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People are craving time spent outdoors, and they’re finding ways to include their dogs. Whether it’s walking, hiking, boating, camping or some other outdoor activity, industry insiders report that pet owners are looking for products to support these adventures.

“More and more people are adopting dogs these days—and since more people are spending time at home, they’re now constantly with their dogs and taking them everywhere they go,” said Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You), a San Francisco-based manufacturer. “Many people even rely on their pets to get them outdoors for some much-needed exercise and fresh air.”

In November, P.L.A.Y. debuted its Explorer Pack, a multifunctional pack that pet owners can fasten around their waists. It comes in “waterfall” and “lava” colors.

“Made with heavy-duty, water-resistant material, this is an all-in-one pack that makes outings with your pet easy and as hands-free as possible,” Hisamune said. “It features multiple zippered pockets, a water bottle holder, a metal D-ring with reinforced stitching for hands-free dog walking, and a detachable and washable treat pouch to keep your dog’s favorite treats on hand. It also has a convenient poop bag dispenser and elastic mesh pocket that can hold a tennis ball. This pack is outlined with 3M reflective strips that will keep you visible at night.”

The company also recently introduced new colorways, called the Landscape Series, to its Scout & About Deluxe Training Pouch line. These color-blocking pouches come with a detachable and adjustable strap that can be worn several ways.

Nicole Cammack, founder of NorthPoint Pets & Co., a retailer in Cheshire, Conn., said that there is plenty of recent scientific literature pointing to the health benefits of spending time outdoors as well as being active and spending time with pets. She said that retailers can play a valuable role in “boosting the mental health of their communities” by encouraging safe outdoor activities.

“Right now, walking and hiking have become more popular than ever, so [we saw] sales of things like waste bags, harnesses, leashes, collars, and flea and tick prevention [products] become steady much later into the year than normal [in 2020],” she added. “We’re also seeing an uptick in dog coat sales.”

Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator for EzyDog, a manufacturer in Ponderay, Idaho, said that harnesses and specialty products that allow dogs to more easily join their owners in various outdoor activities are trending.

“Simple walks around the neighborhood and through parks have long been a tradition for humans and dogs,” he added. “But with the emerging popularity of lifestyle-specific gear, we’re seeing increased consumer interest in things like dog backpacks, travel accessories and life jackets, too.”

Last year, EzyDog launched the DFD X2 Boost life jacket.

“The DFD X2 Boost is built on the same philosophy that drives the design of EzyDog’s other popular dog life jackets, which includes superior flotation and ergonomics, but streamlines the overall fit to reduce bulk,” Baxter said. “Ultra-buoyant foam is strategically positioned around the vest, including the section under the dog’s belly. The X2’s revolutionary top collar adjustment allows for an easy fit and seamlessly conceals any excess straps.”

The life jacket also features a padded girth adjustment, reflective piping, leash attachment and a grab handle.

Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu—A Pawsworthy Emporium and Deli, a retailer in Santa Fe, N.M., said that well-made products that will hold up in the great outdoors sell best at her store. Some of the most popular items include any kind of water-delivery system, as well as collapsible silicone bowls. Outdoor booties and backpacks also sell well.

“We are close to the mountains, so trail hiking is super popular here,” she said. “A good walking harness and leash are essential. And I always offer a caution to make sure pet parents’ dogs have an ID tag on them. Dogs have gotten loose from their owners in the mountains for many reasons.”

Merchandising

Bring the Outdoors to Your Store

Merchandising displays in pet specialty stores can be used to get people thinking about their next outdoor adventure or activity while they’re shopping.

According to Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for San Francisco-based manufacturer P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You), category-specific displays can be very helpful in moving outdoor gear.

“Customers can easily see their options in one place, make comparisons between features and possibly discover items that they didn’t know about that would be useful for their lifestyle,” she said. “For P.L.A.Y.’s Scout & About Outdoor line, we offer a freestanding display to showcase our outdoor items together, making it easy for customers to see the different options available.”

“Try before you buy” opportunities can also motivate in outdoor gear sales, Hisamune added.

“If you have the space, making a fun, outdoor simulation area with different samples of toys and wearables can help customers visualize how these products can be incorporated into their daily lives or future adventures,” she said. “It can assist them in making a better decision on what they may need as well.”

Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator for EzyDog in Ponderay, Idaho, also noted that bringing the outdoors in works well. Baxter suggested that retailers have a display that captures the idea of embarking on an exciting adventure—and that will get customers dreaming.

“Marketing banners and signage that portray product features are great, but utilizing mannequins dressed like the target audience and natural objects like stumps, rocks or sticks can be even more captivating to draw attention to the products,” Baxter said.

Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C., said that people don’t always know what they want until they see it. Displays can be incredibly helpful in this regard. Just Dog People also features a personalized harness fitting area.

“Dog people are always looking for comfortable and cute harnesses, collars and leashes—but more importantly, they want something that works,” he said. “We learned this a couple of years ago, and it is the main reason we created our personalized harness fitting area. Not all harnesses are created equally, and dogs come in way too many sizes and shapes to carry just a few options. Currently, we have 14 different dog harness options, and our staff is trained to help dog people find the harness that best fits their needs.”

Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a retailer in Charlottesville, Va., said that grouping items together based on the activity can help sell more products.

“We bundle items needed for trail or water activities in a display to make it easier for our customers to buy a ‘hiking package’ or a ‘water sports package,’” she said. “We also give them plenty of safe outdoor tips on social media at the launch of a new season and throughout it.”

Assortment Optimization

Cater to Your Region

A well-curated assortment of walking and outdoor pet products will help ensure that pet specialty retailers are able to meet all of their shoppers’ needs. Industry insiders recommend retailers have a strong regional component to their buying strategy and reported that being aware of what activities are most popular in the area will pay off.

“Knowing your customer and the needs of your demographic will help you understand what outdoor gear to carry,” said Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for San Francisco-based manufacturer P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You). “Stores in an urban area will probably want to carry different items than stores in more rural areas. Speak to your customers and see what it is that they need—or at least understand the activities they do most often with their dog.”

Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator for EzyDog in Ponderay, Idaho, agreed.

“Carrying a full core assortment is key along with being able to incorporate activity-specific products that cater to your region and to your customers’ needs,” he said. “When space is an issue, your outdoor gear brand should be able to share tangible sales data on which products, colors and sizes sell the best to help you determine what variety is right for you.”