Ahead of the Pack
As consumers plan their summer getaways, they’re increasingly including their pets in those plans. Smart retailers are ready to help with the right mix of travel products.
People who travel with their pets are finding that the world has become much more accommodating for their four-legged friends. Airports and hotels across the country are now equipped with relief stations and facilities that offer premium spa, boarding, quarantine and transport services. Retail centers and malls are designed with water stations, dog-walking areas and, for some lucky dogs, treat dispensers.
Whether during a local shopping outing or cross-country adventure, families have come to expect quality accommodations like these for their pets, and they are taking those high expectations with them when they shop for travel products in pet stores. Luckily, manufacturers have shown no shortage of innovation in creating a first-class selection of items in this important category.
Pets on the Town
While pets are increasingly included in family journeys to distant locations, consumers are also making a lot of short trips with them in their local neighborhoods.
“A market research study we did in 2016 showed that over 50 percent of people are taking their dogs on weekly errands, while over 80 percent take their dogs along for overnight trips,” reveals Gordie Spater, Kurgo co-owner. “This figure increases even more when you look at Millennials, who are even more active outside the home and even more likely to bring their dogs along.”
While travel to destinations that are more pet friendly might seem to be a low-maintenance option, packing supplies to ensure animal safety and comfort is a priority. According to Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas, pet parents are taking their animals to a wide variety of places, and retailers must be ready to accommodate just about every need.
“There are more types of trips now that pets and their parents take...just a lot of different environments,” he says. “We’re pet parents ourselves and understand the variety of needs based on how long and where the trip might take you. Collapsible kennel bowls are excellent when crate travel is involved. Our retailers have just been thrilled with all the extra pets-on-the-go solutions that we can provide.”
When the dedication of pet parents to their animals leads to fur-friendly travel, retailers should recognize that these consumers will search for safe, comfortable products that also suit their specific preferences. Discussing details, such as how they will travel, pet behavioral issues and a family’s lifestyle are all important for retailers to uncover when speaking with consumers.
“Pet parents are more educated about their pet’s individual needs, personalities, behaviors, etc., and do a great deal more research to the types of purchases they make,” says Neil Werde, managing director, canine toys and accessories, Worldwise, Inc. “Pet travel solutions must offer convenience, comfort and features that make life better.”
A pet parent’s search for goods that afford greater convenience during travel will often lead to a purchase of multi-purpose products. As Wendy Watts, vice president of administration at Ray-Pet notes, pet travel kits provide many solutions in one product.
“I have friends that take their dogs with them on mini vacations or road trips, and having our kit makes stopping along the way to walk the dog or get water for the dog much easier,” Watts says. “You have everything you need in one convenient kit.”
While thinking about packing only for leisurely trips would be ideal, pet parents must also consider preparing for travel under more serious circumstances. Whether fleeing natural disasters or undertaking last-minute emergency travel to care for loved ones who live in a distant location, rushed travel is sometimes the only option for a family that includes pets.
“The pop-up kennels are a great foundation for an emergency preparedness plan. One of my great passions is planning for pet evacuations,” reveals Penny Johnson, chief executive officer of Sturdi Products. “What we’ve seen over the course of the past 10 or 20 years has been devastating for pets that can’t evacuate with their owners.”
Manufacturers of travel goods have identified a strong need for products that can help with pet emergency preparedness, which consumers might overlook—especially if they’re caught unprepared during an evacuation.
“It’s important to include our pets in our emergency preparedness plans. Have all the documentation so your pets can stay with you and not be isolated,” Johnson recommends.
During the rush of an emergency, accessibility can mean the difference between life and death. Prepared pet parents are going to search for products that are multifunctional, affording many solutions when every moment counts.
In the Know Before They Go
Whether consumers are hitting the road, hopping on a plane, hiking a trail or simply preparing a pet kit for a potential emergency, they are going to be most comfortable shopping in a retail environment with knowledgeable staff that will assist with choosing the most suitable products to match a pet’s specific needs. This is where manufacturers can be a great resource.
“We invest in a lot of education,” says Spater. “Last year we made several videos with pet travel safety tips and more information about the crash-tested harnesses, which retailers can use in-store, to train associates or put on their website or social media. We have also created a POS [point-of-sale] card that really educates the consumer.”
While it is ultimately the responsibility of pet parents to contact airlines, hotels and other travel vendors regarding guidelines, a staff that is well versed in these rules will be more likely to gain consumer trust. When combined with the knowledge consumers arrive with, retailer input can forge a strong partnership that will result in trust and customer loyalty.
“What I tell people is, ‘Before you buy a carrier of any kind, call the airline you’ll be traveling on and ask them,’” advises Johnson. “If retailers could create a space for pet travel in their stores, instead of having products all spread out, and maybe a kiosk with literature about the product in written form or a QR [quick response] code that they can scan. A little information center would work well.”
As travel providers become more receptive and accommodating toward pet travel, consumers will choose to purchase from retailers who are educated regarding manufacturer specialties and regulations for transporting animals.