Summer has just begun, but savvy pet retail buyers are already planning inventory for the fall and winter holidays. In fact, manufacturers, many of which have been plagued by supply chain slow-downs this past year, are urging buyers to place their orders now.

Huxley & Kent, which manufactures pet toys, dog harnesses and other accessories, began taking orders in May.

“Supply chain and logistic issues are plentiful this year,” said Robin Kershner, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based company. “Any retailer reading this should order now. At Huxley & Kent, we sell out early. We offer a chance to prebook starting May 1 and give a prebook discount for retailers to book early.”

Jeff Leh, director of business development at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco, also pointed to the supply chain as a reason to order as soon as possible. The company is known for its extensive lines of pet toys and beds.

“With various disruptions in the supply chain during these uncertain times, it is taking longer and longer for vendors to get products in their warehouse,” Leh said.

The timeline for purchasing fall and holiday merchandise, however, also depends on the manufacturer and product type, according to Janie Smyser, owner of K9 Granola Factory, a manufacturer of treats and snacks for dogs, based in Abbottstown, Pa.

“Hardline and softline products are often purchased months in advance, whereas perishable goods are typically ordered closer to the time of sale,” Smyser said. “At K9 Granola Factory, we suggest placing your custom-baked fall dog treat orders on Aug. 1, with an expected arrival time of late August, and your holiday treat orders in late September, with an expected arrival time of mid-November.”

Finding the Perfect Balance

There’s often a cheerful bustle when it comes to holiday product buying, so it’s important that retailers don’t get carried away and purchase too many holiday-themed products. (Pumpkin-shaped dog toys are great in October, but they may not sell well in December.) On the flip side, pet retailers don’t want to run out of a popular product too quickly, leaving customers to search elsewhere.

“A good rule of thumb would be to order about 80 percent of what a retailer thinks they can sell, and then chase the rest during the selling season,” Kershner said. “That would be a conservative way of doing it. Chasing product can be risky, though, as there is no guarantee it will still be there when they want it.”

Reviewing the previous year’s product successes can help create a path forward, Leh advised.

“Retailers should take note of what sold well last year and use any data collected during that time to forecast what they will need this year,” Leh said.

Smyser agreed.

“We encourage retailers to do a post-holiday assessment of customer buying habits, and then build their Q3 and Q4 budget and purchasing plan from that assessment,” Smyser said. “Every location is different, so your assessment should give you a better understanding of your specific customer buying trends.”

Retailers should also pay attention to the interest in brands and product types throughout the year, Smyser said.

“We know that for many of our K9 Granola Factory retailers, our doggy donuts are a big hit with customers,” Smyser added. “If these items sell well throughout the year, you can assume they will sell at a greater pace during the fall. It is a good idea to talk to manufacturers to determine if there is a large demand for a product so you can get your orders in early.”

Retailers can also consider stocking gift-giving products that can be sold after the holidays. This is how Sue Hepner, co-owner of Cool Dog Gear in Warrington, Pa., approaches it.

“We try to buy holiday items that are not totally holiday specific,” Hepner said. “Many companies make items where you can remove a holiday hat or change a wrapper after the season is over.”

After Cool Dog Gear’s annual post-holiday sale, there are usually very little leftovers, Hepner said.

Jennifer Lohin, co-owner of Stonehaven’s Uptown Hound & Laundromutt in Cumberland, Md., utilizes free thank-you gift bags throughout the month, packing them with fun treats for pet owners. Excess inventory may also find a place in these bags. Then, on Dec. 26, Lohin has a blow-out sale, which further reduces any excess holiday-themed products.

Curating a balanced assortment is sometimes science and sometimes a wild guess, according to Pamela Modica, baker and business manager at Lazy Creek Pet Food Center in Lexington, S.C.

“We have some of the same types of inventory—good sellers in each location—for the holiday seasons, but also look for unique items from other small businesses to bring in,” Modica said. “Like a wire tiered tree, purchased locally but widely available on Amazon, and decorated with laser-cut-steel dog breed/cat ornaments from a husband/wife team in Georgia. We’re lucky to not have a lot of inventory after the holiday seasons, but also have room to store if keeping for the next season.”

Optimal Timing

Once products arrive, the next consideration is when to display them.

“Fall merchandise should go on sale in August, and that would include Halloween,” Kershner said. “Holiday products should go out the beginning of October, and retailers can build the display out, peaking by the beginning of November.”

Smyser advised allowing as much selling time for autumn/holiday products as possible.

“The best time to introduce fall/Halloween merchandise is just before routines shift in late August—kids are going back to school, vacations are coming to an end, the weather is changing—this is the time when customers are getting excited about the upcoming season,” Smyser said. “Holiday-themed merchandise should slowly start appearing in late October, with a complete rollout right after Halloween.”

Introducing items slightly ahead of the season spurs demand for the products, so they sell well into those peak months, according to Smyser.

“Customers do not want to miss out on a trend, so they are often willing to snag a product early in case it sells out,” Smyser added. “This is especially true since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, keep in mind that most customers have a set seasonal budget—you want to make sure they purchase your items before the money runs out.”

Hepner begins a bit earlier.

“We start putting fall items out in July,” Hepner said, adding that the store’s winter/holiday merchandise gradually comes out in August, beginning with gift items for humans. “As we move into fall, we start with some Christmas specialty items, then start to introduce new toys and specials as we move into November. Basically, we add something new every couple of weeks.”

