Christmas is right around the corner. No, not Christmas in July—actual Christmas. While most people are not giving the winter holiday season a thought during the warm days of summer, any successful manufacturer, distributor or retailer is.
Getting ready for the increase in product demand the gift-giving time brings takes planning, and it is important that the pet industry makes the most of these consumer-spending months. Plus, with people now seeing pets as members of the family, we can expect there to be more pet product presents granted to pets and pet owners. Now’s the time to get ahead of that wintertime rush.
An Easy Shopping Experience
The holidays aren’t all merriment; it can also be really stressful.
“In general, people are exhausted. They’ve been Christmas shopping, and [as the retailer], you need to tell them what to buy,” store designer Tom Crossman explained.
That’s where bulk stack and prewrap come in.
“If you have an aquarium—and you have a lot of them—keep one or two on display and gift wrap the rest of them so that you’re just making it easy on people, because that’s exactly what they want—they want you to tell them what to buy,” Crossman said.
Complete kits are something else retailers can stock in order to make shopping—especially for a first-time pet— easier on customers. Kaytee sees a seasonal increase in sales of its starter kits during the holidays, according to Jason Casto, the company’s director of marketing.
Kaytee offers six species-specific complete starter kits for small animals, including hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, ferrets and two different-sized cage options for rabbits.
“The complete kits contain everything a consumer needs to get started with a new small animal pet, including the cage, food, bedding, water bottle and food dish,” Casto said. “The Kaytee Complete Kit Habitats are also merchandised in full-colored boxes with graphics on all sides for an easy way to display on shelf. Just add a holiday ribbon or box and the retailer’s small animal department is ready for the holiday season!”
Pet Zone in San Diego, California, which specializes in tropical fish and their supplies, also sees an increase in sales of complete aquarium kits during the winter.
“About a month or so before Christmas hits, people are coming in and getting either five-, 10- or 20-gallon starter kits for either their kids or significant other,” said Roger Ma, owner of Pet Zone.
And Pet Zone’s surge in kit sales from Christmas continues through January and February due to the New Year and Valentine’s Day holidays. In fact, for the duration of the three major winter holidays, Pet Zone says it sees a 20 percent increase in foot traffic and sales.
“We move the most tank packages during the months of December and February,” Ma explained. “Also, since everyone has New Year resolutions, they finally get that fish tank they’ve always wanted, and January is the month that we get a surge in first-timer fish hobbyists that come in.”
Penn-Plax is one of the companies that experiences an uptick in sales of all-in-one tank kits during the winter months. According to Marissa Kactioglu of Penn-Plax’s Product Development, the company’s Right-Bite Educational Tank, which offers a parent-child activity and learning experience, and the SpongeBob Aquarium Kit are two examples of top-sellers.
Another important component to making customers’ shopping experience easier is setting up a clearly demarcated queue for the cash wrap. While having just a cash wrap might be fine most of the year, Christmastime calls for a more organized checkout experience. Crossman says stores need a rope and signage so people know where to get in line and so that the store’s associates know where each customer is in that line.
“A lot of stores, there will be a number of people around the register and the associate will say, ‘Can I help the next customer,’ and it’s like, I don’t want to manage that; I want you to know who the next guest is because it’s stressful otherwise,” Crossman said. “So you need a queue that you know where they are in line, and hopefully you have a long line of people!”
The most important piece of a customer’s shopping experience? According to Crossman, it’s four-foot aisles.
Providing an ample amount of walking and viewing space allows for customers to shop more easily, which can lead to more sales. Without fourfoot aisles, customers might only look at the top shelf. With aisles that are wide enough for customers to stand back, they can see all that is offered. Plus, Crossman points out, store associates will be saving time, for they “wouldn’t have to answer unnecessary questions like, ‘Where’s the dog shampoo?’”
If getting a four-foot aisle means removing a fixture from the store floor for the time being, it’s worth it, he says.
Displaying Holiday Spirit
Besides helping to make people’s stressful holiday season less so, pet stores can also help in making it more festive. People want to feel the holiday spirit as they are out and about.
Asbury Park, New Jersey’s Paws Pet Boutique has its store decorated in time for the second week of November, according to owner Ruth Kiser. The store also hosts a Picture with Santa Paws event on the first Saturday of December, where they offer props, like reindeer antlers, for customers to buy for the photo.
