When Ann Hanson, director of marketing and innovation at Petmate, began doing research for the company’s new travel line, she was stunned to find the same carrier she had bought in 1993 still on store shelves. “It is available exactly, down to the detail, today on a shelf,” she says.
Unfortunately, many pet stores today have not kept with up with evolving trends in the cat travel category, and manufacturers say retailers that have yet to realize this category’s potential are missing out on a strong and profitable market.
Cats still lag behind dogs in terms of travel, but statistics from a Petmate survey of 17,786 cat households, conducted last summer, revealed that as many as 68 percent of cats travel at least once a year to the vet, the groomer, or for boarding or daycare. Some respondents even indicated that they traveled at least once a month with their cats.
This statistic also debunks the misconception that summer is the only time to promote travel product. “If you focus on just summer travel, then you will miss out on sales,” says Dana Williams, marketing manager at Bergan Pet Products. “It isn’t always about the long journey; it is often about the daily or weekly short trips. Almost every pet owner takes their pet to the vet, groomer or to visit a friend at some point.”
And each of these travel situations call for different types of products. A short trip to the vet might require only a soft-sided carrier, whereas a week-long vacation at the beach will require a hard carrier so the cat can be comfortable in the car, as well as travel litter products, travel bowls, water for the trip and more. The sales opportunities for retailers are vast.
When evaluating cat-travel products, Hanson says, retailers need to consider four primary features: safety, comfort, convenience and fun.
“Safety is becoming increasingly more important among pet owners,” says Williams. Pet owners are becoming more aware of the dangers of letting pets freely roam as they travel with pets more. The same is true of consumer awareness about other safety features, such as tethers in carriers to keep pets from escaping.
In fact, safety features have evolved beyond that to take into consideration what would happen if a pet owner got into a car accident while their pet was in the vehicle. Sleepypod went so far as to hire a U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsored crash-test facility to test the crash-worthiness of its entire line of pet carriers, and then compared the products to a generic plastic pet carrier and a generic pet safety harness (results and videos are available at sleepypod.com/safety).
Pet humanization, one of the primary drivers of the increase in pet travel, has also led to increased concern for pet comfort. Pet owners want Fluffy to be happy in her home away from home—in other words, a milk-carton-like cardboard box with air holes is no longer considered good enough.
Comfort was a primary concern for Sleepypod when it developed its namesake carrier. It was designed to be so comfortable that it can also be used as a bed at home, as well as on the road.
Convenience has always been important. Pet owners naturally want products that make traveling with their pets easier, and many manufacturers are developing new travel products that optimize these conveniences. For example, many carriers now come with multiple entrances, to help get cats in and out. Often, if a pet owner uses a carrier with a top entrance, a vet can conduct a basic exam without even removing the cat from the carrier. Carriers may also feature storage space, making it easy for pet owners to bring along everything kitty needs in one neat package. Other examples include collapsible bowls that pack away for a smaller footprint while traveling, and disposable litter boxes that can be used and then tossed while on the road.
Finally, anything that helps make a trip with cats enjoyable is bound to be a winner at retail. This may include fun colors or designs or simply making sure that nothing important is left behind.
Pet store employees should recommend cat owners bring along familiar toys, treats, perhaps a scratcher and even catnip, since it can lead many cats to become more relaxed after its initial effects wear off.
Take It To Go
Because of the wide variety of products that should be taken along when traveling with a cat, retailers should teach staff to check that customers have everything they need whenever they purchase a new carrier or other travel-specific product.
Not only will customers value input that will ultimately allow them to be more prepared and therefore to have a more successful trip, but it offers an opportunity to upsell anything they don’t currently have.
For that same reason, cross merchandising can be a particularly powerful tool in this category. “My recommendation is to create an endcap or an area that offers all of those items in one place,” says Williams. “Provide visual signage that not only educates but recommends specific items the pet owner may not have considered. Truly make it a ‘one stop shop’ for the journey.”
Petmate’s new travel products will feature a travel checklist on the packaging to promote additional point-of-sale opportunities. And the company has partnered with Pet Relocation, an Austin, Texas-based company responsible for moving pets all over the world, to develop a website that will launch at the same time that its new travel products hit shelves. The site is designed to provide pet owners with tips and videos on how to travel with pets. “We know the best way to help people have their own positive experience is to share information,” says Hanson.
Williams agrees. “Traveling with any pet can be stressful,” she says. “Having the tools and resources prior to the journey can help relieve that stress for the pet and the owner. Being able to inform, educate and recommend the appropriate products to pet owners can create more sales and repeat customers in the long run.”