Animals are turning up on kitchen and bath products for humans.
By Elisa Jordan
Remember those high school math equations in which Train A leaves a certain point traveling X miles per hour? Meanwhile, Train B leaves another point traveling X miles per hour. At which point will they meet?
The world of pet-themed kitchen and bath products is not unlike high school math. Factor pets increasingly becoming family members. Then factor the rise of the do-it-yourself movement, home and food television networks, and the ever-present Martha Stewart et al.
guidelines for décor, cooking and entertaining. It was only a matter of time before these two powerhouse trains met.
Once a niche market, kitchen and bath décor featuring animals and pets has entered the mainstream. The products, too, display a wide range of variety—from the light-hearted and whimsical to the sophisticated and elegant. The assortment only demonstrates the vast demand.
“People love their pets so much they have decided to add that to their homes,” says Vince Anginoli, co-owner of Mackie’s Parlour A Pet Boutique in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I think it’s an expression of ‘I love my pet. I love my breed.’ We get people asking all the time ‘Do you have my breed? I have a Bouvier. I have a Pembroke Corgi.’ People feel so strongly about the bond they have with their pets that it’s just another way of expressing that.”
Jacqueline Adams, owner of Jacqueline’s Originals in Newtown, Conn., has seen the industry evolve firsthand. She began selling her handcrafted products to a specialized audience at dog shows in 1967. Now that her line has expanded, she sells wholesale only and has a couple of helpers. Now in particular, she says, with how the economy stands, consumers are especially receptive to such products.
“I have found when the economy gets shaky, people who love their pets but can’t afford to go out and buy a new car, a fur coat or whatever, buy things that pertain to the things they love, like their pets, that don’t cost as much. It makes them feel good.”
What Are They Looking For?
Cost effectiveness is often a consideration when it comes to practicality. Mackie’s Parlour works with a sculptor who recreates clients’ pets for several thousand dollars. The result is a fantastic piece of art and showpiece for the home.
The pet industry has long provided upscale items for dogs and cats that blend in aesthetically with home décor. Such items fit in easily enough with most pet supply stores, but how can stores incorporate items for people, such as kitchen and bath accessories?
“I set up something that looks kind of like a kitchen when I set up a display. It has all the paper towel rollers, the timer, the clock—things that would go in someone’s home,” says Jacqueline Adams, owner of Jacqueline’s Originals in Newtown, Conn.
Keeping things grouped in a separate section is what most people recommend.
“You have to keep it all together,” says David Babcock, co-owner of Clementine’s Kitchen, a gourmet kitchen cookware and accessories store for humans in Del Rey Oaks, Calif. “You have to match everything in one department. Don’t spread it through the store. And you have to do 25 percent cat and 75 percent dog.”
“Tell a story by devoting sufficient depth of the specific breed or collection. Make sure to use display pieces that complement the packaging,” says Blair Buckley-Salon, vice president of design for Gianna Rose Atelier in Santa Ana, Calif.
Making products available so customers can touch them is another way of capturing their attention. “Always use testers so that the customer can interact with the product,” she says.
The average shopper looking for, say, coffee mugs, dishtowels, paper towel holders or sculpted soaps, however, wants to spend a little less. But that doesn’t mean they want cheap, either.
“Not everyone is going to buy a $2,500 to $3,000 sculpture,” Anginoli says. “Our customer base goes the gamut in terms of their income level, but I would say it’s upper-middle to upper class. We bring in a lot of quality product. Some of it is upper-end, but we have a lot of quality middle-priced things, too. We price things properly. You can go into some boutiques and they go over the edge in terms of pricing. I think they’re doing themselves an injustice. We cater to all ranges.”
“Overall price point for products that people use is important—they’re functional,” says Judy Pate, vice president of sales and marketing at Fiddler’s Elbow in Middle Falls, N.Y. “It’s not the same thing as bling, bling, like dog clothing. This is something for the pet lover that’s practical, and it’s something that’s a nice gift but it’s not over the top.”
“I target middle- to high-end,” agrees Ellyne Miller, owner of Reigning Cats and Dogs in Milford, Pa. “I’m not real high-end. I would say in the middle.”
Consumers looking for goods in this price range require something else: originality.
“It is a unique way to add a functional and decorative item to your kitchen or bath,” says Blair Buckley-Salon, vice president of design for Gianna Rose Atelier, makers of high-end soaps and gifts for humans in Santa Ana, Calif.
“When I’m at the tradeshows people come around and say, ‘I’m looking for something different. I’m looking for something my customers can’t see at the [chain] stores,’” says Adams.
Kitchen and bath products sporting animals is perhaps not as big a leap if one thinks about it. Because pets are frequently fed in the kitchen area to begin with, manufacturers of dog and cat bowls—not to mention placemats and treat jars—have long been savvy to owners wanting well-designed pieces to match a house’s décor.
“[Customers] are more receptive to upscale animal-themed products,” says Rebecca Volandt, creative director for Melia Luxury Pet in Decatur, Ga. “Consumers can now purchase home accessories, such as coffee mugs, with artwork to coordinate with their home décor.”
Debby Carman, an artist and owner of Faux Paws Productions, creates items for pets as well as their owners.
“There is a utilitarian demand for pet goods and feeders—pet leashes, pet collars—but there is also there is also a stylistic and artistic demand,” she says. Carman sells her products wholesale but also sells them in a gallery that’s nestled in the heart of Laguna Beach, Calif., an area famous for its art galleries. “The pet market is a solid market to go into. I thought it was a good way to project my art into some practical applications.”
The market has even shown the signs of expanding outside of the proverbial box of pet boutiques and gift stores. At Clementine’s Kitchen, a gourmet kitchen cookware and accessories store in Del Rey Oaks, Calif., co-owner David Babcock has found great success selling animal-themed products for the kitchen, and even some products for dogs. In fact, the store’s name comes from Babcock’s Jack Russell terrier, Clementine.
He often sees products for kitchens—and dogs—at gift, housewares and fancy foods shows. “You go into pet store chains and they have normal stuff but not fun stuff. Since we named the store after the dog, we figured we’d get some stuff for her and all her doggie friends.”
It’s not just dog people having all the fun. Babcock also finds cat fans purchasing items. “A cat person usually buys teapots, teacups, tea cozies, and magnets to go on the refrigerator.”
But the market isn’t limited to just dogs and cats, Babcock points out. Plenty of people collect items featuring pigs, chickens, horses or other animals.
The kitchen and bath trend it hot now, but does it have legs? Experts say yes, they only see the trend continuing.
“You are definitely seeing more and more home trends that incorporate animals and animal-themed décor,” Buckley-Salon. “We started out with just a few shapes, and over the last few years our collection has grown, based on demand, to almost two dozen animal varieties.”
Babcock sees the market as “huge, huge, huge” and Volandt agrees. “With more sophisticated and modern designs for pet-themed home accessories, the category is bound to attract a larger clientele than in the past,” she says.
One of the things going for this product segment is its versatility. People buy animal-themed kitchen and bath items both for themselves and as gifts.
“Sometimes people buy things for themselves first,” Adams says. “From what the reorders at my stores tell me is someone buys something and then comes back and she thinks, ‘Oh, these would be great for my friends for Christmas or for fun.’”
Fun might be the operative word.
“It is a wonderful fun business,” Adams continues. “These things make people smile. That’s always important.” <HOME>
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