Pet Zone loves to get festive and decorates for nearly every holiday, including Christmas, Ma said. To help customers bring the merry mood the store creates home, Pet Zone gives out free Christmas moss to every person who buys an aquatic plant. Not only does that spruce up customers’ aquariums, but it also gives Pet Zone a surge in business during the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
Decorating a store is important to creating a space in which a patron wants to shop and spend money. However, Crossman says, retailers shouldn’t let their decorations be wimpy. This is many stores’ time to make a big profit, so retailers should make it count.
“You need to invest in some serious garland, some thick four- or five-inch garland. Put lights in it. And spend some money because this is your money time of the year,” Crossman said. “I’ve seen many stores that just use that cheap garland, and it would be better not to use anything than that cheap garland… cheap garland means there’s a cheap store—and I don’t mean in terms of prices. You have to believe in Christmas; you really have to show that this is a really important time for you.”
As for a window display, clean is key. A border of garland with lights is enough—simple, yet impactful.
Besides decorations, another way to let customers know you’re ready for the holidays is to have plenty of items. Christmas is about abundance, and stores should look like they have a lot in stock.
“My motto is pile it high and watch it fly because you have to have it in order to sell it,” said Jungle Bob Smith, who owns Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Selden, New York. “You can’t skimp on inventory that time of year.”
Crossman suggests stocking up on the items that sell well throughout the year.
“When you have a lot of one product, it’s the retailer telling you they believe in this product,” he said. “They believe so much in this product that they bought a whole bunch of them.”
A major part in getting a store holiday-ready is displaying the holiday-themed products for which customers are on the hunt.
According to Crossman, pet stores should aim to merchandise their winter holiday products by Halloween to be prepared for any early shoppers.
To meet this timeframe, Ethical Products National Marketing Manager Susan Calles says distributors should have placed their orders and have stock available in early September.
Ethical Products has an entire line of cat and dog holiday products. According to Calles, the company finds that the most popular toy is oftentimes the holiday version of a hit toy from the everyday line. The Holiday Flat Jax, Stretch-N-Pull and Knot-for-Nothing dog toys are all holiday versions of toys the company introduced this year that are extremely popular. There’s also the big-selling cat toy Cat Prancer, which is now in red and green for the holidays.
Super Bird Creations will also have its holiday toys ready for distribution in September. Deb White, the company’s chief executive, says that there will be 13 Christmas toys in the 2018 holiday season lineup, including Christmas tree, star, wreath, snowman, garland and sleigh designs.
“Traditionally, our Christmas toys have performed very well as many bird owners enjoy decorating their bird’s cages for the holidays while at the same time providing them with enrichment,” White said.
The Christmas Star is usually the holiday time best-seller, but White also has high expectations for the Christmas Sleigh, as it is a holiday variation of Super Bird Creations’ overall best-selling toy.
Planet Dog has virtually refreshed its holiday line, according to Elizabeth Fagan, director of marketing, so almost everything will be something neither retailers nor their customers has seen before.
In addition to the popular Shalom Ball, Planet Dog is adding the L’chaim Ball to its holiday roundup. There will also be a new molded Christmas tree chew-fetch toy that smells like evergreen and two new balls: Joy and Believe. Molded holiday bones, in red and green, are also being re-introduced. Planet Dog has also modified some of its year-round toys for the holidays. For example, its top-selling interactive toy, Snoop, will be available in twinkle red and twinkle green colors.
Returning favorites are the Snowball and Coal Ball.
“They continue to be some of the best sellers for retailers. Retailers buy these over and over every year. They fly off the shelves for them,” Fagan said. “And the beauty of the Snowball is that it lasts beyond the holiday season. You can have that up in shelves through January and February—and if you live like us in Maine, through April!” While the company would probably have a successful winter with its regular products alone, Planet Dog sees the importance of creating a holiday-themed line. “They definitely have a shorter shelf life, but we’ve seen the trend—and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon—of people specifically buying gifts for pets,” Fagan said. “We do see that when we’re able to introduce some limited edition, some fun, some in-season colors and textures and scents, pet parents love them just as much as the dog, and they’re fun to buy and then be able to give to those dogs throughout the holiday season.”
Planet Dog’s retail partners see the benefit of selling holiday-themed items, too, with more than 80 percent of them buying the holiday products.
