"Market to Target: Pets"

Market to Target: Pets

The first in a year-long series highlighting top sales segments for distributor reps. 

By Jean Erickson
Published in Advantages

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Make no bones about it -- people are passionate about their pets.

About 65% of U.S. households own a pet, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). And the large majority of owners consider their pets to be family, shelling out big bucks to feed, care for and entertain them.

In 2016 alone, Americans spent approximately $62.8 billion on their pets, up from $60.3 billion a year earlier. The trend is even more pronounced over time – in 2003, for example, Americans spent $29.6 billion on their pets. Not even a recession could slow consumer spending on our furry friends – sales steadily gained between 2007 and 2009, increasing from $41.2 billion to $45.5 billion for the period.

With these undeniably impressive numbers, more and more brands have introduced pet-centric items. In the promo products industry, it was WOV-IN Group (asi/92980) that sniffed out a huge opportunity when it launched Promopet (asi/79698), a completely pet-focused product line in 2010.

“We recognized the growing trend of how much people were spending on their pets, but there really wasn’t a supplier fully dedicated to this niche,” says Kimberly Damp, sales and marketing coordinator for both Promopet and WOV-IN.

Building on strong initial sales of its pet collars and leashes, WOV-IN partnered with other manufacturers of pet products and added new imprinting capabilities to create Promopet, the promotional product industry’s most recognizable pet line. “No matter how much people cut back on their daily expenses, they always find room in the budget to spoil their pet family members and offer treats,” says Damp, calling Promopet “a growth business for us.” She and several other industry experts helped us compile this in-depth guide to selling pet promos: smart tips, cool products and important trends.

 

Think Outside the Crate

Every customer can benefit from a pet or pet-related product, so don’t limit your scope by thinking, “I don’t sell to veterinarians or groomers,” says Damp. “If people use even one quarter of their imagination, they’d be surprised how much business they can get.”

Promopet’s products do well in company stores for Fortune 500 companies that like to grow brand loyalty by putting their logo on pet-related items, according to Damp. The supplier recently updated its WOV-IN and Promopet websites to offer more interactive features – increasing its video content and social media presence, adding a blog and providing more educational tips for distributors to target and offer ideas on how best to use its products.

Do you sell to a local school with an animal mascot? Promopet has many paw print items that the school logo could be imprinted on, and its line includes giveaway and fundraising items in price ranges to fit nearly any budget. Pet promo items do well in places with college logos, too. “We do a lot of business with collegiate bookstores,” Damp says.

Local banks often give away pet treats for their drive-through clients. Promopet has gotten lots of orders for items to promote dog parks, which are popping up all over the country, as well as giveaways at community events, runs, walks, and police and fire department sponsored events.

Companies realize pets sometimes get more attention than people, so promotions geared toward pets have increased visibility in the home, says Jay Howard, a senior account executive at HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000). Pet products work well in real estate offices, as realtors are always looking for ways to stay top-of-mind in the home, he notes. Food can lids, plastic flyers, bandanas and pet waste bag dispensers are good options.

Pet Product Entrepreneurs

The growth of pet-focused products has given rise to quite creative entrepreneurs. For example, Moody Pet was started by Michele Levan, a former music industry marketing executive. She came up with the pet mood collar, featuring stones that change color based on how the pet’s feeling. One mood might be: “Feed Me!” and another “Take Me for a Walk!” She debuted the collars at a pet product trade show in 1999, and her business took off. Most recently, her Humunga Bling won Best in Show at the 2016 Global Pet Expo. Poochie-Pets, meanwhile, got started when Cheryl Pederson created a first of its kind, a housetraining doggie doorbell called PoochieBells. It was so successful that she recently rebranded her website to show off more items, including a snuggle blanket, while highlighting the company’s message: “My dog makes me a better person.”

 

Pet items are a natural fit with wellness initiatives as well. “As businesses continue to promote healthy living, activity and exercise, we’ve seen them use many of our safety items to encourage people to stay active, by offering reflective collars, leashes, tags and bandanas for their pets,” says Damp.

Even pet healthcare is becoming a branding opportunity. The pet hospital industry is growing rapidly, and veterinarians are trying to personalize healthcare. “They want to come across as taking care of the family,” says Howard.

As more of these facilities open, there are increased chances for branding and customer appreciation. Plus, cool items can also help to attract top staff, says Howard. “The competition is fierce, and quality branded items can help them stand out in a crowded recruiting scenario.” Pet insurance is another promotional opportunity. Howard has provided welcome kits at sign-up that included items such as chip clips, pet food lids and T-shirts.

Another idea: Some eldercare facilities offer services like pet and music therapy. Promopet recently supplied one such facility with paw-shaped jar grippers, imprinted with the name of the facility and emergency numbers for people with arthritis.

More and more pet-oriented events are emerging, many of which have booths with traditional promotional product handouts, says Howard, adding, “Those that offer pet-related products seem to have a significant edge in booth traffic.”

Another draw to these booths can be prize wheels, with an assortment of pet products used for giveaways. “Trading a spin of the wheel in exchange for information is a popular and creative way to increase your contacts list,” Howard says.

