Outdoor Gear for Dogs
As Mother Nature entices more dog owners and their pals to hit the trails, parks and beaches, the outdoor gear category is firing up with products designed to keep the adventure fun and safe for both.
Although the outdoor dog gear category is still relatively new, pet specialty retailers would do well to review their assortment of these items as consumer interest continues trending up. It’s an assent that shows little sign of abating as more dog owners continue to embrace the great outdoors, taking their pets with them. In fact, Barton O’Brien, founder and CEO of the Chesapeake Bay Dog Company, the Annapolis, Md.-based manufacturer of the BAYDOG line of performance dog gear, says even retailers that didn’t traditionally offer dog products—such as sporting goods stores and outdoor specialty stores—have started adding things like dog backpacks and life jackets to their shelves.
Sarah Johnson, sales coordinator for P.L.A.Y Pet Lifestyle and You, a San Francisco-based creator and designer of stylish and eco-friendly products for dogs and cats (as well as accessories for pet lovers), has noticed the same.
“With more dogs being treated as family members, there continues to be an increase in the number of people including their dogs in many of their activities, rather than leaving them at home,” she says. “As people increasingly emphasize bonding through interactive play and bring their dogs on more outings, this category has grown and developed to suit a range of outdoor activities, from low-key play days at the beach to camping trips and lengthy hiking excursions.”
Johnson says when it comes to outdoor dog gear people are looking for convenience and functionality. Products should be portable, clean easily and stand up to rough conditions. Safety and comfort are also key concerns. Leah Angelos, sales representative for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of fun, quirky high-quality dog toys and accessories, says safety is the most impactful trend fueling demand in the category.
“People want their furry friends to be safe and secure while including them on their everyday adventures,” she explains. “This includes high-quality materials, breathable fabrics and various size options to accommodate both bigger and smaller pets.
“Today, outdoor adventures mean more than just a walk in the park. We’re seeing a huge trend of inclusivity when it comes to pet ownership. People are always finding new ways to include their pets in the activities they enjoy.”
Products & Opportunities
Although Johnson describes outdoor dog gear as still somewhat of a specialty category, she says more products are entering this arena, providing pet owners with a greater range of options and price points. Pet manufacturers are clearly unleashing their creativity.
For example, P.L.A.Y. has recently introduced its new Nova toys to the Scout & About Outdoor line, says Johnson. The toys are constructed with the company’s durable and buoyant NovaFlex material and include the Nova Stick and Nova Ball. There are also two new rope toy options made from braided, high-tensile strength cotton-blend rope, making them great for outdoor play, since they can take a beating and a dragging through dirt.
ZippyPaws started off 2019 by adding a new and sleek graphite color options to its existing Adventure Gear products. It is also expanding this line with the launch of three new car accessories, one of which is the Adventure Support Lift Harness, designed to assist dogs with mobility issues to ensure every dog can still be included in outdoor endeavors. The harness can be used in two ways, either around the dog’s midsection or around the hind legs.
A recently launched addition to the BAYDOG brand is the Saranac Pack, designed as a functional and versatile addition to a long hike or camping trip. Made from super-tough ripstop nylon, the pack features removable saddlebags with extra pockets, internal compartments, external molle straps and bungees. The pack has a neon-yellow interior making it easy to find small items.
This summer, the company is launching the Monterey Bay Life jacket, which will also be offered in an enhanced OS version (Off Shore). The jacket will provide excellent flotation, says O’Brien, and will incorporate a “solidly constructed” handle on the back for easy lifting. The OS version is specifically designed for boating and will feature additional flotation under the dog’s head/chest and along the back in order to right the dog in the case of an accidental fall into the water.
A consequence of all this rollicking in nature is that dogs get dirty—something pet specialty retailers should keep in mind when considering their outdoor gear inventory. One product designed to remedy this situation is the MudBuster from Coppell, Texas-based Dexas, a provider of a variety of outdoor pet products and other items.
The MudBuster is a pet paw washer that allows pet owners to quickly clean off the dog’s paws and lower legs, protecting cars, tents and other interiors from becoming dirty and soiled, explains Jeff Logan, director of marketing. Other quick-cleaning solutions are the ScrubBuster and the BrushBuster, both with silicone bristles.
“Dexas has also recently launched an interactive pet toy line called Off-Leash,” says Logan. “These durable, flexible toys have a special key allowing them to be quickly attached to any leash, so the toys hang freely. If the toy has been used and has a lot of slobber, grass or dirt on it, then just hanging it out to dry on the special key attachment is the best way to keep your paws off of it. Plus, you don’t disappoint your friend in the process as the toy is always attached and ready to go outdoors.”
Cynthia Magiera, CEO of Saltsox, a Chicago-based manufacturer of two lines of dog booties, agrees that cleanliness is a big issue with dog owners—and not just those who take to the hills or dirt paths. Urban dwellers, even those who never leave the city, are looking for outdoor solutions as well.
