Leg Up

A Leg Up On The Four-Legged Market

After a long, hard day spent fighting off crime and shooing bad guys back to the evil kingdoms from whence they came, nothing feels more rewarding than the welcoming and joyous reaction our presence at the door invokes in the beloved non-humans we share a home and our lives with. Sure, the superhero antics we engaged in while away might be better described as a day at the office, in class or simply a twenty-minute trip to the hardware store, but to those charmingly innocent furry roommates (or feathery, slimy and maybe even scaly, depending on your preference), the very reappearance of their humans is monumental and worthy of a standing ovation.

This sweet, unconditional love and acceptance has evolved the functional purpose of housing of four-legged exterminators and property guardians into the desired plan to extend our families by another member. Pets are referred to as additional kids, best friends and shadows, and as they teach us lessons about responsibility, character and simplicity, owners are spending more money on products that reflect this bond. With the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey reporting that 72 percent of U.S. homes have at least one dog or cat, retailers can easily expand into the pet market by providing specialized goods that cater to our trusty sidekicks.

The Evolution Of The Animal (Market)

Rachel Hammer, of Roland DGA Corp. in Irvine, California, reports that pet accessories and apparel are more popular than ever, and retailers that cater to this market are popping up all over the country. “Personalization is also a big trend right now in the pet market as owners look for customized collars, tags and even apparel items that reflect their personality, and the personality of their pet,” she says. “Mobile technologies are impacting the market as well. Pet tags are now frequently produced with QR codes to make it easy to identify and return a lost pet to his or her home.”

Hammer emphasizes that the way we perceive our pets as celebrated members of the family has been the greatest change in this niche in recent years, along with the technologies that have advanced, making it easier to customize pet products. Examples include impact printing technology that allows businesses to add gradient images to pet items, and UV printing technologies that enable printing directly on objects, supporting a wide variety of shapes and surfaces.

“Pet tags were originally engraved using a Pantograph, then progressed into metal stamping numbers and letters into the tag individually on a standard metal tag,” adds Rachelle Griffin, Vision Engraving & Routing Systems, Phoenix, Arizona. “At that time, it was for the sole purpose of identifying rabies vaccination with a serial number.” Today, she notes, pet owners not only tag their pet for identification purposes, but as a fashion trend as well. By serving multiple buyer facets, retailers can appeal to customers on many levels.

Epilog Laser in Golden, Colorado is definitely seeing an increase in customers purchasing laser engraving and cutting equipment for engraving pet info on ID tags and cherished photos on marble and wood pet memorials and urns. “The pet market has indeed grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years,” confirms Epilog’s James Stanaway. “And as more people are opting to not have children, pets are quickly taking the place of kids in certain homes. Whether the demographic consists of singles, couples or large families, people love their animals, and pets have become an important part of families, large and small.” This attachment and devotion has also led to the rising aforementioned trend of engraving photos on pet memorials. “As pets are increasingly considered family, consumers are requesting more elaborate memorials and memorial products to remember this beloved member of their household.”

What Retailers Should Know

With the increase in interest for specialized pet products for special pets, retailers have a bevy of options with which to capture this segment. Time, for example, remains a precious commodity, and instant gratification will always be a hit with customers. On that note, equipment that can produce on-the-spot results is in high demand.

“A definite trend in the pet market today is that pet owners aren’t always willing to wait for mail order pet tags to arrive when they can now have them engraved while they wait,” explains Andrew Christie of Inland Products in Riverside, California, a distributor for the Tag Cube engraving machine. The Tag Cube engraver can be set up on the counter in any retail location to be operated by either a store employee or the customer with little assistance. The touchscreen display with its use of graphics offers a user interface that is completely self-explanatory. Says Christie, “The customer simply chooses the tag to engrave, places it in the machine, then follows the on-screen instructions to engrave the tag. In a matter of minutes, the retailer turns a 25 cent tag blank into a personalized tag that typically sells for between five to ten dollars.”

A product such as the Tag Cube in a retail location is likely to encourage customers to buy on impulse, realizing that they can actually walk out of the store with a personalized tag that they have “been meaning to buy” for their pet. As Christie notes, “They may not have come into the store to buy the tag, but because it is so convenient and many customers find the process interesting and fun to watch, they are drawn to make the purchase.” In this regard, not only is the standalone machine a money maker, but also a sleek visual attraction in any location. It is also important to note that other items, such as luggage tags, key chains and lighters, can be personalized with the Tag Cube.