Stonehaven’s Uptown Hound & Laundromutt, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more traditional in its timing.

“We’re kind of traditionalists here,” Lohin said. “When I was a kid, Black Friday was the day when stores were transformed. We don’t tend to decorate for the holidays until the weekend before Thanksgiving.”

A store’s geographic location may be a good indicator as to when to display themed merchandise.

“We are in the very hot Southern United States,” said Pamela Modica, baker and business manager at Lazy Creek Pet Food Center in Lexington, S.C. “Fall does not start till you can sit in the college football stands (pre-COVID-19) and not melt. Seriously, we merge into fall merchandise starting within the last couple of weeks of September. Holiday items around the first part of November.”

New Products

Candy Corn and Candy Canes

Pet product manufacturers always seem to have something new up their sleeves when it comes to seasonal products. This year is no exception.

Huxley & Kent has three new Halloween toys, new turkeys, footballs and a Squirrel Patrol bone toy. These products can be coordinated with matching bow ties, said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C.

“By popular demand, we are also launching our first line of Thanksgiving-themed neckwear,” Kershner added.

The company’s holiday selection continues to grow as well.

“We have new toys, new neckwear, hats, scarves, bandanas, ornaments for the tree and stockings for the fireplace,” Kershner said. “Our Hanukkah selection has expanded again this year.”

Specific new toys include Tree-Rex, a dinosaur decorated like a Christmas tree, a Fireball Dragon and an Everest Yeti.

“A new category launch for us is our line of Halloween and Holiday bandanas,” Kershner said. “These (costume) bandanas are unique in that that they are appliquéd and embroidered from soft plush fabric and an inexpensive way to costume pets for the holiday season. Perfect for photos with Santa and family Christmas cards.”

Treat manufacturer K9 Granola Factory, which is based in Abbottstown, Pa., has some tried-and-true products ready for the upcoming season as well as some about-to-be-launched new ideas.

“In addition to our specialty-themed donuts and donut hole flavors, this holiday season we will be offering coffee mugs, apparel and a few new and unique items that will be perfect for gift-giving,” said Janie Smyser, owner of K9 Granola Factory. “We expect to announce our new Donut Shop products mid-summer.”

P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) recently launched new products. Although they are not all “holiday” themed, they are still great gifts for dogs and cats, said Jeff Leh, director of business development at the San Francisco-based company.

“The plush toy collection for dogs that we just recently debuted is our Hollywoof Cinema Collection, super fun new toys like a plush popcorn, 3-D glasses, movie reel and more; Camp Corbin, favorite summer camping essentials in plush toy form; our Tropical Paradise Collection, perfect for a summer state of mind all year long; Canine Commute, ideal for fall after summer vacations and features a bullet train, taxi, cable car and more; and finally, just in time for the holidays, is our Merry Woofmas collection, Christmas-themed unique high-quality plush toys,” Leh said.

P.L.A.Y. also has its popular Holiday Classics collection, which includes toys shaped as classic holiday food items, and Santa’s Lil Squeaker toys, which are ornament-shaped plush toys that are designed in an ugly Christmas sweater theme and can also be hung on a tree like a real ornament, Leh added.

Top Tips on Seasonal Merchandising

Every pet store has a different approach to merchandising holiday goods. Pet Product News (PPN) spoke to a few industry insiders to get their advice.

• Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C.—“At Huxley & Kent, we have seen retailers have tremendous success by featuring a candy-themed toy display for Halloween. When combined with Halloween toys, this makes a great display and cuts down on the risk of having Halloween-centric toys left over after the holiday. Adding the candy toys to a plastic pumpkin or cauldron is a very cute idea. Stores should also use Halloween decorations, mannequins and lifestyle photography to create the excitement for any holiday. The more cohesive the display, the more likely the customer will be drawn in and have that emotional attachment to buy their pet a gift. Holiday decorations can be easy and inexpensive. Garland, snow, lights and an imitation fireplace can all work. And don’t forget the Christmas music. Decorating for Christmas can start any time after Halloween.”

• Pamela Modica, baker and business manager at Lazy Creek Pet Food Center in Lexington, S.C.—“Set aside a space within the store to display fall and holiday merchandise. These are so much fun to do if you have the room. But also display throughout the store to keep customers moving throughout and point out items that may be of interest to them based on previous purchases or conversations.”

• Janie Smyser, owner of K9 Granola Factory in Abbottstown, Pa.—“Items that pair well should be placed near each other. Don’t be afraid to tell your customers that these products are best when purchased together. Also, as you look at your previous season reports, be sure to place items that sell well next to new products or next to items that tend to struggle.

“Displays that produce emotion often get the best reaction, so try to use your products to tell a story or make customers laugh. In addition, be sure your displays are well-lit, feature festive color schemes and are safe for our furry friends.”

• Sue Hepner, co-owner of Cool Dog Gear in Warrington, Pa.—“We’ll do a front end table of special items ... holiday-specific items go on movable racks in the center of the store.”

• Jeff Leh, director of business development at San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You)—“It’s always best to showcase holiday merchandise in two places: first being where your customers will be looking anyway for like items—we often suggest where everyday toys are sold that our retailers incorporate a small assortment of holiday items—and second being an impulse section or a holiday gift idea table. Many retailers create their own bundles perfect for the type of dog the customer is buying for. Creating fun bundles already packaged and nicely assembled is an easy way to build up sales during this time.”