Capturing the Holiday Impulse

This year’s holiday assortments will feature bold colors, fun and functional gifts, and even something to bring to parties.


The holidays are a time of love, family and gifts, and for pet specialty retailers, the season means impulse purchases. People who love their pets can easily be encouraged to buy toys, clothing and accessories for their loved ones during this time of year, and they also buy fun items for themselves and for other pet lovers. The key for retailers is to show consumers a variety of delightful items, and manufacturers are debuting a number of products that fit the bill perfectly. Vendors are also offering retailers tips on how to encourage not just more impulse sales during this important season, but also more traffic into the store.

Planet Dog CEO Colleen McCracken says the Portland, Maine-based company increased the number of its new products for this year’s holiday season. “Holiday is one of the busiest times for retail,” she says. “Every dog has toys already, but holiday is the opportunity for gift giving.”

Planet Dog extended its molded toy line with additional colors. The company offers 4.25-inch and six-inch bulbs that look like the old-fashioned, large Christmas lights. The toys are now available in orange or blue, in addition to the original red or green. Also, the green bulb is a brighter color now, says McCracken. Planet Dog also has new green and white toys shaped like mints, in addition to its classic red and white mints. Also for the holidays are balls with words such as “merry,” “peace,” “snowball,” and “coal.” There is also a ball that reads “Shalom” for Hanukkah. The balls range from 2.5 inches to four inches.

“They are very simple, very beautiful in color,” McCracken says. “They have to be attractive.”

The visual appeal of the toys, combined with the right display, can encourage impulse buys. “I don’t think people are buying holiday molded toys because their dogs don’t have toys,” McCracken says. “They are buying in addition to the toys they have.”

More people are purchasing holiday gifts not only for their own dogs, but for their friends’ dogs too, says Jennifer Cao, co-founder and designer of ZippyPaws. “We have noticed a steady trend of consumers purchasing holiday stockings for their dogs and filling them with treats, toys, and other goodies,” she says. “ZippyPaws makes stockings and fun toys like the Squeakie Buddies that are the perfect size as stocking stuffers.”

Another trend, Cao says, is the move toward holiday-specific characters. “Instead of adding holiday accessories to our in-line items, ZippyPaws designs characters tailored to each holiday, such as Santa, reindeer, gingerbread men, penguins, etc.”

This year, ZippyPaws is adding six toys to its holiday toy offerings, including four Colossal Buddies and two Christmas-themed tough plush toys with Z-Stitch Technology, which is also featured on the company’s Warriorz and the Z-Stitch Snakes toys. According to Cao, this unique stitching technique is stronger because it covers more surface area than traditional stitching techniques. It is also more attractive.

She points out that the holiday season is crucial to the retailers to finish the year strong, so they should start setting up the holiday displays soon. “Offering holiday items early allows customers to get a jumpstart on their gift shopping,” says Cao.

A longer holiday shopping season can mean more incremental purchases, says Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs. “We would advise retailers to take advantage of impulse buying by bringing the product in early and merchandising it at the immediate front-end of the buying season,” she explains. “Merchandise the product front and forward, so consumers see it. Most of these items are seasonal, so bringing it in early and making it prominent lets the consumer know you have it.”

It helps to offer multiple options, George says, as pet owners who are committed to purchasing holiday-themed items are looking for a few designs to choose from.

New this season from Burlington, Mass.-based PetRageous Designs is Crispin’s Penguin Sweater, a red and white striped sweater that is accented with a gray shawl collar and trim. It features a European cut at the belly and a holiday penguin design knitted onto the back of the sweater. It is available in sizes XS to XL.

Also new is Santa’s Little Helper PJs, now in five styles. This 100-percent polyester pajama is red and white striped, like a candy cane, and trimmed with green. It has a faux flap at the rear end to resemble classic human onesie PJs. On the flap, it reads “Santa’s Helper” and has two oversized red buttons.

Retailers can still get some sales from these items even after the holidays. “Winter-themed patterns like red and white stripes, snowflakes, snowmen and penguins extend the usage window for these seasonal items while still maintaining a holiday-specific feel,” George says.