Einstein Pets also has a high order rate of holiday items from its retail partners who stock the everyday products year-round. Kelly Ison, Einstein Pets’ founder, estimates that 95 percent of her retailers stock the holiday-specific treats.
“They already know what to expect from our year-long treats, and so they are anticipating the same expectations that they would get from them with our holiday treats, and we deliver every time,” Ison said. “And it goes back to being innovative. We’re always looking for ways to surprise the wholesalers as well as the consumers.”
Besides offering customers something new, Einstein Pets also wants to provide a fun stocking stuffer and does so through its two-ounce packages.
Four treat flavors perform particularly well during the holidays. Three of them—Pumpkin Time, Sweet Potato and Turkey Time—are part of the six original treat lineup and fit nicely into the seasonal theme. The fourth is Santa’s Helper, which Ison says is almost like a meal in itself. It includes all white turkey, sweet potato, cranberries, honey and cinnamon. All are also available in an eight-ounce package.
Decking out pets in holiday gear is also a go-to way to celebrate the season for many owners. Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique has a slew of Hanukkah- and Christmas-inspired costumes, sweaters and hats.
According to Rubie’s Pet Shop Boutique Director Erin Breig, the “walking” costumes with arms are the biggest sellers, and she expects her Walking Snowman to be popular this season. Reindeer antlers and elf-inspired costumes are two other holiday-themed hits. The seasonal items are so big for Rubie’s that it has an entire warehouse in South Carolina dedicated to holiday merchandise, Breig said.
Rubie’s licensed products also do well during the holidays, and Breig says the new Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes, as well as the new “The Nightmare Before Christmas” costumes should perform well.
“I think most people are buying these novelty items so that they can take an adorable photo for social media or Christmas cards,” Breig said. “There are some items, like ‘ugly sweaters’ and collars, that can be worn to be festive at parties, but the silly/funny items are definitely the most popular, and those are undoubtedly for picture taking!”
A Bundle of Goodies
Something that both retailers and manufacturers say performs well during the holidays are bundled items.
Penn-Plax has a complete toy gift set for both dogs and cats. The Dog Toy Pack includes six individual toys while the Cat Toy Pack has 11 individual toys that offer an assortment of sounds, smells and textures.
“Both packs come gift wrapped and make a great gift for your own cat or dog or for someone who just added a new puppy or kitten to their family,” Kactioglu said.
Ethical Products also has a bundled toy option for dogs and cats, in the shape of a stocking, according to Calles.
On top of its holiday-themed treats of a candy cane-shaped pizzle and gingerbread man-shaped patty, Jones Naturals combines an assortment of its treats in three types of packages: a stocking, a red box and a gingerbread house box.
“The good part about our holiday items is everything is labeled inside the package, so if the red box doesn’t sell at Christmas, they can take that bone out and sell just the bone, so they aren’t stuck with the product,” Jones Naturals President Laura Jones pointed out. Paws Pet Boutique has its own line of human grade treats, K9 Confections, which it makes, packages and sells in-store and also offers for wholesale. In addition to the packaged treats, the store now sells them by the ounce so owners can mix and match like a biscuit buffet.
Paws Pet Boutique sees an increase in sales for K9 Confections’ pumpkin biscotti flavor during the winter. And right before last year’s holidays, apple was added to the line, which was a big hit, Kiser said. In fact, the entire line is a big hit, taking the title of the store’s best-selling item for the year.
Of course, people don’t only buy holiday-themed items during the holidays. A popular gift among humans for the past several years has been a DNA test kit, and that trend has made its way into the pet industry. WISDOM PANEL, whose parent company is Mars Petcare, continues to grow in popularity, increasing its sales by about 40 percent a year. And the holiday time is Wisdom Panel’s hottest time, with about 40 percent of its sales coming from then, according to Dr. Angela Hughes, WISDOM PANEL’s veterinary geneticist.
Dr. Hughes said that people either want to get the test done and present the results under the tree or they give the kit itself under the tree. She says the DNA kit is so popular to give as a gift because of its uniqueness.
“A lot of times, these are folks who pretty much have everything that they need so you’re trying to find that cool, different gift, and they have a dog in their life that really means the world to them and what can you get them—you can get them a better understanding of that dog for them,” she explained.
