Trains, Planes and Automobiles
With more pet parents hitting the road with their pets, retailers and manufacturers are offering the products pet owners need for safe, convenient travel.
Today’s pets are going places—mostly because their owners are taking them along. According to American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, the number of dog owners taking their dog on trips has increased every year since 2002. And it is a trend manufacturers are responding to with product innovations meant to make traveling with pets easier and safer for everyone.
Patrick Hoffman, president of Solvit, attributes the increase of traveling pets to the strengthening of the bond between pet owners and their animals. “These consumers tend to be more involved with their pets, thus they like to take pets along when they go places,” says Hoffman, whose 10-year-old company manufactures a wide variety of pet travel products designed for car trips.
However, before they hit the road—or take flight—many pet parents are seeking products that will help them make the most of the experience. “They are looking first at keeping pets and themselves safe, and also improving convenience of getting around with pets and protecting their vehicles,” he adds.
Regulating Pet Travel
Federal and state regulations regarding pet travel are evolving and are a relatively new area of legislative oversight. While it may seem like dogs and cats are a common sight in airplanes, it was only a few decades ago that airlines allowed travelers to fly with their pets. Although each airline decides whether or not it will allow pets to fly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines how pets travel based on carry-on baggage regulations. On the other hand, motor-vehicle travel is generally controlled by the states, which vary on legislation regarding pets.
J.W. Brandjes, product and development technical coordinator for Coastal Pet Products, has seen a new focus on keeping pets safe during travel on the state level. “New Jersey is leading the way in creating and enforcing legislation regarding transporting pets in vehicles,” he says. “According to USA Today, New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officers can pull any vehicle over if they suspect the driver is transporting an animal improperly. That includes allowing a pet to hang out the window, ride in the back of a truck, or sit on the driver’s lap. Animal-cruelty laws protect the pets in these cases, and transgressions are punishable by ticket or jail time.”
Pet restraint is still a developing regulatory issue. While there are a few states that do have some laws in place, there is a long way to go before it matures. Still, Brandjes notes that the trend is spreading to other states. “New Jersey isn’t the only state that has started to take a stand for pets in the car,” he says. “USA Today reported that Hawaii has distracted-driving laws that prohibit a pet from riding on the driver’s lap. Connecticut and Maine can ticket motorists for unrestrained pets as well. Also, Democratic state representative Peter Palumbo is proposing legislation in Rhode Island to ensure that in the future, driving with a dog in your lap is a violation of distracted-driving laws.”
Understanding Customer Motivation
Despite the increase in the number of people traveling with pets, many are still unaware of the many products on the market that can make travel safer and more convenient. On the other hand, others customers may know about the products, but they may not have bought into the idea that they are necessary or useful. Either way, retailers who understand how their customers think have a better chance of selling to them, especially since many customers need convincing to buy travel products.
“Education and information are key to selling this product,” says Diane Thomas, marketing manager for Coastal. “Once people realize how dangerous it is to travel with an unrestrained dog, they are more apt to believe in the importance of the product. Therefore, the more knowledgeable the store associates are about the features and benefits of the products, the better. To assist the stores in the education, Coastal offers demonstration videos for all of the Travel Right! Seat Belt safety products, which are available on DVD and are linked through a QR code on the back of the packaging. We also have a video that shows the features of the Easy Rider along with footage of the independent safety crash testing.”
On the flipside, there are customers who walk into the store knowing they need travel products, particularly pet owners who need to comply with federal or state pet travel regulations. These customers are already sold on the products; they just need to decide which ones to purchase.
Kennedy Facchini, merchandising coordinator for Coastal, says that grouping items can drive sales for customers already interested in travel products. She advises retailers to put their stock in a centralized area because travel product customers will flock to it. “The best place to merchandise these products is on an end-cap display,” she says. “This enables the store to feature all of the travel items in one place and include information about the products for the consumer. Consumers who know what kind of product they are typically looking for would gravitate toward this area of the store.”
Whether the customers come in asking for these products or need a little help figuring out that they need them, they will likely want to see the product up close—this, however, can create a challenge for retailers. “Consumers often remove the carriers from the packaging to inspect the item, and leave a mess in their wake,” says Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Quaker Pet Group, adding that there is a way to keep the display clutter free. “Retailers can consider displaying one assembled carrier out of the packaging, which will allow pet-parents to touch and feel the item and gauge it for sizing—preventing consumers from needing to open various boxes.”
Underwood believes retailers who invest in selling travel products are making a wise decision. “This category will continue to see growth, as travel with pets becomes easier, as more and more airlines and car manufacturers encourage pet-safe travel, and pet-parents that increasingly want their favorite companions to be with them,” she says.