Dog Apparel Trends
When it comes to selling dog apparel, there are many factors that have to be considered.
People flock to retail stores every couple of months for door-busting deals and last minute clearance blowouts to stock up on the latest season’s apparel trends and scoop up leftovers from the last’s. While the purchasing habits of humans are pretty predictable, save for a wedding here and a shopping spree there, those concerning dogs aren’t as black and white.
There’s a lot of variables surrounding this category. The ever-present issue of space, the willingness—or unwillingness—of consumers to spend money on apparel for their dog and regional and climate factors all can impact sales.
The first challenge to having a successful pet apparel section in pet stores is for retailers to evaluate how much free space they have and then carefully determine how much of that they’re willing to allocate toward apparel, because, “[it’s] never going to compete with consumables—like treats or toys—that most dog owners buy monthly or even weekly,” says Barton O’Brien, founder and CEO of BAYDOG. He explains that retailers have to be judicious in how they allocate their resources and invest only in products they know they can sell.
Another part of poor apparel sales is that, “Most owners don’t budget for clothing when taking on the financial responsibilities of a pet and experience significant sticker shock,” explains Laura Gangloff, co-owner of Riverfront Pets.
Other times, it may not even be a monetary issue. It could just be the animal itself.
“There are a lot of dogs that don’t tolerate apparel,” continues Gangloff. “We always encourage the customer to bring their dog with them, especially when buying apparel. You get the right fit, you know if the dog will wear it and the look of a really nice sweater goes a long way towards curing sticker shock.”
Considering that dog breeds can range in size from teacups to mastiffs, dog apparel isn’t exactly a “one size fits all” type of category.
“There is no standard size chart,” says Amy Klippo, general manager of Klippo Pet. “Many retailers assume that the label size (ex. XS, S, M, L, XL, etc.), is the same for all brands.”
The last challenge to overcome—and quite possibly the biggest—is competing with online, big-box giants.
“As a retailer, there is nothing worse than spending time with a customer to help them select the right coat and get the right fit, only to have them pull out their phone and buy the same product on Amazon for $6.00 less,” says O’Brien.
For its part, O’Brien explains that BAYDOG is not partnered with Chewy.com or Amazon, and does not offer online discounts. He encourages retailers to look for partners that offer the same (or similar) benefits.
While committing to this area of pet goods seems daunting, Rebecca Gadd, owner of Gold Paw, doesn’t see a reason to stay away—as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
“Despite the effort required to manage the inventory, it can be a very lucrative department, and also one that can make your store a destination instead of just an errand shop,” she says.
What Not to Wear
Trends in dog apparel aren’t as ever-changing as those of humans. While we like to update our wardrobes with what’s “in” and get rid of what’s “out,” dogs are more of a practical breed.
“The best selling dog apparel is always going to be in needs, not wants,” says Gadd. “In terms of market share, there are many more dogs that need a warm coat than dogs that wear bow ties, for example.”
Although formal wear may not be the answer, pet owners are looking to dress their animals in essentials that do have some taste.
“Dog apparel is getting more sophisticated,” says Gadd. “For many years, dog outerwear and small child outerwear were very similar looking—bright colors [and] simple, unrefined shapes.”
But, don’t mix up sophisticated with frivolous. Klippo explains that customers are looking for everyday outfits, not fancy, frou-frou clothing.
In other words, “modern pet parents want clothing that is built to last and is simple to use,” explains Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs.
That practicality is becoming more prevalent as pet owners realize that their animal’s needs aren’t all that different from their own.
“I see so many dogs out and about in the freezing temperatures of winter and the searing hot temperatures of summer, clearly in distress and discomfort,” says Cindy Magiera, CEO of SaltSox. “I don’t go out barefoot in freezing temps or take a leisurely stroll in the summer on blacktop pavement barefoot.”
One Stop Shop
In order for a retailer to make their store the Macy’s of the pet industry, it’s going to take some practical yet creative displays. Retailers have to keep in mind that just like people, dogs don’t all like the same things, and they need choices, says Magiera.
This, obviously, leads to space issues, as it’s not feasible to create a large apparel section that has samples of every company’s product in all available sizes, styles and colors. Retailers need to determine which products they think they can sell. Some items—such as Halloween costumes and Christmas sweaters—sell pretty easily, but other types are a different game.
When it comes to curating a selection, retailers should consider which region of the country they’re in, explains George. There are pieces of apparel that all dogs need, but what exactly those necessities are vary based on location.
Items such as jackets, coats, vests and parkas sell well in regions that experience brisk falls and winters, while urbanites need to invest in items that protect their animals and their paws from dirty, hazardous city streets. Pajamas, on the other hand, have more of a universal appeal, making them a year-round, reliable seller in most areas.
When it comes to displaying these products, “you need a large range of sizes, much more so than for human apparel,” explains Gadd. “Then, you need a system for making those sizes accessible, tidy and obvious.”
Once you commit to embracing dog apparel as a department in your store, create a dedicated fitting area stocked with measuring tapes, size charts for the various brands that are carried and ideally a table or counter to get smaller dogs up to eye level, advises George.
To that end, O’Brien recommends dressing up a dog model/mannequin.
These items should be merchandised from the front so customers can see them, says George. Given that a majority of apparel items will be seasonal, they must be brought in early and displayed prominently.
To combat the issue of space, keep one of each company’s sizes on the floor, holding the other styles and additional sizes in the back. When a customer determines that a PetRageous small will fit their dog, simply head to the stock room and pull the item in the appropriate size and color, replenishing the display as necessary.
Ultimately, this category is worth the time and investment because, “our fur babies are no longer living on the plains, running wild and free,” says Magiera. “They are living with us in our warm, cozy homes, sharing our furniture and sleeping on our beds.” PB