Although it might feel like the holidays are ages away, now is the time to start preparing.
"Prepare sooner [rather] than later," said Tammy Eugenio, co-owner of 3Dogs1Cat, a pet supply store in Detroit. "Even when you think it’s too early, don’t wait. The season comes up very quickly."
Pet retailers and manufacturers are cautiously optimistic, hoping that the holiday season might help balance out the rough first half of 2020 and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
San Francisco-based P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), a pet toy and bed manufacturer, anticipates it will take awhile for sales to return to normal, but sees hope in increased pet adoption rates, said senior public relations and marketing manager Natalie Hennessy.
"With new themes for both seasonal occasions, Howling Haunts for Halloween and a new collection for Christmas, … we have high expectations for the holiday season and hope, along with our retail partners, to see a strong rebound in Q3 and Q4 to make up for the difficult few months so far," she said.
This spring, Boston-based manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer Polkadog was still seeing consistent orders from its manufacturing side, but its retail stores took a hit.
"Everything is changing," said co-founder Deb Suchman. "Our sales had been up through March. In April, we saw a slowdown at our Polkadog retail stores in Boston. We saw a slowdown with our independent pet stores. Not surprisingly, the trend towards stocking up, and then hunkering down hit the dog treat market pretty hard."
But Suchman said the demand for holiday treats isn’t going anywhere.
"Holidays are a special, emotional time for everyone because we slow down, our routines change and we think about those we care about the most," Suchman said. "I project pet owners everywhere will do what they did last year, and what they’ll do next year: They’ll go out of their way to do right by [their pets]."
Less in-person shopping this spring hurt the dog toy market, said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent, a manufacturer in Washington, D.C.
"In some cases where a customer would be able to leisurely browse around the store, now the consumers and retailers have changed to a quick in-and-out experience or a pickup at the curb or delivery service," she said. "Neither of which are great for impulse sales."
Jody Maddox, president of Wags Dog Emporium, a pet supply store in Eugene, Ore., reported similar trends.
"Sales are way up on essentials like foods, treats and chews because people were stocking up," she said. "Our margin is down, though, because we aren’t selling things like toys, collars and harnesses."
To adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maddox’s store reduced its hours, added curbside service and delivery, rearranged the store to better accommodate social distancing, installed sneeze guards and upped its cleaning protocols.
"As for the upcoming holiday season, I think it will not be as robust as past years," she said. "I’m sure there will still be a lot of unemployed pet owners come year end."
Eugenio said the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged many customers to seek products that are made in the USA.
"Many people that come in express that that’s all they want to buy right now," she said. "I think we’ll take that into the holiday. The patriotism thing is rising high, and it should be right now. People are looking to support each other right now."
Suchman emphasized the importance of continuing to nurture relationships with customers however possible as the holidays approach.
"In one form or another, social distancing may be sticking around for some time," she said. "This holiday season will be important to everyone. Polkadog is going to connect with our customers online and curbside—we’re going to connect every way we know how."
On the Market
On Fido’s Wish List
With a variety of new introductions, pet product manufacturers are hoping to connect with pet owners shopping for the holidays this year.
Huxley & Kent, a manufacturer in Washington, D.C., has new doggie neckwear and has three new toys planned for Halloween. In addition to expanding its Hanukkah-themed offerings, the company will be introducing its first line of Christmas ornaments and the Hairy, Merry & Bright Collection, which includes matching toys, outerwear, neckwear, and a picture frame stocking and ornament.
"We try to give our retailers a good, well-priced selection for both the shorter sales season for Halloween and the gangbusters holiday season," said founder Robin Kershner.
Last Halloween, P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), a San Francisco-based pet toy and bed manufacturer, introduced its Howling Haunts Plush Toy Collection, which includes Canine Corn, Barky’s Bite, Ghoulish Grave, Pup’s Potion and Doggy Dagger.
"It’s perfect for versatile, interactive play," said Natalie Hennessy, senior public relations and marketing manager. "Try hiding treats in the cauldron and tombstone toys, or a game of tug-of-war with the candy corn. Customers also say they get a good laugh and Instagram-worthy photo when their dog chomps down on the vampire teeth and rounds the corner with the bloody knife."
The company plans to debut a new Christmas plush toy collection this fall that will be sold alongside its Holiday Classic Plush Toy Collection, which features a gingerbread man, hot chocolate, yule log, candy canes and turkey. The toys are sold individually or in a 15-piece set in a free point-of-purchase Santa’s Sleigh display.
P.L.A.Y. will also continue to offer its Poinsettia holiday edition of the Wobble Ball 2.0 this year, which sold out the past two holiday seasons, Hennessy said.
This holiday season, Polkadog, a Boston-based manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer, is offering new crunchy, dehydrated Sugar & Spice and Tinsel & Flock sticks. Sugar & Spice is made with chicken and cranberries, while Tinsel & Flock is made with clams.
"This year, we used the work of a brilliant artist—creations of whimsical winter fantasy scenes—for some new, seriously slick pouch packaging," said co-founder Deb Suchman.
These products round out a lineup that also includes Shepherd’s Pie, Holiday Feast, Yappy Yowlidays and Stocking Stuffers—dehydrated treats made from lamb liver, pork kidney, duck and chicken, respectively. Polkadog is also offering retailers countertop point-of-purchase displays for its holiday specials.
