Pets on the Go
Dogs aren’t the only animal companions traveling with their owners. Cats are also on the move, which is influencing how pet carriers are designed and marketed.
Passport? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Furry travel companion? Check. For modern pet parents, furry friends are a crucial part of the on-the-go lifestyle. Luckily, innovations in pet carriers make bringing dogs and cats along for the ride easier and safer than ever.
There’s been a significant increase in pet travel in recent years. According to the American Pet Products Association 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 37 percent of dog owners bring their pups along for the ride when traveling by car. More pets are flying, too. Over two million pets and live animals fly across the United States each year—not to mention the recent increase in emotional support animals on flights.
“Without question, travel with pets is on the rise,” says Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer for Pasadena, Calif.-based Sleepypod. “Yet, while not every pet owner will take their pet with them on errands or on vacations, every pet owner must transport their pet to the veterinarian.”
With so many pets on the move, it’s the perfect time for retailers to reinvest in the category and familiarize themselves with the latest trends and innovations. “This category trend closely follows ownership of pets and dog travel trends, which have increased over the years,” says Kirk Dixon, category manager for travel at Alliance, Ohio-based Coastal Pet Products.
While dogs are still popular travel buddies, one of the biggest influences on pet carriers today is the increase in cat ownership. There are currently 94.2 million pet cats in the U.S. according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. Many of these new owners are Millennials—in fact a 2015 Purina survey found that half of Millennial respondents have a pet cat at home.
To fully take advantage of these trends, retailers should consider the travel needs of both cat and dog owners, and look for products that cater to both types of furry friends.
Easing Travel Anxieties
Travel is stressful enough when you only have yourself to worry about. Traveling with a pet adds extra anxieties regarding pet comfort, especially for cat owners.
“Since a carrier is a necessity, it should be an investment piece that makes travel easier and less stressful. A good carrier is particularly important for cat owners because cats are notoriously fearful of change,” says Leung.
The company offers an innovative solution to pet anxiety with the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed. The product easily transforms from pet bed to stylish carrier to car seat with the simple pull of a zipper and the securing of a few velcro straps—no complicated instructions or drawings.
“Because every Sleepypod carrier transitions from a comfy pet bed to a carrier, and even a crash-tested car seat, the unique design helps mitigate fear and anxiety because a pet is always traveling in its own familiar space. This makes travel less stressful for the pet owners, too,” says Leung.
Pet safety while traveling is also a key area of concern for pet owners, especially when driving. Not only are unrestrained pets a major distraction for drivers, they also are at a higher risk for injury in the event of a crash. In fact, a free-roaming 10 lb. pet in a crash at 50 mph will exert about 500 pounds of force, while an 80 lb. animal at only 30 mph will result in 2,400 pounds of force. Unfortunately, only about 28 percent of people who travel with their dogs use some kind of restraint in the car, according to the APPA survey.
Retailers can help promote pet safety by offering crash-tested carriers like Sleepypod, which tests every carrier at the standard for child safety restraints and has been awarded a top certification rating from the Center for Pet Safety.
Function and Style
A pet carrier should be more than just a bag—it’s carrying precious cargo, after all. It needs to be designed with function in mind. The Comfort Carrier by Coastal Pet Products, boasts a practical design with durable construction and easy-to-clean materials.
“Our focus is soft-side pet carriers surrounded by a line of travel products that answer needs for everyday pet travel,” says Dixon. “The Comfort Carrier lives up to its name with a padded fleece bed, breathable mesh on all sides, and padded handles and shoulder straps.”
Another functionality issue: airline regulations. For pet parents who prefer to fly, it’s important to have a carrier that’s compatible with major airlines’ standards. Luckily, all of Coastal’s carriers, including the Comfort Carrier, are airline compatible, so pet parents can rest assured that they won’t be turned away at the ticket counter.
Of course, just because owners want a product that’s sensible doesn’t mean they aren’t also interested in style. “Modern pet parents are looking for carriers where function and fashion meet,” says Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound. “Pet carriers are an extension of who [owners] are, reflecting their style, both as an individual and a pet parent.”
The Centennial, Ohio-based company offers three different carriers and pouches that are perfect for outdoor-loving owners. The athletic designs are reminiscent of sports gear, so the carrier won’t look out of place on the trail or at the park.
Marketing to Voyagers
It’s not enough to offer a great selection of pet carriers. To truly capitalize on the category, retailers need to understand and leverage traveling pet owners’ needs.
“The main reasons for soft-sided carrier purchases are trips to the vet, acquiring a new pet, vacations and taking their pet to run errands,” explains Dixon. “Promotions or secondary locations related to any of these events in retail stores will help energize sales.”
For instance, Dixon recommends creating special displays and promotional campaigns surrounding peak travel seasons. “The biggest lift is during the summer vacation season and, to a smaller degree, the holidays,” he adds.
Displays should include educational information about pet safety, as well as signage highlighting carrier features—such as airline compliance, durability, multi-functions and seat belt straps.
Leung also advises focusing on daily travel over vacations for day-to-day promotions. “Customers tend to think about travel products as vacation products, when in reality these products are used with greater frequency for trips around town or when heading to the veterinarian,” he says. “Relabeling a ‘travel’ section as an ‘on-the-go’ section can help to increase sales.”
In addition to signage, manufacturers recommend displaying fully assembled carriers as examples so customers can touch, hold and imagine their pet inside. “Size of the carrier is key for the pet parent,” says Dixon. “They want their pet to be comfortable. Having carriers out and assembled is important so they can determine which carrier is a proper fit.” PB