Traveling in Style and Comfort
Innovations in pet carriers include everything from enhanced safety features to fashionable colors.
Increasing numbers of pets are accompanying their owners on journeys both great and small, meaning the need for comfortable and safe carriers is on the rise. Luckily for pets and their owners, there have been some innovations in carriers that make it easier than ever to transport a pet by car, plane or by letting the human do all the walking. Manufacturers say they have added amenities to their carriers to make short and long trips more enjoyable.
“Comfort, quality and safety continue to be the most desired features in a carrier,” says Kirk Dixon, category manager for the Bergan Travel division of Coastal Pet Products.
To satisfy the demand for comfort, the Alliance, Ohio-based company offers carriers that feature fleece and padded bedding, snag-resistant, breathable mesh on all four panels and, for the human, padded handles and shoulder straps. For safety, the seatbelt loop secures the carrier while traveling, to keep the pet safe and also to minimize distractions while driving.
The newest addition to the Bergan Travel collection is the Voyager Comfort Carrier. The carrier features bright colors, side and top door openings and a dedicated waste bag-dispensing pocket.
Safety features are important in pet carriers because they are often used in car travel.
“It’s important for carriers to have a car seat feature that has been tested for safety,” says Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer for Sleepypod, based in Pasadena, Calif. “Sleepypod crash tests its carriers at the federal standard for child safety restraints and makes these crash tests available for consumers to view. Every Sleepypod carrier model has earned a top safety certification rating from the Center for Pet Safety [CPS].”
Comfort is also important, as not all pets enjoy travel. “Since pets tend to associate carriers with uncomfortable experiences to unknown destinations or trips to the veterinarian, pets and carriers have, in the past, had a rocky relationship,” Leung says.
Years ago, he explains, people would transport their pets in cardboard boxes or uncomfortable carriers. Today’s carriers are cozier and can be used in the home.
“The seamless transition from a Sleepypod carrier used as an everyday pet bed or den helps to acclimate a pet to its carrier and helps make vet visits and trips less stressful,” Leung says.
Style is another consideration. In response to customer requests for a purple carrier, Sleepypod added a limited edition True Violet color to its product palette this year. In 2018, the company plans to unveil products that address the needs of smaller companion animals.
Thinking Big with Smaller Carriers
Cats and small dogs are a major segment of the pet carrier space. “Most people are buying pet carriers for medium and smaller dogs, and for cats,” says Bruce J. Flantzer, North American director of sales and marketing for Moderna, a Belgian company that has its U.S. headquarters in Gaffney, S.C.
This trend toward carriers for smaller pets can be attributed, at least in part, to the growth of Millennials as an important consumer base. “Millennials are now cat people because they can leave home for a week and not worry about it,” says Flantzer. “They can leave food, water and litter.”
Pet owners can also take cats and small dogs with them using the plastic Moderna carriers. Sixty to 70 percent of the company’s pet carriers are purchased by women, so the products have on-trend designs, up-to-date colors and safety features, Flantzer says.
Moderna’s products are made in the USA, and the company strives to offer both high quality and good value.
“We can manufacture here because if we manufactured in China we would be shipping air,” he says. “We have European design at a value price.” The products are also recyclable and BPA free, which Flantzer says appeals to eco-minded U.S. consumers.
Moderna’s best-known line is Road Runner, a plastic carrier approved for air travel, available in Blue Berry, Hot Pink and Lemon Yellow color options. Top Runner is a plastic carrier with a panoramic transparent lid so pets can look around, relieving some of the stress of being cooped up on a long trip. New lines are available in different themes such as Cats in Love, Friends Forever and Luxurious Pets, with a variety of colors and designs.
Muncie, Ind.-based MidWest Homes for Pets added smaller carriers to its lineup a few years ago. The company, long known for wire and metal carriers, launched its deluxe Skudo Travel Carrier in 2014.
“MidWest strives to offer a variety of top-quality containment solutions that fulfill a variety of needs,” says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications. “Skudo allowed us to enter into the plastic carrier category and expand our offering of pet containment solutions.”
In 2015, MidWest launched the Spree Pet Carriers for smaller dogs, cats and other small mammals.
“They come at a lower price point and feature a simple, four-step assembly,” Whitehead says. “Spree is a great seller because the carriers come in three bright and fun fashion colors and are simple to use, yet very durable.” She adds that consumers are looking for simple assembly and operation, durability, excellent ventilation and an easy-to-clean design.
For retailers who are looking for ways to merchandise the carriers without taking up too much floor space, Whitehead points out that MidWest’s carriers nest well, which saves space. “The top half nests in the bottom, and multiple units can be placed within one another and stacked on a shelf,” she says. “It’s great if at least one unit can be assembled as a test or display model.”
For easy merchandising, retailers can order the Spree product line in a mixed master pack, from which the carton will convert into an attractive point-of-purchase display.
“The footprint is small and more units can be displayed at one time without taking up shelf space,” says Whitehead. “Spree is an excellent option for brick-and-mortar retailers.”
Sometimes it’s the pet owners themselves who feel stressed because they worry that their beloved animals are uncomfortable. “As pet parents, we go through so much anxiety,” says Penny Johnson, CEO of Gig Harbor, Wash.-based Sturdi Products. “It is very stressful when you are traveling with a pet. Our mission and focus is to decrease stress on pet parents and the pet.”
With this in mind, Sturdi offers flexible carriers that have mesh windows and doors and safety features such as a tether in case the pet gets out of the carrier. The carriers can fit under an airplane seat and can also be attached to a pop-up kennel that expands, giving the pet some extra space while waiting at the airport. There is also room for a foldable litter pan for cat carriers.
“We make adaptations based on what customers are telling us,” Johnson says. “Our products are built so you can use them together.”
For retailers, Johnson recommends having a Sturdi bag set up in the store, showing the flexible height design, the center dividers and other features. Consumers are most likely to become interested in the item if they can see it fully assembled and in use. In fact, Johnson says, people sometimes call Sturdi when they see other travelers using the bags at an airport, often on top of a wheeled carry-on bag.
Sometimes, dog owners want to take their pups on adventures without a car or airplane. For these voyagers, the K9 Sport Sack dog backpack carrier may be the perfect choice. Joseph Watson, who is CEO and co-owner of the Provo, Utah-based company, says he came up with the idea a few years ago when he wanted to take his dog, Daisy, with him on bike rides.
“I built the first version around her,” he says. “I rode with her for a year, and people pulled up in their cars and rolled down their windows to ask me about the bag.”
The K9 Sport Sack can carry a dog that weighs up to 30 pounds, and the weight is distributed evenly throughout the bag. The dog faces forward, which Watson says helps prevent the dog from getting motion sickness. There are adjustable straps and a clip so that the dog cannot jump out of the bag, as well as padding and side vents.
“We painstakingly picked out the parts we wanted,” Watson says. “We took it to three veterinarians.”
The current model is called the Air, and the company is working on more models. Watson says a larger model with thicker straps and more storage room to fit dogs up to 40 pounds will launch in February.
“People want to be active and they feel guilty leaving their dog at home,” Watson says. “This ameliorates some of that guilt.” PB