For pet supply retailers, end-of-the-year sales are key, and seasonal selections give stores a big boost.
In the fourth quarter, fashion apparel for the winter months and holiday gifts are the biggest trends, said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C.
To pinpoint exactly what to offer in their stores, especially when it comes to clothing, retailers look to human trends first.
Erin Morris, owner of Fideaux, which has stores in St. Helena and Healdsburg, Calif., said she observes the hot colors or patterns in human fashions for the year and goes from there.
Aside from human category trends, Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, which has locations across the U.S. and headquarters in Orlando, Fla., said the geographical region in which a store is located also helps dictate what will sell.
"Woof Gang Bakery has stores across the country, so each location carries products to tailor to their neighborhood," she said. "Stores in our northern region are heavy on products like coats, sweaters and paw protectors, whereas in the southern states there is a lighter assortment."
Winter staples include jackets, boots and paw protection, retailers reported. At Scalawags in Kennebunkport, Maine, "boots and paw wax are must haves," said owner Mary Beth Kvaka. "Reflective collars, vests and collar lights are also essential during the winter months."
Morris said Fideaux sells "a ton of sweaters and jackets—everything from everyday indoor/outdoor fleece to puffer jackets for the snow and raincoats because of the abundance of wet weather."
Ultimately, customers want something new that incorporates style, fun and functionality, said Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country in East Providence, R.I.
"Retailers like to have something new and seasonal to spur sales in their stores," she added.
Even for holiday-themed products, pet owners look for new and fresh takes.
"When it comes to holiday products, it is whatever is new and adorable," Morris said. "Anything that they have not seen before, like a great holiday scarf in a new pattern or a Christmas collar or sweater that is new and fresh this year, [is what customers gravitate toward]."
Manufacturers also look toward the human gift segment for inspiration, especially for dog and cat toys and accessories, said Mary Morgan, director of marketing and communications for Allure Pet Products, maker of the HuggleHounds brand, in Denville, N.J.
Holiday items that sell well every year, according to retailers, include treats and holiday gear. Top sellers at Woof Gang Bakery are the gourmet holiday/winter-themed treats. And in products for pet lovers, DIY dog paw ornaments are the top seller, Cohen added.
At Fideaux, the stores typically sell out of Santa hats, antlers and elf hats.
"People love to include their pets in Christmas cards, and those items are always a favorite," Morris said, adding that catnip and Christmas collars are favorites purchased by cat owners.
Create a Warm Holiday Atmosphere
The key to inspiring fourth-quarter sales this holiday season is merchandising, and many retailers embrace a holiday theme.
"Our stores tend to go all out with Christmas/winter decorations in the stores," said Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, which has locations across the U.S. and is headquartered in Orlando, Fla. "Most stores will put up a Christmas tree and decorate their windows and displays. During other holidays, many of our stores will decorate or theme out their treat table."
Mary Beth Kvaka, owner of Scalawags in Kennebunkport, Maine, recommended using holiday-themed "colors or imagery throughout the shop to tell a story."
Adding other special touches to the store environment can make end-of-year shopping exciting for pet owners.
"Put in a little extra time and effort to make your customers’ holiday shopping experience extra special and memorable," Kvaka said.
Tips include providing candy canes for kids, playing holiday music and offering homemade cookies to shoppers.
Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country in East Providence, R.I., agreed.
"In-store seasonal parties and events are a great way to build community and create a reason for customer to buy," she said.
Retailers can also inspire additional visits and more purchases by keeping their inventory fresh.
"We are constantly bringing in new and fresh merchandise that is appropriate for the time of year," said Erin Morris, owner of Fideaux, which has stores in St. Helena and Healdsburg, Calif. "That is what makes our stores so fun—there is always something new."
To go along with fun seasonal releases, Liene Golovatjuka, founder and CEO of Kitty Cardboard in Key West, Fla., said the best retail setups include product testers or samples so customers can interact with it.
"Without a doubt, if the product can gear towards as many of the five senses as possible, the consumer is more likely to purchase it," she said.
Make the Season Shine
Manufacturers strive to provide pet retailers with a broad selection of products that will make for successful sales during the winter holiday season.
"Fourth quarter is a huge time of year for retailers to increase their sales, and they have to have great merchandise to do that," said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C.
Some releases are evergreen, such as Providence, R.I.-based Up Country’s Orange Field Coat for dogs. The reflective trim helps with visibility, while the plaid flannel lining keeps dogs warm and stylish.
Allure Pet Products in Denville, N.J., is offering HuggleHounds Holiday Gnomes. Lars and Sven have patterned hats, Nordic sweaters, large gnome beards and pointy gnome hats. Adding sparkle to the season is the company’s HuggleHounds Holiday 2019 Sparkle n’ Shine Collection, which includes a Reindeer Knottie, a dog scarf, a reversible Sparkle to Solid Red 2-Foot Bone, and stockings for dogs and cats.
Huxley & Kent introduced its Red Tartan Collection this year. It includes items such as a plush bone toy, trapper hat, scarf, bow tie and Christmas stocking for pets. Perfect for appealing to pet lovers, the "There Was a List?" stocking features a picture frame window for a pet photo.
Kitty Cardboard announced its Spooky Box, launching at the end of September for this Halloween season, and a winter wonderland-themed Meowy Christmas box launching on Black Friday. The easy-to-assemble designer cardboard boxes feature circular openings and are perfect for cats to play, sleep and hide in.
Pet birthday celebrations have increased exponentially over the past decade, and savvy businesses are taking advantage of the trend.
"Sales for birthdays have grown over the years as more and more people are celebrating them," said Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, which has locations across the U.S. and headquarters in Orlando, Fla. "In addition to birthdays, customers are celebrating ‘gotcha’ and adoption days!"
Popular birthday selections range from bakery items and party hats to toys and treats as gifts. After seeing a huge uptick in party-themed items for pets, Huxley & Kent in Washington, D.C., developed a birthday segment called Party Time to celebrate dogs and cats for holidays and achievements throughout the year, such as graduation from obedience school, adoption days, weddings, contest winners and more, said founder Robin Kershner.
HuggleHounds, a brand of Allure Pet Products in Denville, N.J., celebrated its 10th birthday by launching a birthday collection of plush squeaky dog toys in January, said Mary Morgan, director of marketing and communications. It includes a three-pack Cupcake Assortment, a Long & Lankie Party Elephant and a Party Elephant in the company’s Wee size.
And dogs aren’t the only ones with party supplies. Key West, Fla.-based Kitty Cardboard, maker of designer boxes for cats, plans to release a birthday-themed design in 2020.
Pricing trends for birthday items range from $5.99 up to $30, sources said.
"Birthday products have to be priced well to sell, so not too expensive," Kershner said. "The sweet spot is $5.99-$9.99 MSRP for this segment."
Allure Pet Products keeps its HuggleHounds birthday collection at $14.99 and under, Morgan said.
Woof Gang Bakery carries an assortment of birthday products in a range of prices.
"When it comes to cakes, we find the sweet spot is anywhere under $30," Cohen said. "Items likes hats, toys and bandanas are typically priced at $15 and under."
Once stores have the birthday selection they want, industry insiders said that a dedicated section is key to merchandising this segment.
"Customers who are shopping for birthdays have a good idea of what they are interested in and don’t want to have to search around the store for it," Cohen said. "Some of our locations set up full birthday tables, while others merchandise them on our Woof Gang Bakery Signature treat table."
For those customers who pick out some toys and treats for a pet’s birthday, Erin Morris, owner of Fideaux, which has stores in St. Helena and Healdsburg, Calif., said staffers "wrap them up really cute for them."