By Carimé Lane

When it comes to gifts for pets, pet boutiques and markets need to understand how to appeal to those looking for pet-related gifts–and, of course–the animal they’re purchasing the gift for. Here, four owners of pet boutiques and markets share their tips on what sells best, selecting unique product and which toys dogs like best.

Southern Paws Sales Associate Joyce photographed with a dog. Seasonal tables help keep new merchandise out in front of customers for a fun shopping experience.

At both of her City Dog Market shops in Georgia (the Brookhaven 2,000-square-foot location and the Avondale 850-square-foot location), Owner Renee Palmer aims to serve up a five-star restaurant-like shopping experience that can’t be duplicated online.
She cultivates an interactive shopping experience where customers can “touch it, feel it and smell it.” For instance, she often sets up sample stations. “Nothing can sell the treat like the dog,” said Palmer. Once, she served goat milk pumpkin lattes in sample-sized shot glasses (large enough to accommodate the dogs’ snouts, of course). She’ll also have toys that light up when played with on hand to get furry in-store ‘shoppers’ excited.
Palmer said that “without a doubt” her most popular products are dog treats and chews. These are made up of “health and wellness brands we feel good about carrying,” Palmer said.
They’ve also teamed up with a local manufacturer to create their own signature line of treats–also among their best-sellers. These items are geared towards pet parents who want to be clear about where treats are being sourced, assured that the products are made with ingredients free of additives and preservatives and are interested in sustainable farming. These items are purchased so frequently as gifts that Palmer often decorates them with a bow before placing them on the shelves.

Store Manager Samantha “Sam” of Southern Paws photographed in front of a treat counter. The treats include fleur des lis-shaped pet confections to make a local connection for shoppers.

Your store brand should guide the product you select to sell, said Palmer. “Know your lane and stay within it,” said Palmer. “Over our 13 years of being in business we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way–now that we’re clear about who we are, we stay in that health and wellness lane. It only makes sense.”
When looking for gifts to sell, you also want to keep your finger on pulse of what’s trending, said Palmer. Trends come in many forms: They could be the products themselves or certain colours, for example. In terms of products, CBD is hot right now–for humans and their furry friends. Palmer recommended maintaining a standard of quality when items such as CBD are trending. Since there are currently plenty of choices in the CBD space, shop owners need to be choosey. “We have standards in place to make sure our products are safe and effective.”
At the two locations of Southern Paws–one in the French Quarter (680-square-feet) and the other in The Riverwalk (1,100-square-feet) top selling pet gifts include treats from their “barkery” case, said Owner Michele Spansel.  “Our customers love taking home souvenir treats for their pups,” said Spansel.   The case is full of yummy treats with local flair including fleur del lis shaped treats, Mardi Gras masks, king cakes, and more, said Spansel.  “Our store is located in the heart of the historic French Quarter, so any “New Orleans”-themed treat or toy is sure to make the perfect gift,” Spansel said.
When bringing in new merchandise, Spansel employs a “test and go” method.  She will bring in a smaller quantity and test the market before buying deep.  “Once the new merchandise has sold on the sales floor, a larger follow up order is placed as quickly as possible.  However, if you know a new item will be a home run, do not be afraid to buy bigger,” Spansel said.

A display of bulk dog bones at City Dog Market. Sample stations are part of the experience for
customers at the business’ two stores.

 

Michelle Spansel Buckman, owner and buyer, Southern Paws in New Orleans, La. “Our customers love taking home souvenir treats for their pups,” she said.

When it comes to displays, window and table displays have always been the most successful way to showcase merchandise, Spansel said. “We always have a seasonal table filled with what’s new. Make it fun, keep it fun,” Spansel said.
The majority of people who come into the 1,000-square-foot Bark & Meow Pet Supplies in Toronto–known for its selection of vegan options for dogs and cats–are there to buy items for their own pets, said Owner Charles Ng. But during holidays, shoppers tend to drop by to purchase gifts for a friend’s furry friend. These customers normally choose toys and treats. Otherwise, they’re unsure about what’s safe for another owner’s pet.
Ng starts out small by buying a few items from a product line that he’s interested in. He’ll expand selection if customers are interested in it as well.
When he brings in new products, he’ll rearrange them on the shelves so new items are front and centre. If there’s space, he may use the display cases that come with the product.

These usually provide more information about the product and get customers interested in an item, said Ng.
This year, Ng scattered Christmas-themed products are throughout the store–so Christmas dog toys are in the dog toys section, and Christmas dog treats are in the dog treat section, and so on. “Everywhere you go, you see a little bit of something,” said Ng.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the bulk of Lake Erie Pet Food Co’s business involves pet supplies delivery. They also sell from their 1,000-square-feet retail location.
Owner Eric Huber said consumable products (in particular, dog chews) in bulk packaging are the best-sellers here. Huber finds that shoppers are drawn to consumables in their true form, rather than in flashy packaging. He’s also found they tend to buy more of the consumables when they’re in bulk–and then come back to try them again.
For Christmas, they package items in gift baskets or stuffed stockings for dogs and cats that include items like Holiday Catnip Fish, purple feather, cat treats, chews and mini biscuits. Year-round they offer other gift baskets, like their puppy packs that include items like puppy food and chews suitable for puppies.
They use an 8-foot tall and 7-foot-wide antique hutch to display bulk products and place them in the various nooks and crannies.



What a Dog Likes: Trends in Toys

City Dog Market Founder and CEO Renee Palmer, right, photographed with City Dog Market Store Manager Tisha Whitaker. Dog treats and chews are the most popular items in the store, Palmer said.

At Lake Erie Pet Co., Owner/General Manager Eric Huber said puzzle toys with treats or food hidden in the nooks and crannies are best-sellers. They keep dogs occupied and are long lasting. He carries the made-in-the-USA brand West Paw.
It’s impossible to name one best toy for a dog, said City Dog Market CEO and Founder Renee Palmer. “Dogs are as unique as we are.” But she does favour the plush toy Fluff and Tuff. “They do a really great job of making plush toys that hold up very well for customers,” expressed Palmer. What’s more: They’ve done unbelievable repeat business on the brand and it supports homeless pet community – “I love partnering with vendors like that who care enough to also give back,” said Palmer.
“Dogs and cats are like little kids; they’re not all the same,” said Owner Charles Ng at Bark & Meow. While some may play with a ball, another may be interested in a stuffed animal, he explained. There are other considerations, too. For instance, one toy might be torn apart by a larger breed, but suitable for a chihuahua. As well, a squeaker toy may not work if the pet parents live in a smaller quarters. But, in a large house, the squeaker toy may not be such an irritant.
Owner Michele Spansel at Southern Paws agreed. “Every dog is unique,” said Spansel. “Some are chewers, some love squeakers: The key is to have something for everyone.”