Cats on the Move
By stocking up on great products and providing smart customer service, retailers can make feline travel products a real profit center.
Cats are known for being laid-back, relaxed pets—until you try to travel with them, that is. Just a simple trip to the vet can leave you with a growling, hissing and spitting feline in the back seat. Taking kitty on the go, whether it’s across town or to the other side of the globe, though, is inevitable for most pet parents.
In fact, more than 30 million Americans travel with their pets every year according to the Travel Industry Association, a number that has been steadily rising in recent years.
As a result, there has been an increase in demand for comfortable, convenient travel products among pet owners, including cat owners, notes Penny Johnson, chief executive officer for Gig Harbor, Wash.-based Sturdi Products Inc. “There are many more products available on the market today that are directed at pet travel then there was when Sturdi started business over 20 years ago,” she says. “Our own sales graphs over the last 23 years document a steady increase of sales in the areas of portable containment, soft-sided carriers and other accessories for both urgent and non-urgent travel with cats.”
Traditionally, pet stores have focused on dogs when it comes to marketing travel products. But with this rise in pet travel, as well as cat ownership, retailers have a great opportunity to meet a growing need amongst cat owners. There are tons of different products on the market today that make traveling with cats over land, sea or even in the air both easy and safe.
Leashes are a great choice for pet parents that simply want to take their feline friend for a stroll around the block. Though it may cause a few double takes, cats can be leash trained just like pooches. There are even leashes made specifically with cats’ unique anatomy in mind, like the SturdiPet Walking Vest. Co-designed by cat performance trainer Lisa-Maris Padilla, this award-winning harness features secure, snag-free snap closures that don’t trap hair and comes in a wide variety of stylish colors and patterns.
Pet carriers are also at the top of the cat travel must-have list, says Diane Thomas, marketing manager for Alliance, Ohio-based Coastal Pet Products, Inc.
“Coastal Pet’s Bergan Comfort Carrier is airline-compatible with superior ventilation, a washable fleece travel bed and easy access to comfort pets on the go, making traveling easier and less stressful for both cats and people,” she says. It also features a seat belt loop for secure car travel.
Another great multi-use carrier option is the Roller Carrier by Gen7Pets. It’s a roller bag, backpack, portable den and car restraint all in one. The Smart Level platform keeps kitty from tipping while being pulled along, and a large Smart Comfort pad on the bottom and back of the carrier is perfect for a catnap. Other features include a durable and lightweight material, ventilated mesh, hidden backpack straps and four wheels for a smooth ride.
Gen7Pets also offers the Monaco Pet Stroller for convenient pet travel. The stylish design is made with a lightweight frame and includes two interior tethers, canopy and removable basket. Plus, it’s very easy to assemble.
“You just simply have to snap the stroller together,” says Daniel Hawk, president of sales for Gen7Pets in Elverson, Pa. “Not one of our products actually requires tools to assemble. Everything snaps or screws together by hand. You don’t need screwdrivers, bolts or anything like that.”
Besides having a diverse and well-stocked cat travel section, another key part of driving sales in this category is being able to address customer concerns. It’s important for sales team members to be knowledgeable about products and general cat travel.
“Safety and stress are the two major concerns when traveling with pets, so be sure to focus on benefits that address those concerns when answering questions surrounding airline-compatibility or locking zippers for safety,” says Thomas.
Emphasize features like secure closures to keep kitty from escaping, and seat belt straps to make driving safe for furry friends.
Retailers should also advise owners to allow cats to acclimate to their carrier prior to traveling to help alleviate stress. The Sleepypod mobile pet bed, for example, allows cats to travel safely in the comfort and familiarity of their own bed. The Ultra Plush pad creates a cozy cushion for cats, and the sturdy handles make it convenient to zip up and go. Sleepypod also transforms into a crash-tested car seat for pets using the Velcro positioning points to secure the seat belt into place.
By acting as advisors for pet parents and offering expert advice, pet retailers create a relationship with their customers that keeps them coming back for all their pet-related needs.
Displays and signage can also go a long way in educating customers and driving sales. To appeal to cat owners, Thomas recommends highlighting that these products are for felines rather than all pets. A special display or endcap of cat travel products with eye-catching signs promoting benefits will help the products stand out.
Retailers can also incorporate signage with helpful tips like “Remember to bring vet records and ID tags on trips,” “Don’t feed cats a few hours before traveling,” or “Try adding a blanket or toys to a carrier to relieve stress.”
The most important thing for merchandising products like carriers and strollers, according to Hawk, is having the products fully assembled in the store. “People don’t understand or can’t conceptualize dimensions, so carriers and strollers have to be set up,” he says. “Retailers should also have them in a place that is convenient for testing. That means you have to at least let people take it out and put their cat in to see if it fits.”
Hawk also recommends retailers offer to set up strollers and carriers that customers have purchased. “Instant gratification is important from a brick-and-mortar standpoint. And having it assembled so the customer doesn’t have to worry about putting it together when they get home is just great customer service,” he says.
Another great way to make the most of this category is through cross merchandising. Travel-related accessories like zipper security clips, carrier covers and carrier cleaners should be stocked in the same aisle.
Retailers should also take the time and care to make recommendations to pet owners based on what other customers typically buy at the same time. “The internet is very good at recommending products—[for example], ‘people who looked at this also bought this, this and this.’ People at retail need to do the same thing but verbally,” says Hawk.
If a customer buys a pet stroller, they might also be interested in purchasing a carrier. Or if they’re planning to make a road trip with kitty in tow, retailers can recommend cat-calming aids, portable litter boxes or on-the-go feeders.
With so many innovative products available and an increase in pet travel, there’s no doubt that feline travel is a category full of untapped potential. But to make it a staple of the cat aisle, retailers need to focus on stocking quality products and emphasizing customer service.
“Retailers should view the travel experience through the eyes of their customers,” says Thomas. “Quality, guaranteed products that offer the benefits you would look for when traveling with your cat will provide the best for your customers and keep them coming back.”