The last few months of the year are the perfect time to boost store sales and shopper engagement with products, displays and in-store events designed to help pet owners get into the holiday spirit.
Manufacturers urge that this year, perhaps even more so than in years past, retailers should place holiday orders early.
“Earlier is always better,” said Kerry Wezner, marketing manager for Fluff & Tuff, a manufacturer in Troy, Mich. “For the 2022 holiday season, Fluff & Tuff planned for a worst-case scenario with shipping delays or unplanned issues and had our retailers place their holiday orders earlier in the year. That way, everything is accounted for, and we can do our best to accommodate everyone with the goal of fewer surprises for all.”
Michael Dagne, president of Huxley & Kent, a manufacturer in Washington, D.C., noted that retailers should still be able to get holiday products in the fall—but they need to know that some items might be sold out.
“Retailers that wait this long might need to be flexible because they might not get their first choice,” he said. “If they can do that, then they should be fine. We will continue to have stock right through the season, so retailers will be able to reorder as needed.”
Sarah Goldberger, CEO and founder of Lord Jameson, a manufacturer in Boulder, Colo., said that they started holiday preorders in February and anticipate selling out. As a result, they will not be able to fill late orders.
“Our seasonal products are pretty much made to order,” Goldberger said.
Ted Busciacco, owner of Pawsitively Purrfect in Hightstown, N.J., said that at his store, customers often like to get their holiday shopping done early—so they get the store ready by Nov. 1.
“We have found that the holiday shopping starts a lot earlier than the Black Friday rush,” he said. “And more than ever, shoppers are worried about supply chain issues, so they’d rather shop early and get first pick of what’s available. The same has been true for winter gear like coats, sweaters and boots. They tend to sell early in the season so that their pets are prepared for temperatures to drop.”
As the holidays get closer, Busciacco keeps the spirit and the shopping going by hosting a pet photo event with “The Grinch.” The proceeds from the photos are donated to a local rescue, but Busciacco said it definitely helps inspire more sales.
Busciacco also decorates the store, which puts shoppers in the holiday mood.
Natalie Lang, owner of Rockstar Pets in Tooele, Utah, said that she gets quite festive at her store—bringing in a Christmas tree, putting bows on all of the cages, and painting the glass of the small-mammal displays.
“Dog and cat toys are the best holiday sellers as people are usually thinking about gift-giving items,” she noted.
Odyssey Pets in Dallas also doubles down on decorations for the winter holidays.
“I go with a holiday theme—country style, plaid, neon, Charlie Brown, etc.,” said owner Sherry Redwine. “We deck out the window with an elaborate holiday scene. Plus, we put big bows on larger items throughout the store. We also have an 8-foot table with holiday merch and smaller stuff by the register.”
Goldberger noted that purchased decorations can definitely make a store more festive.
“You can find beautiful festive holiday adornments at HomeGoods and other home specialty stores to help create the warmth and glow of the holidays,” she said. “They have great merchandising pieces for window and tabletop displays.”
Wezner said that they are seeing more shoppers—especially Gen Zers and millennials—wanting to have “experiences” in stores while shopping. When creating displays, she suggested that retailers think of ways to include shoppers so they can feel like they are having a unique experience at your store.
“Include places to take pictures or videos for them to share with their network,” she said. “Also, it’s always a good idea to sprinkle in some educational facts about your holiday products so your customers know about the items they are purchasing. You may see new customers for the first time during the busy holiday shopping season, so it’s important to answer all the questions they [have]. The more positive experiences you create, the more likely you are to create brand loyalty.”
When the Holidays Are Over
When the holiday season comes to a close, leftover stock can be a problem—but there are ways to effectively address it.
Dagne suggested that retailers should anticipate what will be left and put it on sale two weeks before the holiday to reduce the chance of carry-over.
Odyssey Pets runs a buy one, get one (BOGO) promotion right before the holidays.
“This way, we move two toys or treats instead of one, as a 50 percent-off sale would,” Redwine said.
Items such as toys are easy to hang onto if space allows.
