Pet product manufacturers and retailers are getting in the spirit for the 2019 holiday season.
While the weather outside is far from frightful (except for those who detest the summer heat), the winter holiday shopping season is right around the corner as pet product manufacturers and retailers are planning their offerings surrounding such festivities as Christmas and Hanukkah. This “giving” time of year means that consumers are looking to buy pet products as gifts for the four-legged loved ones in their lives, and/or pet-themed presents for animal-adoring humans.
According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA), Christmas is one of the top three gift-giving occasions across all pet types. Out of 500 total survey pet owners for each of the following categories, these percentages represent presents purchased for pets specifically for Christmas in 2018: 40 percent for dogs, 25 percent for cats, 5 percent for freshwater fish, 21 percent for birds, 25 percent for small animals and 13 percent for reptiles. From the same survey, the following percentages indicate gifts bought for pets for Hanukkah in 2018: 2 percent for dogs, 1 percent for cats, 0 percent for freshwater fish, 3 percent for birds, 2 percent for small animals and 1 percent for reptiles.
Dashing to the Shelves
Pet Krewe, the Louisiana-based pet costume and toy retailer, is touting Santa Elmo costumes as well as dog and cat toys for this year’s holiday season.
“These products strike a nostalgia chord with consumers,” said Allison Albert, Pet Krewe’s founder and CEO. “Whether you are catering to a parent or a shopper sans kids, the nostalgia kicks in and they want to share those warm sentiments Elmo gives with their beloved pet.”
Another company with holiday-themed pet apparel is Rubie’s, a costume designer and manufacturer that has offices around the globe, including in New York.
“Our most popular styles for holiday 2019 include Sven and Olaf from ‘Frozen 2,’ elf costumes and hats, and our Santa and gingerbread styles,” said Erin Breig, the director of Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique and a recipient of Pet Age’s 40 Under 40 Award in 2016. “We also have Hanukkah items (a menorah hat as well as a yarmulke and tallis for pets) and a really cute Happy New Year hat that is black and gold with feathers.”
Royal Animals is a pet apparel company in New York that manufactures a line of clothing and accessories. It has such holiday-themed pet clothing as a snowman costume for dogs.
“The bright colors and playfulness of Royal Animals toys and costumes will engage customers and retailers who are looking for fun and functionality—hallmarks of our brand—this holiday season,” said Susan Traub, the company’s owner and founder. “What keeps the customer’s attention and engages the retailer are clever details and a sense of being ahead of the trend.”
“People are looking for a gift that their dogs can wear year-round,” said Alisha Navarro, the president of 2 Hounds Design (2HD), an online store—with headquarters in North Carolina—featuring a variety of dog collars, leashes and harnesses. “We do see a big boost in our Velvet collars during the holidays because they are rich/luxe-looking, and it feels special to put a Swiss Velvet collar on your dog for the holidays—like wearing your Sunday best.”
Snugpups is doing a full launch of its Couture Fashion Line and Denier Nylon Dog Raincoats for the holiday season. The company’s coats are designed and handmade in Pennsylvania.
“Couture Fashion Line is inspired by the designers on Madison Avenue and the Champs-Élysées; each couture dog jacket is classic but still displays the well-known Snugpups design,” said Brian Correia, co-owner of the company. “The collar is designed to flip back on the coat or ‘pop up’ for extra swagger. These higher-end coats are hand-crafted with care to promote your pup’s style, charisma and discerning taste.”
One of many companies with holiday-themed pet toys is New Jersey-based pet products designer and importer Multipet International, which has added a Christmas spin to some of its everyday best sellers.
“We are able to bring products that have proven traction, which makes buyers more secure with their purchasing decisions,” said Leslie Yellin, the company’s executive VP. “This year’s hot item for us is our Classic Lamb Chop with Reindeer Antlers, and [we also have] Lamb Chop in Santa hats for all of the different sizes we manufacture. Pet parents feel so rewarded when they see the happiness our toys can bring.”
Copa Judaica, meanwhile, boasts a unique collection of Judaica items from artists worldwide. Holiday pet products from the New York-based company include plush dreidels, Hanukkah gelts for dogs in three sizes, a plush menorah, a menorah hat and a dreidel hat.
“Everybody is looking to give a funny toy for Hanukkah,” said Asher Klein, Copa Judaica’s owner. “A lot of people have Jewish friends and the pet industry is very big, so this is something that appeals to everyone.”
There are also holiday-themed pet treats such as the natural ones baked by The Lazy Dog Cookie Co., which is also based in New York. This year, the company is repeating three products that were extremely successful in 2018: Leftover Turkey Sandwich, Muttcracker Sweets and Home for the Holidays.
“We introduced those last year and they were super popular with retailers and consumers, so we decided to repeat those without any changes,” said Keith Augustine, Lazy Dog’s vice president of sales.
For the past few years, Lazy Dog has had the Happy Howlidays Pup-PIE, now with different packaging in 2019 to match the retro style of the three previously mentioned products.
“We decided to rebrand that with more of a vintage style so it fits in with that collection,” said Augustine, who mentions that all four items evoke the look of glass Christmas ornament boxes from the 1950s. “You really see nostalgic packaging all over in both human food and pet treats, and I think it’s something that resonates with the retailer and the consumer,” he added.
Another company that makes holiday-themed edible products for dogs is Pennsylvania-based K9 Granola Factory, whose offerings include a Holiday Box filled with various treats, a Gingerbread House Kit, and Gourmet Donuts in such seasonal flavors as Peppermint Bark. Its Bed & Bath Collection also features items that are popular as presents.
“Holiday gift-giving captures the spirit of the consumer; with an ever-growing number of pet parents, this gift-giving naturally carries over,” said Janie Smyser, owner of K9 Granola Factory.
