Having had sporting and herding breeds all my life, I always thought bows, bandanas and other cutesy accessories were, well, a little over the top. Dogs do not care if they have bling or not, I thought, they just want dinner for the most part.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. After years of watching dogs leave various grooming salons, I finally figured out what is really going on with bows, bandannas and all the other fashionable accessories with which we see fit to furnish our dogs.
I didn’t usually put bows on Julie, the Shih Tzu I used to groom, as I wasn’t sure her owner would like it. Although clearly bonded and trusting, neither was particularly demonstrative—a gentle smile from the owner and a leisurely tail wag and open mouth were the extent of their greeting to one another when Julie was picked up. That changed the day I thought Julie would look nice in a red, white and blue bow, as it was around July 4. When I brought the little black and white dog out from the back, ears adorned in satin and tulle, her owners’ mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. “Oh, Julie,” she said, grinning ear to ear, “don’t you just look adorable! What a cutie you are! What a patriotic little girl!” To which Julie responded by wagging her tail, madly jumping up on her owners’ leg and spinning in circles.
Oh, I thought, that’s what accessories can do. The owner thinks the pet looks adorable, communicates that, and the pet—who doesn’t know it’s the accessory causing the furor and could care less—gets the benefit of the positive admiration. Even though animals don’t know that someone has said, “Wow, you look great,” the approval comes across, and most dogs love approval from humans.
I began stocking bandanas and bows for owners to put on at home, as well as collar bows and covers, T-shirts, dresses and costumes—and they flew out the door. Accessories, though often small, can bring in huge profits—sometimes as high or higher than that on toys and treats, which traditionally offer solid returns.
A retailer’s accessory assortment will depend in part upon the location, clientele and the signature style of the store. Naturally, if a store offers grooming services or even a wash-it-yourself area, bows and accessories may be the perfect add-on sale. However, a rural setting that is chockfull of sporting breeds and dogs that spend more time outdoors than in the home may not be ideal for selling jewelry, feather attachments and bows. However, many hunting dog owners will spend a fair amount of money on quality collars, blaze-orange pet wear and the occasional bandanna.
Still, retailers and grooming salons are finding there is high demand for a wide range of these items, and manufacturers have responded eagerly to the demand for pet accessories. These days, it seems the sky is the limit for what is available—feathers, hair extensions, jewelry, nail polish and color additives, as well as all manner of dog clothing.
Dara Samson, owner of Hot Bows, has a strong background in fashion, so when she opened a grooming salon, she wanted the best in fashion accessories for her clients. Realizing that other groomers would like fun, trendy bows as well, she began to sell to groomers. Since most customers are not skilled in attaching bows by means of rubber bands, as groomers do, Hot Bows also offers these accessories with various types of clips for fastening to hair.
Bows are re-usable and come in dozens of themes—popular, seasonal, and holiday or birthday. Groomers can send a dog out with a bow securely fastened with rubber bands—all bows have two bands in case one breaks—and sell the same, or a different one, with an easy fastening clip for later. Samson recommends stocking collar bows, which Hot Bows also sells to accommodate more rural customers or short-coated dogs.
The accessories market, however, has expanded to include more than just bows. Stephanie Davis, sales director at Mirage Pet Products, says fun fashion embellishments are a good bet to stock, too. “Here at Mirage, we have retailers and groomers selling our charms and jewelry with fantastic success,” she says. “While historically considered ‘frou-frou,’ these items are hot sellers and are only getting hotter in most markets as the humanization of pets continues.”
Products that allow pet owners to customize their pets’ look are also gaining traction in the marketplace. Squishy Pet Products, named after owner Shirley Berns’ English Bulldog, has made a business out of customizable collar attachments. The patented bows fasten to the collar with Velcro and are easily cut to fit any size dog collar, making them ideal for any coat type or size of animal. This also allows retailers to offer many styles without having to carry multiple sizes—a space-saving bonus. Berns recommends displaying collar accessories with collars and leashes to give the customer the opportunity to coordinate colors and patterns.
Annie Mels Canine Couture is another company offering customers the opportunity to create their own unique looks for their pets. Deanna Marie, vice president of product development and textile designs for Annie Mels, says customers’ desire for versatility drives that trend. The company’s “wardrobe system”—which also features its patented Placket Pocket Technology harness, known for its comfortable fabric and functional style—allows dog owners to customize their pets’ look. The harness can be worn alone or with a number of reversible skirts that transform the harness into high fashion. Over 30 interchangeable handmade accessories, including bows, butterflies, skirts, shirts, collars and bandanas, snap onto either the harness or the skirt.
As popular as accessories can be with customers, they sell best when thoughtfully displayed to grab customers’ attention.
“These items can be beautifully displayed in glass for an upscale look, but our highest-volume [retailers] keep these impulse buys close to the register in order to make that last additional income from customers waiting to check out,” says Davis.
C.J. McBride, director of retail and visual merchandise at Annie Mels, says that location is key to selling accessories. Generally, the cash wrap area should have a few specialty pieces focused on holidays and seasons, placed where impulse buyers will see them. Using mannequins elsewhere in the store creates the most effective display, and using a live dog to showcase new brands or products each week will encourage interaction and feedback from customers.
“Get staff out from behind the cash register and start interacting with the customers, asking them questions about their pets, what brands, colors, fashions they like, so if you don’t carry it, the information can be shared with store buyers and owners,” says McBride.
Eric Bittman, owner of Warren London—which makes grooming and spa products and accessories—says that items such as the company’s Dog Nail Polish Pens are perfect impulse items that sell well near the register. But, he adds, POS marketing tools can also help. Shelf talkers or signage clearly pointing out the benefits of the item can increase sales dramatically.
“Many areas that have apartments for example, may have smaller dogs and the people who get smaller dogs tend to buy more accessories and dress up their dog,” says Bittman.
These are only a few examples of what’s available in the pet accessory category today, and people are buying it all. Don’t be reluctant to add more than bandanas to your offerings— both you and the pets that gain the positive admiration they deserve will be glad you did.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.