“What is old may be new again,” Wezner said. “If you can, save it for the next holiday season. You will have new shoppers next year that may have never seen that product before—so for them, it’s brand-new.”
That’s exactly what Busciacco does. While he will run deep discounts immediately after the holidays to slim things down, he said he holds onto anything that doesn’t sell and puts it out the next year.
For Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., the solution to leftovers has been not stocking up on a bunch of holiday-themed items in the first place. She admitted that they have never sold well. Instead, she focuses on making up sampler or “combo” packs of animal parts—something that sells well normally but “takes off” during the holidays.
“I also do a $20 ‘boredom buster’ for cats for the holidays,” Conison said. “They are a mixture of different types of catnip, toys, treats and a silvervine stick. But the most important item is a catnip spray-infused bag. People like samplers because they don’t have to put a lot of thought into what to buy.”
Stocking Holiday Shelves
Keeping up with what’s new is important around the holidays, when pet owners are looking for that special something to delight their pets.
Washington, D.C.-based Huxley & Kent launched several holiday-themed Lulubelles dog toys this month: Toto’s Holiday Stress Reliever, Snowball Dragon, Buddy Unicorn, Plaidington Bear and Peppermint Llama, all available in sizes small and large.
All of the toys are made with the company’s proprietary PowerPlush construction, meaning they are reinforced inside with an extra layer of durable fused mesh, with no loose pieces and strongly stitched seams.
The Plaidington Bear and Peppermint Llama toys are part of the Slappies line. When the dog shakes the toy, the arms and legs flap around, appealing to the dog’s natural instincts. The stuffless tummy enhances the flapping action and makes the toys more durable for chewers, according to the company. Each Slappies toy is designed with a reusable TPR squeaker ball in the head and a squeaker in the tummy.
Fluff & Tuff’s 2022 Holiday Charity Toy is the Good Dog Bone. One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of this toy will be donated back to dogs in need.
“This year we are going to help supply shelters with necessities that they need like towels, cleaners, treats and, of course, toys,” said Kerry Wezner, marketing manager for the Troy, Mich.-based manufacturer.
Sarah Goldberger, CEO and founder of Lord Jameson in Boulder, Colo., said that the company’s Pumpkin Spice Pops are an exciting new SKU.
“The packaging, flavor profile, ingredients and overall product experience celebrate the energy of fall,” she said.
The seasonal recipe includes organic pumpkin, organic peanut butter, organic cinnamon and organic coconut cream. Each ball is soft and easy to break apart and rolled in organic coconut shreds.
Adam Baker, founder and president of SodaPup in Longmont, Colo.
How can independent pet supply retailers prepare to make the most of sales during the holidays?
The wonderful thing about the holidays is that consumers have already made the decision to buy gifts for their pets so the challenge for retailers is different than the rest of the year. Most of the year, pet-related purchases are somewhat left-brained—more practical. An assortment of well-priced commodity items like food and treats drives business. But gift purchases during the holidays are more right-brained. Practicality and price are less important. Consumers are shopping for entertainment, not need. They are looking for unique items that speak to them emotionally. Gift buying is impulsive, so retailers need to assort seasonal items that will surprise and delight the consumer. Gifts need to be special, so it is important to focus on novelty items that will create a “gotta have it” moment in the store.
At SodaPup, we like to say that we make dog toys for people and they work great for dogs. We specialize in novelty molded dog toys (rubber, nylon, TPE [thermoplastic elastomer]). Across the market there are very few seasonal options in molded products because mold costs are high and the selling window is short. But SodaPup has invested heavily in this area. We have a wide variety of new seasonal rubber treat dispensers, nylon chew toys and even seasonal lick mats. Because we produce 100 percent in the USA with short lead times, we are able to stay in stock and fulfill in-season fill-in orders.
Consumers have more options than ever in terms of where to buy their gifts this holiday, so retailers need to put in additional effort to capture the sale in their stores. This starts with having the most unique assortment followed by presenting those products in fun and interesting ways in the store. Those with the most interesting assortment and most creative merchandising will prevail. If you play it too safe, you won’t capture the imagination of shoppers. Fortune favors the bold!