Dogs are cuddly, loveable and make great companions. During the COVID-19 era, there was an uptick in pet adoptions nationwide as people were eager for the comfort and emotional support that pets deliver.
“The pet category continues to sell very well. We’re finding it to be largely recession proof. Dogs are often treated as family. More time spent at home means higher sales,” said Jeanne Tripi, director of retail sales at American Life Brands — a third-generation, family-owned manufacturer in Jackson, Wisconsin.
According to market and consumer data provider Statista’s pet owners survey (2019/20), more than 63 million households in the U.S. own at least one dog. During the pandemic, new pet parents snapped up collars, leashes, toys and other items. According to American Pet Products Association (APPA), sales of pet products and services in the US reached $95.7 billion in 2019.
There are certainly lots of items to choose from. P. Graham Dunn, a Dalton, Ohio-based gift and home décor manufacturer, entices proud pup parents with its personalized items that enable Luna’s name to be emblazoned on bowls, tags and collars. Its Paws & Prints Collection offers a fetching collection of wall décor, tabletop, photo frames and tea towels. Suggested retails range from $6 to $30.
Functional items and dog-themed photo frames and personalized gifts are driving sales at P. Graham Dunn. Consumers are also barking for mugs and pillows.
Since proud pet parents are always eager to introduce their bundles of joy to family and friends, PrintsWell introduced dog adoption announcements. This stationery manufacturer near Birmingham, Alabama, offers pooch-themed holiday cards, party invitations and stationery. Its top item is the Best in Show Notepad, which can be customized with a variety of breeds. Suggested retails range from $24 to upwards of $70. PrintsWell predicts its most coveted item for 2021 will be Stacy Claire Boyd’s personalized pet desk calendar.
At American Life Brands, it’s the toy category that dominates. Consumers are snapping up Dog & Me Tennis Balls for games of slime-free fetch. Other key categories include collars, bandannas and food/water mats.
“Toys are easy to pick up as gifts or for your own fur-baby. Dogs like and need variety as much as people do. Sales of our dog-related tea towels have picked up strongly,” said Jeanne Tripi, director of sales for American Life Brands.
Although every dog parent considers its pup “top dog,” Labrador Retrievers nabbed the number one spot for popular breeds in 2020, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, French Bulldogs and Bulldogs trailed behind as “Most Popular Dog Breeds.”
“We follow the AKC’s list of registrations so we can be sure our designs include the top five breeds,” said George White, president and COO of Up With Paper, a pop-up greeting card company in Mason, Ohio.
As for trends in 2021, DeVon Miller, marketing manager of P. Graham Dunn points to personalization and customization. “People love their pets. Add their pet’s name and you’ve got a best seller,” added Miller.
For more than 5 years, greeting cards adorned with dog images have been among Up With Paper’s best sellers. “Sales of higher-end, more differentiated cards are enjoying strong growth as Millennials assume a larger share of the market. Millennials spend more on cards than any other US demographic although Baby Boomers still buy more units. The combination of dogs on pop-up cards is ideal,” said White.
Cards with dog images are among the company’s best sellers throughout most collections. Aside from Mother’s Day, dog designs are tops in most seasonal offerings. They’re particularly strong for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas. Suggested retails range from $8 to $11.
“When it comes to dogs, we’ve found that more photo-realistic depictions have performed better than other styles,” added White.
American Life Brands’ Tripi sees interest in Made in the USA, small batch manufacturing an environmentally-friendly merchandise. “Our products are made in rural Wisconsin by fellow ‘pet people’ and under our strict standards of quality for dogs and humans,” said Tripi.
Its Dog & Me collection offers custom- and stock-designs of loom-woven collars and leashes; dog tees, hoodies and bandannas; toys; and the company’s exclusive Adventure Bag, which is ideal for trips to grandma’s. In 2021, American Life Brands will unveil True Companion, a lifestyle brand that focuses on the joy of life with a dog. It’ll include tees and baseball caps for pet parents.
SALES & MERCHANDISING TACTICS
Through diversifying its offerings with dog-related tea towels, American Life Brands’ Dog & Me segued into non-traditional retail venues such as coffee shops, kitchen shops and gift stores. The company also expanded by teaming up with home goods and apparel manufacturers to create store-branded products.
Several industry insiders offer valuable merchandising tips. P. Graham Dunn’s Miller suggested that retailers create “pet-lovers displays” that offer cohesive looks. To appeal to a wider audience, Miller suggested focusing on items that are generic versus breed specific.
When displaying cards, Up With Paper’s White advised retailers to consider a secondary outpost beyond the card section and exhibit several dog-related items there.
“Merchandising multiple formats drives incremental sales, particularly of greeting cards. Rather than restricting cards to everyday occasions, include dog-themed items in seasonal merchandising,” advised White.
American Life Brands simplified the display process by creating collections of compatible designs with overlapping colorways. “It’s easy and fun to mix-and-match products. We’re happy to send buyers our product photography for use on their own websites,” concluded Tripi.