Woman sitting with her dog

If you were to throw a handful of people from the same area in a bowl and pick two at random, there’s a strong chance that you’d be able to identify three or four common interests or activities among them. After all, most people choose to live somewhere that’s reflective of their lifestyle. Surfers will flock to beach towns, while hikers will stick to the Rockies or Adirondack. 

Once you factor in the increased humanization of pets and pet owners’ desire to involve their beloved animals in their activities as much as possible, you end up in a pet retail store to find pet-appropriate supplies. Chances are that the other patrons in the store are shopping for similar—if not the same—products for their pets to bring them along on all the activities that owners enjoy.

“Lifestyle retailing is retailing aimed at people with a shared lifestyle,” says Michael Friedland, president of Pawz Dog Boots. “The goal is catering to each area’s distinctive culture. Selling the right products and the right values will motivate and inspire your customer. Quite simply, connecting products to consumer lifestyles increases sales.”

However, if retailers want to close those sales, they must carry the products that consumers are looking for. Often, in-store selections vary regionally, and it’s up to retailers and their employees to find products that will resonate with customers and ensure they’re taking steps to close deals, as well as capitalize on cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. 

“If a retailer really wants to cater to the needs of their market, they need to understand the potential customers that make us this market,” says Clay Bell, chief commercial officer of The Axis Product Group. “Many larger retailers that have stores across the U.S. spend a great deal of time understanding the socioeconomic and geographical differences. For example, a retail store within the southern part of the U.S. will need to stock different brands and products than a store that is in the Upper Midwest.”


Identifying Your Area’s Lifestyle

It’s not enough to have a basic understanding of your area.

“Good retailers and merchants obsesses over getting to know their customers,” explains Bell. There are a variety of ways to collect this research, whether it’s taking a walk through the neighborhood, checking out human retailers’ selections or even turning to the computer for a quick search of attractions and activities in the area.

“Retailers should do some research and learn about the demographics and interests of their customers,” says Julie Creed, vice president of sales and marketing for Pure & Natural Pet. “Social media, surveys, questioning customers and observing past and current behavior are some suggestions on how to identify the best items for your store.”

In addition to online methods of generating information, retailers should turn to those who know the area the best—themselves and their employees. Sometimes it’s helpful to take an introspective look and analyze the products you use in your daily activities that other consumers might find helpful. Of course, going to straight to the source and asking the customers themselves is a surefire way to receive results. 

“Some of it is guesswork, but mostly we identify items based on observing and listening to our customers,” says Lisa Gangloff, co-owner of Wilmington, Del.-based Riverfront Pets. “We select items based on our ability to solve a problem a pet owner is having. For example, if a neighbor describes difficulty walking her reactive dog in the common spaces, we may suggest that she stop using a retractable leash and consider a front-attachment harness.”

The advantage to knowing your area inside and out is especially useful for tourists who may have forgotten something, or if someone’s visiting a friend and looking for the must-do activities in the area and want to bring their pet. A retailer that’s knowledgeable about the happenings in the local area and stocks products that match the lifestyle will ultimately see the most success.


Catering to Lifestyles

Now that the lifestyle has been identified, retailers should tailor their store to be reflective of what area they’re in. For lack of a better word, the “theme” of the store should closely align with the selection of products that are carried, as stores that blend in with their neighborhood and reflect consumers’ lifestyle will see consumers more likely to walk in the doors.

“Stores that fit in with the overall theme or look of their neighborhood tend to be more inviting to customers,” says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products. “By exploring the area of their store location, retailers can research the look of the other stores around them to see what works and incorporate that into their own store along with personal touches.”

This goes back to identifying the target audience, as you need to appeal to the pet parents who are purchasing a certain product for a certain activity. However, there are many different ways lifestyle decorating can be interrupted, so retailers should proceed with caution.

“Retailers should identify their target audience when decorating their stores,” agrees Creed. “Focus should be on demographics, lifestyle and geographic location. Signage, music, lighting, store layout, design and décor should vary in an effort to provide an overall experience that meets the needs of desired customers.”

However, it’s not enough to simply just decorate a store with shelves and pictures that complement the region. Instead, retailers should stay on-theme to the lifestyle they’re conveying to create and prominently display a variety of assets that reinforce the store’s message and educate customers. 

“Now that you’re carrying products that your customers are going to want, your next job is to educate them on that fact,” explains Friedland. “Images, graphics and displays go a long way to speaking to the lifestyle. After all, customers are more likely to buy something if they can visualize the store and its products contributing to the consumer’s way of life.”


Nuances of Lifestyle

Here’s where lifestyle retailing becomes tricky. Regional retailing isn’t enough—a coastal town in Florida would carry a dramatically different selection of products than a Washington beach town. 

“If your store is in a city catering to the urban lifestyle your customers are going to have to contend with hot pavement, snow-melt chemicals, bacteria and virus,” says Friedland. “So it will be critical to carry products that solve these problems, such as boots and paw sanitizer.”

Of course, there’s the opportunity to lean into festive events and other holidays, which is something all retailers can take part in, no matter where they might be located.

“Many lifestyle products are seasonal and should be rotated as part of overall inventory,” says Creed. “Some products cater to the holiday gift-giving season, while others are centered around weather needs.”

Still, retailers shouldn’t let themselves become chained to a seasonal rotation. Weather, as we’ve learned over the years, is quite unpredictable, and retailers must be prepared to weather any storm (pun intended) that might come up, such as a week of rain in the summer or the rare sunny day in winter.

“We carry most of our products year-round, as you never know when something will be needed,” says Nancy Guinn, co-founder of Dog Krazy, based in Virginia. “Even sweaters are a year-round item, as we have many dogs that are constantly cold or that recently had surgery and need a cover up.” 

However, lifestyle products are one of those things that e-commerce will never be able to touch. It’s such a personal approach to retailing that it’d be way too extensive for online retailers to try and match.

“Lifestyle doesn’t seem to be as important in most e-commerce stores as in physical stores,” notes Benson. “However, some e-commerce stores may have a specialty area where they focus, such as working dogs or ranch animals. In these cases, products that are out of place with the general offerings may not sell.”

However, no matter what lifestyle bracket a customer falls into, the lifestyle all pet owners have in common is the undying love for their pet(s) and the desire to provide them with the best life (and products) possible. Whether you’re an avid hiker or chill surfer, one thing’s for sure: you’d do anything for your pet.

“We cater to all lifestyles, but our key customer is someone that wants only the best for their pets,” says Guinn. “Our ideal customer is a person that treats their pets like family.”  PB