Pets are members of the family, which means they’re traveling just as much as their owners. Here’s how retailers can take advantage of this growing category.
Pet parents today are always on the go—and so are their furry friends. Whether it’s by car, plane or train, traveling with pets is easier and safer than ever thanks to modern innovations in pet carriers.
Approximately 32 percent of dog owners take their pet with them on trips if they’re going to be gone for two or more nights, according to a survey by MarketResearch.com. And with pet ownership on the rise, there are more pets to take along for the ride.
“More people are becoming pet parents,” says Jeremy Buckley, director of sales at Elverson, Pa.-based Gen7Pets. “And more and more pet parents do not want to leave their babies behind, so they are travelling with them.”
One of the biggest changes to the pet carrier category is to the actual appearance of the products. Gone are the days of plain black, rectangular carriers, says David Fine, owner of Hamilton, N.J.-based company Bark n Bag. “Carriers are becoming more of an accessory and fashion is becoming more prevalent. So, if you are going all black, you are looking for black with style.”
Bark n Bag carries a wide variety of pet carriers, including their recently introduced Noir Herringbone Classic Carrier. The lightweight carrier features sophisticated herringbone detailing, which is currently trending in men’s runway looks, making it a functional and fashionable choice for modern pet owners.
The pet travel bag company also offers a line of trendy totes to carry pets around in style. The company’s line of Embossed Croco Monaco Totes, for example, have the look of a high-quality designer bag, but have two pet-friendly mesh ventilation panels and enough room for a cat or dog to fit comfortably.
Buckley agrees that style is a major trend in the pet carrier category. “Pet parents tend to be more fashion and feature conscious than they were previously,” he says.
Gen7Pets has created a number of products that cater to this desire for chic carriers, including the Deluxe Carry-Me Pet Carrier. This carrier features accessible storage pockets and a padded shoulder strap, and it comes in three stylish patterns: black onyx, cheetah and zebra.
While fashion is important to modern pet parents, that doesn’t mean they’re willing to sacrifice function. One of the most common questions from customers is about fit, says Fine, because a carrier doesn’t do owners much good if the dog or cat doesn’t fit inside properly.
Retailers can position themselves as the experts in the carrier category by helping customers find the product that best fits their pooch or feline. A well-fitting carrier should provide enough room for pets to comfortably turn around in, but not be so big that they slide around.
Staff should be well-versed in the specs of each carrier as provided by the manufacturer. For example, Bark n Bag’s Organic Denim Carrier—billed as the first organic carrier on the market—comes in three different sizes. The small is perfect for pets up to 14 inches long, seven inches high and weighing a maximum of eight pounds, while the large can hold animals up to 18 inches long, 10 inches high and weighing as much as 22 pounds.
If owners are planning on flying with their pet, they should also take airline requirements into consideration. A majority of airlines allow passengers to carry on one pet, but the carrier needs to be able to fit comfortably under a passenger seat, have mesh panels and be made of water repellant material.
Many manufacturers will list if products meet standard airline regulations. The Carry Me carrier by Gen7Pet, for instance, is small enough to slide under an airline seat and features a comfort pad and mesh panels.
Another major concern among pet owners is safety. Just like we wear a seatbelt when traveling, pets also need to be properly secured in the car. The ASPCA recommends securing the carrier or crate so it will not slide or shift around in the car during an abrupt stop. Many carriers, including Gen7Pet’s Carry Me and Bark n Bag’s Nylon Carrier, feature gadget straps that can be fastened down with a seatbelt in seconds—no fiddling or complicated instructions needed. For an extra layer of security, carriers may also feature interior tethers.
Retailers can help quell safety concerns by ensuring customers are educated about proper pet travel protocol. Before the holidays, when many pet owners take their furry companions along to grandma’s house, consider setting up a carrier display with travel tips, such as ‘Never leave your pet alone in the car’ and ‘Pack a pet travel kit with food, bowls, leash, medication and a waste scoop.’
The final key consideration for pet parents with regard to carriers is comfort for both the pet and the handler, says Fine. Bark n Bag’s Wheeled Jetway Carrier features a washable, organic cotton, quilted pad, which provides pets with a super comfy place to relax while on the go. And in addition to adjustable shoulder straps, the carrier also has front swivel 360-degree wheels, making it extra easy for pet owners to take their furry friends along for the ride.
Gen7Pets takes this idea of wheeled carriers to the next level with its line of strollers designed specifically for pets. The Monaco Stroller features a lightweight aluminum frame, ergonomic handles, an auto-latch canopy and an effortless one-hand folding operation. Able to hold up to 60 pounds, the Monaco Stroller brings together luxury, style and convenience into one must-have product.
Building A Destination Category
To get the most out of this growing category, pet retailers should be sure to carry a variety of carriers for different pets’ and pet parents’ needs. “Retailers need to stock up on basics and layer fashion to draw attention to the category,” says Fine. “For the pet parent, the core inventory is destination, the fashion is impulse.”
And while a wide selection of high-quality carriers and strollers is great, retail staff members also need to know exactly what it is they’re selling. Employees should be educated about the specifications of the various models—from carrying capacity to safety features—in order to help customers find the best carrier for their pet.
Buckley encourages retailers to get to know their customers when helping them choose a carrier. “Retailers can best assist the pet owners by finding out information about their pet and assuring them that they will be nice and comfortable in a specific carrier that they are looking at,” he says. “It could also help to find out how much they are planning to travel with their pets.”
Retailers can also utilize strategic signage and displays to inform customers about carrier features, like which carriers meet airline regulations, which are ideal for road trips and which suit small breeds best.
Another great way to promote carriers: have a few models set up so customers can get an idea of a product’s size and quality. It may be challenging for some customers to visualize what size is the best fit for their pet, so this allows them to pick up and even try out different carriers. If a pet parent can physically feel and see the product out of the box, they’re more likely to take it to the register and out the door.
Overall, the biggest lesson from the pet carrier category is that traveling with pets is now less of a luxury and more of an expectation. Pets are part of the family, so they should get to go on vacation, too.