Doug Lally, a HALO regional VP, sees opportunity in dog field trials. These are competitive sporting events in which the animals are put through training exercises and then rewarded for achieving specific goals. Field trials are organized for nearly every breed of dog and are great showcases for pet merchandise, as well as apparel for the organizers of the events, he believes.

Pet care kit by Via Kit Company (asi/93757); www.viakitcompany.com

Pack a Bag for Fido

Bringing dogs on vacation is an emerging pet trend, according to David Fiderer, director of marketing at Prime Line (asi/79530). A recent TripAdvisor survey shows that 56% of Americans are likely to travel with their four-legged friends, and 52% will only stay at accommodations that welcome pets.

“Pet friendly is a whole new category of hotels and resorts – it didn’t used to exist on internet search engines,” says Damp. These hotels are interested in offering both unique and practical items to attract pet owners, and encouraging them to return, she notes. Gifts are a great way to welcome and acknowledge pets so their owners will remember the hotel and come back, plus spread the word to friends.

Pet apparel is gaining popularity at these pet-friendly locations and events, and many offer pet clothing, collars and leashes in their gift shops. “Pet T-shirts, football jerseys and hoodie sweatshirts are a growing product area for us,” Damp says. “Promopet offers low minimums so any restaurants, health clubs and resorts can promote their name without investing in large quantities.” Many of its items are USA-made as well.

Consider this: The Cambria Shores Inn in California presents canine guests with a welcome basket that includes special dog biscuits, towels, a mat and a copy of Fido-Friendly magazine. The Hotel Monaco Denver offers a “Reigning Cats and Dogs Pet Package” consisting of a pet pamper basket, organic treats, a doggie bed and food and water bowl.

Of course, there’s a whole other angle to this vacation scene, too. What if you opt to leave Fido behind? Why not put him up at a pet resort and spa, so he can vacation while you’re away? Lally has provided promo items to Texas-based Rover Oaks Pet Resort for over 15 years. Rover Oaks was created “exclusively to provide superior services for pets who deserve much, much more,” according to its website. It provides lodging, doggie day care, pet grooming and professional training for the discerning pet. Luxury suites, Meow Manor and VIP Packages are a few of its many amenities.

Lally provides Rover Oaks with two categories of promotional items: For pet events like walks and runs he offers inexpensive but high-volume items, including dog waste bag dispensers – a top seller – as well as water bowls and pet food scoops. A second category of gifting is holiday- and event-based, says Lally. Typically these combine items for both pet and owner, and are distributed to clients that spend a certain amount of money at the resort.

The Rover Oaks’ 2016 holiday gift was a custom packaged, branded Leed’s (asi/66887) vacuum tumbler, prepackaged dog treats and chocolates. Lally also provided a custom cap for dog owners that’ll be presented as a giveaway when a customer achieves a certain level of spending. It will also be available for purchase at the resort’s boutique shop.

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Blending New With Old

Pet promo items are a growing sector for Prime Line, both with stock merchandise and overseas requests, according to Fiderer. “We are always looking for cool and unique items to expand this category,” he says. The company’s Jetline (asi/63344) value line offers functional pet products like doggie waste bag dispensers and drinking bowls, in addition to pet-themed items including pet paw design pens and stress relievers. This year, Prime Line is introducing a light-up pet collar, designed to fit in well with safety-themed promotions, Fiderer says.

Pet products, meanwhile, aren’t a new category for Jornik Manufacturing Corp. (asi/63549), “but it’s definitely growing for us. We try to add new products to the line every year,” says COO Jordie Freedman. “People are as passionate about their pets as they are their children.” Jornik recently shipped nearly 10,000 waste bag dispensers to a distributor who was servicing a water utility client. The customer was looking to build awareness of storm water contamination. The dispensers were distributed at community events.

Jornik is debuting a new doggie waste bag dispenser in 2017 with a flashlight for nighttime and early morning dog walks. Another new Jornik product coming soon is an herb-growing kit targeted to pets as a homeopathic treatment for various cat and dog ailments. “We think this will do well – people like natural remedies for their pets,” Freedman says.

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Pet Charities

Ed Levy, owner and president of Edventure Promotions (asi/186055), is such a believer in pet promos that he plans to launch several pet-related websites this year, with a special emphasis on charity. “People spend more on their pets than they do on themselves – it’s a big market opportunity,” he says.

Edventure creates custom-designed pet food mats, based on an artist client’s pet-themed oil paintings. “They are quite humorous and great sellers,” says Levy. Edventure takes high-resolution scans of the paintings and converts them to digital files, then uses a dye-sublimated process so the images don’t wear off the neoprene mats.

Levy thinks animal shelters are one potentially lucrative pet market. Promotional products are great ways to create brand awareness, spread anti-cruelty messages and encourage pet adoption. Organizations like Paws Chicago sponsor events, like its annual Fur Ball, which is a pet-friendly black-tie gala to benefit the city’s homeless animals. Promotional opportunities include branded aprons for volunteers, treats and giveaways for canine guests. In addition, Paws Chicago has an online store, where the proceeds benefit its mission of preventing the killing of homeless animals.

Fresh Step Litter launched a “Hot to Adopt” campaign during New York’s Fashion Week to benefit cat shelters across the country. American Apparel (asi/35297) T-shirts branded with the “Hot to Adopt” logo were offered on Fresh Step’s website during the holiday season.