On the Move
As more pet owners are taking their dogs into the great outdoors, the need for outdoor dog gear continues to rise.
Some people prefer to hit the gym, getting their miles in on the treadmill or stair climber. Others like to take a more natural approach to exercise—heading outside to hike, run, walk, camp, bike, paddle or kayak. Although the gym and various workout classes are popular choices, the great outdoors calls out to many more of us. Given the fact that many folks take our furry buddies along for the fun, this love of Mother Nature has the potential to really juice sales of outdoor dog gear products.
In fact, these products represent one of the “biggest growth opportunities for pet retailers,” says Gordie Spater, co-founder and chief business officer for Kurgo Products. Headquartered in Salisbury, Mass., the company makes a broad spectrum of items designed to encourage canine and human outdoor adventuring.
“Millennials are the biggest segment of dog owners, and they value experiences over material goods,” Spater explains. “They are more likely to do outdoor activities socially with larger groups and to share their leisure time with others, including their dogs.”
According to Kurgo’s 2016 market research study, over 80 percent of dog owners engage in some sort
of outdoor activity with their dogs. Other findings revealed that:
• Sixty-two percent run with their dog monthly or more; 29 percent run three miles or more with their dogs monthly.
• Thirty-six percent take their dogs on day hikes; 34 percent take them on overnight hikes.
• Thirty-one percent take their dogs camping; 38 percent take them hunting or fishing.
“We see that Millennials, particularly males, participate in these activities at even higher rates,” Spater says. “They are seeking gear and solutions for their dogs to make doing these activities more comfortable, convenient and safer. This is a huge opportunity for pet specialty retailers to grow sales.”
Promise & Potential
Contributing to this category’s potential for pet specialty retailers is the fact that although interest in these kinds of products is growing and dog owners are actively seeking solutions, they are having trouble knowing where to look for these items, says Spater.
“Millennials get the need for specialized gear as they have always been gear-oriented and part of the athleisure trend,” he says. “They’re buying higher-end Patagonia jackets rated for mountain hiking, even though they’re wearing them just around the neighborhood. They want the same gear for their dogs.”
Even so, says Lisa Paxton, “lead dog” for Ultra Paws, consumer knowledge about the benefits of outdoor gear products could use a boost. Located in Baxter, Minn., Ultra Paws provides a variety of functional-gear products for dogs.
“Some of this is because of poorly developed products,” she says. “While they may have low price points, they don’t fit the dog well or they offer limited protection. Also, there’s a lot of marketing around pet foods but very little around pet apparel, which gives retailers an advantage. Those working with manufacturers that focus on function as much as fashion will experience increased and repeat sales.”
Quality is important because pet owners have become far more discerning, says Bryant Baxter, marketing and sales coordinator for EzyDog, a Sandpoint, Idaho company offering active dog gear focused on rugged outdoor lifestyles.
“In the outdoor gear category, colors and styles have always been determining characteristics in choice,” Baxter says. But now, safety and durability have emerged as key factors as well.
“Trends in customers making deeper, more thoughtful selections create the need for products with the same attention; meaning that products in this category need to fulfill more than just their intended use by being adaptable to different scenarios.”
Retailer awareness is equally important and doesn’t just apply to products; they should really dial into their customers’ needs and educate themselves about dog-friendly locales, says Len Horowitz, founder/CEO of 4 Paws Tech. Headquartered in Glen Head, N.Y., the company has designed a line of outdoor safety gear specifically for dogs.
“When retailers know their clients’ habits and likes, they will be able to advise on new or existing products that can enhance their lifestyle,” Horowitz explains. “The more active lifestyles of the caretakers and increase in dog-friendly parks, restaurants and public squares have created the necessity of keeping dogs more visible and safe for passersby.”
Out the Door
Although this is frequently emphasized, it bears repeating. Retailers should talk to their customers and train your staff to do the same. This is one of the best ways to boost awareness and send customers heading out the door with purchases. For example, says Horowitz, inquire if the pet owner walks at night, or lets the dog out after dark. If so, discuss with the owner the benefits of LED-lighted collars, leashes, or other reflective gear.
