Very Gifted

Smart manufacturers and retailers are meeting the fervent demand for gifts for pets and pet lovers alike.


Everyone loves getting presents. That is true for humans and pets. During the holidays, that means opportunity for retailers, in the form of two different groups of shoppers. One consumer is the pet owner who loves their dog or cat so much that they buy toys, treats, accessories and maybe a Christmas stocking for their four-legged loved one. The other consumer is not shopping for their own pet and might not even have an animal in the home. These are people who buy T-shirts or coffee mugs emblazoned with a particular dog breed, or a home décor item with a whimsical saying, because that buyer has a friend, family member or coworker with a pet.

With this in mind, many retailers are expanding their gift assortments, and manufacturers are creating products because they know gifts for pets and pet lovers fill a growing need.

“Showering our human and furry loved ones with gifts simply makes us feel good,” says Beth Weimerskirch, co-owner of Harper & Hound. She notes that several trends are contributing to the growth of the category. The first is a demographic trend, as more empty-nest households consist of baby boomers. This is a large group with a great life expectancy, one or two incomes and no children in the home, so these pet parents spend money on their beloved animals.

The other trend, Weimerskirch says, is the well-publicized humanization of pets. “We have a deep desire to connect with them,” she says. “Gifting to our pets, pet lovers, or to pet lovers and their pets seems like a natural progression of this trend.”

Flower Mound, Texas-based Harper & Hound offers matching jewelry for dogs and humans. Weimerskirch and co-owner Kelly Powers recently premiered two designs of matching necklace and dog charms. One is an infinity symbol that says “Rescued,” and the other is the “Power To The Paws” design.

Proud Pet Owners
Gila Kurtz, founder, co-owner and vice president of sales for Dog Is Good in Los Alamitos, Calif., agrees that giving pet-related gifts to people is part of an ongoing trend. Over the years, pets have made their way from backyards into people’s homes and onto people’s beds, Kurtz says. “The next stage is where the relationship the pet owner has with their pet becomes an extension of who they are. They have a desire to express this to the outside world.”

People express this with items such as Dog is Good’s magnets, T-shirts and other products that celebrate dogs. The company’s newest products include the Never Ever line, which are T-shirts and other items with a dog, plus text such as, “Never walk alone,” “Never boat alone,” and others. There are also new 16-ounce stainless-steel dog water bottles.

Personalized and breed-specific gifts are also popular now, says Sandi Kaneko, president of Walnut, Calif.-based 26 Bars & a Band. The company recently launched a line of custom retractable leashes that feature a breed silhouette and can be personalized with the dog’s name. “We’ve already seen people purchase these for each one of their dogs, since this is not an item that can be shared, and we’ve seen purchases for gifts for friends,” says Kaneko.

Treats are also good gifts for friends with pets, says Debbie Bohlken, president and owner of Claudia’s Canine Cuisine in Maumelle, Ark. “Those who once thought that giving a pet gift was silly or inappropriate now understand that it is very acceptable and appreciated by the pet owner,” says Bohlken. She says people give the treats as a hostess, business or personal gift. The company’s new items include My Favorite Munchies boxes of treats, and in the Boutique line of hand-decorated cookies there are Canine Crunchy Munchie, Pawpermints, Peanut Butter Gems Curly Tail PupCups and Shortbread Delicacy. For the holidays, the company offers Santa Suckers—peanut butter on a rawhide stick. There is also a line of holiday-themed individual cookies and packaged items.

Holiday packaging can help dog treat sales during fourth quarter, but afterwards, the unsold treats might be relegated to the sale bin. Milwaukee-based Exclusively Pet tries to help retailers avoid this by offering the Perfect Pooch Gift Pack, a four-pack of Peanut Butter Flavor Wafer Cookies, Beef & Liver Flavor Best Buddy Bits, Vanilla Flavor Sandwich Cremes and Cheese Flavor Best Buddy Bones. After the holidays, the retailer can open the gift pack and sell the dog cookies in the individual packs.

“It kind of helps the supply chain if there is residual product,” explains Scott P. Corsi, managing director for Exclusively Pet. “The treat category is probably the hottest, in terms of gifting. It’s relatively inexpensive, and every retailer has a treat area.”

