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Dog Marketplace: Gifts for Those on the Go

Posted: Oct. 18, 2012, 8:30 p.m. EDT


Pet travel products align with holiday vacation plans, and retailers can capitalize on unmet demand.
By Keith Loria

Industry professionals who pay close attention to hotels, family attractions and vacation hotspots have seen an uptick in the number of pets travelling with their owners. Correspondingly, various segments of the travel industry have become much more pet-friendly in recent years. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) even provides a guide for pet-friendly places to stay.

“There has been a societal acceptance that dogs [and other pets] are truly part of the family, and people want to take them along,” said Barb Emmett, president of Godfrey’s—Welcome to Dogdom in Mohnton, Pa. “There has been a higher level of [willingness] from hotels, motels and B&Bs to accept pets and actually welcome them, and more pet-friendly cities in general.”

Pet Travel Mania
More than 60 percent of pet owners traveled with their pets in 2011, and that number continues to increase year after year, according to PetRelocation.com, a pet-relocation business. The numbers are validated by a report from the Travel Industry Association of America, which estimated that 29.1 million Americans traveled with a pet in the past three years.

Pet travel carriers
Pet travel products make great gifts for people in-transit with their four-legged counterparts this holiday season. Sherri L. Collins/Pet Stop Warehouse

With all this travelling, the need for products to help bring pets here and there has increased tremendously, and manufacturers are doing what they can to provide the must-have items for every pet owner in this segment.

“Travel is a really good category for us because people need travel food bowls and carriers, and even sometimes matching bags for people to carry their dogs in,” noted Corey Samuel, president of Paws and Claws Pet Nutrition Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. “It doesn’t have to be just for people travelling far on planes; even people who travel for the weekend by car will need a lot of these items.”

In addition, travel and transportation products are a great gift giving opportunity, as just about every pet will need them at one time or another. That means instead of just giving the standard toy or accessory, customers can choose to gift more practical travel products.

“Gift giving is huge in the pet world, and people will look for any occasion to buy something,” Samuel said. “It doesn’t have to be just for Christmas either. People buy pet gifts for birthdays, housewarmings or when someone comes home with a new pet. These are items that all pet owners will need at some time, so they are great for this.”

Everything a Pet Needs
The amount of travel products on the market continues to grow as more manufacturers are trying to cash in on the segment by offering everything from pet luggage to beds and portable food accessories.

“Not only are 50 percent of pet owners gifting [to] pets at Christmas time, but according to a Harris Poll from last year, 30 percent are giving gifts to their pets on birthdays,” noted Ann Hanson, director of marketing and innovation for the Arlington, Texas-based manufacturer Petmate. “We think about all the applications on how a product will be used while developing, packaging and merchandising, including whether it is giftable.”

As customers seek out new products to help them travel with pet companions, manufacturers have started to produce travel kits. Solvit Products, an Arlington, Texas-based manufacturer that offers seat covers, booster seats, safety harnesses, cargo liners and travel organizers for pets, has seen a big growth in the travel segment over the last three to five years, and has responded to the increased demand, reported Pat Hoffman, company president.

“We now have an organizer kit, which is like a diaper bag for a pet,” Hoffman said. “It includes a water bottle, collapsible food and water bowl, a satchel that can be used to hold leashes, cleaning cloths, a food storage bag and a small pet bad.

“Travel products aren’t usually thought of as gifts, but gift items can certainly be functional, and I can make a case why some of these products could be stocking stuffers as well,” he added.

Holiday Luxury
Thinking out of the box may garner retailer sales of big-ticket items. For those looking to sell pet owners more lavish gifts, Julie Jacobs, owner of the e-tail store Dogs and Friends in Orlando, Fla., suggested promoting a dog stroller, which can be used to transport the pet from the car to the hotel or around town.

“There are many fashionable patterns, so this could be a great but more pricey gift item,” she said.

Playpens or dog dorms are also a great travel item retailers can promote, and they also carry a higher price point. Part of the marketing angle retailers can use is to suggest customers buy these products for relatives or friends visiting from out of town.

“These are great products for other family members to give to their ‘grand dogs’ or in-law dogs that come to visit them, since sometimes price points are greater and pet parents themselves don’t want to spring for them,” Godfrey’s Emmett said. 

While some manufacturers don’t generally market travel products specifically for the holiday season, many of their products are applicable and are very giftable.

“A lot of our travel bowls and accessories are used as stocking stuffers,” noted Danee Fleckenstein, marketing specialist for Kurgo Products in Salisbury, Mass.

Knowing what makes the most sense to promote helps, but retailers aren’t all alone in making that determination. Manufacturers are increasingly taking note of products that may have appeal as holiday gifts. In some cases, they are even taking that consideration into packaging decisions.

“If we think our product is more giftable, we are more likely to put it in a box,” Petmate’s Hanson said. “We also look it as an opportunity to work with retailers to provide merchandise to connect to consumers during the holiday season.”

On Display
Retailers can take advantage of the growing pet travel trend by marketing products in ways they may not have considered. Dogs and Friends’ Jacobs recommended creating a travel theme in the store to draw attention to the merchandise around holiday time.

“You can tie it into a holiday with festive décor and trim, such as using bows and ribbons,” she said. “You can also use holiday toys such as Santa [dolls], reindeers or stars as decoration to liven up the display, focusing on reds, greens and blues.”

Sometimes, consumers will grab potential gift items on a whim. Paws and Claws’ Samuel said the store keeps all of its travel items in the same area, with extra attention paid to the bowls and cages that are most likely to catch the eye of someone who may make a purchase on impulse.

Going the extra mile and promoting these products while customers have an eye on them may help also. Godfrey’s Emmett also groups the products together, but goes a step further, trying to get customers interested.

“I set up displays that combine all things to consider when travelling--car seats, restraints, carriers, treats, bowls, accessories—with photos of dogs traveling in different situations,” she said. “We sometimes wear a carrier in the shop ourselves with a display dog inside.”

Shelf talkers are reputed to increase an item’s sales by 17 percent, Earthbath’s Armstrong said. He added that he believes a shelf talker with the words “Great Gift Item” should help sell any pet product suitable for gifting.

“I think that gift giving is a growing segment, as people are more aware of companion animals as important ‘members of the family’ for most families,” Armstrong stated. “Dog products are reasonably priced, can be very attractive and are a feel-good item.”

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