All Dressed Up
On the surface, dog apparel might seem like an extraneous category to stock. However, there is a tremendous range of opportunity in this category with options that appeal to every unique demographic.
Success in this category relies on identifying your specific customer’s preferences and selecting items that appeal to that base. To start exploring dog apparel, there are three main trends that perform well in different markets. They are, functional, frivolous and festive.
Function has always been important in the dog apparel category because pet owners are concerned about protecting their pet, whether it’s from snow and ice, chilly temperature, rain, or even heat.
“A lot depends on the channel of business, but generally speaking one of the best categories is always coats because it’s functional, it really serves a purpose, and it’s probably the first piece of apparel that a pet owner might purchase for their pet,” Denise Tedaldi, vice president of product development at PetEdge, said.
Because this is where many pet owners begin when purchasing apparel for their dogs, this is a good segment for retailers to introduce to their customers. Plus, even owners who may not want to “dress” their pet, do want to keep them protected from the elements, such as rain, snow and cold weather. This makes them more likely to buy that, than say a dress.
The functionality of dog apparel has come a long way, and is drawing from research and development of performance fabrics in human apparel.
“We use a lot of fabrics like rip stop, a water repellent, soil repellent, and we’ve had some terrific success with products that have been treated with permethrin (Insect Shield),” Tedaldi said.
Another practical function trending among dog owners is reflection.
Many coats or wind breakers are coming equipped with reflective lining or side panels. For safety, dog owners who walk in the early morning or late in the evening seek out apparel options with this function.
Boots are another category that performs well for retailers.
Consumers search for boot options to help their pets deal with snow and ice, and the damaging salt applied to roads and sidewalks, as well as excessive heat.
Ethical Products Inc. manufactures nearly a dozen different boot and sock options to protect dogs’ feet. Because these products are often at a lower price point than a coat or jacket, retailers can introduce their customers to the idea of functional apparel through this type of product.
It is also a product that does well in areas where consumers take their dog with them when they bike, hike or run.
For example, Ruffwear offers Grip Tex, which is an all-terrain paw gear, but they also offer ones specifically designed for winter traction and insulation, such as their Polar Trex dog boots.
Petrageous Designs produces a line of dog pajamas in a variety of prints, from zebra to dog bone, and a variety of fabrics, from 100 percent cotton to thermal.
While pajamas might be a splurge for most dog owners, it can also be very functional.
Petrageous points out that the nighttime apparel prevents fur and dander from accumulating in the bed, which could appeal to dog owners who allow their pets to sleep in bed with them.
As retailers know, how a product is displayed often contributes to the success, or failure, of a line. To help retailers with that, Petrageous offers a series of photographs on their website with suggestions for appealing displays, including how to display their pajamas.
Additionally, Petrageous offers a variety of t-shirts, dresses, hoodies and more.
Another category that performs well with consumers in many markets is the use of characters, as well as kid, or zoo-style prints, like penguins, giraffes and fish.
“Trends out of the kids market translate well,” Tedaldi said. “There is a segment of the market that really responds to that.”
Whether it’s a Superman cape for Halloween, or a Santa suit for Christmas, costumes tend to be popular around the holidays.
Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique, a part of Rubie’s Costumes, a worldwide costume shop, stocks hundreds of pet-related SKUs. Products range from a simple Jingle Cat Collar to elaborate Halloween costumes.
“In 2012, Americans spent over $350 million on pet Halloween costumes,” Erin Brieg, of Rubie’s, said. “Rubie’s has been selling pet costumes for many decades, within out regular Halloween line, but with the unquestionable growth of the pet industry as a whole, it just made sense for Rubie’s to refresh and expand our line of pet costumes, and add mix and match accessories.
“Our pets are truely our family members, and Rubie’s is thrilled to provide them with even more adorable costume options.”
Retailers should harness this category by expanding into areas beyond Halloween, experts say.
“Holidays are a wonderful time for a pet retailer to be in the apparel business,” Tedaldi said. “They may not do it all year, but I would say that that’s a great time to be in that business.”
While dresses, holiday sweaters and red sequined items are popular during the holiday season, so are smaller items.
“Accessories that are very popular are scrunchies, ruffles around the neck and around the forepaws, reindeer ears,” she said. “This year they’re going to light up for us, Santa hats, bow ties, tartan, or black velvet.”
Whether you’re interested in the functional, frivolous or festive, Tedaldi reminds retailers that the key to success in this category is knowing your customer.
“What I’m seeing is that all retailers who are in the pet category, whether they’re pet specialty or they’re a retailer that has pet as a department, is finding their way within that apparel category,” she said. “I’m seeing a leveling out of people finding the balance within their pet apparel and finding opportunities within that like expanding into functional, or if they’ve always been in functional, perhaps an attitude t-shirt presentation or dress presentation.”
For example, a boutique or specialty store with an established business in apparel or with a clientele that responds to the fun, dresses could be hugely successful. Whereas retailers that have pet as a department, a farm and seed store, for instance, might have more success carrying functional items like barn coats, Insect Shield, and bandanas.
- Maggie Marton