Packaging and Placement
There is a lot of thought that goes into making and selling a holiday-themed pet product, from the packaging on the manufacturer’s side to how the retailer presents the item to customers.
“The first impression is a lasting one, so packaging is paramount, especially when it comes to gift-giving; the item simply needs to look attractive,” said Smyser. “Having items ready to give also eliminates stress for the consumer, and we know that in today’s world, that is a big win.”
“Merchandising is always important, especially if you are selling an item that people do not traditionally think of as a gift,” said 2HD’s Navarro.
“The packaging, more so than on an everyday item… is what draws the consumer first,” said Lazy Dog’s Augustine. “Most of the stores build out a holiday set and our items fit into that section. Because it’s a gift-giving and impulse item, front of the store, end-cap or next to the cash register are always the best placements and draw the highest sales.”
“Packaging needs to convey the excitement and value of the product in general, and when it comes to the holidays, the product’s relevancy to the season is valuable to show,” said Royal Animals’ Traub. “We work hand-in-hand with our retailers, offering them bold, exciting displays to showcase holiday merchandise. We are always listening and sharing ideas for merchandising with our retail partners. It is part of our process to go over everything from A to Z with our buyers; whatever we can do to support sales, we are there to make happen.”
According to Breig of Rubie’s, “Packaging is very important. It helps tell the story that we are trying to convey as a designer, manufacturer and distributor. And since this is the season of gifting, packaging can help increase the perceived value of an item.
“Point-of-purchase displays are really helpful in getting holiday sales,” she continued. “A lot of shoppers are last-minute, so it’s helpful to remind your customers that you are in the business of holiday items and gifts, and if they shop now they will be less stressed later.”
Pet Krewe’s Albert noted: “Items should be retail-ready and let the consumer know what they are buying!” Regarding placement, Pet Krewe sends planograms to retailers indicating how the company would like their holiday products to be displayed.
“We have all seen how crowded pet stores can become,” said Snugpups’ Correia. “Shelf and floor space are at a premium now with so many unique and great products available. So, having packaging that helps your product ‘pop’ and stand out from the crowd is essential.”
Correia continued: “Store owners and managers do not always have the time to be rearranging or finding space. Working with retailers to design clever product display options can help make a store owner’s life easier and make them more inclined to source our products.”
For Copa Judaica, packaging is less of a priority since its products simply come in clear plastic bags. “There is no need for packaging because it’s not like you’re giving it as a high-end gift; it’s a very low-end item,” said Klein. As far as retailers’ placement of the company’s products, “They usually have them in a basket in the front when Hanukkah comes,” he noted.
“Depending on the retailer and the space allocated, we have a variety of vehicles to help merchandise holiday toy selections,” said Multipet’s Yellin. “Retailers are knowledgeable on how they want to promote their items; we just give them the tools to help execute a great holiday selling season.”
She continued: “If the product is specifically holiday in nature, then packaging that is keeping in line with the theme is appropriate. However, if the merchandise is not ‘holiday-specific’ and can be sold after the holidays, using neutral packaging would be very beneficial for retailers.”
In agreement with Yellin’s point, Vince Sheehan, owner of New Jersey-based retailer Katie’s PET DEPOT, plans to stock less merchandise that is specifically holiday-themed.
“Then I’m not stuck trying to close it out or trying to put it away until the next holiday season,” he said. “We’re going to be a little pickier about what we pick that’s holiday-themed.”
Sheehan specifically tries to avoid stocking holiday-themed pet treats due to the fact that they are perishable and might go bad if unsold and kept in storage for the following year. Instead, his strategy is to help non-holiday-themed pet treats look more festive for the season.
“We’ll take bones and wrap red ribbons around them to make them more holiday-themed,” he said. “Then after the holidays, we can take the red ribbons off and they’re back to being normal treats.”
Down in Georgia, where pet supply store Canine Palace sells such products as Bowsers pet beds and Preston collars and leashes, owner Sara Portman echoes Sheehan’s sentiment about holiday-themed pet treats: “I have been in business for 15 and a half years and have learned not to buy holiday-themed treats because you end up with them after the holiday,” she said.
According to Sheehan, the winter holiday season is “the biggest time of year” for Katie’s PET DEPOT, which carries such brands as ZippyPaws, Ethical Products’ Spot and Lulubelles by Huxley & Kent. In order to get people in the holiday mindset where they can begin thinking about what they want to get for their four-legged friends, Sheehan will start introducing holiday-themed merchandise at the end of October, although he says consumers aren’t likely to actually commit to the purchase until December. The store also promotes photos of Santa every year and executes various marketing campaigns to help lure customers in during the season.
Here are some trends for retailers to keep in mind when planning what holiday-themed products to stock this winter.
“Fun and functionality—what Royal Animals has always stood for—are trending more than ever this year,” Traub said. “We see a demand for inventive, creative toys that are durable and functional, as well as great fun for pets and pet parents.”
“I think Christmas stockings for pets will be more in demand, with holiday-themed toys to go under the tree,” Pet Krewe’s Albert noted.
Breig of Rubie’s said: “I think the sillier, funnier, even ‘dorkier’ items will continue to trend. You will see a lot of families (including the pet) getting dressed up to match.”
“It seems that handmade, all-natural dog treats and holistic products are quite popular, and I see that trend continuing,” Snugpups’ Correia explained. “There are so many benefits to using CBD for pets and that trend will continue this holiday season.”
“A cool trend we see is people buying for each other’s pets rather than for the person themselves,” added Navarro of 2HD. “For example, I have absolutely no idea what to get my in-laws for Christmas, but a gift for their dog is always a safe bet and everybody wins!”