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Fall Emporium: Posh Pets

Posted: September 24, 2013, 3:25 p.m. EDT


Attractive and functional apparel will help customers keep pets looking their best during the holiday season.

By Stacy N. Hackett

In the months leading up to the holidays, people begin searching for the perfect gifts for their loved ones. And as all pet retailers know, those loved ones frequently include family pets.

"Pets are members of the family—almost like children—and are lavished with gifts, treats and trips,” said Sandi Kaneko, president of Walnut, Calif.-based 26 Bars & a Band.

Part of this lavish treatment, she said, includes pet apparel.

"Modern pet parents want their furry companions to make a fashion statement.”

To that end, Kaneko recommends pet apparel as an ideal holiday gift, both for pet owners to give their own pets and for shoppers to give to friends’ pets.

"Apparel is a great gift because of the range of choices,” she said. "Consumers love the price point options that give them the flexibility to stay within budget or splurge for a special holiday gift.”

Her company recently added Paul Frank hooded sweatshirts to its lineup.

Dorothy Hunter, CEO of Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium in Richland, Wash., agreed. She stocks pet T-shirts with "cute sayings,” and said pet apparel, such as sweaters, coats and pajamas, also make ideal gifts.

Villaggio Family Pets in Temecula, Calif., stocks a small selection of T-shirts with sayings year-round, but Jesse Lopez, store employee, said that Halloween costumes for dogs sell best out of all the items in the pet apparel category.

"During October, we can hardly keep them in stock,” he said.

Villaggio Family Pets used to also stock apparel accessories, such as small purses, but found that they were not as popular with customers. The store also sells more clothing for adult dogs than for puppies, Lopez noted.

Certain types of apparel accessories might sell better at stores in true wintry climates. At Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, Hunter displays pet apparel with other winter-appropriate accessories like nose balm, foot protectors, heated dog beds, leg warmers—all together just like a human clothing store.

Visual Displays
When displaying apparel such as T-shirts, coats and sweaters, Hunter recommends showing the products in use.

"Put it on a dog mannequin,” she said. "People are visual—we have to see everything. Just hanging it on a hanger isn’t good enough.”

Seeing the product on a mannequin or another pet can encourage additional sales, Kaneko said.

"When consumers see pet apparel on display as fashion, they get a better sense of how it would look on their own or their friend’s pet,” she said.

Taking this idea a step further, Susanne Postill, owner of Eco-Pup Dog Clothing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, suggests inviting customers to events designed to highlight the uses and features of the clothing.

"Host free…demonstrations of the various benefits of pet apparel with Q&A sessions and tips on how to use the products for the holidays,” she said.

The benefits of apparel include keeping a pet warm, protecting a hairless pet’s sensitive skin from the elements and helping a pet stay clean and dry, Postill said.

"By showcasing the benefits (not just the cuteness) of pet apparel, retailers can encourage people to buy apparel as gifts for other pet owners,” she added.

Educating customers about the functions of pet apparel comes naturally during the winter months but should remain a year-round activity, said Andrea Friedland, vice president of customer relations for New York-based Pawz Dog Boots. In addition to dog boots, the company manufactures the 1Z Coat, which is designed to be waterproof and windproof and has a built-in harness.

"Most people don’t understand that some dogs need a coat to be warm or that some dogs have thin [paw] pads and need boots while visiting the beach,” she said.

She encourages store owners and employees to discuss how pet apparel can improve dogs’ lives.

Because it is perceived as a "special” item and not an everyday necessity, owners might be more willing to purchase apparel as gifts leading up to the holidays.

"Apparel is…seen by others and defines the personality of the pet and is an extension of the owner,” Friedland said. "Feminine and frilly, no frills and functional, the holidays provide an opportunity to add to [a] pet’s apparel choices.”

Holiday Themes
Displaying frilly and functional apparel together helps owners choose what best fits their pet’s personality. During the holidays, focusing on apparel items in a range of holiday colors can add visual impact to displays.

"Red and green color options always prove to be popular during this time and make a great holiday-themed display when featured together,” said Dave Colella, co-owner of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Earthdog.

Grouping several types of items in the red and green color families can lend a holiday feel to the entire store. In fact, Wendy Schuchart, co-owner of The Good Dog Co. in Golden, Colo., finds that her company’s red and green collars, leashes and hemp toys become quite popular during the winter months. She recommends that stores group these and other items to create a "holiday gift guide” for pet owners and other customers.

Small items placed near the cash register can encourage impulse purchases. Friedland finds that Pawz Dog Boots make ideal stocking stuffers.

"Small and inexpensive, they fit perfectly in a dog’s stocking,” she said.

Whether through an attractive gift guide display or a few simple words, the power of suggestion often can lead to additional sales, Colella said.

"I think the casual question of, ‘Is there a pet in your life that you’re shopping for this year?’ can go a long way in sparking the thought process,” he said.

No matter how you market the items, pet apparel continues to attract attention at the holidays.

As Kaneko said, "The gift-giving potential of pet clothing during the holiday season will continue to grow, especially with pet parents seeking to find one-of-a-kind gifts for their furry loved ones.”

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