Getting Carried Away
Pets are hitting the road more than ever before. Thankfully, the market offers consumers a wide range of pet carriers to meet every need.
Whether it is a 750-mile journey to a seaside resort or a short-trip to grandma’s house one town away, today’s pets are on the go more than ever. Pet excursions are no longer limited to yearly visits to the vet or monthly trips to the groomer, as people increasingly include their companion animals on trips both far and near. Also fueling the trend is the fact that the travel and hospitality industries have become more accommodating to pets. These days, many pets are treated to more luxury vacations than trips to the kennel.
The result of this increased pet mobility is a bump in the demand for pet carriers. From soft-sided carriers to sturdy hard-plastic carriers, these products are making it possible for pets to travel from point A to point B safely, comfortably and in style.
The challenge for retailers is pulling together an assortment of high-quality carriers that meets the varied needs of traveling pet owners and their companions. It is a tall order. Carriers must be safe and functional, as well as easy and convenient to use. On top of that, they also have to feature the on-trend designs and colors consumers seek. This balancing act is further complicated by the need to stay mindful of evolving regulations in airline and car travel. Fortunately, for retailers and pet owners alike, manufacturers offer carriers to suit a wide range of travel needs and customer preferences.
Of all the plates manufacturers have to keep spinning in the air when designing pet carriers, those relating to safety and function are most critical, points out Courtney Landry, senior product manager – kennels and carriers, for Petmate. After all, a malfunctioning carrier can spell disaster for a pet owner. “While colors are fun, at the end of the day, functionality and safety are the most important features,” she says.
A carrier’s first mission—whether it is a soft-sided or hard-plastic carrier—is to ensure that the pet is properly secured. “Safely containing a live animal has always been top priority in the carrier and kennel category,” Landry explains. “We focus on reducing the animal’s ability to escape and on making sure that there is proper ventilation.”
Manufacturers are addressing the need for safe, secure containment in a variety of ways. For example, Landry points to built-in tethers and mesh panels in soft-sided carriers as features designed to provide security and ventilation in Petmate carriers. However, while secure containment may be the main objective for manufacturers in the category, there are several other consumer demands to meet.
For starters, whether embarking on a 20-minute trip or a four-hour flight, no caring pet owner will want to cause their pet distress by placing them in an uncomfortable carrier. Carriers need to be spacious enough to accommodate the pet and suitably padded or equipped to make for a cozy trip. “Other considerations are that there are no sharp edges on the inside and that the pet is comfortable when in the carrier,” Landry adds.
Carrier producers are also factoring in parameters dictated by various types of travel. Airline regulations have had a major impact on product development recently, as companies in the category strive to offer features consumers seek, while ensuring that their carriers are airline compliant.
“It can be quite a juggle at times,” says Brad Forgette, executive vice president of Marchioro USA, which produces a wide range of pet carriers. “It has to be attractive to the consumer and have value for the consumer, but it still has to be safe and functional to protect the pet. And all that has to be done while staying in compliance.”
Quaker Pet Products (QPG) is another company that pays close attention to air travel rules and has designed its Sherpa brand carriers accordingly. The company also has a website, called Guaranteed on Board, where pet owners can find regulations specific to the airlines and even the flight on which they are traveling.
“Airline regulations and under-seat sizing often change with updates to aircrafts in a carrier’s fleet,” says Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for QPG. “Our proprietary Guaranteed on Board program helps consumers to stay on top of those changes and helps to assure that their pet travel experience is as easy, safe and worry free as possible.”
Air travel, however, is not the only type of travel subject to regulation these days. Underwood notes that a growing number of state are passing laws that prohibit pets from riding in cars without being restrained. However, even in states that are not legislating on the issue, pet parents are getting the message that unrestrained dogs in moving cars pose a number of dangers.
“In the case of an accident, an unrestrained/uncontained dog inside the car becomes a projectile, a loose object in the car that could hurt or kill the driver and/or the other passengers and the pet itself,” she says.
Brands such as QPG are responding by designing products with car safety in mind. For example, the Sherpa Safety Suite allows pet owners to secure any soft-sided pet carrier using the standard latch system in a car. It is designed to prevent the carrier from sliding around or tipping over.
Manufacturers are also taking into consideration specific needs of various consumer demographics. Penny Johnson, executive vice president of Sturdi Products, Inc., says a large percentage of the pet owners who are in the market for the company’s products are women between 40 and 60 years old, who have small dogs and cats. Designing products that address both the practical needs and aesthetic tastes of these consumers is a top priority. Johnson says the company plans to debut a carrier with wheels for this growing demographic of pet owners, with the intention of offering them a product that reduces any physical strain related to carrying around a pet.
There are other customers demographics to be considered, as well. “We also have a younger customer base that looks for a basic but highly functional, light-weight carrier that is easy to transport with them on subways and buses,” Johnson says.
Meanwhile, retailers need to factor in their own customer demographics when stocking their carrier assortments, Forgette notes. For example, “retailers that sell a lot of small-breed dog food, probably don’t need to bring in a thousand large carriers,” he says. “Retailers need to analyze their sales and decide what their average dog size and breeds are and make sure they stock carriers accordingly.”
Still, although safety and functionality are central to the category, neither retailers nor manufacturers can ignore the importance of design, color and style. Consumers, as retailers all know, shop with their eyes. The first detail any shopper is going to notice about a carrier is how it looks, and consumers are often likely to be attracted to colors and styles that suit their aesthetic sense.
“Carriers and kennels often reflect the pet parent’s personal taste,” says Landry. “It is important to be on trend with colors and embellishments, and still offer the safety and security required to contain a live animal.”
Color is key for many shoppers, particularly those who care about design and style as much as they do about function. Underwood notes that design inspiration for carriers often comes from developments in the human fashion arena. “Trends in the colors, textures and features of pet carriers often mirror or follow human handbag fashion trends,” she says.
QPG has committed to keeping up with fashion trends by launching new colors of its Sherpa Original Deluxe carrier annually. Underwood adds, “Some traveling pet owners like to have their luggage and their pet carriers match or be complementary, so it’s great to have a mix of the classic neutrals like black, brown and gray, as well as newer, on-trend colors such as Plum, Midnight Blue and Paisley.”
While retailers always need to reserve space for the basics—black and neutral colors, remain popular in the category, says Landry—these days, consumers are often looking to personalize their pet accessories and make a statement. “One way for manufacturers to do this is to incorporate pops of color and design patterns,” she adds “Many consumers want a fun as well, as a functional, piece.”