Dog in sweatshirt

Faced with closed gyms and extra free time during the COVID-19 pandemic, people took their exercise routines outside. This effectively drove sales for everything from weights and bicycles to camping gear and stand up paddleboards. Of course, another well-known pandemic trend is that people welcomed new pets into their homes, and many jumped at the chance to bring these new family members outside to be part of their newly active lives. 

“People did two things during the pandemic,” says Barton O’Brien, founder and CEO of Baydog, a company that makes flotation life jackets for dogs, as well as harnesses, dog packs, among other products. “They got dogs and they bought boats.”

To keep up with this new, increasing demand for outdoor gear to accommodate pets, manufacturers acted quickly. Today, these companies believe this trend will continue after the pandemic, so they are making sure retailers have the items active dogs and their humans are seeking. 

“There is a trend of taking your dog everywhere you go, including camping and boating,” says O’Brien. “Those activities became much more popular during the pandemic because they were things you could do to maintain social distance and stay safe.” 

This ability to suddenly have your dog at all times was a silver lining for pet parents that enjoy their spending time with their pets and look to them for companionship. 

“In general, the pandemic saw many pet parents spending more time with their dogs and more money on them,” says Lisa Hisamune, director of sales for P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle and You. 

In addition to its line of toys, P.L.A.Y makes gear for camping and hiking. The company will debut new colors to its line of Scout & About Outdoor Tents, which are designed to offer a safe space for a dog to rest while the family is camping. P.L.A.Y. also has a line of camping inspired toys, named Camp Corbin Collection. 

“Whether it was a break in the day with walks outside, going to eat outdoors, venturing to the park or beach or even driving to local campsites, pet parents could essentially bring their dog along more than ever before,” adds Hisamune. 

Of course, with people spending more time and money of their pets, there’s a greater potential for a sales boost. Baydog, a three-year-old company, saw sales spike in 2020. 

As pet parents looked for options to safely bring pets along with them on outdoor adventures, there was demand for the company’s Monterey Bay Life Jackets and Monterey Bay Offshore Life Jackets for dogs. The Offshore version has added features such as stabilizing pontoons on the back, to help dogs stay afloat if they fall out of a boat.

 

Adapting to the Environment

The pandemic introduced unprecedented changes to the pet industry, but every year, the demand shifts due to the seasons; as seasons change, so does the outdoor gear. 

Saltsox makes winter booties that protect dogs’ paws from salt and snow, and Lavasox summer booties protect paws from hot pavements and debris. The booties are designed for urban dog walks, not rugged hikes, so there is a large target market of people who walk their dogs. During the pandemic, a challenge the company faced was when nonessential businesses closed at the beginning, which delayed the manufacturing of summer booties. 

“I had to tell retailers, ‘We’re shut down, I can’t produce anything,’” says Cindy Magiera, CEO of Saltsox. “The existing inventory flew off the shelves at that time.”

Magiera soon found a contract sewer, that was able to stay open because it was making masks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The company was able to do a small run of summer booties in August, which helped to fill orders for several retailers. Then in September, Saltsox had to start manufacturing winter booties. Retailers were unable to get summer booties wanted to make sure they could get winter booties, so they placed their orders early. “My winter sales picked up,” she says.

Now, the company is manufacturing summer booties to help retailers get ready for the pent up demand.

“I expect sales to be really good for summer booties,” Magiera says. “People want to know their pets are safe from anything on sidewalks.” 

Understanding the importance pet parents place on the safety of a product, it is the key feature of products from Sleepypod, which makes harnesses, car carriers and other products. The company’s new Everyday Collection of leashes, collars and walking harnesses have custom-made, aircraft-grade hardware that has been tensile-tested for safety. There are also patent-pending walking harnesses that gently prevent dogs from backing out of them. 

“Each product reflects Sleepypod’s commitment to safety,” says Michael Leung, co-founder and lead product designer. 

 

In-Store Assistance

When it comes to showcasing this category, Leung recommends merchandising the items in a small grab-and-go display at the front of the store to spark interest and lead shoppers to explore the outdoor gear section elsewhere in the store. He emphasizes that retailers should aim to focus on safe, well-made items. 

“The last thing a dog owner wants is to be left stranded with a broken pet product,” Leung says. “Dog owners are looking for durable, safe products that can stand up to the wear and tear from everyday use to the rough and tumble activities when out on an adventure.”

Of course, brick-and-mortar stores showcase can their strong, durable products in person—effectively allowing customers to get instant gratification when looking for the outdoor item they have in mind. For Baydog, 96 percent of sales are through brick-and-mortar retailers because people want their dogs to try on its life jackets, something they can’t do online. Fit is important, so many pet specialty stores display the life jackets on mannequin dogs, and staff can help shoppers find the right products to keep the dog safe. 

“When you take time to help a customer it will engender loyalty,” O’Brien says. “People are buying from local stores. We see that in the pandemic.”

Overall, when considering the future of this category, O’Brien expects positive sales to continue this year, as people continue to take dogs out for boating or camping as a safer alternative than vacationing by plane and staying at a hotel. “All of those people that bought boats and got dogs are not going to stop what they’re doing,” he adds. 

Naturally, there are always opportunities for repeat purchases within this category. “Last year if you got a puppy that weighed 20 pounds, it grew, so this year you need to buy a life jacket for a 60-pound dog,” says O’Brien. 

“Things are starting to look up, but I don’t think it will be normal anytime soon,” Hisamune says. “People will still continue to travel locally and outdoor pet gear will continue to grow as families will continue to travel with their pets.”  PB