Pajamas and other apparel make great gifts, says Julie Jurrjens, design manager for Best Furry Friends, a Hong Kong City Toys brand. “Our best sellers are holiday pajamas, seasonal tees and dresses, and winter outerwear,” she says.

For the holidays, richer colors such as deeper reds and greens, with an emphasis on burgundy, will be trending this season. “Sophisticated metallics, like pale gold and pewter, will be strong. Nordic patterns for knits will be key. Swing silhouettes and bomber jackets will offer an updated feel to outerwear. And of course, you cannot go wrong with a classic Santa suit or hat,” Jurrjens says.

Color is important in accessories too. “Neon colors are still very popular, as well as suede, velvet, fringe and rich jewel tone colors,” says Sara Schrekenhofer, advertising manager/graphic designer for Conway, Ark.-based Leather Brothers, Inc. The company offers its Signature Leather suede collars and matching leads in seven colors, and they are adorned with bone, paw or heart ornaments.

New from Leather Brothers is Mossy Oak Blaze Orange Camo collars, leads and harnesses. Also, the company has several new styles in its Majestic line, which features designer fabrics in bold neons, plume and camo patterns. The collars are adorned with crystals. There are also reflective rope leads with brass snaps that have sewn 100-percent genuine Latigo leather joints, available in four-foot and six-foot lengths in five colors.

To draw more customers into the store during the holiday season, Schrekenhofer suggests using social media, such as offering a daily or weekly promotion via Facebook or inviting customers in to have photos taken with Santa. “When customers are having fun and enjoying the holiday atmosphere, this can open a door to talk with them about some of your holiday specials and show them items they might not know about,” she says.

Retailers should offer gifts for pet lovers too, says Gila Kurtz, founder, co-owner and vice president of sales for Dog Is Good in Los Alamitos, Calif. “If they leave out the other end of the leash, they are leaving money on the table, particularly in the fourth quarter,” she says. “People want to showcase who they are as a dog lover.”

The company offers mugs that have “Happy Holidogs” or “Merry Kiss Me” printed on them with silhouettes of dogs or a cartoon dog face. Dog Is Good also has extended its line of items that are not holiday themed but are designed to be fun gifts for humans—for example, the Dog Mom and Cat Mom journals, decorative wood blocks that feature sayings such as “A dog can change the way you see the world,” sleepwear with dog patterns, and tote bags.

Kurtz says Dog Is Good also helps retailers develop a plan to drive sales during the holiday season. “We have creative ways to leverage our sales and marketing to increase foot traffic,” she says. “We’ll be putting out for the 12 weeks leading into Christmas what retailers should be working on and how they can maximize their efforts.”

Consumers also buy gifts for holiday-related parties, and instead of bringing the usual side dish or dessert, people can bring treats for the host’s dogs. Preppy Puppy Bakery, which is based in West Wareham, Mass., offers a cookie platter with about 50 bone-shaped treats for dogs. The platter is wrapped in holiday cellophane and a bow. Owner Amy Singelais says the gift is inspired by the festive cookie platters that people buy in grocery stores for holiday celebrations. “It looks so gifty,” she says. “I’ve always loved the look.” Preppy Puppy also offers mini cupcakes.

Singelais says retailers should offer a selection of gifts at different price points during the holiday shopping season. “Retailers have a price in their head, and they say, ‘My customer would only spend X amount of money,’” she says. “I think they are missing sales. It is surprising what your customers will spend.”

To make it easy for retailers to spread the holiday cheer, Maumelle, Ark.-based Claudia’s Canine Bakery added a line of peggable holiday cookies for inline display or endcap. Each cookie is individually packaged in a see-through bag with a hang card. Jeffrey Levi, vice president of sales and marketing, says the cookies can work as stocking stuffers, hostess gifts or to take to a doggie cookie swap.

“Consumers are looking for shapes that grab the attention, wholesomeness and natural ingredients,” Levi says. “They also want cookies that are made in the USA with USA-sourced ingredients. Having a variety of shapes and sizes is important especially for during the holiday season. Just as one shoe does not fit all, neither does one size treat.”


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