Pet Smart

The bond between pets and their people can foster brand loyalty above and beyond the pet industry and the market for pet products is bigger than ever. Unleash the power of the paw.

Prefer your pet to people? You’re not alone. Twenty percent of Americans would rather spend time with their furry friends than with their human counterparts, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling last year. And doggy day care beat out human child care as the top priority of Zappos employees when asked what amenities should be included in the design of the e-commerce retailer’s new corporate headquarters.

No doubt about it, the U.S. pet industry has legs. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates Americans spent over $55 billion on their pets last year, aided by a population that treats its pets like – or in some cases, better than – family. Pet industry sales have been in an uptrend for the last two decades, and APPA expects these gains to continue.


“There is an emotional bond between people and their pets, and it’s that emotional bond that really is the core of advertising. As a pet lover, I saw an opportunity for tapping into that market,” says Jessie Johnson, co-owner and president of Promopet (asi/79698), which was launched by WOV-IN Group (asi/92980) in 2010.

Promopet’s sales are evenly divided, 50/50, between orders for companies within the pet industry and non-pet industry businesses. Some of the company’s non-pet clients include hotels and resorts, car brands, software developers and many Fortune 500 brands, according to Johnson.

Sales have been robust. “We’ve seen strong, double-digit growth on an annual basis since we started Promopet in 2010,” Johnson adds.

Pet pharmaceutical companies have deep pockets when it comes to promotional products, says Stephanie Taylor, program coordinator at Commotion Promotions (asi/166010). Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based market research firm, estimates U.S. demand for animal health products will increase 3.5% annually to $12.7 billion in 2016.

The pet pharmaceutical companies attend many trade shows, distributing “everything from pens to candy jars, bone-shaped mint tins and branded tennis balls,” says Taylor. Pet food companies are starting to spend more at consumer shows, offering giveaways like pet food can lids, food scoops and bag clips, she adds.

Since Commotion Promotions began selling pet products through its niche website, Promotions for Pets, in 2011, Taylor has seen sales double among her pet clients.

“Pet health care is not regulated like the human pharmaceutical industry, which enables them to do lots of marketing promotions and distribute promotional products,” says Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, strategic account executive at Concord Marketing Solutions (asi/166445).

While pets are not her main focus, she has been stepping up her efforts in this sector. “When targeting a new sector, it’s always easiest if you already have a contact within the organization,” she says.

Since coming to Concord, she piggybacked off an existing relationship she had with Bayer Healthcare, and sent pet items to contacts in the pet division. She got a positive response to the products, which included a four-color-process dye-sublimated leash and doggy bandanas. She now has a couple of pet health-care clients that have been steadily increasing business with her.


On a recent trip to Chicago, Jaime Keller, lead merchandise buyer at GatewayCDI (asi/202515) noticed that in some communities, there were as many “pet boutiques” as there were baby stores. “Pets are not just an accessory anymore,” says Keller. “They have become a very important part of the family.”

Many pet businesses are started by animal lovers who follow their passion, but may not have much business or marketing experience. “This is an opportunity to partner with these small businesses and educate them on the power of promotional products and to show them all the potential ways branded merchandise can be used effectively to achieve business goals,” says Valerie Hayman Sklar, president of Detroit-based AIA/Corporate Specialties Inc. (asi/109480).

She recommends pitching to pet service businesses such as veterinarians, rescue groups, humane societies and local shelters as well as breeders, dog walkers, pet sitters, doggy day care centers, pet spas and luxury animal hotels.

A 2013 survey by reported that 58% of pet owners planned to travel with their pets during the summer months, and that owners say pet amenities are important when away from home. Taylor suggests that pet-friendly hotels offer doggy gift bags for the hotel room. They could include pet essentials like a collapsible water bowl, dog bone and bandanna.

Jessie-Kate Barton, account manager at Pinnacle Promotions (asi/78154), suggests tapping into a combination of facilities, such as a veterinarian office and a grooming operation, or a groomer that also offers pet day care or full boarding. Traditionally, pet customers might order tags or food and water accessories, but the new combination-style businesses often need promotional items that serve dual purposes. For example, branded pet items can be sold to customers at a grooming or day care facility, but also could be a promotional giveaway for a veterinarian’s office. Barton recently put together a large order for a vet/grooming facility. Included were 500 branded emergency wall/window decals (that let first responders know pets are inside), 1,500 all-natural dog bone treats with a logo wrap, 200 pet health interactive sliders and 200 nylon leashes. “The office manager was impressed with the clear logo placement opportunities, and noted that the price points of the items allowed her to vary which items the office could sell, and which items could be giveaways,” she says.

