A Guide to Promoting Summertime Products for Dogs

With so many people taking their dogs with them on summer vacations and outdoor experiences, keeping adventurous pets comfortable is a top priority, as is keeping them safe, and this offers an opportunity for retailers that are ready to provide consumers with the essentials they need for the season.

"In general, our customers are looking for summer gear that will keep their pets safe on their summer adventures," said Shanna Strandell, purchasing and receiving coordinator of Dee-O-Gee, which has stores in Montana. "Whether it is a harness that will keep them secure while on the trail, a cooling bed to keep them comfortable on a hot summer day or sunscreen to protect their dog’s skin, pet owners are prioritizing their pets’ health and safety."

It’s crucial for pet specialty retailers to know their locale and set themselves apart by providing the summertime gear their dog-owning customers really want and need. 

In South Lake Tahoe, Calif., George Richter, owner/operator of retail store Dog.Dog.Cat., said the rough hiking terrain that tears dogs’ paw pads and the many rivers and lakes in the area have made shoes and life jackets important inventory at his store.

"Dog shoes have continued to sell for a wider range of purposes, [such as] hot pavement, slipping older dogs, dirty streets and [the] rough terrain," he said. "Life jackets continue to grow in demand along with the growing watersports of kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding."

Deb Wilson, director of business development at All the Best Pet Care, which has stores in the Greater Seattle area, reported that life jackets, outdoor gear and hiking gear are the retailer’s best-sellers for summertime. She said customers for these products come in two types: "the value customer and the customer who appreciates quality products no matter the cost."

Overheating is a major concern during the warm summer months, so products designed to keep dogs cool and hydrated are staples, industry participants said, whether for use at home or on the road.

"Because dogs can easily overheat, providing them with toys and gear to help keep them cool is vital," said Spencer Williams, president and CEO of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont.-based manufacturer of dog toys, accessories and beds. "Customers seek toys where you can freeze water or a bone broth inside to keep dogs cool and hydrated in the hot months."

John Cheney, vice president of Boss Pet Products/PetEdge in Beverly, Mass., agreed, adding that he’s seeing an emphasis on comfort and protection for older pets.

"Summer products are particularly important for pet owners with increased outdoor activity, travel and, of course, the heat," he said. "To meet the consumer demand in this area, we have seen steady growth in two primary areas: hydration and cooling, and travel gear."

In addition to hot weather accessories such as cooling mats, apparel and toys, Strandell reported "an increase in freeze-dried sales as it’s a go to for backcountry camping and hiking."

Overall, sources reported growing sales in summertime supplies for dogs.

"This category continues to grow as more people add dogs to their families and take them along on their summer adventures," said Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of performance dog gear. 

Strandell said that since 2016, sales in summer gear categories, such as outerwear, harnesses and packs, have gone up 13.5 percent annually, while Richter estimated his store’s summertime-gear growth at about 20 percent year-over-year.

"Function and quality over price has been our experience with these products," Richter said. "When buying for safety and protection, people seem more willing to choose the top-shelf products instead of the cheaper options."

Assortment Optimization

Seeking Balance 

Summertime dog products can run the gamut from toys and apparel to travel supplies and more. So how can pet specialty retailers with limited physical space still have an interesting and complete offering?

"As these categories grow in dollars, we have added more of a good, better, best range of diversity without adding a lot to our footprint," said George Richter, owner/operator of Dog.Dog.Cat., a pet store in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. "Shoes have become a significant portion of our revenue, much to my surprise. They are displayed in singles, but our inventory is not on the floor; we fetch the majority of our outerwear from backstock, like a typical shoe store, so we can maximize display space and try to keep stock mostly organized off the floor."

With pet travel a significant segment for summer, industry insiders encouraged retailers to strive for a complete collection organized in such a way that products are easy to find.

"Pet travel is overlooked when it comes to destination merchandising," said John Cheney, vice president of Boss Pet Products/PetEdge in Beverly, Mass. "Most times, a consumer will have to go to multiple categories to find travel items. This leads to lost sales and consumer frustration."

