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Pet Owners Strive to Protect the Animal Jet Set

Posted: December 9, 2010, 3:20 p.m., EDT


Consumers focus on safety as the high-end travel market continues to grow.

By Maggie M. Shein

For auto travel, many manufacturers and retailers report that simple, classic colors sell best.
For auto travel, many manufacturers and retailers report that simple, classic colors sell best.
Photo Courtesy of Bergan LLC
Options in pet travel products could very well be as plentiful as breeds of cats and dogs. While consumer wants and needs may have shifted in this marketplace, high-end travel gear continues to perform well.

“When someone wants to spend, they will pay whatever, but people are definitely being more selective,” said Kade Kimber, owner of Bark Slope Dog Boutique, an online retailer in Raleigh, N.C. “Our demographic is not as concerned about cost as they are with style and quality. It doesn’t matter how cool it looks—the quality must be very good.”

Bark Slope’s best-selling items include carriers, and Kimber said his business gets more questions than ever about durability.

Many retailers agreed that while sales have grown in the travel gear market, customer priorities have changed.

“For travel, it’s the functionality followed by the safety and comfort of the pet—and then the aesthetics, of course,” said Kiiah Kimball, a buyer for retail-chain Muttropolis in Solana Beach, Calif.

Muttropolis has seen growth in strollers and car travel items.

“People are devoted to having their dogs with them more and to making travel as safe and comfortable as possible,” Kimball noted.

In auto travel, car seats by Animals Matter and O’Donnell Industries have proven the most popular for Muttropolis. The company’s three stores also have recently begun carrying small-dog car seats by Doggie Driving.

“People have become very aware of safety,” said Nancy Kline, president of Animals Matter in Torrance, Calif. “Smaller-dog people are concerned with their dog running all over the car. The bigger-dog people are equally as concerned that the dog isn’t jumping all over.”

Animals Matter’s best-sellers are its patented car seats, which are made in the U.S. of upholstery-grade performance fabrics, Kline said. She added that what constitutes “high-end” are products that are very well-constructed, well-made and use premium components.

“Even three years ago, if you were saying higher-end, most things would have been accessory type items such as ‘bling’ on leashes, collars,” said Andrew Kroll, president of digPets, a distributor in West Palm Beach, Fla. “But now, because [pet owners] see their pet as part of the family, travel and safety is really key.”

Industry Voices

What are the best ways to merchandise high-end travel gear?

“It is critical that retailers establish a section in the store so people know what they are looking for and it’s defined. A lot of people forget about pet safety—if they would have it brought to their attention, they would buy it. Education is key.”
—Andrew Kroll, president of digPets in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Kade Kimber
“With high-end you need clear photographs and as much information as possible in your description—especially how much weight a carrier or item can hold.”
—Kade Kimber, owner of Bark Slope Dog Boutique in Raleigh, N.C.

“Sometimes it can show noncommitment to only have one or two items. You have to take a risk and get behind the product with more inventory. Yes, it’s a risk, but I think the bigger risk is looking like you’re not committed to any product. Pick a category and really go after it hard. After six months, reassess whether it was successful and if not, don’t carry it.”
—Zeb Madsen, independent channel leader for Bergan LLC in Monkey Island, Okla.

Kim Magee
“If retailers can face the products out, whether on a flat or peg wall, that’s important. Have as many of the products at eye level as possible, where the customer can see everything. It’s harder to sell [travel items] if they are boxed on a shelf rather than hanging on a wall.”
—Kim Magee, vice president of sales for The Kyjen Company Inc. in Centennial, Colo.

Kroll likened the comparison to traveling with his children.

“I would never put my son in the back seat without a booster,” he said. “As the economy has changed, people are still spending, but they are spending on safety.”

Manufacturers such as Bergan LLC in Monkey Island, Okla., emphasize safety and function, said Zeb Madsen, independent channel leader at the company. For example, Bergan invested in third-party lab testing to verify that its safety harness could withstand the force of a crash. Now called the V9DT test, any manufacturer can test its product to the standard.

