Taking the stress out of trends in the pet industry

When you visit trade shows, do you notice that there seems to be an underlying theme? A new “free from” range or a new set of technological advancements that dominates the products on offer? Then a few short months later you start to hear your customers making the same requests. “Do you have it in purple?” and “I saw this at Crufts, do you have it?”

To prevent reacting at this point, and possibly ending up with unsold stock as the trend changes, there is a balancing act that must be practiced. It lies between being ahead of your competitors, knowing what is going to sell this season and next, but not too far ahead that your customers or buyers don’t know they want the product yet or that it exists.

Our canine sector is heavily influenced by market trends and sets the scene in the marketplace. This is undoubtedly driven by a new generation of pet owners who consider their furbaby a member of the family. It is no bad thing, especially in such a varied market, but you can find yourself lost in the trends of the industry.

Take for example pet food – this market has seen a massive boom in quality over the past decade. Owners are demanding healthier options and a huge independent market has emerged. The products don’t have large margins, shelf life, are bulky and come in every possible array of options for lifestages, grain-free, hypoallergenic and even contain sustainable insect proteins. As many new businesses start up to fill these marginal market gaps, they attempt to muscle their way to a seat at the (already full) table and we get to see the natural winnowing of the weaker, less adaptable business models. We can learn from them.

The market is always evolving and it isn’t that easy for retailers to accommodate to their advantage. This is the constant battle waged with the consumer.. What will they want to consume tomorrow? Because it’ll more than likely be different to yesterday and woe-betide any retailer not on the ball.

As retailers, we get caught up in trends very easily – this is where looking at the big picture is most useful. You have to be able to see through all the details of specific requests, conversations and look to what the industry and area as a whole want. Listen to your customers over time. Get a feel for the flow of fashion, be it dog biscuits or diamanté collars. Keep your mind and eyes on what other industries are doing. Often there is a bleed through of ideology from the wider markets to pet.

Keep notes of what your customers ask for, do a moment’s research, even if it seems like an oddball item at the time. You may just have been given the next big thing three months ahead of its glittering launch. Look at your demographics, is there an overlying theme for better quality food, enrichment toys and natural health care products or do people just want cheap, cheap and cheaper? You know your customers best. The customers who want value will always want value. These are the bread and butter purchases. When it comes to keeping on top of trends and marking yourself out from the competition, you need to listen to the smaller percentage that is willing to spend on new lines and tech, the people who are looking for the next best thing to love their pet with. Then try and tempt the value customers into an add-on sale based on those new trends.

I always advise to keep a diary/book or even a WhatsApp group for all of your customer facing and industry interested members of the team. Encourage any special requests and interesting conversations from customers to be noted there, including those they have whilst walking the dog or going to a national show. Review at the end of the month for an overview of what your customer demographic wants. It may surprise you to find your customer theme is not what you were expecting.

Where can you go to be ahead of the curve? If you think exhibitions and shows are the place to go to see what is new, you are correct. However, for these items to make it to market in the first place they have been driven by months or years of development; by the evolution of the market and the voice of the people who purchase. You have access to these people everyday via your store or online shop. Build your own idea of what your particular customer will want in a week, month, year by asking them and look for companies responding to that want. If you become adept at this, your stockroom will always be full of fast moving, high margin innovations.

Some trends are timeless and seasonal trends are a winner, you just need to pick an appropriate number of items to sell. Many others come and go before you’ve even realised they happened. Striking a balance is the key to success. Keep your eyes on your market and listen to your customers, trends are a challenge but one that can be very lucrative if met head on.

This feature appeared in the April 2019 issue of Pet Gazette

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