The Giving Spree
Taking a look at this year’s gifting trends at both ends of the leash can help pet retailers attract their share of sales during the holiday season.
With more and more owners seeing their pets as members of the family, the pet gift category has taken off. Dogs or cats often get their own stash around the holidays or treats for their birthdays, meaning pet parents are on the hunt for special items to celebrate their furry friends and broadcast their own affection for pets. All retailers have to do is make those sought-after products readily available to capitalize on the market for gifts for pets and the people that love them.
To start, retailers can stay on top of new and enduring trends to create a selection of products that will appeal to pet owners. As with the larger trend in the industry toward natural, nutritious food, health-conscious treats, chews or snacks are getting a boost in the gift category.
“Trending items for our pets this year are lots of all-natural, organic, nutrient-infused products,” says Dannielle Rice, operations manager at Tumbleweed., which manufactures pet-themed mugs and giftware. “The industry is really making sure that the best edible and toy products are offered to our pets to maintain their health for years to come.”
As well as gifts for the animals themselves, products intended for pet lovers have expanded significantly in recent years as a way to highlight the dog or cat lifestyle. These products can range from sleepwear to home decór to tote bags, with breed-specific and customizable items holding special appeal.
“As spending continues on core services and products to keep pets healthy, comfortable, active and well trained, we have also seen big changes in the gifts for pet lovers segment of the pet industry,” says Gila Kurtz, co-owner, founder and vice president of sales at Dog is Good, which makes a wide variety of dog-inspired apparel and gifts for people and pets.
“For many people, having a pet has become a lifestyle and, with growth in social media outlets, they want to share who they are as pet lovers. Product concepts have grown from ‘I love my ‘blank’ to sophisticated art and messaging that celebrates all aspects of the dog-human relationship.”
Clothing is an especially popular segment within this category, with many manufacturers releasing holiday-themed merchandise or promoting new apparel lines in time for the holiday selling season. Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs, says clothing, especially sweaters and pajamas, has continually proven to be the most successful segment for her company. This year, PetRageous’ Rudy’s Reindeer Sweater and reindeer print pajamas, inspired by last year’s successful holiday clothing line, are expected to be very popular.
Julie Jurrjens, design manager at Best Furry Friends, a Hong Kong City Toys brand, says the company’s Christmas tree dress, perfect for holiday family photo ops, is one of its strongest-selling items year after year. She also mentions BFF’s line of recycled content items, which has proven increasingly popular as more consumers look to make environmentally conscious buying choices.
Customizable items that allow pet owners to feature their pet’s name or picture or a personalized message, like Tumbleweed’s line of mugs featuring cat and dog designs, are also a growing area. Some manufacturers, including Poochie-Pets, also offer products with the option to personalize items for specific retail locations or store names, while others offer a wide variety of breed specific options.
“We are really seeing the industry shift its focus from generic pet products and gifts for the masses to custom, personalized gifts for both pets and pet lovers,” Rice says. “The personalized approach invokes a deeper level of warmth and generous thought to the gift-giving experience.”
Although they vary on the specific dates, pet product manufacturers agree that starting early with merchandising is essential as far as the holidays are concerned. By the beginning of the fall, retailers should be prepared with their gift selections for the season, ready to start displaying products in time to catch the eye of ahead-of-the-game shoppers.
“The holidays seem to begin earlier with each passing year, and to make sure retailers get a jump on the season, we recommend displaying holiday gift items in late October,” says Rice, whose company makes pet-themed merchandise like mugs, bowls and picture frames. “This not only gives customers lots of extra options to choose from while they start to think about their gift-giving lists, but also a longer holiday selling period for retailers.”
Gifting is another area where brick and mortar retailers face fierce competition from e-commerce outlets, which seem to start offering holiday merchandise earlier every year. Retailers with finite space for displays need to determine their own schedule surrounding fall holidays that will allow them to maximize sales around each event.
“Retailers should be mindful of the fact that companies like Amazon are going to be working ahead, but you don’t want to kill your Halloween sales by putting your holiday items out before,” says Jurrjens. “But perhaps as quickly as you can after that, go holiday.”
In addition to being ready for holiday customers, retailers also need to get a head start on gift items to secure an adequate supply of products from manufacturers for the season. George emphasizes that specialty gifts for the holidays may no longer be available later on.
“We advise our retailers to bring in holiday-themed items as soon as possible,” says George, whose company makes a variety of whimsical and functional pet products ranging from bowls to apparel. “Pre-order these items, as manufacturers only bring in limited quantities to supply the demand of a short selling season.”
Retailers can also bolster their position as a gift destination by maintaining a selection of giftable items outside the holiday season as well.
“Certainly with the approach of the holidays, gift-giving becomes more significant, and presenting products around a holiday display gives them a fresh look,” says Sally Crowe, operations manager for Poochie-Pets. “We believe gift giving occurs year-round, so it is helpful to always have some options for gift giving to the pet or pet lover within a product mix. We have found that products with a seasonal holiday theme aren’t as popular as simply offering items priced for easy, fun gift-giving.”
When it comes to curating and displaying gift products, creating a dedicated holiday space, such as a themed endcap, can be effective. George recommends committing a very visible part of the store to holiday merchandise.
Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle-Dog Earth Friendly Pet Company, also points out that displays should focus on items that are easy and convenient for consumers to select from, or feature complementary items like treats and treat-dispensing toys together.
“Merchandise nice assortments that make sense for a gifter,” she says. “Minimize items with sizing, as it can detract gifters due to complications around fit. We recommend tables where items can be laid out and displayed beautifully.”
Taking a proactive approach to marketing gift products also helps connect customers with the store. “As new gift items are introduced, there are various ways to involve their customer base as well as support the local community and increase foot traffic,” says Kurtz. “For example, Dog is Good just introduced PJ Lounge Wear. A retailer could promote a sunrise sale or PJ party event to support a charity and encourage customers to come in their own PJs or purchase the new line in their store.”
The overall rule is that presentation is key when it comes to taking advantage of the opportunities for growing gift sales. Retailers need to be able to present a thoughtful selection of items in an eye-catching way so they stand out in the wave of products competing for consumers’ attention around the holidays.