There really is no better feeling than that first bond between a pet and their new owner: that first time a kitten nuzzles its new best friend, that first lick from an excited puppy, or watching a beautiful fish explore its new aquatic habitat. With COVID-19 lockdowns responsible for a massive uptick in both pet sales and pet adoptions, more people than ever have gotten to experience that joy more than ever before.
However, as all great retailers know, the pet ownership experience doesn’t end with the sale of the animal. New pet ownership is only the first step in what can become a long, fulfilling journey for both pet owner and pet retailer. However, that relationship only grows if it’s nurtured, through quality customer service, a healthy stock of necessary items and some innovative marketing. Among all the potential avenues for a pet retailer to provide, accessories stand as one of the pillars for any store looking to establish themselves as a mainstay for pet owners in their community.
The current focus on pet accessories stem from a new trend in the industry – pet humanization. Fueled by millennials and members of Generation-Z, humanization of pets is, in effect, a shift in how pet owners view their pets. Rather than simply being a companion or subservient, these pets are viewed like surrogate children. According to a 2019 study by Advantage Solutions, over 90 percent of cat and dog owners view their pets as “part of the family,” with almost 45 percent of survey respondents going so far as to buy their pets items for special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays. Coupled with the increasing delays in typical life milestones – marriage, home owning, birth of children – some have come to view pets as almost replacing children.
Therein lies opportunity for an enterprising retailer. While many stores are content to sell food, leashes, and other, more-traditional items, a store that carries pet clothing, specialized pet toys, decorations and the like can tap into an emerging market and garner customers for life. Think of all the times when you’ve stumbled across some unique item at a specialty store; that feeling of, “Oh, I wonder what other new things they might have!” ensures visits to your store, additional purchases and great word of mouth between pet owners. Couple that with well-stocked necessities, and you can bank on additional sales each time a pet owner decides to pick up food or bedding.
However, these accessories are limited only by your imagination and your current market. If your area has a large number of reptile or fish owners, consider adding in a special section for items to accessorize an aquarium or terrarium. Stocking unique items for this might include items from licensed properties – imagine a terrarium where frogs ascend Castle Grayskull from “Masters of the Universe” or an aquarium featuring the home of SpongeBob SquarePants and the other residents of Bikini Bottom. If pets and their habitats are becoming expressions of their owners’ likes, tapping into those feeling of individuality and brand identification gives you an ‘in’ with a whole new group of customers.
Concurrently, consider a clothing section, specifically for cats and dogs. Even a single rack of shirts or costumes for dogs has the potential to draw in new customers, eager to see what else you might have, in addition to the cute hot dog costume for their dachshund. Capitalize on holidays and other notable times of the year, by providing seasonally-appropriate options throughout the year. If your space permits, you may even want to consider providing a “photo booth” or similar area, meant specifically for social media. Getting customers to share those images on your social media feed only fuels the fire, spreading the word of your store as a unique location, eager to cater to a pet owner’s needs.
While some have decried the concept of pet humanization, the fact remains that the trend seems to be here to stay. With an increasing number of pet owners willing to spend on their “fur babies,” stocking your store with unique, trendy accessories can both set your store apart from your competitors and ensure repeat business for years to come. While food and shelter will always be mainstays, don’t discount the desire for younger generations to treat their pets like one of the family.