The world has become a friendlier place for companion animals. As more businesses open their doors to furry friends, and more airlines and hotels accept pets as guests, humans no longer have to worry about leaving Max or Bella home alone for extended periods of time. Instead, he or she can join the excursion, whether it is on cross-town errands or on a cross-country flight.
As more pets hit the road—be it by plane, train or car, short or long distance—there is a greater need for pet parents to have a safe, comfortable carrier on hand. They will often head to the local pet store seeking the perfect haven for their traveling companions, only to discover a small selection on the shelf, and what they find may or may not fit their travel needs. The carrier category certainly can be challenging for pet specialty retailers, space often being the main concern, but a well-displayed carrier selection can lead to an increase in carrier sales and happy traveling customers.
“We continue to see growth in the pet carrier category as a result of greater pet travel,” says Ann Hanson, director of marketing and innovation at Petmate, which recently introduced its See & Go Pet Carrier line. “More pet families are seeking innovative solutions to travel issues, and a safe, reliable carrier is the cornerstone for many pets on the go.”
With an increasing number of pets on the go and varying ways for pets to get from point A to point B, pet owners may not understand exactly what they need when they go into a pet store looking for a carrier. Of course, many will consider style, aesthetics and function, but most will not immediately know what specific functions meet their travel needs. “Most pet owners are not knowledgeable enough,” says Naoko Honda, owner of Gramercy Distribution, which manufactures the Fundle pet sling. “The store owner should take the initiative to provide information about which function and which carrier would work best.”
Commonly Asked Questions
While many consumers may not be knowledgeable enough to make the right carrier selection on their own, many will come prepared with questions for retailers. Retailers that can properly answer common questions will help customers make the right choice and travel with ease. “Most customers will ask about safety,” says Honda. “Always show compassion and how much you care for the customers’ pets safety, and people will choose a product even if it means spending more money.”
In addition to questions about the safety features, experts agree that the most common question a consumer will ask about a carrier will be: Is it airline approved? Retailers must be careful answering this question, advises Penny Johnson, executive vice president of Sturdi Products, which makes the SturdiBag, offered in five sizes. “Check the airline specifications before you answers yes,” she says. “If the carrier fits the airline specs, you can tell your customer that the carrier complies with the airline specifications.”
Michael Leung, co-founder of Sleepypod, which makes a variety of carriers and travel products, adds, “Various airline seat sizes can be a problem for pet travel. Pets may not be used to using carriers and might put up a fuss. Sleepypod Air is adaptable to fit under most airline seats because of its patented folding feature.”
Pet owners may also look for carriers with specific features that make the carrier not only comfortable for their pet, but comfortable for them as well. Hanson says easy-carry and expandable space options, and convenience, features like accessible storage and thoughtful carrier sizing, are additional elements pet owners may focus on.
“Senior buyers are looking for wheels, because even carrying a six-pound dog can get heavy if you’re carrying for a long period of time,” says David Fine, co-owner of Bark N Bag, which makes carriers, totes and messenger bags for on-the-go pets. “Hence, we came out with The Jetway, our wheeled bag.”
Among the most important questions that customers will need answered from a retailer are: Will my dog fit this carrier, and how many pounds does this carrier hold? The correct fit is essential, and it’s often a common misconception consumers have, Fine notes. “Consumers think the dog is supposed to stand in the bag,” he says. “That is not the case. [The dog’s] head should be tilted down; the dog goes in, turns around and lies down. You never want the dog standing, because it could get hurt.
“The fit should be by the size of the dog, not the weight of the dog,” says Fine. “If the consumer does not bring the dog into the store, they should at least bring in the dog’s measurements, from the nape to the tail and the nape to the floor.”
While many retailers will be able to rise to the challenge of properly educating consumers about the functions they need to serve their traveling purposes, many may still be stumped on how to effectively merchandise bulky carriers. “Marketing and merchandising remain a challenge, as shelving spaces remains an issue to display carriers,” says Brad Forgette, executive vice president of Marchioro USA, which makes a line of pet carriers that offer elegant styles and affordable pricing, including the Cayman, Aran and Skipper carriers.
“[Carriers are] big products, so it takes up a lot of dollars per square foot, and you really have to merchandise it smart in order to get the best bang for your buck,” Fine adds. “It’s best if retailers have a travel section in the store. That way, they can cover traveling by car, by train and by plane all in the same section.”
If a retailer can’t display a full line of carriers, Hanson suggests setting up one example of every model on the floor. “Retailers call this the ‘one to show’ and ‘one to go’ merchandising strategy,” she says.
Forgette also suggests nesting and displaying the color pallets of each line to overcome space issues. Though space can be challenging, Johnson says retailers must decide what products appeal to the walk-in customer base. Do customers in your area tend to travel by air or car more? A retailer can curate a selection on that basis, she says.
Having a basic carrier in small, medium and large sizes, then adding seasonal designs can also be a successful merchandising strategy, says Fine. “A carrier is a destination purchase, so customers are coming in the store only looking for one,” he says. “Have a core basic small, medium and large carrier that you can stock all the time, and then layer a fashion direction or a different look and feel on top of that so you can refresh your selection.”