One type of gear often overlooked is paw protection, not just from hot pavements, sand or other heated surfaces, but also from the kinds of sharp objects often encountered while out in nature. Then there’s winter and the need to shield paws from the cold and also from salted surfaces, like sidewalks, says Brittany Hock, vice president of sales for Saltsox LLC. Based in Chicago, the company has created a weatherproof urban dog bootie for city-dwelling dogs.
“The question we should all ask ourselves is ‘Would I walk barefoot on a heavily salted sidewalk in 32-degree or below weather?’” Hock says. “So, why do we expect our dogs to do it?”
Until the question is posed by proactive store employees, this thought may never even occur to the pet owner, who subsequently may leave the store without making such a purchase, or buying anything at all. Staff should pay particular attention to customers checking out winter apparel, like coats, informing them as to the importance of paw protection.
What else should pet specialty retailers know and pass along to their customers? According to Jessica Knight, director/co-founder of DOOG, a Sydney, Australia-based provider of outdoor-focused accessories for pets and people, not every dog should be running. Just as in the case when humans start up an exercise program and are advised to check with their doctors before doing so, Knight recommends taking the same sort of approach for pets, suggesting that a check-in with the vet before running the dog is a good idea.
“Also, you should never run a dog under eight months old, as their joints are still developing,” she cautions. “For dogs over eight months, it’s best to start slowly with light jogs around the block and then work up to longer runs. And never run with your dog when it’s hot outside, as they can overheat really quickly.”
Don’t forget to stress the importance of hydration, even if the activity just involves a romp in the park or a walk around the block. For example, the water system in the park could not be functioning properly, says Taylor Simms-Brown, vice president of sales for Jascor Housewares (operating in the pet industry as Messy Mutts). If unprepared with portable hydration, the fun will either be cut short or the dog goes thirsty. Located in Toronto, the company provides products designed to help solve the challenge of messy dogs and cats.
These are products that people like to handle and try on, giving brick-and-mortar stores an edge over online shopping and pet specialty retailers an advantage over big-box stores, thanks to their greater ability to deliver more personal and personalized customer service. How do you hone this advantage?
• Put up bulletin boards with information about dog-friendly activities, trails, parks, dog-focused events and so on, says Spater. Also, you can use social media or email programs to transmit this kind of information to their customers. “Retailers can take it a step further by organizing in-store workshops, similar to REI or Home Depot,” he says. Topics could include how to start running with a dog or hiking tips. This strategy will attract people to the store, give them the confidence to try something new with their pet and create a natural way to sell outdoor gear.
• Display the products in action, says Horowitz. Dress up a mannequin with a collar or leash. Outfit it in a jacket. Paint a picture, so the customer doesn’t have to imagine it.
• Let customers try the products on their dogs, says Baxter. Got a store dog? Outfit him with your outdoor gear product of choice for the day—changing this out daily to showcase your selection.
• Be original. “There are a lot of ‘me-too’ products on the market,” says Paxton. “Look for innovative, functional and fashionable gear that consumers will want to buy each year. Also, post product promotional and descriptive information for customers,” she adds. “I was in a store in Colorado that put a store promotional sticker on everything they sold. What a great reminder about where that product was purchased to encourage the customer’s next visit.”
• Displays should offer a full selection of sizes and colors, says Baxter. “Displays should also generate a feeling of the unique lifestyle that can be experienced because of the product.”
• Create impulse-buy and gifting opportunities. Consider Messy Mutt, for example. Its core outdoor gear items, such as the microfiber towel designed for easy cleaning, are low-ticket, add-on items that can help grow the register ring, says Simms-Brown. Keep them close to the checkout counter or in a curated endcap.
“We also find that it’s most effective to merchandise the outdoor category around the activities showing the customer the full solution for running, hiking, water sports or camping,” says Spater. “This will result in add-on sales as consumers realize they actually need more than just a running harness to run with their dog—they need a hands-free leash and hydration system too.” PB