Wherever You Go, Sparky Will Follow
Pet travel products help pet owners take their loved ones around the world or around the block.
Pet travel entails more than putting a dog or cat in a carrier and checking in for a flight. After all, not only do people want to take their pets on vacation, they are also bringing them to work and to run errands. Each scenario requires different products, and the category is growing to accommodate the demand.
“We look at it as every time you leave the front door of your house with your dog,” says Gordon Spater, principal at Kurgo Products in Salisbury, Mass. “You may go to the park, a friend’s house, a café or a three-day trip.”
Kurgo offers products such as car seat covers, harnesses, and backseat barriers to keep dogs safe and prevent them from distracting the driver. Some states mandate that dogs must be restrained inside a vehicle; in other states, pet owners are deciding for themselves to buckle up their pets. “One area of growth is people [realizing] they shouldn’t have the dog loose in the car,” says Spater.
Another area of growth is car seat covers. Spater says for years people would simply throw a blanket in the back of the car, but now people are driving more expensive cars and want a more stylish and effective cover. Kurgo recently added new fabrics and patterns to its line of seat covers, booster seats and other products.
Retailers have embraced pet travel, and for good reason. “All the retailers that we work with say it’s one of their top growing categories,” says Spater. “We have been able to work with them to create a space.” Some retailers even post outdoor activities on bulletin boards for local dog owners.
Patrick Hoffman, president of Arlington, Texas-based Solvit Products, agrees that consumers are traveling more than ever with their dogs. “More people are becoming comfortable with the idea of bringing their pets with them,” he says. “Anthropomorphization is leading people to think, ‘Why don’t I take my pet with me?’”
Hoffman says one group of pet owners that was underserved was the drivers of pickup trucks and larger SUVs, so Solvit developed an extra-wide seat cover. It features a new, eco-friendly waterproof material and slits in the cover to allow seatbelts to pass through.
Some dogs have trouble leaping into these taller vehicles, so Solvit also makes ramps. The company recently redesigned its ramp, so it now consists of three pieces that telescope together—similar to an extension ladder. Hoffman says the new version, when closed, is 30 percent shorter than the original, making it easier to stow with the dog in the car.
Another growing segment within the travel category is pet hydration, says Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas International in Coppell, Texas. “If you are taking pets with you, then you are going to have to plan ahead in order to take care of their needs, mainly water on the go as well as treats or snacks,” he says.
The company introduced the Dexas Snack-DuO, a reusable pet hydration bottle with two side-by-side chambers to hold water and crunchy snacks or kibble. The two different lid configurations are a watertight “cap top” on the beverage chamber, and a wide-mouth snap lid covering the snack chamber. The Snack-DuO also comes with a matching collapsible cup that hangs from a ring on the top of the Snack-DuO. “No more begging for a cup at a convenience store,” says Logan.
Logan says retailers can boost sales in the pet travel and hydration categories by seasonally adjusting their impulse positions. Stores should also be mindful of product adjacencies. “Items that assist pet owners with the car trips with their pets make great sense near checkout, because they probably arrived by car,” he says.
For longer trips, many pet owners travel by plane. According to the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), at least one million pets travel on U.S. airlines every year. Travel is also becoming safer—in 2014, U.S. airlines reported 17 deaths when transporting animals, compared to 39 deaths in 2010.
However, even though cargo travel is becoming statistically safer, pet owners still generally like to bring their pets with them into the cabin. “Airlines are starting to emphasize pet-friendly programs to entice travelers,” says Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Whippany, N.J.-based Sherpa, part of Quaker Pet Group (QPG). “For airline travel specifically, the soft-sided carrier market is growing.”
The rules about whether the pet carrier can fit under the seat vary by airline, so QPG created partnerships with major airlines and offers the Guaranteed On Board program. The program offers guidelines and a printable form to bring to check-in, so the traveler and pet are not denied boarding.
For in-car pet travel, QPG launched the Sherpa Safety Suite system in 2014. The system uses a standard in-car latch system and works with any brand of soft-sided carrier. The company offers retailers point-of-purchase displays such as the Sherpa Shipper, which provides a space efficient way to merchandise a range of carriers, tips and information, and one carrier out of the box for customers to touch and feel.
Education is key to driving sales in the travel category, says Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas. If retailers have well-educated employees and provide in-store signage on the benefits of pet travel products, consumers will feel more confident with their purchases. “Also, by cross-merchandising products, like travel bowls and beds with plastic kennels, consumers who are planning a trip with their pets will easily be able to find everything they need in one spot,” she says.
The company launched the Translucent Vari Kennel, an easy-to-assemble kennel that is made with durable construction and showcases a translucent hood—a refresh to the classic plastic Vari Kennels. It comes in two sizes and three colors: pink, blue and white, and features rear and side ventilation. Petmate also offers Rolled Kennel mats—memory foam mats that are sized to fit Petmate plastic kennels, and are easily rolled up for packing and travel.
“With the ever increasing decision to travel with pets, more and more pet parents are looking for safe and efficient solutions to assist in their animal transport,” says Schmale.
Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs in Burlington, Mass., says retailers should use a one-stop power panel for travel products to catch the consumer’s eye. “They may have thought of waste bags, but not bag holders or waste transport clips,” she explains. “Seeing items that complement items they are already planning on buying could help trigger an impulse buy and an a-ha moment.”
George also suggests having a dedicated space just for travel, and using an end cap during the summer/spring months.
PetRageous recently launched the Poop Bag Transport Clip, a convenient hands-free way to transport waste. These bone-shaped clips are made of a highly flexible plastic and feature an easy-to-use bag holder in the center. Users can simply push the used waste bag through the star-shaped slits in the holder to secure their used bags immediately. The heavy-duty ring at the top of the item clips to leash handles and provides plenty of clearance for a swinging bag until users reach a trash receptacle. Poop Bag Transport Clips come in pre-loaded display boxes of eight. The box includes four clips in Lime Green and four in Aqua. These complement the PoopRageous line of 100-percent degradable waste bags and waste bag holders.