Success in the feline travel category starts with stocking well-designed carriers that can ease the stress of the journey for both cat and owner.
From the growth of pet relief stations inside airport terminals to new policies allowing pets on trains, the signs are everywhere that taking pets with you during travel is becoming the new normal. While dogs might come to mind first when considering pet traveling companions, retailers who ignore the needs of feline travelers are missing out on an important and growing category.
“While cats certainly, on the whole, do not travel as often as dogs, cats still need to travel to and from the vet’s office, for holidays, for trips to a pet lodging facility, etc.,” says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets. “Furthermore, we see more people being more active with their cats—for example, taking them for walks on a leash. For those people, a travel solution for the car is also important.”
As more and more owners travel with their pets, whether for short or long distances, they’re becoming more discerning about what travel products offer the most practical and comfortable environment for their pet. This is especially true for cats owners, as there are a number of feline-specific issues to consider.
“Consumers are seeking a travel solution that is safe, simple to assemble and something that allows them to allow their cat to enter without anxiety, as most cats are not accustomed to being in an enclosed crate or carrier environment,” Whitehead says. “It must also provide proper ventilation and be able to accommodate a bed or cushion, so the cat does not slide and shift in the carrier during transport, which can cause more stress.”
Whitehead recommends plastic carriers, like MidWest’s Spree or Skudo options, which are easy to assemble, provide optimal ventilation and are easy to clean. The company also offers beds specifically designed to fit into plastic carriers.
Customers are looking for all-around reliability when selecting a carrier. Retailers should seek out options that will allow cat owners to feel secure that their pet will be both comfortable and safe while they’re on the road.
“Well-designed, multifunctional products can set a pet owner up for travel success,” says Michael Leung, Sleepypod co-founder and lead product designer. “Cats are not always the best travelers. Their owners want products that allow them to focus on the travels ahead instead of keeping track of multiple products and worrying about product failures that could make the cat less comfortable.”
As Leung also points out, travel products like carriers can also be multipurpose. With pet-friendly workplaces on the rise, cat owners may be on the lookout for a product that not only makes transporting their pet a seamless experience, but also provides a cozy place for pets to rest once they’ve reached their destination.
“Products should be comfortable and adaptable enough to address the various demands of the day,” Leung says. “Pets are regularly taking part in the work routine rather than just being relegated to remnant free time. These on-the-go pet owners who spend long hours at work need products that make it easy and comfortable for pets to travel the short distance to work, as much as the long distance when on vacation.”
Products that function both as a carrier and a bed can also have the added benefit of reducing cats’ carrier anxiety. If the product is a place of security and comfort for the cat in the home, it can help lessen the stress of traveling. Petmate is working to provide this kind of dual-purpose solution with its Jackson Galaxy Double Extend Carrier.
“The carrier is designed to be left open and available for the cat to use as a bed and become acclimated to it before travel and once you arrive at your destination,” says Amanda Dunning, assistant product manager for hard goods at Petmate. “When it comes time to travel, the cat will be familiar with the carrier and will be much more comfortable inside.”
To really succeed in this product category, retailers have to do more than just stock a variety of carriers. Storeowners and staff need to be prepared to talk to their customers about traveling with their cats and recommend the right products to make the journey as smooth as possible. For example, customers may not consider how to best acclimate their cat to a carrier, leading to a struggle when it’s time to get out the door.
“When it comes to travel, cats have different needs than dogs, and they typically need more time to become familiar with their carriers,” says Cristen Underwood, director of research and product development at Worldwise, maker of SHERPA brand carriers. “Encourage your customers to give their cat extra time so that they are most comfortable during travel by air or by car.”
Underwood points out that educating customers about the importance of acclimating cats to a new carrier creates an opportunity for strategic cross-merchandising and add-on sales. To help create a positive association with being in the carrier, retailers could recommend enticing cats with catnip and rewarding time spent in the carrier with treats.
Carriers can be a bulky item to display, but manufacturers recommend having at least one sample fully assembled on display so consumers can really examine the product and evaluate its quality for themselves. Retailers should consider working with their manufacturer or distributor partners to find the best merchandising options for valuable floor and shelf space. For example, Whitehead explains that MidWest seeks to offer retailers an efficient solution with its Spree carriers, which ship in a color carton that converts into an attractive and compact POP floor display.
It’s also important for retailers to remember that traveling with a cat is about more than just a carrier. Especially for owners who may take their pet on longer trips, it’s helpful to have all the accessories they might need for a safe and comfortable trip displayed together.
“By merchandising travel products together in a set, consumers can shop at a glance with a better understanding of what cats need and what is offered,” says Dunning. “In addition to carriers, collars, leashes and feeding and watering products are important when traveling with a cat. By cross-merchandising travel solutions across different categories, it creates a holistic and easier shopping experience for the consumer.”