WISDOM PANEL offers its 3.0 Breed Identification Dog DNA Test Kit to retailers. This tests for both breed and MDR1, a multi-drug resistance genetic mutation that can lead to negative reactions to commonly prescribed medications.
While Dr. Hughes says most people buy the kit out of curiosity of what breed their dog is, the MDR1 test is also beneficial. WISDOM PANEL Health is available to retailers upon request; this tests for both breed and more than 150 genetic health conditions. By print time, Dr. Hughes expects the company to have tested 1 million dogs.
While Dr. Hughes says the price point might be higher than what most stores usually carry, the price people are willing to pay for items seems to increase during the holidays. According to Fagan, pet owners are willing to pay a little extra for products like Snoop and other interactive toys Planet Dog offers. While price might become less of a factor during the holiday season, how pop culture can tie into pet products certainly doesn’t.
Judging by how massive a hit the children’s television show “Paw Patrol” is, Penn-Plax expects its new line of Paw Patrol dog products to perform well this holiday season. The Pop-Up Pet House, pet beds and Latex Squeaker balls are a few of the items that will be debuting right in time for Christmas.
“We are expecting quite a few of our new Paw Patrol dog products will turn up under a tree this holiday season. Anyone with a preschooler at home is well-versed in the world of Paw Patrol,” Kactioglu said. “Now, when a child opens up their Paw Patrol gift this holiday season, their dog may just be getting a matching gift as well.”
Another new line expected to do well for the holidays is Jones Naturals’ Jones Select line. According to Jones, the acceptance of the super-premium line has been positive so far. Like other Jones Naturals products, the Select items have a simple ingredient deck but with extra ingredients like flax seed and blueberry to make them a supermix. There are also two organics in the line, a first for Jones Naturals.
The holidays can also be a time for travel for many people. With that in mind, a thoughtful gift for pet owners and their pets could be the MyLap Pet Bed. The bed is shaped like a lap, which can be covered by a pair of the owner’s pants. In both shape and smell, a pet can be comforted in a stressful situation like being boarded while the family is on vacation or being in a house hosting a holiday party.
“The holidays are about spending time with our family and friends, and our pets are a big part of our family,” owner Tammy Olley said. “Our pets give us so much unconditional love and affection which comforts us in so many ways, and the MyLap Pet Bed allows us to give them a little something extra comforting back.”
All About Timing
Whether customers are buying holiday or non-holiday themed products, based on trends the entire U.S. retail market has seen, pet stores can expect an increase in sales during the fourth quarter. Last year’s “holiday sales during November and December increased 5.5 percent over the same period in 2016 to $691.9 billion,” according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), surpassing NRF’s forecast of between $678.75 billion and $682 billion.
NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said there were a number of contributing factors to people spending more last year, including “unemployment being at a 17-year low, a pickup in income, strong consumer confidence and a rising stock market.”
“The economy was in great shape going into the holiday season, and retailers had the right mix of inventory, pricing and staffing to help them connect with shoppers very efficiently,” Kleinhenz said in an NRF press release.
While the summer months have turned into Jungle Bob’s Reptile World’s busiest time as a whole, Jungle Bob says his single busiest day of the year is the Saturday before Christmas.
“That’s the weekend of complete setups. That’s the time everybody’s giving that gift of the bearded dragon or their first corn snake or whatever their preference in animals may be,” Jungle Bob explained.
To guarantee shoppers they get the animal they want, Jungle’s Bob Reptile World provides free layaway with a small deposit.
“People shop Cyber Monday and they say, ‘Hold that lizard for me until Christmas Eve,’ and then they come pick it up. But they pick up the tank and all the accessories they need right before Christmas, usually that weekend before,” Jungle Bob said, who will especially be pushing his own line of reptile decorations and accessories this holiday season.
The destination store’s gift shop is also a great place to pick up stocking stuffers, he points out.
While it is recommended pet stores start displaying their holiday-themed items at the end of October, it can start to come down after New Year’s. However, if a store is having a sale, the holiday decorations and signage should stay up until after the end of the sale—and it needs to be a fairly big sale, Crossman said, not just a table of clearance items. When the sale is finished, the transition from festive holiday time back to the store’s everyday look and products is complete. And before you know it, it will once again be time to plan for the next year’s winter season