While pet-related gift items may be a good fit in a variety of outlets, pet stores that get into the category are likely to find that it isn’t effortless. “The gift market for the pet world is not an easy one, as shoppers that frequent their pet stores typically are looking for functional items, not gifts,” says Cheryl Pedersen, founder of Poochie-Pets, LLC in Simsbury, Conn. “Gift stores’ shoppers aren’t all pet owners, so there is hesitation to bring in a narrow line. Hence, both worlds can be resistant to enter the gift market.”

Still, Pedersen is optimistic that third and fourth quarter will be prime gift-selling season, if retailers offer the right variety, price points and displays. Poochie-Pets’ Live in Dog Years Line, which consists of coasters, microfiber cleaning cloths, luggage tags and other home products, feature messages such as “Rest Easy,” “Sniff Often” and “Dig Deeper.” The items are available in merchandise-ready countertop buckets or assortment gift packs. 

Other manufacturers agree the right display can help drive sales in the category. Pipsqueak Productions, which makes pet greetings and gifts, offers retailers a six-foot wooden spinner floor display. Mary Badenhop, owner of the Honesdale, Pa.-based company, says the piece is a slotted cube that takes up relatively little space. “It allows the customers to see a variety of products on one unit, pick and choose and even special order in their breed,” she says. “If I did not have this unit, I would not get the reorders.”

Badenhop, who has an artist studio in New York City, says she often visits with retailers in the city to see what moves and why. Kitchen items are especially popular now, she says. “Ninety percent of my customers are women, and they love to show off their pet, especially in the kitchen and with gifts to their pet-loving friends or family,” explains Badenhop. Pipsqueak Products offers cutting boards, towels, trivets, mugs and other items, and will soon add 25 new graphics to the bestselling items. The company will also add decorative pillows and gift boxes with goodies inside.

Merchandising is important in selling gift items, and manufacturers can help, says Wayne Kessler, co-owner of Pet Gifts USA in Stanton, N.J. “Retailers can benefit from manufacturers who also have retail experience,” he says. “Manufacturers who understand merchandising, profitability and inventory turns can be exceptionally valuable to storeowners or mobile vendors.”

Kessler, who co-owns Pet Gifts USA with his wife Elicia, adds that the segment is becoming more competitive. “Places that you rarely identified with pet-related gifts, such as rest areas, car washes, c-stores, pharmacies and garden supply stores, now have pet sections,” he says. “Even hardcore pet supply stores are carrying pet-related gifts, not only to differentiate themselves from their large, box-store competitors, but because of the seductive margins.”

While the margins appeal to storeowners, inexpensive impulse items appeal to consumers. Kessler notes that keychains, magnets and coffee mugs are popular, while decorative items are less desirable. “The early days of buyers collecting resin statues are long gone,” says Kessler. Today, they might collect Pet Gifts USA humor keychains, which are modeled after the company’s humor paw magnet designs, or the 15-ounce My Faithful Friends coffee mugs. The 58 pedigree mugs feature the artwork of Tamara Burnett. The company also offers Howliday Ornaments for Christmas.

Bohlken says retailers can boost sales through store events, such as holiday card photo opportunities, or pet events tied in with local shelters. She also recommends store parties that serve wine and cheese for pet owners and cookie tastings for dogs.

In fact, says Corsi, smaller retailers have an advantage. “It comes down to personal attention—talking to consumers coming into the store,” he says. “That’s why a consumer comes in: to learn about these new products. Creativity and engagement can help these stores survive.”

Consumers’ willingness to spend on their pets can also help the stores. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), nearly 80 percent of dog owners buy their dogs a gift, and the average amount per gift is $10.50. In addition, half of all dog owners buy a gift for their dogs at Christmas. Two-thirds of cat owners buy their cats a gift, and one-third buy a gift for Christmas, reports the association.

“Retailers need to ride the wave of the humanization of pets by carrying gifts for both humans and for pets,” says Weimerskirch. “Carry merchandise that speaks to the heart. Your customers take great pleasure in giving gifts that have special meaning to their loved ones, both human and furry.”

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