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October 1, 2019

BY AMY CASTRO

No matter how big or small your retail space is, making the decision about what products to carry can be a real challenge. Many retailers face this dilemma by taking one of two basic strategies when it comes to product selection. There are those who want to be known for carrying a smaller range of items that no one else has, making them the go-to place for those items. Others strive to be more of a one-stop shopping business, with a wide variety of items—from the necessary to the non-essential. One of the questions that comes up for many pet retailers is whether to cross the line from carrying pet-only products into carrying “human use” products in their stores, whether those are pet-themed or not.

Patti Glass’ parents opened Milwood Florist in the small town of Susanville, California, in 1947. The town is in an isolated part of Northern California. Over the years, the store grew to become a nursery, and its product line grew beyond plants and flowers to include gifts and even a candy counter sporting some very popular handmade truffles. In 2017, when the business was struggling, they acquired a successful pet shop called Treats Dog Company and moved the pet business into their store. They have 1,200 square feet of space dedicated to pet treats, food and services.

At first glance, you might think that a business that offers such a wide array of products and services would never work. The old saying “A confused buyer never buys” comes to mind. However, Glass said selling pet and people products works for them for several reasons. First, the fact that they’re in an isolated town with a population of just over 15,000 means that there aren’t a lot of other stores in the area. She also said acquiring a successful pet shop, including their list of loyal customers, brought customers into their business that either hadn’t been there before, or certainly not as frequently. Finally, she said they’re very strategic in finding the right products to sell in their store. “You have to carry items that are not sold elsewhere. People want to feel special, like they’re getting something unique,” Glass said.

Glass advised three key strategies for selecting new products to add to your inventory: Start with proven products, test them in small volume and ask yourself, “What would people need that they can’t get elsewhere?”

Dog is Good in Los Alamitos, California, creates and markets gifts and apparel for dog lovers that are sold wholesale and retail. They also license the brand to numerous manufacturers in the pet, gift and home product industries. Dog is Good products range from drinkware, magnets and tote bags to clothing, housewares and even pet items like leashes and bowls. Owner Gila Kurtz says that it’s very important for pet retailers to look at a human product line as a way to engage customers on a different level. “Our strategy is to create products with best-selling messages that pull at the heartstrings,” she said. The “Never Walk (or bike, or run) Alone” collection is a great example. Kurtz says the company works with retailers to help them market products by teaching how to engage customers with the products. She said it’s especially important that retailers train their customers about “scarcity.” Scarcity is the phenomenon whereby a product or service becomes more attractive to customers when it has limited availability or a perception of limited availability. There are two ways a retailer can create a sense of scarcity, either by limiting quantities of a certain product or service, or limiting the amount of time the product or service is available. “Creating ‘limited appearance’ events for special products will give retailers maximum engagement,” Kurtz said. She added it’s also very important that retailers create a product launch plan for new products to increase customer engagement with the product and the store.

Tail Wagger’z in Jackson, Tennessee, carries food, treats and toys and also has an in-house bakery and self-service dog wash. Co-owner and manager Amanda Gilmore said the store hasn’t carried people products to date, but they plan to test the concept by carrying holiday-themed products this season. “We’re considering it because we believe it will increase the average ticket and that there’s benefit in being able to be a one-stop shop for our customers,” she said. Gilmore said they’ll start small with the holiday-related gift items and then possibly reserve some space for regular items such as shirts, mugs and items people might need when traveling. The city of Jackson is along I-40, about halfway between Memphis and Nashville, two major tourist destinations in Tennessee. “Whatever we do, we always see what others are doing and then try to do better,” she said.

If you decide to add people products to your lineup, here are more tips for making great choices:

  • Know your market. Select quality products your customers want and need.
  • Know your brand. What do you stand for? What lifestyle does your business project for your customers and their pets? Be sure to select products that “fit.”
  • Pay close attention to the sales data from your POS. You’ll want to give new products time to take off but also determine when you’ve made a bad choice.
  • If you decide to go “trendy,” be sure to catch the trend at the front of the wave, not the end. This strategy requires that you spend some time forecasting coming trends so you can get in on them early.

Gilmore’s store is just 1,300 square feet, so she said she’ll place special emphasis on where and how to display a small selection of items. When displaying your new people products, there are several things you can do to help increase their visibility and your sales:

  • If your store has been pet-product only to date, your people products should be treated as “impulse buys” until your store becomes known for carrying both. Therefore, place these items near the front of the store on tables, endcaps or in line with the register.
  • Display people products near non-consumable items or luxury items. People are more likely to splurge on something for themselves or someone else when they’re already splurging on a new leash, collar or a gift for a friend’s new pet.
  • Take advantage of holidays as a way to promote your people products as gift items.
  • Ensure signage for your new products is bold, fun and eye-catching. If scarcity is part of your sales strategy, be sure your signs clearly state the scarcity.
  • Consider combining specials to cross promote people and pet products. For example, you might give customers a percentage off people products when they purchase a certain number of pet products or spend a certain amount, or vice versa.

If you have an area or display for new pet owners, bundle together a starter kit with toys, food and a “new dog mom” or “new cat dad” shirt, mug or other relevant item.

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