“I hear it a lot from pet parents just how dirty city walking is, and then you come from that straight into your home,” she says. “City living brings its own issues to dog walking in the winter, with excessive salting. But the same goes for summer city streets and dogs walking on hot pavements. And here locally is gum—yes, the already chewed kind, which isn’t all that friendly to furry little paws on a summer day.”
Magiera says the company’s brands definitely focus on city canines. The Saltsox winter booties—which have an anatomical fit requiring proper sizing—protect against snow, salt, ice and frostbite. The booties stay put with stretch Velcro stays, come in two stock colors (Blizzard Black and Ice Fire Red) and are available in five sizes. The company’s Lavasox are summer indoor/outdoor booties with the same anatomical fit. The booties have a rubberized sole, a built-in heat barrier and are made from breathable material. These are also available in five sizes and come in three colors (Citrine, Marina Blue and Pink Sorbet). Magiera says the burgeoning interest in paw protection has resulted in them experiencing a 150 percent increase in new retailers over the past year—growth that is continuing.
Outerwear presents another opportunity for pet specialty retailers. According to Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs, dog owners are on the hunt for fashionable and stylish jackets and sweaters that are colorful as well, making it easier to spot roaming, wandering dogs.
“They’re also looking for waterproof jackets and coats to keep the pet relatively dry,” she says. “I feel this customer is all about function and solution. Of course, price will always be a concern, but we try to make sure these are functional items first, providing a solution to problems.”
Located in Wilmington, Mass., PetRageous creates fashionable, functional products for dogs and cats in a broad spectrum of categories. The company has licensed with Eddie Bauer, and Eddie Bauer PET will be introducing a line of packable raincoats this year—great for adventures in areas with variable weather that can change from one minute to the next, says George. Also available are the London Slicker raincoats in two colors, red and yellow. The lightweight and water-resistant raincoats offer full coverage over the saddle and come with reflective striping on the sides and down the center of the hood.
Merchandising to Move
Johnson says there are two kinds of customers shopping the outdoor gear category and that both are quite distinct from each other, requiring pet specialty retailers to carry a mix of items and prices to meet the different needs.
“Hardcore outdoor enthusiasts are less concerned with price because they’re specifically looking for more durable, high-quality items that will stand up to heavy use,” Johnson explains. “The weekend warrior customer may show a bit more sensitivity to price because while outdoor gear may be important and convenient for them, these items are not necessarily a must-have.”
Still, says Angelos, most pet owners are willing to pay a higher price if it makes their pet more comfortable or safer. Consequently, she says, price seems to be less of an issue for these items compared to other kinds of products.
O’Brien agrees there is less price-sensitivity in this category.
“Dog owners buying gear for outdoor activities have already made the decision to spend on a specialty item they won’t use every day,” he explains. “This is disposable income so they are more flexible on price. They’re willing to spend more to get the best quality.”
When it comes to providing customers with the right solution and making the sale, pet specialty retailers have an advantage over larger competitors because of their more personal interactions with customers.
“They can really get to know their customers’ needs quickly and they may already know which customers are more seriously into an outdoor adventure lifestyle that includes pets, like running, cycling, hiking or camping,” says Logan. “And retailers should definitely be asking these lifestyle questions so they can get an idea of the activity level of their customers’ pets. The intensity of those activities could point out the need for a number of outdoor adventure products, which will just add to everyone’s enjoyment.”
Angelos advises retailers to ask how the product will be used and how often, which could help determine durability and material needs. Also, be sure to query about the dog’s breed, says George, explaining that in winter conditions, shorter-haired dogs would need heavier, lined jackets or coats, especially for exposure of longer duration. Don’t forget to ask about age and health, since these factors will direct decision making.
Although space is at a premium for many smaller retailers, O’Brien recommends creating a space specifically for outdoor gear products so they don’t get buried in the mix of collars, leashes and harnesses—something he says happens too often.
Don’t overlook cross-merchandising, such as placing them in the travel section, with carriers or even with food. Since, as Logan observes, athletic, active dogs often have special diet requirements.
“It’s also important for the pet specialists to be very knowledgeable about the products and what makes them unique across brands,” says Angelos. “Specialty retailers who are product experts and carry a unique variety of these items to fulfill specific customer needs can certainly increase rapport with customers and boost their sales.”
It’s worth making the effort in this growing category to not miss a profitable opportunity.
“As more and more people are active with their dogs and plan outdoor activities specifically around what can be done with their dogs, there’s a strong demand for outdoor gear,” says Johnson. “We’re seeing a lot of retailers working to meet this need to varying degrees with a lot of product selection based on region and what products will prove most functional for their local customer base.” PB