gifts for the person who has everything, Toscano noted.
“These items are different and unique and are something everyone doesn’t have and something a person may not normally get for themselves,” she said. 
For the holidays this year, Toscano has a new theme.

“I’ve started to push a program—‘For the person who has everything, get your friend’s dog a great gift,’” she stated.
Toscano’s program begins with the holiday season, “as soon as Halloween is over,” she added.

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