All across the U.S., each state, town and city is faced with a unique geographical placement and accompanying weather patterns, whether it’s oppressive heat, relentless rain or morning frost. The regional diversity is one of the many things that make the U.S. special and, as such, local retail stores have to adapt their product offerings to match the climate and region.
While there are the staples that every retailer should carry, including leashes, collars, toys and dog boots, the specific selections of each are incredibly nuanced, meaning that retailers need to have a regional awareness and a handle on the lifestyles of consumers in their area in order to tailor their products to best suit shoppers’ needs.
"Understanding your customer base, their lifestyle and needs are essential," explain Richard White and Jon Daugherty, vice president of global sales and director of product development, respectively, for Tall Tails. "All of us express our personal lifestyles and family activities onto our pets. Just like all of us, our dogs are a product of their environment and lifestyle."
With all of this to consider, including a retailer’s placement in the community, there’s a variety of factors that need to be considered when creating an effective product portfolio. One of the biggest—if not the biggest—is, of course, location.
"A retailer’s location can greatly affect what products they offer, the same way it impacts the type of clothing worn or housing purchased," says Lindsy Argenti, marketing manager for Coastal Pet. "The key is to understand your customer base—keep an eye on consumable trends to see what the best sellers are, small bite or large breed. This will help tailor the rest of your assortment to the correct size of dogs."
Learning the Area
Most people can tell what geographical region they’re in by simply looking out the window, and there are some general guidelines retailers can follow to determine what types and sizes of animals reside in their area.
Argenti explains that while the rule thumb is that bigger cities have smaller pets, retailers can’t take that information for granted. Though a retail store might reside in a suburban community, a large chunk of the population could live in a nearby nursing home or apartment complex, both of which would necessitate smaller animals.
Though "big dogs are often less active than smaller dogs, so arguably more suited to smaller apartments," explains Michael Friedland, president of Pawz Dog Boots, it comes down to "economics versus practicality."
It doesn’t matter how big of a dog is stuffed into a shoe box-sized apartment, he continues. Nobody is going to walk home dragging a 40 lb. bag of kibble through the streets, just like nobody in the suburbs with a long, snow-covered driveway is going to buy a 5 lb. jug of snow melt.
A good trick to keep in mind, adds Argenti, is to keep an eye on consumable trends, which can give a retailer an idea of how to tailor the sizes of accessories and toys they offer.
An easy (and obvious) way to determine what sort of clientele are in your area—regardless of geographical classification—is to step outside, "look at a map," or "Google it," say Daughtery and White. They explain that the main things to key in on are home type (apartment vs. home owner), income, age, car ownership vs. public transportation and proximity to outdoor activity spaces (beaches, mountains, parks), which is all information that can be accessed through the American Pet Products Association. These facts are readily available online, but non-members may not be able to access all of the statistics.
As an alternative, most major cities and even smaller towns allow public access to dog and cat registration records. Of course, pounding the pavement also works here—simply swing by the dog park and observe, or drop by the local veterinarian’s office to see if they’re willing to provide some basic information on the animals they treat.
It’s wrong to assume that dogs are treated differently based on regions—pets are, almost universally, considered prominent members of the family, even those hard-working, farm dogs. Rather, the focus is on how the pet lives and what their needs are, not their treatment, explains Sue Pregartner, CEO of PAIKKA. She says that, generally, rural pets are outside more due to the open environment, while urban pets lead more of an indoor lifestyle.
Comparing two retailer stores—even those in relatively similar areas—is akin to considering dogs and cats one in the same because they both have four legs. Of course, there’s the aforementioned essentials that all stores should carry, but there’s no one size fits all approach, even for those in regionally-similar areas. A retailer in rural Georgia isn’t going to have the same product portfolio as its counterpart in Wisconsin.
"You definitely want to consider climate when choosing product assortment," explains Argenti. "Warmer climates will want to carry light breathable harnesses, while latigo leather with brass hardware will not freeze in cold climates. If your store is on the coast or a waterfront, waterproof collars, leashes and harnesses as well as floating toys become much more popular."
White and Daugherty explain that things to consider about the pets’ general lifestyles include are the pets primarily indoors or out? Do they reside within the home or in a kennel? Are they laying on the couch most of the day, or laying in a muddy creek?
It can get tough if, let’s say, a retailer in the south is faced with a customer who’s heading north for a ski trip with their pet. As, "winter jackets are not needed in Florida," says Pregartner, they shouldn’t be kept in stock—valuable retail space should be saved for new products or best sellers. Instead, retailers should work with their manufacturers and put a special ordering system in place, which would mean offering the ability to have the particular item shipped to store or even drop-shipped directly to the consumer’s home.
The one piece of apparel that is needed in almost every area in the country is dog boots, which, believe it or not, are tailored to specific climates—there’s no universal shoe that can meet the needs of both a California beach dog and a Colorado mountaineer.
"On the mean streets of the city, there’s no relief, [but] it’s a jungle out there in the suburbs," says Friedland. "In warm climates, you have to defend your dog’s paws against injury on hot pavement and sand, lawn care chemicals, allergies and burns; in colder regions, your concerns include snow balling in the pads, frostbite and snow melt chemicals."
When it comes to which boots to stock—as there is a variety of options—retailers must consider how its residents live.
"Lifestyle and activity are big factors," says Cindy Margeria, CEO of Saltsox. "For example, someone living in a rural area in Colorado who is an avid hiker will look for paw protection specific to that activity as opposed to another who is enjoying a walk with their pet around Central Park."
Urban and suburban retailers in wealthier areas should consider the lucrative nature of services and adjust their offerings accordingly, with a specific focus on grooming and daycare.
"Indoor dogs are likely more groomed than outdoor dogs," explain White and Daugherty. "Many dog breeds are more needy in terms of grooming. Affluent areas are likely to spend more on grooming services. Daycare services/dog walking seem to be more prevalent in urban areas, as dogs don’t have yards that are accessible by doggy doors."
Margeria gives a personal example, explaining the success of what she calls "pack play days" for her dog in Chicago. Though her pup sometimes accompanies Margeria to the Saltsox office and gets attention all day, it’s not the same experience as running with a group of dogs and playing for the day. As a result, the company’s doggy day care has a waiting list.
The biggest thing for retailers to keep in mind when debating services is, "the larger the market size, the bigger the overall sales opportunity for success," says Pregartner. "Competition is greater, but the market size determines top line. Grooming, daycare and boarding are growing services." PB