Twenty years ago, the sight of a dog in a sweater was a noteworthy occurrence; it was viewed as indulgent and silly. Today, however, there seems to be boxers in bow ties and dachshunds in dresses on every block. While the category may not be as traditional as food or toys, it is quickly becoming essential for any pet retailer.
"Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique has been the fastest growing division of Rubie’s Costume Company for the past four years. I think this is because pets are becoming more and more a true member of the family," says Erin Breig, director of New York-based Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique. "I also think that pet parents tend to spoil their dogs just like they would a human baby. They are willing to splurge on them, even when they are trying to cut costs for themselves!"
Not only is it a growing category, it’s a profitable one as well, according to industry experts.
"Dog garments have higher ticket prices relative to most other dog related retail items," says Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs. "This results in higher margins than most non-consumable pet products. They can be displayed and stocked in a small amount of space relative to the amount of dollars they can generate."
As the audience for dog apparel has expanded, so has the range of offerings from manufacturers. Today, pet parents can find everything from graphic t-shirts to Halloween costumes made for four-legged models of all sizes.
While dogs in clothes are undeniably adorable, dressing pups up isn’t just about looks. Many clothing pieces actually serve a practical purpose for canines. Dogs may be blessed with more natural protection against the elements, but many breeds can use a little extra help, especially in the rain or snow.
"Modern pet parents want clothing that is built to last and is simple to use. Unlike the earlier days of dog apparel, modern pet parents now know that their dogs do get cold—depending where they live—and want to invest in a quality winter coat," says George.
The Kodiak Coat by Petrageous Designs features an outer layer made of breathable, high-denier nylon and a quilted poly/cotton lining. The effect is a durable coat that keeps dogs warm and dry, even for winter walks. Plus, it’s machine washable, so pet parents don’t have to worry if Fido decides to jump in a few mud puddles.
The Massachusetts-based company has also upgraded the classic dog sweater with higher quality materials. "There are cheaper sweaters for the great photo op and then there are more functionable sweaters that use heavier yarns or turtlenecks for extra warmth," says George. Carle’s Cable Sweater Jacket, for instance, is made with 100 percent acrylic fibers and then lined with 100 percent polyester fleece for added warmth.
Dog apparel trends often mirror those of their owners. So, it’s unsurprising that that the focus on comfort in human clothing—think loungewear and athleisure—has made its way to the pet aisle. "Fewer people are interested in dressing up their pets in fancy outfits, casual looks are more trendy now," says Amy Yu, sales manager for Klippo Pet, Inc. "[Pet parents] are looking for outfits that are snuggly and comfortable for their pets, and our styles fit that demand."
One of the most obvious manifestations of this trend is the popularity of pet pajamas. Klippo Pet offers cozy and cute four-legged sleepwear in a wide assortment of styles, ranging from cotton knit onesies to classic flannel pajamas. All of the outfits feature fun patterns, such as monkeys, dinosaurs and cupcakes. They also conveniently include a small D-ring at the neck so charms or ID tags can be added.
Suit Up for the Season
Another major source of growth in the dog apparel category is holiday wear. Modern pet parents want to celebrate with their fur babies, and many do so by dressing them
up in fun seasonal apparel. Of course, one of the biggest times of year for festive pet attire is Halloween.
"Halloween is a family holiday nowadays. It’s not just for trick or treating and kids. So, when you involve the whole family, it undoubtedly includes the pet," explains Breig.
Rubies Pet Shop Boutique definitely knows costumes. The manufacturer offers the largest selection of licensed products in the industry including many of today’s most recognizable characters and franchises such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Mickey Mouse, Jurassic World, Ghostbusters and more.
Unicorns, sharks and sombreros were all big hits this year, but the most popular were Disney characters, according to Breig. "The Disney princesses, like Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White are so popular—and also really funny because they come with mini dog princess wigs."
Dressing Up Sales
Fashion is always changing—even for pets—so one of the keys to success in this category is offering a great selection of styles and regularly refreshing stock.
"You don’t have to carry the most expensive product to be successful in this category. I think that only caters to one type of consumer," says Kayti Miller, business manager
for Hong Kong City Toys. "That’s why Hong Kong City Toys has been so successful. We have quality, functional and fashionable product that is affordable to all buyers."
Hong Kong City Toys specializes in variety. The manufacturer offers everything from daily wear, such as dresses, sweaters, t-shirts and pajamas, to costumes and accessories.
Another important consideration is location. Since apparel goes out of style quickly, it’s crucial to get the products in front of customers early. Experts advise placing clothing in high-traffic areas towards the front of the store for best results.
"A majority of these items are seasonal, so bringing it in early and making it prominent lets the consumer know you have it. We can’t stress this enough," says George.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to promoting pet apparel. It’s a very visual product, so utilize social media, email blasts and photos near the checkout to reach customers.
"I also always recommend costume contests around Halloween and Christmas," says Breig. "Most of the time, people are not walking into a pet store looking for a pet costume, but if they see it by the register, many won’t be able to resist. And if you do a contest, a small prize like a $20 gift card is a way to get your customers back in the store!" PB