Presents of Mind

With a unique selection of gifts for pets and pet lovers and the right marketing strategy, retailers can lay the groundwork for a successful holiday season of sales.


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During the sometimes stressful and overwhelming holiday season, shoppers are often enticed by the convenience of online shopping and drawn to one-stop-shopping environments in the hopes of crossing as many items off their list as quickly as possible. However, with careful planning and skillful marketing, pet specialty retailers can make their store an indispensable part of their customers’ holiday shopping routine. 

“I know when I’m searching for something, I definitely rely on my favorite retailers to highlight what’s new or unique for gift giving,” says Cheryl Pedersen, founder of Poochie Pets. “Who wants to give a gift that is typical or mass made?”

Retailers should combine classic products and themes with the latest trends, both in popular culture and in terms of what is in demand for the holidays, to create a truly unique assortment customers won’t find anywhere else. Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You), sees potential in the accessories and wearables area for holiday-related items this year.

“Accessorizing your dog is becoming a fad these days and I think pet wearables have a lot of opportunity to really get into the holiday spirit,” she says. “Ugly Christmas sweaters, Santa costumes, reindeer antlers and sleigh bells for pets were something that I saw more of last year.” 

Retailers can also capitalize on the popularity of characters from recent movies or television shows, which manufacturers frequently incorporate into their toy selections. The expressive, distinctive look of emojis has also started to spread in the dog toy and treat category, with Laura Taylor, owner of Woofables, pointing to the success of their emoji bones. 

Of course, traditional holiday flavors and products should also make an appearance. Stocking-suitable items and seasonal treats are proven successes that can appeal to those customers who prefer classic to trendy, or who are looking for gift options with widespread appeal.

“Holiday treats have been part of the Cloud Star product line for years, and our gingerbread treats are always a popular gift,” says Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands. “The traditional gingerbread man shape never goes out of style, and the individually wrapped biscuits make the perfect stocking stuffer.” 

Traditional items like those gingerbread biscuits have strong sales potential as people purchase gifts for pets of friends and family, as well as for their own pets. As people increasingly see both their own pets and their friends’ and families’ pets as true family members, retailers can expect to find more and more customers coming in for stocking stuffers for the pets of those they will be visiting throughout the season. 

“Buying gifts for pets is on the rise,” says Hisamune. “It has actually become a thing to show up at a relative or friend’s home that has a pet and bring them a toy or treat. We don’t run a retail store at P.L.A.Y., but we get people who knock on our office all the time ‘needing’ to pick up a quick gift for a friend or family member’s dog that they are going to visit.”

While this trend is likely most apparent with Christmas gifts, Taylor encourages retailers to take advantage of it for Thanksgiving as well. While it might not typically be a huge gift-giving holiday, retailers can expand on the concept of host and hostess gifts by encouraging customers to bring a treat for their hosts’ pets as well.

“Last year we tested a Thanksgiving basket for pets, and people loved it,” Taylor says. “Anytime the Thanksgiving host is a pet lover, bringing something for the pet is warmly received. This idea was inspired simply because food is such an important part of Thanksgiving, and this is an easy and healthy way to incorporate your pet with the celebration too.”

Additionally, gifts for the person at the other end of the leash are not to be overlooked. As owners spend more time with their pets both at home and on the road and display their love for their dog or cat, the category of gifts for pet lovers has grown significantly. Taylor suggests tapping into this sales opportunity by creating sets or packages with a treat for both a pet and its person.

“Combine a gift card to a favorite coffee place with a package of biscuits decorated or shaped like coffee mugs,” she says. “Include a coffee mug that reinforces their love of animals or dogs. The same could be done with a pack of beer or wine. Give away a movie pack with popcorn and pupcorn.”

Pedersen also recommends brainstorming potential product pairings or sets that provide customers with thoughtful gift options in a simple and convenient format.  

“Partnering products with like themes or functions can also create easy gift choices for shoppers who want to put together a truly themed and thoughtful gift this holiday season,” Pedersen says. “As an example, new pooch family member themes allow for a broad range of gift choices. How about a gift pack of an intro training session along with PoochieBells’ dog doorbells to get the new pooch and family started potty training? For the jet-setter, a mini-you Snuggle Buddy companion blanket and new travel case.”  

Mary Badenhop, owner of Pipsqueak Productions, which produces gifts and greeting cards for pet lovers, has seen a trend in the gift category toward functional home products that allow owners to display their personality and love for their dog or cat. She also predicts growing popularity with useful kitchen items like trivets, cutting boards and towel sets that show off a particular breed. 

Hisamune also sees this pride in having a pet influencing the category as more and more people seek out ways to broadcast their status as a pet owner. 

“I feel that the gift category for pets and pet lovers is definitely growing, especially the pet lovers’ side,” she says. “People are proud of their pets, whether it is a breed, a mutt, a cat, a dog or other, pet lovers define their character through them. For humans, pet-themed products are very popular these days, and it is no longer a sad cliché to be obsessed with your pets.” 

While there are plenty of products on the market to fulfill any pet lover’s gifting desires, retailers need to ensure they put together an attractive display that will draw in shoppers. Especially in a season with lots of potential customers out window shopping as they check off their gift lists, going the extra mile to create an eye-catching front window and a welcoming, organized store environment is essential. 

“What lures me into any store is the effort they put into really theming their window displays and store decorations to give it that holiday feel and cheer,” Hisamune says. “It is something different than their everyday look and makes me want to enter to check out what is new.”

 Storeowners should also maximize their signage highlighting their gift stock, and Gila Kurtz, founder and co-owner of Dog is Good, advises using social media to get customers excited to celebrate their pets. Planning special events and collaborating with local animal organizations or other small businesses are also promising ways to bring in new customers and encourage browsing. For example, Kurtz suggests hosting a holiday boutique night with other local businesses and holding raffles or having a photographer present to entice customers to attend. 

Additionally, special deals or giveaways can encourage consumers to purchase more, boosting retailers’ overall sales.  

“Motivate the customer,” Kurtz says. “Use loss-leader products as giveaways to holiday sales. For example, a few years ago, one of our retailers gave away our high-value tote bags to customers with their in-store purchase of $75 worth of products. They raised their average sale from $43 to over $75 because people wanted the tote bag, which was a high-value product.”

If a retailer doesn’t already have a portion of the store dedicated to products for people, Badenhop recommends creating a dedicated space early on in the holiday season just for gifts for pet lovers.

“This way the customer will know exactly where to go to shop for gifts for pet lovers,” she says. “Show an assortment of gifts and also get them in early so they can special order breed-specific products if necessary.”

Kurtz also suggests that retailers train employees to highlight this category by asking customers how many dog lovers they will be shopping for this season and directing them to the pet lover’s section.

For retailers who take this active approach to building their gift selection and then merchandising and marketing it, the holidays present an unmatched opportunity to offer their customers an enjoyable shopping experience and generate strong sales to end the year.

“We believe this is a key way that retailers can create leverage over an Amazon-type marketplace, where they have an opportunity to showcase unique items in person or through marketing campaigns directly targeting their own frequent shoppers,” Pedersen says. “A level of trust and loyalty allows retailers to showcase their know-how as to what items make great gifts, especially during the upcoming holidays.”

 

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