Deck the Halls
Holiday retail displays take creativity, festivity and, above all, strategic planning.
"Don’t wait until the last minute," said Jody Maddox, president of Wags Dog Emporium, a pet supply store in Eugene, Ore. "My best displays were planned out many months—sometimes years—in advance."
Before the holidays approach, retailers should determine how much space they will dedicate to holiday displays and products, said Natalie Hennessy, senior public relations and marketing manager for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), a San Francisco-based pet toy and bed manufacturer.
"Plan ahead with inventory, keeping in mind your customers’ wants and needs so you can cater to them, but also talk to your vendors to get an idea of any changes in shipping times during the holiday season," she said. "You want to be sure to understand which vendors can replenish quickly for you if you find you’ve under-ordered and need to top up on stock to get through the season."
For Halloween, Hennessy suggests pairing costumes and accessories with themed toys in high-traffic areas. Stocking stuffer kits with treats, toys and smaller products can give customers easy grab-and-go, gift-giving options around Christmastime and Hanukkah.
"We observe that the most successful retailers tend to be conscious of many other holidays that are celebrated by different communities," she said. "Don’t forget about products for humans, too."
Products like matching apparel for humans and dogs are a hit during the holidays, said Tammy Eugenio, co-owner of 3Dogs1Cat, a pet supply store in Detroit. The store also sells pet-themed wine glasses and holiday linens.
"Our hopes are to continue to bring in more of a gift selection, not only focusing on dog and cat regular products, but to bring in products for the dog lover or animal lover," she said. "‘Here’s a hat for you, and here’s a hat for your dog.’"
Retailers should pull out all the stops during the holidays, said Robin Kershner, founder of Huxley & Kent, a manufacturer in Washington, D.C.
"Dress the store up," she said. "Take advantage of pictures with Santa and pair that with merchandise and apparel to wear for the photo, such as hats, scarves, antlers for photos that can go on your Instagram account."
Deb Suchman, co-founder of Boston-based Polkadog, a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer, suggests keeping things warm, fun and festive, and taking smells and colors into consideration.
"Try not to make it too haphazard, jamming everything you can into every empty space you can reach," she said. "Think of the colors and shapes of each of the different objects and how they relate to each other to create a display. Don’t just throw it on a shelf."
Finding the Spirit of the Season
When manufacturers are developing new products for the holiday season, creativity can spark from pretty much anywhere.
For Polkadog—a Boston-based pet treat manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer—inspiration comes from ingredients.
"For me, the ingredient always comes before the product," co-founder Deb Suchman said. "I hear about an ingredient. I research that ingredient so much that I begin talking to it and asking it all the important questions: What’s your name? Where do you come from? Are you a healthy, sustainable part of a tasty diet for dogs and cats?"
Suchman explained that Polkadog often uses co-products, or secondary ingredients that come from a product farmed for another purpose, like cod skins. The company works with a network of local farms in the New England and New York area.
"Working with co-products … steered me towards the idea of new sustainable production methods," Suchman said. "[The farms] had a limited amount of organ meats. So, as tasty and healthy as those might be, we decide, after researching, that the best sustainable practice would be to use the grass-fed pork kidney and grass-fed lamb liver for special holiday-only treats."
Huxley & Kent, a manufacturer in Washington, D.C., finds ideas for seasonal products all over, said founder Robin Kershner. While many holiday products use traditional reds and greens, Huxley & Kent’s new Hairy, Merry & Bright Collection features blues, greens and pinks.
"Our Hairy, Merry & Bright color palette came from a wreath that I saw last year and I said, ‘That’s different!’" Kershner said. "We’ve been designing holiday for so long that we think we know what our customers will like."
P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), a San Francisco-based pet toy and bed manufacturer, actively seeks ideas and opinions from the outside. At the company’s start, its biggest source of inspiration was Momo, "chief pug officer," and other employees’ dogs, said Natalie Hennessy, senior public relations and marketing manager.
"Frankly, it was more fun than work as we dreamt up ideas and best products for our own pups, and, to this date, we still involve the whole team on lots of brainstorming and concept filtering," she said.
Now, the company also has a network of customers and retailers to turn to.
"Many of our collections started with seemingly random ideas that turn out to be brilliant," Hennessy said. "And now with a social media following of over 200,000 strong, along with our brand ambassadors, we have an incredible, robust pool of like-minded, passionate pet parents who we also tap into for inspirations, feedback and more."
Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis
Which pet product categories are best suited for fall and holiday merchandise at pet stores? How can retailers tailor their assortments during this time, and what do you offer in this category?
As the holiday season approaches, pet parents are always more inclined to spend a little extra on their furry friend. Major shopping holidays and more time indoors with pets give owners more reason to make the extra trip to their local store and impulsively buy more. That is why it is important for retailers to ensure their assortments are stocked with treats that increase basket size and drive impulse purchase—and Cloud Star fits the bill perfectly.
Cloud Star’s diverse range of treats gives consumers every option they need for their fall and holiday shopping. With both biscuits and trainers, and new human-inspired treats that catch the eye of shoppers, like Wag More Bark Less BBQ gourmet jerky and Human Grade Iced Treat, building out your fall and holiday assortment with Cloud Star will not only increase basket size and drive impulse purchase, but will also keep customers coming back for more!