Identifying a Profit Center
By Mark Kalaygian
Pet identification products have come a long way from the simple dog tags of yesteryear to include a variety of fashionable and high-tech options. The result is a category that often proves quite profitable for independent pet stores.

Selling pet identification products used to be no fun at all. Years ago, retailers would have shoppers fill out a form with all of the pertinent information that was to be included on a tag, and then the form would have to be mailed to a manufacturer, which would produce the tag and send it to the customer. There was no immediate gratification or quality control for pet owners.

“In years past, the majority of tags had to be ordered and received through the mail, requiring pet owners to wait weeks to receive the tag while hoping it was engraved correctly,” says Gregg Newman, managing partner at VIP Engravers. “The introduction of small in-store engraving equipment has allowed customers to receive a personalized ID tag immediately and ensure the information is correct.”

Newman says that the technology has come so far that not only can tag engraving be offered on premises at a pet shop, it can be handled by just about anyone working in the store. “New technology in engraving has simplified the engraving process to a point that an entry-level employee can engrave an ID Tag,” he says. “In the past, engraving needed to be done by an experienced professional.”

In fact, some systems, such as Numberall Stamp & Tool Co.’s tag press, make it possible to sell personalized ID tags beyond the four walls of the pet store. “It weighs about 40 pounds, so you can easily move it,” says sales manager Rick Pellerin. “If you are doing shows or flea markets, you can easily bring this along; it doesn’t require power, it’s all manual.”

Rachelle Griffin, marketing manager for iMARC Engraving Systems, agrees that ID tag equipment has “evolved tremendously over the years” and points out that now consumers can walk out of their neighborhood pet shop with an ID tag that is not only personalized with the pet’s name and pet owners’ contact information, but also reflects their personal interests and sense of style.

“Today, pet owners not only tag their pets for identification purposes, but it’s become a fashion trend as well,” she says. “With the tremendous selection of tag colors, shapes and designs to choose from, a dog can now sport an ID tag with paw prints, or favorite sport, and a cat can wear an orange or pink tag in the shape of a flower or other fun shape that reflects their, or their owner’s personality or interests.”

While it has clearly revolutionized the way that ID tags can be sold in pet stores, the impact that technology has had on the pet identification category goes much further. In fact, manufacturers are now incorporating high-tech features into the ID products themselves. Over the past few years, pet retailers have witnessed the emergence of a new class of identification products that utilize GPS technology, mobile devices and web-based interfaces to make locating a missing pet easier than ever. Take PetHub, for example. The company’s ID tags display a QR code that, when scanned with a smart phone, connects the user to the company’s 24/7 found-pet call center and emails the phone’s GPS location to the missing pet’s owner.

At the center of the PetHub concept is an online profile that owners create for their pets when they purchase one of the company’s tags. This profile can be updated by the owner. According to Lorien Clemens, PetHub’s marketing and outreach manager, the functionality of the online profiles not only give pet owners the ability to update their contact information anytime and anywhere, including from a mobile device, they serve as an important communication portal.

“People can use the online profile to communicate with trusted pet care providers like veterinarians, groomers and pet sitters,” she says. “For example, if you are out of town, a pet sitter can go on the profile and see your care and feeding instructions, and then they can give you updates like, ‘Just took Penny for a walk,’ and upload pictures.”

Buying & Selling
With the variety of ID tag options available to pet specialty retailers today, selecting the right vendor for your particular situation may not be a no-brainer. The best approach would probably be carrying a selection of both traditional engraved or stamped tags, as well as some of the new high-tech options.

When it comes to selecting one of the many ID tag systems out there, Newman suggests some questions that every retailer should ask vendors:

• What is the equipment warranty?

• How thick are the tags?

• What is the cost to upgrade to additional shapes or when a new tag is introduced?

• Are tag holders necessary (how many and how much do they cost)?

• What is the minimum reorder quantity and cost?

According to Griffin, evaluating an ID tag system should come down to a few important factors such as size, versatility, speed and accuracy. “Retailers should look for a tag-engraving machine that is small, easy to use, and will personalize and permanently mark a pet tag quickly, since ID tags are generally a point of sale item,” she says. “The machine should be able to engrave a variety of tag styles, colors, shapes, sizes, and offer different font styles and artwork so a customer can customize their tag. In addition, it’s important to be able to preview the tag before it’s engraved, so the customer can create it right the first time.”

Once pet retailers have selected the right identification products for their stores, it’s time to market them to customers; and the first step is letting shoppers know that these products are available. “The number-one thing a store should do is let customers know it can provide personalized ID tags immediately while they shop,” says Newman.

Griffin agrees, noting that, just like in real estate, it’s all about location. “Engraving tags can be a tremendous source of profit for every retailer, and the location of the engraving machine and selection of tags is key,” she says. “Ensure the engraver and tags are displayed next to or near the register so a customer is sure to see them when checking out.”

Griffin goes on to note, “One of the quickest, easiest ways to maximize return on investment is with the ‘would you like fries with that?’ approach. [Ask your customers,] ‘Would you like to ensure your pets safety with a custom ID tag for your pet today?’”

In addition to highlighting ID tags at the checkout, either through displays or suggestive selling, Pellerin suggests that retailers cross-merchandise these products with certain specialty categories that make sense, such as gear for hunting dogs, or travel products. He also mentions that retailers in areas with a lot of seasonal tourism should make the most of their location by encouraging pet owners to update their pet identification tags. “For example, here in Maine, it is very common for people to come up for the summer,” he says. “If you have a New York address on the ID tag, it may be difficult for someone to get in touch with you.”