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Scaring Up Sales

Retailers share tricks for driving October profits.
By Ann Springer

When October 31 rolls around each year, even the most conservative dog owners step outside of their fashion comfort zone for a day and dress their pooches up in festive attire. Pet shops, such as Sloppy Kisses in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park, N.Y., are catching the Halloween spirit and cashing in on extra sales, said Melanie Dallas, owner of both locations.

“Halloween is a big time for us,” said Dallas, who estimates more than half of her customers will dress their dogs up for the fall holiday. “It’s the one time of the year that some of my customers will put something on their dog--whether it’s a small dog or one that weighs 100 pounds.”

Customers seek out products for their pets that will garner attention while they’re out on the town Halloween night, said Lauren Hallman, a sales associate at Barker & Meowsky--A Paw Firm, a retail shop in Lincoln Park, Ill.

“People take their dogs with them to animal-related charity fundraisers and want to show off their dog,” she said. “Besides it’s a great night to give you a valid excuse for dressing up your dog in something silly and fun.”

Costumes that mimic trends in children’s Halloween attire rake in the most sales—everything from bumblebees to princesses or farm animals and dinosaurs, Dallas said. This year Dallas predicts these perennial winners will continue to flourish while hit movies will inspire new favorites such as pirates, vampires and dragons. The retro 1960s look—tie dye and peace signs—that has been flooding the runways all year will cross over into Halloween attire, too, she said.

Comic relief get-ups—such as a hot-dog costume for a wiener dog—are also top sellers for retailers such as Jim Carper, the owner of Animal House Inc., in Tampa, Fla. and Jodi Spiess, the pet manager for SPS Town and Country in Bryan, Ohio. Dogs dressed up as clowns or sheriffs (complete with handcuffs) are also popular among Carper’s clientele of both families and retired folks.

Retailers can expect to see more costumes that can bring smiles to their customers’ faces hitting store shelves this year. For example, PetEdge’s newest line offers a variety of witty designs, including a taco costume made for Chihuahuas, a Spiderman-inspired costume and a dogzilla dinosaur replica, said Reginald Macon, a marketing representative for the Beverly, Mass.-based manufacturer.

Pooches traveling in tandem can consider “couples costumes,” said Mike Maida, the co-owner of Pawsh Dog Boutique & Salon, in Boston, Mass. “We’ve had one dog dress up as a cop and the other as the prisoner,” he said. “It’s a really fun idea for families with two dogs.”

For customers looking for a little guidance on which costume to pick for their pooch, retailers should take a look at Fido for inspiration, said Hallman.

“We try to match our clients’ dogs’ personality or their name to the costumes we have to come up with the best look for each individual dog,” she said.

Humorous T-shirts, such as those manufactured by Kool Tees of Deer Park, N.Y., are great alternatives for customers who want to include their dogs in the family’s trick-or-treating festivities but might not be able to get them into complete costumes. Shirts displaying quirky sayings such as, “This is my Halloween costume,” and “Happy Howl-oween” are some of their most popular buys, said president Steve Rieder.

Sales of Halloween-inspired T-shirts comprise nearly half of all of Rieder’s annual sales because so many pet owners purchase something to adorn their pets each year.

“People take their dogs with them trick-or-treating or their pets are with them when they answer the door for trick-or-treaters,” Rieder said. “People figure they buy a costume for their two-legged kids so they do the same for their four-legged ones, too.”

Carrying costumes and other Halloween apparel and accessories for pets makes a retailer a holiday destination and provides a wide profit margin, Macon said. “If you carry the hottest new looks you will make a profit.”

Price Carefully

Calling All Sports Fans

Donning a sports-themed T-shirt is no longer reserved for bowl games or March Madness. Pet owners love to dress their dogs in these tees year-round and have even discovered that they make excellent Halloween costumes, said Steve Rieder, president of Kool Tees, a Deer Park, N.Y. manufacturer of pet T-shirts and apparel. “It’s really a great idea for a Halloween costume,” Rieder said.

“It’s cute to put your dog in your favorite teams’ colors for Halloween.”

