Here Come the Holidays

When should pet retailers start preparing for the highly anticipated holiday selling season, and how can they make this year more lucrative than the last?


Even as many people are still enjoying the dog days of summer, others are already preparing for the holidays. And given the increasing inclusion of pets in consumers’ gift-giving plans, that is good news for pet specialty retailers with the right plans in place to make the most of the coming yuletide selling season. Whether pet parents stuff stockings with treats or spoil animals with more lavish presents, retailers must anticipate and prepare for increased demand of holiday gifts for beloved, spoiled animals.  

To reach successful holiday sales numbers, many retailers begin planning immediately after the previous season ends. Though the implementation of these strategies continues throughout the year, developing preliminary ideas during the first quarter is the key to success for many pet businesses.

Teresa Miller, founder and owner of Treats Unleashed, which operates seven stores serving St. Louis and Kansas City, Kan., subscribes to this proactive approach. She begins planning for the holidays early in the first quarter. “We conduct a review of the previous holiday season and document successes and areas for improvement the following year in terms of marketing, sales and community involvement,” explains Miller. “In March, we begin the budget stage of our planning cycle so that we can place early orders as specials become available and finalize the budget plans in July and August, using SuperZoo as a source to round out our product assortment planning.”

Kriser’s Natural Pet, which operates 30 stores in California, Illinois, Colorado and Texas, also begins its holiday preparations early. “We start [planning] right after the holidays end. We work with certain vendors to be able to lock in orders for bulk items,” says Brad Kriser, founder and CEO. “Throughout the year, [we search] for smaller items. For holidays, we bulk up on regular merchandise. We stock up on a small amount of holiday-specific merchandise.”

To maximize the impact, Kriser’s will showcase holiday items at the front of the store, surrounding the cash wrap to increase the probability of impulse purchases.


Last-Minute Stocking Stuffing

Some retailers choose a later date to implement their holiday marketing strategies, simply because starting earlier is not necessary for a successful final quarter. Wylie Wagg, a retailer with six locations in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, takes this approach. “We assess what will have the most significant local impact rather than casting a wide net across the entire metropolitan region,” explains co-owner Laura Clark. “These initiatives have been in place for quite some time, so we’ve gotten fairly adept at organizing them. That said, we start putting plans in place no later than September each year.”

Pinpointing the specific needs of each store located in a particular region, whether urban or rural—rather than developing a rigid business model that is implemented throughout the company—can prove lucrative for some chains that serve various demographics. While other retailers might feel the key to success is starting early, Clark’s model best serves her clients.

Some retailers use their single-store status to their advantage. These shops can flourish during the holidays if they offer competitive pricing and unmatched selection. Serving Red Bank, N.J., Fins & Feathers has accomplished this feat each season. A neighborhood favorite for 30 years, the store recently switched hands from previous owner Helen Davis to former employee T.J. Moss, whose holiday marketing strategy will be put into place this month, when orders are placed for holiday toys and coupons are listed in local publications.

Though he has only owned the store since December, Moss has worked during many holiday seasons as an employee, allowing him to understand how staff should assist customers during this time of year. “We make sure they understand what is available in the store,” he says. “It’s all about suggestive sales. Things they might already know but weren’t thinking about.”

Though most consumers who purchase holiday pet gifts buy for dogs and cats, Fins & Feathers customers have also been known to pick up presents for their rabbits and hamsters.

Not surprisingly, for many retailers, developing a successful strategy for the holiday season means starting early, but staying flexible enough to adjust later in the year. For example, Woof Gang Bakery, which boasts 61 stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas, started planning for the holidays months ago, but was also holding out for last-minute impulse buys at one of the industry’s largest trade shows. “We hope to find the right stuff at SuperZoo,” says CEO Paul Allen.

Due to its large, loyal clientele, Woof Gang Bakery is also able to rely on the strength of its brand to attract shoppers during the holidays. “We tend to bring in Woof Gang private-label holiday treats into the treat section…our stores will also have a Christmas tree with Woof Gang ornaments,” Allen explains.

Retailer-branded products, such as Woof Gang’s, not only promote holiday cheer, they also serve as an excellent marketing tool when given as a gift or displayed in homes during the season.


Better to Give

During the holidays, in particular, smaller retailers that make a large contribution to the local community generate a distinction that separates them from big-box retailers. Regarding his stores’ partnerships with area shelters, Kriser reveals, “Local [store] managers create the relationships to stay as local as possible. A lot of times we’ll do adoption events. Having a box out where people can buy supplies and put them right in there.”

Allen uses a different method at Woof Gang Bakery, one that is similar to what can be found in grocery stores during the holidays. “Our store will have Share the Holiday bags, normally brown bags with $10 to $20 in stock in each bag that customers can buy, and they are put around the tree. It is great to go into the stores and see hundreds of these bags ready to give to local rescue groups.” During the holiday season, the excitement of shopping for pets brings with it the goodwill to help less fortunate animals—and retailers that ease the donation process will be remembered long after the holidays are finished.

Wylie Wagg’s Five to Thrive campaign uses a similar method of selling bags pre-filled with pet supplies, and Clark recognizes the benefits of hosting holiday donation drives, in addition to other fundraisers and charity partnerships. “[Promoting ] Five to Thrive during the last 12 days of the season…has been tremendously well received, and has driven repeat and referral traffic into our stores,” he says.

When certain merchandise will not move off the shelf, many retailers will store away leftover stock, saving it for the following year. However, after marking down holiday merchandise starting in mid-December, Miller finds a generous purpose for her holiday overstock. Any unsold items that remain in the store on December 31 are donated to the shelter partners of Treats Unleashed.   

Despite the emphasis on successful sales, December is still supposed to be an exciting time of year, filled with merriment. Retailers want to provide a worry-free customer experience by promoting a festive atmosphere that speaks to the season.

For Kriser’s, creating this atmosphere means reminding store staff to get in the spirit as well. “We get them hyped up for the season,” he says. “It’s a busy time and a fun time. We remind them to have fun with it.” In addition to helping customers shop for the perfect pet present, Kriser’s also provides gift-wrapping, pictures with Santa and pet portraits.

Moss embraces the season’s cheer by transforming his store into a pet holiday wonderland. “We bring in cookies for the dogs: Santa, snowflakes and blue stars. I take down all the dog toys and put up Christmas toys and include a Hanukkah section,” he says. “We hang holiday decorations from the ceiling; it gets very festive in here.”

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