The best thing about the great outdoors is that it offers something for all inclinations, whether extreme adventuring in the wilderness or meandering down a city block, providing ample opportunity for people to get out and about with their dogs. The good news for pet specialty retailers is that no matter what the activity, some form of outdoor gear or products intended to encourage outdoor play are going to be required.
"More and more pet owners are involving their pets in life outside the home," says Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs. "Everyone is taking their dogs with them on adventures."
Additionally, pet owners are becoming more informed about outdoor solutions, says Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator for EzyDog. This awareness is only going to accelerate as more innovative products hit the outdoor products categories, further juicing demand and sales, he says.
"[Retailers] need to keep up on the latest trends and features and work them into their assortments early, because when customers start asking, you want to have the solution in stock to make the sale," Baxter explains. "The outdoor industry is constantly growing and while general products and accessories are key to a core assortment, outdoor-focused products are becoming essential for keeping up with consumer lifestyle trends."
The clamor for products constructed from quality materials is especially strong, particularly as these have become more available and manufacturers are using more high-tech materials, says C. Sue Pregartner, CEO of Paikka, Inc. Consumer’s sustainability concerns are also factoring in.
"Pet parents are demanding the best quality for their dogs," she says. "They understand when they purchase better-quality products their pet benefits and this benefits the pet parent as well. And the industry is realizing that better-quality products last longer, resulting in less need to replace and less junk ending up in landfills, harming our environment."
Regional & Seasonal Variations
Offering a comprehensive assortment of outdoor products is important, but just as in real estate, location must be considered, says Sarah Johnson, account manager for P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle and You. Not every product is going to be right for every store.
For example, a store in an urban environment will need to inventory different kinds of products compared to one in a rural or recreational area, Johnson continues.
"People like to have products that are activity-specific, so with a constantly increasing number of people including their dogs in excursions and adventures, this preference carries over to having dog products that match activities," she says. "With an increasing number of younger pet owners who are highly active, this category can be expect to grow."
George says retailers should understand the most common breed sizes in a region when selecting products, and to keep in mind that local weather patterns will also impact the assortment. She clarifies that are certain products that will prove valuable and in demand across the country.
"Rain jackets, for example, are applicable in all regions," George says. "We recommend retailers ask what types of outdoor activities the dogs will be doing in their garments and the breeds. Shorter-haired dogs in colder weather would need a heavy lined coat for longer outdoor exposure, whereas a long-haired dog may not need as much insulation."
Stores nearby a lake, river or ocean should add dog life jackets to the assortment, says Baxter. Those in hiking destinations or dry climates should offer hydration solutions, while jackets are a good option for retailers in colder climates.
Pet retailers should think about what humans need when outdoors and then translate this to their canine customers, such as carrying sun protection products, like tee-shirts. Retailers should also look into dual-purpose products, like booties and footwear, that will protect paws for hot sidewalks and icy pavement.
In seasonal climates, the demand for toys and other play items will go up as the weather warms. Retailers should put some imagination into creating an assortment that offers products customers may never have thought of on their own, but suddenly can’t be without.
Alison Cremeans, director of marketing at MiracleCorp, says she’s noticed regional and seasonal variations in color preferences.
"Our neon colors sell best in the fall, when daylight hours are shorter," says Cremeans. "My favorite color trends happen when local sports teams are doing well. Royal blue, baby blue, navy blue, etc., are all more popular than the others in certain regions and we can tie them directly to local sports team colors. Make sure you have your local team colors in stock before their season begins. We’ve also found that tropical shades of blue and turquoise are really gender-neutral."
Cremeans advises if located near water destinations, retailers would benefit from adding quick-drying, easy-to-clean products. If by forested or wooded areas, bright colors for high visibility and thick materials for protection against thorns and branches are good bets.
Retailers should study the data, learn the material types, how their regional climate varies and understand how the certain materials perform in certain weather conditions, says Pregartner, adding that having a good understanding of the sizes and breeds comprising their customer base is critical.
Knowing the recreational activities available in your area is important, but you can’t rely on just your own research. Spending time talking with your customers to learn what they’re doing with their dogs and where they’re going will give you a fuller picture, explains Johnson.
"The more retailers engage, the more they can ask about what customers are looking for and what they enjoy," says Johnson. "This extends past just face-to-face interactions to social media, where there is more of an opportunity to stay in contact, run polls, ask for opinions and make customers feel heard."
Talking with customers about their last outdoor experience with their pet will also help retailers direct them to existing solutions and may help them discover new ones that could add value to their inventories, says Cremeans.
"Try to find opportunities for solutions and products that will enhance their next walk around the block or to the dog park," she says. "It could be as simple as a poop bag carrier and a leash that has an accessory ring to carry it. Or, it could be more complex, like finding properly fitted dog boots made for certain terrains or a first aid kit to help address minor injuries along the way."
Once retailers have a understanding of their customers’ adventures, offer solutions for all levels of activities, from 20-minute walks to day-long excursions and beyond, suggests Baxter. As for showcasing the various items, he likes the idea of displays incorporating things found in nature, like rocks, sticks and so on, to get customers excited about heading outside.
Or, suggests Cremeans, create a campsite and fill this with all the outdoor items from your store a dog might need, such as a portable bed, leashes or dog back packs. You can take the same route by filling up a small pool with things like floating toys, life jackets and other waterproof products.
Category-specific displays can be another sales-inspiring strategy, says Johnson, explaining that this makes comparing the features and benefits of the various products much easier, increasing the likelihood customers will find the best fit for their needs and introduce them to other products they may not have seen before.
At the same time, merchandising some outdoor items together to create a set of items offering a complete solution is also a good strategy that can make shopping easier for customers. For example, George suggests pulling together toys, leashes and harnesses, outdoor water and food bowls, rollup beds, waterproof jackets and/or raincoats, as "[customers] may not have thought about how useful a slicker is until they recognize it merchandised with other outdoor gear."
Use model or shop dogs to show the products in use, suggests Pregartner. She also mentions the value of holding fashion shows and other store events. Still, no matter what strategy retailers choose, they should be calling attention to outdoor products and toys and ensuring their staff is trained so they fully understand the benefits of all items and knowledgeably discuss them with customers.
It’s also helpful if staff knows the local leash laws, hours of operation of local recreational areas and so on, adds Cremeans.
"When your team can educate pet parents, demonstrate functional benefits of products and provide helpful resources, your customers will come back again and again and also tell others to do the same," she says. PB