SuperZoo show, innovative gear propel healthy pet product market

The pet product market appears healthy and primed for growth, as attendance picked up at this year’s SuperZoo trade show, and innovative new products are flowing into the market.
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For several years now, pet product sales have crept upward in the U.S. market, and the makers of pet gear, treats and toys told SNEWS the category is primed for even greater growth.

On the heels of the recession, activity picked up at this year’s SuperZoo pet product trade show, and manufacturers said the pet market is being propelled by an influx of innovative, technical and eco-friendly products.

A healthy market

Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruff Wear (www.ruffwear.com), told SNEWS that the recession dampened the pet product market, and the level of energy had dropped at many pet product trade shows over the past couple of years. But, she said, things are picking up.

“Some dealers faded away in the last couple of years, but those that have hung on are reinvesting in their businesses,” she said.

Strible said this year’s SuperZoo show, held Sept. 21-22 in Las Vegas, was really hopping. “It was a really good show for us. I felt like it was well attended, and there were attendees from all over the country, Canada and Mexico,” said Strible. “People were there to do business, and they were upbeat and wanted to place orders with us.”

Buyer attendance was up 3 percent at SuperZoo, according to the World Pet Association (www.worldpetassociation.org), which produces the show, and buyers came ready to spend.

 “There was lots of traffic, and people were eager to buy,” said Stephanie Volo, president of Planet Dog (www.planetdog.com). “The energy was amazing. For this show we wrote a lot of orders, and the order value was also very high.”

A resilient market

Though the recession impacted the pet product market to some degree, statistics show that sales have actually continued to climb, albeit slowly.

According to Leisure Trends data, sales of pet products in specialty stores have risen for each of the last three years. In 2007, 145,028 units were sold, and that climbed to160,279 in 2008, and 177,954 in 2009.

Dollars sold at specialty retail have risen as well, from $2.42 million in 2007 to $3.10 million in 2009.

Manufacturers said that, even during the recession, people continued to spend money on items for their pets.

“From everything we can tell, the pet market hasn’t gone down and continues to grow,” said Ken Goldman, president of Stunt Puppy (www.stuntpuppy.com), a 3-year old company that focuses on products for people who run with their dogs. For example, its new Stunt Runner is a hands-free leash for running. It includes a waist belt that the owner wears, and there is an elastic cord that connects to the dog’s collar.

Product innovations

As companies such as Stunt Puppy enter the market to develop sectors such as running, consumers are seeing a great deal of innovative products.

Volo of Planet Dog said that during SuperZoo she saw an increasing number of products made with eco-friendly materials.

“Using sustainable materials is still a big trend,” she said. “I see it in collars and leashes, toys and apparel and beds. I see it in everything. Companies are trying to be very environmentally conscious when designing products.”

At the show, Planet Dog showed dealers the new Wood Chuck, a ball-tossing device made with 100-percent sustainable bamboo and a handle of reused cork (photo - left).

While “green” products are becoming more popular, consumers are also interested in higher-quality items made with technical materials.

“People are gravitating to quality, and price doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue,” said Strible of Ruff Wear, noting that the company has received good response to its redesigned Cloud Chaser Soft Shell dog jacket (photo - right). “People are looking for both functionality and aesthetically pleasing products. They want things that will last though multiple seasons -- I don’t know if that’s a product of our current economic situation, but people want something to last a while.”

At SuperZoo, Strible also noticed a growing trend where products typically designed for human children are being modified and made for small dogs. “There are things like beds that go next to a human bed, and products that let a dog sit at the table with a human, as a child would sit in a high chair,” she said. “There are strollers for dogs, and even bunk beds for dogs.”

Just scratching the surface

While clever products are flowing into the market, and consumers are seeking out higher-quality items, manufacturers said that they are just beginning to tap the market’s potential, and there is much room for growth at outdoor specialty stores.

Volo said that many outdoor specialty stores have been reluctant to carry pet products, and those that do seldom work to develop their pet department. She said some major outdoor retailers have remained stagnant, carrying the same products year after year.

“I understand it’s a risky time,” said Volo. “The economic landscape has changed drastically over the last couple of years, but it’s a winning combination -- people love to spend time outdoors with their pets. They run with them, travel with them, play with them, swim and hike with them.”

Volo noted that her best outdoor dealers -- REI, L.L. Bean and Orvis -- are enjoying brisk sales because they realize pets are an important element of the outdoor lifestyle.

“The companies that get it are willing to take the risk in growing it,” she said. “They’re seeing major growth year after year, and this year has proven to be more successful for every one of them with phenomenal growth.”

Strible said that there are still plenty of outdoor consumers who are unaware of the many high-quality pet products on the market, and many who lack knowledge of how to keep their pets comfortable and safe while traveling outdoors.

“We have a lot of potential to reach people who don’t know about our products, may not know how to put a pack on a dog, or how much weight to put in a pack,” she said. “There are a lot of educational opportunities.”

She said the key is for outdoor retailers to understand that pet products serve the same purpose as other types of outdoor gear -- they help people enjoy the outdoors.

“I like to think our products inspire people to get out,” Strible said, “and that we’re part of a bigger purpose.”

--Marcus Woolf

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