Breed-themed jewelry and key chains dominate gift sales.
By Sandi Cain
Consumers may not be able to take their pets everywhere they go, but they can keep a constant reminder around their necks or on their key rings. And while they may think twice about high-end pet-themed jewelry, they’re still buying other pieces and key chains for themselves and as gifts.
“Demand has pulled back a little with the recession—especially with high-end items,” said wholesaler Bo Nelson, president of Richmond, Va.-based WholesalePet.com, which represents 3,000 vendors.
According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey, consumers are expected to spend about $45.4 billion on pets this year, up roughly $2 billion from 2008. Of course, that includes basics such as food, along with discretionary items.
Manufacturers still see jewelry as a relatively healthy market.
“Strong impulse items are still going to sell [because] people always will spend their money on pets and babies,” said David Sarnowski, vice president of LittleGifts in New York City.
The company sells breed-specific key chains featuring the American Kennel Club’s 50 most popular dog breeds, as well as cats, horses and birds. It also sells sterling-silver charms, necklaces and bracelets in about 9,000 retail outlets.
“They do well in gift stores, pet boutiques and full-line stores,” he said.
Other manufacturers agree there’s still a strong—if cautious—market for pet-themed jewelry.
“Overall, people are being conservative,” said Anne Harvey, partner in the Fort Bragg, Calif.-based manufacturer Anne & Jane.
Harvey and her sister Jane make sterling silver and enamel animal-themed jewelry. She said they’ve started exhibiting at trade shows, including the San Francisco and New York International Gift Fair shows, to broaden their reach in the gift market.
Silver-plated jewelry is still selling well among more price-conscious consumers, said Debra Baribault, vice president of manufacturer Treasures and Trinkets in Manchester, Conn. The company’s lines of silver-plated Guardian Angel jewelry and charm bracelets often appeal to customers who are looking for small gifts.
“Our sales are strong because people find it affordable to purchase these items,” she said.
Manufacturers of higher-end jewelry have a different perspective.
“The jewelry industry in general is suffering,” said Andrea Levine, designer of Andrea Levine Jewelry in Wilmington, Del. “There are people who like my designs but can’t afford $60 to $100 for jewelry.”
Levine said she’s switched to silver from gold for many pieces because of precious-metal prices, but she is resisting the temptation to move into the costume jewelry more typically found at pet retailers.
“Stores don’t have money for nice people-jewelry,” said Lisa Greene, founder of Long Island City, N.Y.-based FineArf.com.
As a result, she’s selling her line of 500 silver and brass charm designs to pet boutiques and jewelry stores and at trade shows.
Current clients include Barker & Meowsky in Lincoln Park, Ill., and Tails by the Lake at Squaw Valley, north of Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
“People walk into pet stores to buy something for the dog, not a $500 bracelet,” Greene said.
One deterrent for retailers is that they need to carry a broad array of jewelry inventory to be successful with it. Many are fearful they’ll be stuck with the items if they don’t sell.
“It’s a huge investment for them, but it pays off,” said Myra Westphal, co-owner of WholesaleDogJewelry.com, a division of Plover, Wis.-based manufacturer Doggy Toyland LLC.
Manufacturers and wholesalers try to help retailers overcome those fears. Westphal’s company is planning to offer some retail clients a demo tray of items so they can see what sells best before ordering specific products.
“We tell retailers what the top products are to help them out,” she said.
LittleGifts allows dealers and retailers to rotate their products, enabling them to exchange slow sellers for top sellers.
“We know different dogs [and] styles sell in different parts of the country, so they can experiment with what works for them,” Sarnowski said.
The company also offers modular product displays, floor displays and counter displays with variable panels. Retailers differ on the best display options, but many choose spots near their cash registers.
“It’s an easy way to add $20 to $50 to a sale,” Westphal said.
The best-selling items vary by region. At Best for Pets in Zumbro Falls, Minn., earrings dominate. At Les Produits Woof in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, rings are the hottest items. At Nitro Dog Boutique in Lafayette, Calif., breed jewelry is the top seller, along with bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Many purchase the items as gifts. Breed jewelry is hot coast-to-coast, as are various lines of pet paws, including guardian-angel mementos and cause-related items that give percentages of sales to charities. Charm bracelets also have regained some fashion cachet. And key chains are LittleGift’s top pet-themed line.
As the holiday season approaches, retailers can market pet-themed jewelry as thoughtful and affordable gift options for customers’ animal-loving friends or as special-treat items for themselves. <HOME>
Freelance business-writer Sandi Cain writes for trade publications, newsletters, sports publications and ethnic business publications.
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