The Art of Traveling with Pets
Traveling with a companion animal requires pet owners to plan strategically. Pet retailers that understand a customer's specific plans can help make travel less stressful for the pet and its owner.
Before traveling, whether it is on a short journey or one that takes a person far from home, most people become accustomed to running through a mental checklist of the items they need to take along with them in their luggage. The essentials usually include clothing and toiletries, as well as items that make the trip more comfortable and entertaining—think neck pillows and iPads. Seasoned travelers know exactly what should be included on their own packing checklist. However, when a pet is added as a travel companion, many pet owners may not realize that their animals require the same preparation.
“If you’re bringing a pet with you on the road, you have to consider the pet in your travels and not as a piece of luggage,” says Roni Di Lullo, owner of Doggles. That means pet owners will not only have to consider how to safely and comfortably get their pets from point A to point B, they also need to pack products for their pets that will offer the comforts of home at the final destination.
“Travel together can be around the block or around the country,” says Jeff Logan, director of marketing at Dexas International, which manufacturers portable, collapsible food and water bowls under the Popware for Pets brand. “Each adventure out of the house requires different gear. It’s just like traveling with small children, so the retailer has to keep this in mind.”
The market offers a wide assortment of products designed to fit each adventure a pet and its owner may have together. There are carriers tailored for safe travel on airplanes; tethers, car seats and ramps that make road trips with pets safer for both the pet and other passengers; and products that make traveling more comfortable for the pet, such as travel bowls, beds and calming aids. This multifaceted category can be overwhelming to the pet owner, as well as a pet store looking to hone its travel section.
“Retailers have to know their customers,” says Dan Hawk, president of Gen7Pets, which offers a variety of travel products. “Retailers have to know not just about their customers’ animals, but they have to know about their lifestyles. [The travel category] is all about getting to know your customers and what they do with their pets, so you can meet their needs.”
In addition to knowing the lifestyles of clients, understanding the products that make pets safer on the road is crucial for retailers looking to build a well-rounded travel section. More pets than ever are on the go, and commuting by car is the most common form of travel—and it is growing, says Patrick Hoffman, president of Solvit Products, which manufactures car safety harnesses, booster seats and seat covers.
With more four-legged car passengers on the road as a potential distraction to drivers, more states are requiring pets to be restrained in the vehicle. “There are a lot more regulations and new state laws,” Di Lullo says. “Seatbelt laws are going to be more challenging for manufacturers and retailers. Retailers have to be aware of what is happening in their state and what the current laws are for pet safety, and cater to those laws with the right products.”
New regulations are driving the demand for more car-safe products. “People are becoming more aware that they can’t have their dog running around a vehicle,” Hawk says. “They need to tether their dog in the car and contain them. As a result, car seats and carriers that can be attached with the seatbelts are becoming more normal [during car travel] and more important.”
While awareness is growing about the products that make pets safer in the car, some pet owners may still be unaware of their state’s laws and may not include a car harness or booster seat on their list of products needed while traveling with their pets. “Restraining a dog in a car is not something people have ever really had to do, so it doesn’t always cross their mind,” Di Lullo says. “When the seatbelt laws for people came into effect, how long did it really take for people to start using them?”
Educating the consumer is imperative in this category, says Carl Goldberg, president of Ruff Rider Technology, which makes the Roadie travel restraint. “There are still dog owners who can’t justify the need to spend money on a quality-tested car harness, such as the Ruff Rider Roadie,” he says. “However, a 60-pound dog on a hard brake at 30 mph will move 10 inches and hit whatever is its path. Pet owners need to be aware of these dangers.”
Of course, retailers can help customers understand the importance of these products by approaching customers in the pet travel section and asking if they need any help.
“Make sure employees understand the products and are willing to reach out to the customer if they see someone standing there looking at the products,” Di Lullo says. “Don’t be afraid to walk up to them and ask them if they need any help. Some questions to consider are: ‘Can I explain to you what this product does?,’ ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Where are you taking your dog?’”
Understanding the specific travel scenario can help retailers recommend the products that will fit a customer’s needs. Merchandising the travel section by subcategory can also be helpful for pet owners who come in looking for a specific product they might need in the car, on a flight, at the campground or at a hotel. “Having all the items together in one section so that the flow makes sense is important,” says Di Lullo.
Retailers can make travel planning easier for pet owners by offering a packing checklist tailored to specific travel scenarios, Di Lullo says. “Depending on a store’s inventory, a store could offer pet owners a sheet of paper with a checklist of what they’ll need during their travels. For example, a retailer could provide a list of products that might be helpful if a pet owner is traveling with their pet to a hotel or on a camping trip.”
Pet stores should also consider setting up displays during distinct travel seasons, says Kate Marshall, brand manager at Nelsons, which makes Rescue Remedy Pet, which is a calming aid for stressed pets. “There are distinct travel seasons,” she says. “In the summer months and again during the November/December holidays.
“If a retailer has the space and flexibility to setup a seasonal travel endcap or display targeting this group of customers, the retailer is positioning themselves as the point of purchase, as well as a source for product suggestions and tips and advice on traveling with pets.”