Unwrapped Opportunity
By Lindsey Wojcik
Published: September 1, 2013
Pet-themed giftware offers pet specialty retailers high margins, making it a lucrative category—especially during the holiday season.



Something as simple as a pen, magnet or sticker often does not evoke a lot of emotion. However, when adorned with a cute photo of a dog or cat, that simple object can tug on the heartstrings of many a pet owner and become a symbol of a furry companion at home or a memorial for one that left too soon. While pet-themed pens, stickers, cards and other giftware items may not be top of mind for a pet store owner, they often rank high on an animal lover’s gift wish list and can generate a significant amount of additional revenue for retailers that make room for these products in their stores.   

“Specialty retailers will always draw routine customers to their stores to pickup food, treats and any other staple consumable items,” says David Sarnowski, COO of LittleGifts, which offers breed-specific gifts like drinkware, home décor, key chains and luggage tags, among other items. “The retailers that succeed are the ones who can capitalize on the traffic they already have in their stores with additional sales per customer.”

Pet-themed gifts give retailers the perfect opportunity for those add-on sales, and since these items often do not take up a lot of floor space, it’s a winning category for pet specialty retailers, Sarnowski says.

“When combined with the high margins that giftware offers, it’s a win-win for the retailer,” he explains. “For example, one of our key-chain or luggage-tag displays may only take up one or two square feet of space in a store but can generate thousands of dollars of incremental revenue throughout the course of a year at a margin of 50 percent or more. There are few other items a pet retailer can carry that generate those types of sales and margins per square foot.” 

The variety of pet-themed gifts runs the gamut of practical to just for fun, says Jim Gick, president at Pet Qwerks. “We sell breed-specific stickers just for fun and waste-bag containers with hand-sanitizer dispensers. The former is more for non-pet use, and the latter is exclusively for walking your dog. So, anything that a pet owner would like to receive qualifies as a pet-themed gift for humans.”

With pet-themed items varying from stickers, stationery, pens and magnets to larger home décor items and drinkware, finding the right selection for the pet store may seem daunting. Myunghye Han, creative director of Paper Russells, says the category should make up about 10 percent of a retailer’s merchandise and include four to five vendors.

According to manufacturers, breed-specific items are proven sellers. “Customers love anything with their breed of dog on it,” Sarnowski says. “A Pug owner who sees a gift display with a few different Pug items is likely to make multiple purchases in one visit. So, by offering a few different gift categories—for example, drinkware and key chains—the retailer will have the opportunity for multiple sales.” 

Pet-themed cards create another opportunity for multiple purchases per visit, says Carissa Bretz Nelson, sales and marketing manager at Cardthartic, a card publisher with 125 pet-themed designs. The company also offers pet magnets. “Retailers who carry Cardthartic cards and magnets tell us they do so because it’s important to show their customers that they understand how deeply people cherish their pets, and customers who buy our cards come back for more based on the extraordinary feedback they get from the people they’ve sent the cards to,” Bretz Nelson says.

While gifts and cards can add a steady stream of incremental sales throughout the year, retailers can really maximize the category’s sales potential during the busy holiday season. “When you’re out looking for a gift and you have a person that’s crazy about their dogs, what are you going to look for? You’re going to look for a dog gift,” says Rhonda Savoy, president of Saltbox Signs, a manufacturer of hand-painted pet-themed decorative signs. “Retailers need to make a display of all the gift items that they carry, and they have to be right up front during the holiday season.”

Gick adds that the holiday season is the perfect time to adjust and add more to the gift selection. “The selection of toys and gift items should be increased at the holiday time. Santa always comes,” he says. “Purge out the slow sellers and keep looking for new. Make sure customers find new discoveries on the way in or on the way to the checkout stand.” 

While most gift manufacturers agree that the front of the store is the best location for these items, they understand that up front is prime real estate and many offer space-saving displays. Cardthartic offers retailers a 64-pocket spinner, which includes a half-dozen each of 64 designs. LittleGifts provides space-saving point-of-purchase displays that create increased visibility, according to Sarnowski.

“A gift, like any other ancillary item in a pet store, is an impulse purchase and needs to catch the attention of the customer to draw him or her in,” Sarnowski says. “Placement at the front of the store will help to ensure [that] the bulk of your customers see the products and offers the best chance to capitalize on those incremental sales opportunities.”

Savoy adds that because these items are impulse purchases, it’s important to place them throughout the store as well. Saltbox’s signs can be hung or set on a shelf, but can also be placed on large items like crates. “It’s a spur of the moment thing where somebody might walk by and read something and it touches their heart,” Savoy says. “When it touches their heart, they just might buy it.”