The winter holiday season in November and December is the most profitable time of year for many retailers and manufacturers. In fact, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping rush, the winter season accounts for 10 times more sales than the next-highest-grossing holiday on the calendar, the back-to-school season.
According to the National Retail Federation, winter holiday sales in 2016 reached $655.8 billion—a 3.6 percent increase over the previous year. Sales over the same period in 2017 are expected to rise to between $678.8 and $682 billion, an increase of nearly 4 percent.
All this is good news for the pet industry, which continues to experience year-over-year growth. Total U.S. pet industry expenditures are estimated to reach $69.36 billion in 2017, and the winter holiday season is sure to account for a sizeable proportion of year-end sales.
But with sales prone to dip following the busy holiday season, what can pet industry retailers and manufacturers do to ensure a steady stream of revenue during the remaining winter months?
Pet Product News spoke to five companies in the industry—three manufacturers and two retailers—to find out how they boost business during the mid-winter freeze. Here are five actionable tips to help pet businesses maximize sales this season:
1) Promote Seasonal Products
The holiday buying frenzy may be over come January, but in many parts of the country, the cold temperatures will linger for several weeks. With this in mind, focusing on promoting winter products is a selling tactic that can work well for both manufacturers and retailers.
"The peak season for beds is usually during the winter months as customers look for cozy beds that can keep their pets warm ... In the winter months, we promote our seasonally themed toys and plush indoor bedding," said Lisa Hisamune, associate director of sales at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco.
Ruffwear promotes its cold weather pet clothing line during winter.
"We design our winter-specific gear to keep dogs comfortable in cold conditions," said Susan Strible, director of marketing at Ruffwear in Bend, Ore. "Our collection of boots and coats addresses the challenge of getting dogs outside when the temperature drops."
Pet specialty retailers can take full advantage of the winter ware manufacturers have to offer. For example, Michael Levy, founder and president of Pet Express, a multichain store in California, said the chain promotes appropriate products such as rain coats, sweaters, beds and heated products.
2) Focus on Pet Health
Aside from items such as warm winter clothing and bedding, products that promote pet health are often popular sellers after the holiday season.
"We have noticed that pet parents reconnect with their pets during the winter months when they are more often indoors and around each other for longer periods of time," said Heidi L. Nevala, president and founder of Natura Petz Organics in Minneapolis. "That reconnection often seems to lead to observations about health and well-being."
The company specifically promotes its Immune Health Meal Topper, Bionic Body, Life’s An Itch and Gland Candy during winter months.
"If a pet overdoes it on holiday festivities, we also offer a product called Super Model in a Bottle, which is a healthful way to get rid of the extra pounds sometimes acquired during the winter months," Nevala said.
3) Give a Little Extra
Offering incentives can be an effective way for manufacturers to minimize risk for retailers during the potentially quieter winter months.
P.L.A.Y offers a free shipping deal with a low minimum, because stocking bulky items such as beds for the winter season can be costly for retailers.
"Our customers appreciate that they can take their savings from our specials and pay it forward to their customers," Hisamune said.
Ruffwear offers a "latitude program" to provide similar benefits.
"Our sales strategies are not focused on promotions," Strible said. "Instead, we’re working with our retailers to help them be more nimble, to address changes in consumer buying patterns, seasonal shifts and economic factors. Retailers pay $99 for the year and get free, same-day shipping when ordering by 10 a.m. with a minimum order of just $100."
4) Try a New Approach
Winter can present an opportunity for companies to try new approaches to boosting sales. Experimenting with new promotions is a strategy that has paid off for Loyal Biscuit Co., which has stores in Maine.
"[In winter,] we have a little more time on our hands to try different promotions," said Heidi Neal, co-owner of Loyal Biscuit Co. "Our most successful was a ‘buy back’ program we did with Canidae. We gave customers a bag of Canidae’s Chicken Meal & Rice Formula in exchange for their opened bag of Beneful dog food. We had huge exposure on Facebook from the promo, and about 30 people actually made the switch."
5) Solve Customers’ Problems
Listening to customers and solving their problems is another way to boost post-holiday sales. It’s a strategy that Ruffwear recognizes the value of.
"We encourage our dealer partners to ensure their inventory reflects what their customers need. In harsh winter conditions, dogs need boots, and customers may want to be able to try the boots on their dog in-store," Strible said. "Having a full-size range of winter-specific dog boots can be the key to solving a customer’s problem and making the sale. The same goes for winter dog coats. When weather hits, customers want a solution right away, and those dealers with inventory will be able to meet those needs."
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Pet Product News.