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Fall Emporium: Puppy Presents

Posted: September 25, 2013, 9:50 a.m. EDT


The holiday season is an ideal time to encourage additional sales of products designed for puppies.

By Stacy N. Hackett

It’s a scene right out of a holiday movie: a sweet little puppy with a red bow tied around its neck, waiting under the tree or in a large box for its new owner. And the perfect companion gift for the new furry friend? A range of appropriate puppy products.

"The gift-giving potential of puppy products throughout the holiday season is endless,” said Christine Allison, project and analyst coordinator for Coastal Pet Products in Alliance, Ohio. "It is the perfect time of year to buy a puppy something special.”

A range of puppy-specific products can fulfill the needs of all types of customers.

"Puppy products are specifically targeted to youthful dogs and often relate to juvenile behavior, such as ‘wee-wee’ pads, chew toys and ward-off sprays,” said Paul Armstrong, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Earthbath.

At the TailsSpin stores in Savannah, Macon and Pooler, Ga., Jusak Yang Bernhard and his staff assemble "grab bags” for customers to give their pet-owning loved ones or their own special pets.

"In these bags, we include toys and treats, something to spoil and to show our love for pets,” Bernhard said.

TailsSpin employees receive training to ensure they know as much as possible about responsible pet ownership, Bernhard said, and this knowledge proves valuable when helping customers select appropriate puppy gifts.

"For example, when purchasing toys for a puppy, we must realize what type of breed,” he said. "This knowledge will dictate the type of toys, depending on the energy level of the different puppy.”

Horizon Pet Supply in Winchester and Wildomar, Calif., follows the same approach to helping new puppy owners. Instead of offering prepackaged puppy starter kits, employees provide individual guidance to customers, helping them tailor product selections to meet the needs of the specific breed of dog.

Fortunately, several manufacturers offer toys lines that accommodate all sizes of dog.

"Rascals toys…are available in a wide range of sizes and materials that can be suitable for any breed of dog,” Allison said.

Coastal also offers a line of holiday-themed latex toys featuring shapes such as Santa Claus, a penguin and a bear, as well as toys in the holiday colors of silver, gold, green and red.

Beyond the Holidays
Creating displays that focus on festively colored puppy items—such as toys, collars, leashes and even apparel—makes sense during the holidays. While items that feature holiday designs are natural additions to such displays, Allison also recommend including plain items—such as solid-colored collars and leashes—that feature the traditional holiday colors. Red and green are obvious choices, as are gold, silver and any item with a little bit of bling.

"Coastal Pet’s 2013 Holiday Collection incorporates all of these trends, featuring red and green velvet with bells as well as silver and gold sparkle dog collars,” Allison said. "Traditional red collars are a good seller during the holidays; green and gold are also very popular during this season.”

Other holiday-themed items that make ideal gifts for puppies or puppy owners include grooming products designed specifically for young dogs.

"These products make great gifts for puppy owners, because puppies love to roll in the unknown and trudge through dirt and mud,” Armstrong said, noting that Earthbath’s puppy products are pH balanced to be gentle on puppies’ skin.

To encourage sales of puppy-formulated grooming supplies and other puppy products, Armstrong recommends creating an eye-catching endcap display.

"Hang tags or balloons or other visual cues are effective means of promotion,” he said. "Signage saying ‘Great gift idea’ or [something similar] is another.”

Bobbi Panter, owner of Chicago-based Bobbi Panter Pet Products, recommends displaying gift-appropriate items near the register.

"They can also display [puppy gifts] in the section that the gift applies to, like near the shampoo section,” she said. "An eye-catching display for the holidays is always helpful.”

Because many people become first-time puppy owners around the holidays, Panter recommends grouping products—that are not breed specific—into convenient packages.

"Many people get puppies as gifts,” she said. "They may be a first-time dog owner or just don’t know what products to buy, so a puppy gift bag full of products is a great way to introduce a new pet owner to [appropriate] products.”

Accessorize Adoptions
At Villaggio Family Pets in Temecula, Calif., the focus is on puppies year-round. All puppies adopted from the store go home with a puppy starter kit, but during the holidays the store offers additional specials.

"We create stockings with treats and other puppy items, such as toys,” said Jesse Lopez, store employee. "We also run multiple specials on different types of products during holiday months. These can change weekly.”

TailsSpin also offers an adoption package year-round.

"We work with all of the local pet-rescue agencies, as well as the local animal control and shelter,” Bernhard said. "We also work with the food manufacturers to help with this adoption package, which contains a small bag of food, a free dog wash, a free engraved tag and 10 percent off their first purchase.”

Bernhard and his staff recognize that puppy adoptions increase during the holidays, so they shift their merchandising to reflect the trend.

"We bring our puppy products to the front of the store for first looks as customers enter,” he said. "Endcaps and their availabilities are also areas we consider during these times.”

And that is the bottom line with holiday sales, both store owners and manufacturers reported.

"Every customer who visits a retail store should be greeted with a holiday display,” Allison said. "If the displays are maximized to their potential, then customers can easily find a product they like. During the holiday season customers are more willing to spend money on other people. If they find a product they like for their puppy, then they are more likely to look for a product for someone else’s puppy.”

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