And according to Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of performance dog gear, providing "a balance of depth and choice within a product assortment shows consumers how products within a collection work together." 

This makes it easy for dog owners to find everything they need for the season, and provides staffers with opportunities for upselling.

A mix of established items and exciting new products can encourage perusal. 

"Overall, we tend to focus on the tried-and-true sellers while adding fun, new options for customers to consider," said Shanna Strandell, purchasing and receiving coordinator of Dee-O-Gee, which has stores in Montana.

5 Display Tips to Boost Summertime Product Sales

As the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to get customers excited about the summertime fun to come. Several industry insiders offered tips on how retailers can highlight ideal products for the season in stores.

1. utilize Endcaps and tables 

"We are seeing that dog owners, in particular, are looking for products that enable family activity during the summer with their pets," said John Cheney, vice president of Boss Pet Products/PetEdge in Beverly, Mass. "Specifically, we see a need for functional items, such as all-weather harnesses in lightweight breathable materials, car backseat hammocks and foldable travel ramps. We are recommending a consumer ‘solution-focused’ summer endcap program themed for complete travel needs."

Tables can also highlight seasonal merchandise.

"We create these displays on our entry table as it will catch any customer’s attention when they enter the store," said Shanna Strandell, purchasing and receiving coordinator of Dee-O-Gee, which has stores in Montana.

2. Canine Mannequins

"We use lots of mannequins for displaying life jackets, and shoes are hung in singles in a very small area on a clothesline with prices posted," said George Richter, owner/operator of Dog.Dog.Cat., a pet store in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. "Both of these items seem to be the sort of product people walk in looking for, not typically an impulse buy."

3. Lifestyle Headers

"Seasonal lifestyle header signs help product displays tell a story while inspiring consumers to get outside with their dogs," said Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of performance dog gear. "We also encourage retailers to merchandise products together as collections to help tell stories around different activities and give consumers a holistic experience."

4. Product Reviews

"Create a display centered around summertime play for dogs and incorporate product reviews about what type of play each toy is best for—e.g., lakes, pools, park, fetch, etc.—and don’t forget to teach [customers] a quick and intriguing fact about a product so they’ll leave your store with a new idea," said Spencer Williams, president and CEO of West Paw, a Bozeman, Mont.-based manufacturer of dog toys, accessories and beds. "An example of this is how much safer a plastic ball is over a tennis ball."

Pointing out functionality is key, agreed Strandell.

"Highlighting the functionality of the products helps clue customers in to features they may not have known about," Strandell said.

5. Incorporate Local Flair

"We also utilize product trends and local events to influence our displays," Strandell said. "Last summer, we created a farmer’s market display that featured plush produce and locally sourced treats timed to coincide with the beginning of our community’s farmer’s market season."

New Products 

Prepare for Summertime Fun

As pet specialty retailers decide on what summertime selections to stock, savvy distributors and manufacturers are offering new products that are well suited to the upcoming season. 

Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw unveiled a new collection of lightweight, one-piece dog mats that include no side bumpers to keep dogs cooler while lounging and are designed to be easy to clean, according to the company.

At press time, Boss Pet Products/PetEdge in Beverly, Mass., had plans to expand its Casual Canine spring apparel line with tropical-themed shirts, tanks and hoodies, and several lightweight shirts for dogs. Styles include Camo Tee, Aloha Tank, Pineapple Tee, Hawaiian Breeze Hoodie and Blue Stripe Polo. The company also planned to add East Side Collection dresses in Blue Stripe and Polka Dot.

Bend, Ore.-based Ruffwear reported that later this month, it will unveil an everyday harness called the Heeler Harness. It is designed to use tactile cues to provide training prompts from human to dog, said company officials. Other items expected to come out this month from Ruffwear are a Pack Out Bag, a convenient, hands-free solution for carrying full waste pickup bags, and the Camp Flyer, a lightweight, flexible welded disk for playing fetch.