One of Bergan’s newer travel items, the Pet Travel Barrier, attaches between a car’s two front seats.

“The material at the bottom is stretchy so we can fit as many different car models as possible,” Madsen said about the product, which was introduced in May 2010. “It’s also ventilated so as not to block airflow to the pet.”

Another company offering items for pets on the go is Furry Travelers Inc. in Delray Beach, Fla., which not only sells an array of travel gear for pets but also manufactures its own travel item: the To Go Bowl. Nancy Cribb, president of Furry Travelers, said safety harnesses and booster seats by Kurgo sell well with her safety-conscious customers. Furry Travelers’ most popular item, however, is the To Go Bowl. The bowl comes in one size and is made of BPA-free, FDA-approved polypropylene, according to Cribb.

“It’s designed to fit snugly in all cup holders with a splash guard and a lid,” Cribb said.

The bowl comes in eight colors (silver is the most popular) and has a separate lid for the cup portion to store dry food.

Expanding Options

For the active pet parent, all kinds of niche items are in the travel category, from backpacks and life jackets to mobile homes. Kyjen, a manufacturer of travel gear under the brand name Outward Hound, offers all of these items. Among the most popular are dog backpacks, life jackets, strollers, booster seats and backseat hammocks, said Kim Magee, vice president of sales at The Kyjen Company Inc., based In Centennial, Colo.

Some of Kyjen’s latest products are harnesses with handles to help an injured or senior dog in or out of a car, and mobile homes. The company’s mobile homes assemble in a few minutes and are almost 20 inches high and 18 inches wide, Magee said.

In carriers, Kimball said the high-end items Muttropolis carries tend to mirror the human handbag market.

“There’s a lot of quilted faux leather—it’s always a classic,” she said.

Kimber agreed. For his customers, “bling” is always a best-seller.

“We also carry brown crocodile and giraffe prints, and pink always sells like crazy,” he said.

Among the brands he carries are Juicy Couture, Pet Flys and PeTote. Many carrier manufacturers are introducing new colors and prints to keep up with the trends.

“We’ve introduced a series of prints: hibiscus, stripe, plaid and swirl—the most popular is plaid,” Magee reported.

She added that red is always a popular seller for Kyjen.

“It doesn’t matter what the product is; we do well with red,” Magee said.

Another trend Bark Slope’s Kimber is noticing is the rising popularity of slings.

“One of the things we’ve had a lot of feedback about is that people want to keep their pets close to them, which is why I think slings will become more and more popular,” he said. “We’ve also seen a defined increase in sales on the slings.”

Bark Slope carries Make a Tail Wag and, a recent addition, Shabby Dog. Strollers also are doing well in the travel market, industry sources reported.

“Two or three years back, strollers were a novelty item, but now people are more educated on the function, so we’ve seen sales go up,” said Fernando Chang, president of manufacturer PetZip Group in Corona, Calif.

The company’s most popular product is the 1st Class Pet Jogger stroller. The stroller has a button for one-hand folding operation.

For car travel, many retailers and manufacturers agreed that classic style is the most popular.

“People generally want items that will match or complement their car,” said Kline of Animals Matter, which focuses on interior car colors such as black or beige. “We do offer pink, however, because there is still that pink person.”

What’s Next?

Regardless of the item, industry sources agreed that the travel gear market is experiencing—and should continue to have—growth.

“We have a niche,” said Ann Tran, marketing director for FouFou Dog, a Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, manufacturer of animal luggage tags, front carriers and other animal gear. “We haven’t seen a decrease, and we still have a big presence internationally.”

Chang also remarked on the viability of travel items, saying that product acceptance right now is currently getting widespread. Over the next year, he expects travel gear sales to grow because there are still a large number of people willing to buy.

Added Madsen of Bergan, “It seems that this industry is a little resistant to recession.”

 Read the full article in the December issue of Pet Product News. To read the article, readers must be a subscriber. To subscribe, click here.

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