Keller says pet product sales and requests have increased among all of her clients. “These requests have grown to the point where we are putting pet products as its own category to monitor sales, she says, whereas before, these might have been lumped into another category.

“Even in our smaller programs we’re recommending our clients add a few pet products to see how they are received,” she adds. Automobile, technology, insurance and car rental clients are among those non-pet industries that are requesting pet products. She typically recommends dog-friendly flying discs and doggie-bag holders as good starting points.

Gibbons-Rauch notices retail stores and chains, such as Caribou Coffee, starting to stock pet items, which presents another opportunity to sell pet promotional items. “Be proactive and try to pitch them, even if it’s not a traditional pet location,” she says.


“Sales promotions in the pet world will mirror new products out there in the human world,” says Leslie May, founder of Pawsibility Marketing. Pet owners worry about their animal’s health, weight and happiness, so hot trends include pet products that promote a healthier, more active, organic and eco-friendly lifestyle. People are also embracing higher quality, made- in-the-USA and technology-oriented products for their pets.

Pets are living longer, too, thanks to health-and-wellness initiatives, so “products and services that can help give pets a better quality of life and be more active longer are appropriate,” says May. Interactive, intelligent toys are becoming popular, as they keep dogs busy and help people to interact with their pets.

Also, movement towards technology in pet products is beginning. “A branded pet pedometer is making a big impact in the promotional pet products market,” says Barton, adding, “This item can be useful for all types of pets and provides unique branding opportunities for marketers, doctors and small-business owners.”

Another pet trend that mirrors humans is a focus on safety. “The focus on ‘safe’ products that are BPA- and lead-free comes up frequently in conversations with clients,” Barton says.

While there aren’t yet formal compliance regulations governing the pet product industry (other than pet food), Johnson says, “We are using our best judgment and striving to ensure the safety of our pet products. It’s best when products are specifically designed for pets, and not just promotional product knock-offs. For example, dog-safe flyers are made with a different polymer than traditional, and won’t crack or splinter in a dog’s mouth when they bite down.”

Car safety is another huge issue for pets. With some states proposing laws requiring pets to be buckled up, there are opportunities to offer promotional pet car safety items, such as seat belt clips and harnesses.

“You need to think about the client, what they produce and the lifestyle of the pet lover,” says May. “The key is to make sure the promotional items are lifestyle-oriented.”
A light-up waste bag dispenser, which has a flashlight, is “very useful in the winter when the days are short and nights are long,” says Sklar. Promopet’s Johnson says these new light-up bag dispensers are one of the company’s most popular items so far this year.


When thinking of the pet industry, most focus on promotional products aimed at pets. While important, there are some traditional marketing opportunities that distributors may be overlooking.

For example, Sklar says uniform programs can be good for business. “Employees of pet day care centers, groomers or any other service-related pet business should represent the brand with consistency, and that’s where uniforms come in,” she says. Whether casual tees and sweatshirts or more formal button-downs, branded apparel can be worn by anyone involved in the pet business.

Selling garments from these uniform programs to customers is another way to grow some incremental revenue, according to Sklar. “People are passionate about their pets, and this zeal often translates into the services used for their furry friends.” She recommends capitalizing on this by offering a selection of logoed items.

John Cullen, principal of Bulldog Marketing and Sales, says branded T-shirts are a good promotional item to recommend to new start-ups, as they can give the business a uniform look at trade shows, become part of the branding and are available in a wide range of prices.

But quality matters. “Don’t go too cheap,” he says. “If you can’t afford a quality shirt, wear a shirt and tie until you can. A poorly decorated or embroidered shirt can actually harm the brand.”

Think about adding pet apparel to company stores, too. Last fall, Keller added a pet hoodie to the company store of one of her tech clients. “We had to place a reorder faster than we thought, and as a result, we’re recommending the client add additional dog items to their collection.”