The holiday season is the single most important time of year for most retailers, but in the pet product marketplace, the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year are especially critical to achieve sales gold. Retailers count on the increased foot traffic of busy shoppers to improve their year-end sales figures.
For 2013, retailers can expect to stock their shelves with products that both reflect the holiday season and pets’ important roles in the lives of their owners. The worst of the recession seems to be in the past, giving consumers more disposable income for fun gifts this holiday season. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet owners spend $5 billion on gifts for their dogs and cats, and the association predicts that spending will increase in 2013.
Pet products generally reflect the latest in human fashion, and this year that means lots of glitz and sparkle, especially in seasonal colors. “Red and green, along with gold and silver, are festive colors and very popular with holiday shoppers, making them a reoccurring seasonal favorite,” says Christine Allison, project and product coordinator at Coastal Pet Products. “Red is the top performer each year, and bells are stable throughout the year but trend upward during the holiday season.”
Coastal’s holiday collection contains plenty of each element. “We have red and green velvet with bells as well as silver and gold dog collars,” says Allison. “Sparkly cat collars are available in the same colors. Rounding out the collection are latex toys, which make for a perfect gift or stocking stuffer.”
Ann Clinger of DazzlePet anticipates seasonal accessories being a big seller. “It appears that pet owners want to include their furry children more and more in the family holiday celebrations, whether Hanukkah and Christmas, and they want their pets to look festive,” she says. “Neck accessories or collars, hair bows, and clothing or costumes are great ways for pet owners to express their individuality with their pets.”
It’s not just accessories that make good gifts. Practical items that target a specific function, like safety or wellness, are also expected to be top sellers. “Most pet owners want to secure their furry family members and this is becoming more affordable as manufacturers harness this wonderful way to keep their beloved pets safe,” Clinger says.
Some of the expected big sellers include electronic tracking devices and ultrasonic toys, which can keep a pet safe and occupied but are not distracting.
With pet obesity a growing concern, manufacturers like West Paw Design are responding by rolling out products that can be used to keep pets fit year-round. “Pet owners are really seeing the value in keeping on top of pets’ weight, and exercise during the winter months is very important,” says Spencer Williams, president of West Paw Design, whose Zisc Glow—a glow-in-the-dark flying disc that can be used well into the darkest days of the year—will show up on retailers’ shelves this season.
Consumers love personalized pet items that reflect their important role in their owners’ lives, and they too are expected to be strong sellers. “From collars with their favorite sports teams to shirts in their favorite colors, pet owners frequently accessorize their pets in ways that speak to their own personal tastes,” says Stephanie Davis, director of sales and marketing for Mirage Pet Products.
Although it seems that the holidays come around earlier and earlier each year, it is important for retailers to get an early start on year-end sales. Manufacturers recommend creating a festive atmosphere in the store to get consumers in the holiday spirit and thinking about everyone on their gift lists, including their furry friends. Retailers can start by displaying some of the new, trendy products in fun, eye-catching ways to ensure that the holidays are at the forefront of customers’ minds.
“Consider adding a clip strip at the register or in-line, or an endcap with stocking stuffers under $10,” suggests Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Quaker Pet Products.
Pet stores should get creative with their merchandising, especially if they are counting on strong year-end sales figures. “Try to make sure that your holiday offerings stand out beyond the standard red/green holiday specific products,” says Matt Wurtzel, director of field sales for Quaker Pet Products. “Adding red and green bows or holiday signage to standard colored items like beds, crates, toys and treats will help a customer identify items as a holiday gift even though they’re not specifically holiday themed.”
Retailers should mix in some existing inventory with the trendier items to freshen the visual appeal of the older merchandise and maximize sales, but use the older items sparingly. “Most holiday business comes in the form of add-on sales from loyal customers,” says Wurtzel. “I see retailers doing many things to make sure they see their customers during the holiday season; however, it’s important to make sure that your holiday product selection is fresh and new.
“Don’t just roll out last year’s leftover rawhide stockings. Look for new fun holiday items that will add a fresh dynamic to your holiday section.”
Retailers can also integrate products that have seasonal colors but aren’t overwhelmingly holiday themed, then return them to their regular display after the rush is over.
Spread the Word
Pet stores should spread the word about their newest holiday offerings—and as with displays, they should start getting the message out early. Across the board, manufacturers agree that a combination of old-fashioned grassroots marketing and social media promotions can bring positive results.
“One way a retailer can maximize their holiday inventory is by offering a daily promotion on Facebook or other forms of social media,” says Michael Schrekenhofer, who does sales and marketing for Leather Brothers, which manufactures fashionable and functional collars, leads and harnesses, including its Signature Leather line. “Also, if your local community has some sort of holiday shopping extravaganza, it would be smart to get in on that and possibly offer a discount on all items in the store or at least with holiday-specific items.”
Some retailers might consider holding an in-store event like pet photos with Santa or a “Yappy Hour”—a popular event for single dog lovers—to promote holiday fare and generate shopper traffic. “Any special event that can draw your customer into the store will help sales. They are a captive audience, they’re in the holiday mood, and this can drive them to spend more than they might ordinarily,” says Clinger.
Schrekenhofer agrees, noting, “Once they are having fun and enjoying the holiday atmosphere this can open a chance to talk to them about some of your holiday specials and show them items they might not know about.”
Going all out to turn the holiday foot traffic into sales can often mean the difference between a good sales year and a great one, and manufacturers recommend retailers do all that they can to make the most of customers’ spending habits.
“Black Friday is just as important to the pet industry as it is to the general gift industry,” says Clinger. “The pet industry sales are a wonderful, supportive part of the American and global economy.
“When the recession hit, the pet industry was one of the only sectors to record growth. This speaks volumes about the love affair people have with their animals—a trend I see continuing forever. The gift-giving mood permeates through the family, extending to our furry children. Pets are very important family members, and even family friends bring things for our dogs to Christmas parties. What better way to honor the places our furry children hold in our hearts?”