Sales of sports-theme apparel seem to spike around Halloween, said Sharon Kelly, the owner of Sporty K9, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer of sports-themed pet apparel. “Customers buy these products for a two-fold purpose,” she continued. “They’ll use it for a Halloween event at the dog park or in a Halloween parade, but they’ll also deck out their dog when they have company over to watch the big game.”

While some customers dress up their dogs in honor of their favorite players others prefer to pay tribute to legends like Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio, Kelly said.
“I even had one male customer dress up for a charity event as Marilyn Monroe and then put his dog in a Joe DiMaggio outfit,” she said. “It was one of the most creative costumes that I’ve ever seen.”

Suggesting customers dress up their dogs booster club-style is a smart selling strategy for retailers to employ in a tough economy, said Mike Maida, the co-owner of Pawsh Dog Boutique & Salon.

“Halloween coincides with the end of baseball season so team jerseys are a much easier sell,” he said. “People buy it with the intent of using it on days other than Halloween.” -AS

Keeping costs of costumes low can help a retailer make the most profit in a short time span. In a world of lots of grim news and hard times, splurging on an inexpensive costume provides a lot of smiles for just a few bucks, Dallas said.

“I keep my price point under $20 to increase my overall sales of costumes,” Dallas said.

Sales of pet costumes last October exceeded Maida’s expectations despite a downsized economy.

“Overall people are hunkering down and having more fun at home,” Maida said. “Dogs are a big part of home life.”

Each September Dallas dresses the dog statues that sit outside her store’s entrance in a few costumes.

“It gets people’s attention and they come and say, ‘I have to have that!’” Dallas said. “On any given day in September you’ll see a dog walking down the street by my shop wearing their Halloween costume home. It’s a real kick.”

Staying competitive in this narrow category can be difficult, as big box stores have expanded their inventories to include Halloween apparel for pets. Independent retailers such as Dallas and Carper have found that catering to large breed dogs is still a niche that is largely unfulfilled by the chain merchants.

“I began seeing costumes for small dogs cropping up everywhere and the market seemed saturated,” Dallas said. “But there’s definitely still a niche market in big dog costumes.”

Upselling a costume with accessories, such as bandanas and treats, creates easy add-on sales for any retailer, Dallas said. Her shop sells ice treats shaped like ghosts and pumpkins or dog bones shaped like Halloween-styled skeletons in its large bakery case.

Organizing and Showing

Creative displays may also influence add-on sales opportunities by highlighting the Halloween gear a retailer has in stock. Consider grouping black-and orange-colored products with Halloween costumes and bandanas and sprinkling in a few holiday decorations for added flare.

“Pulling it all together will increase sales as opposed to mixing it in by category or function,” Rieder said. “Halloween is really big deal to a lot of people.”

For creatively challenged store owners, PetEdge has created a marketing campaign called “Holiday In A Box.” This do-it-yourself kit includes items a retailer can use to host an event, from pre-made press releases to an outline for hooking up with a local charity.

“This program was very successful for those who partook of it in the past year,” Macon said.

Simply hosting a pet-friendly trick-or-treating event in a shop can increase foot traffic and add-on sales for retailers, Rieder noted.

“It’s a great way to bring people into the store for minimal cost,” Rieder said.

Alternatively, if retailers would rather take it up a notch, they can add a photo booth or invite the local media to cover the event.

“You can do a simple invite or turn it into a whole event,” Reider said.

Hosting a Halloween costume parade is another way retailers can attract customers to their shops and enhance sales of specialty merchandise. For example, Dallas said 65 dogs participated in her local parade and costume contest, had their photos snapped, and capped off their evening at a dog-friendly costume party. Dallas received additional sales by offering a 20 percent discount on costumes to registered participants and the parade registration fees were donated to charity.

“When you associate a charity event with your business it tends to sell more products,” Dallas said of her fundraiser, the biggest event she hosts all year.

Pairing a celebration with a local charity provides customers a place to enjoy the night and an opportunity to aid an organization. Spiess’s customers flock to her store for her shop’s annual Halloween pet charity fundraiser.

“Whenever I involve the humane society I get lots and lots of traffic,” Spiess said. “The customers have fun and it’s for a good cause.” <HOME>


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