Vision Engraving presents the iMARC Pet Tag Engraver as another user-friendly and fast-delivering asset to those looking to enhance their offerings in the pet market. With a large full-color display screen that enables customers to preview the finished product before engraving, this machine can be a tremendous source of profit for a retailer breaking into the pet market, says Griffin, advising that retailers place the engraver and tags directly near the register to secure that coveted impulse purchase.

She continues, “One of the quickest, easiest ways to maximize return on investment is to ask a customer at the point of sale, ‘Do you want to ensure your pets safety with a custom ID tag today?’ Safety is a pet owner’s primary concern, and this is a small price to pay for the comfort received when they know the pet will be identified and returned quickly if it becomes lost or gets let out of the home.” Additionally, Griffin cites a customer feedback review reporting pet tag sales more than tripling after having purchased their iMARC Pet Tag Engraver.

According to Epilog, a properly sized laser engraving and cutting system is imperative for someone breaking into the pet market, as having this equipment allows retailers to create one-off custom gifts, accessories, memorials and more for a rapidly growing segment. “If you’re considering a laser for this market,” Stanaway states, “It is important to determine your needs prior to selecting a system. To fully take advantage of the demand for customized pet products, users should consider getting a system with a significant table depth to accommodate taller items, as well as a rotary attachment accessory to tackle cylindrical products.”

The company’s most popular machine in this market is the Helix 24 laser system. The large 24” X 18” table size and the ability to hold items up to 11” deep make it a great choice for this usage intent. For the pet industry, says Stanaway, it’s really a need for high-resolution photo engraving for memorials and the ability to engrave small, clear text on pet tags.

Epilog Laser manufactures an extensive line of CO2 laser engraving, marking and cutting systems that are well-suited for the pet industry. Their systems can currently be found at approximately 1,300 pet ID engraving kiosks at Petsmart retailers nationwide, and the Epilog Zing 16 Laser has been specially incorporated into stations where users can enter their pet’s name and owner contact information on anodized aluminum tags.

“Epilog’s high-quality systems are very much in demand for those entering the pet market. The variety of table sizes, wattage configurations, Radiance optics and one-hundred percent USA-made construction make our products appealing to both seasoned engravers and those just getting started.”

Roland also offers a number of engraving and printing technologies that can help a business get into the pet market, and Hammer explains how they can be implemented by retailers seeking pet profits. For example, Roland EGX engravers are designed to engrave metals and plastics used for pet tags and water bowls, and can also be utilized to create rhinestone apparel templates for custom rhinestone collars, leashes and apparel items. The MPX-90 impact printer produces text, graphics, QR codes and even halftone images on metal and acrylic surfaces. “With an MPX-90,” she explains, “a business can add these details to common pet items quickly and easily. The MPX-90 is also a great tool for customizing items for the owner, for example, by adding pet photos to frames, jewelry items and giftware.”

Hammer continues: “Pet apparel is everywhere today, and with the right printer, a business can easily capitalize on this market opportunity. For this application, Roland offers the VersaStudio BN-20 desktop metallic inkjet printer/cutter, which prints colorful heat transfers with metallic effects. Metallic is one of the fashion industry’s hottest trends today, and can turn an ordinary pet T-shirt or Halloween costume into something spectacular.” In addition to creating apparel items for pets, a BN-20 can create custom Ts, jerseys and handbags for the owner featuring images of his or her pet: perfect for the pet owner/superhero who wants to flaunt their affection for a furry friend. Matching capes, perhaps?

For the business that would like to print on a wider range of items, Hammer recommends Roland’s VersaUV LEF-12, which prints, CMYK, white and clear inks on virtually any surface, including smartphone and tablet covers.

Insider Advice

The same National Pet Owners Survey cited above reported nearly 165 million owned cats and dogs in the United States. That’s a lot of unconditional love waiting by the door with tails wagging and throats a-purring! If you are a retailer that hasn’t yet cashed on this canine cache and feline fortune, perhaps now is the time to stake your claim.

In addition to inquiring about their current best-selling products, A&E asked these industry experts to elaborate as to how the booming pet market can enhance untapped retail sales:

“With so many pet owners out there, the market for these products is beyond huge,” exclaims Hammer. “Many awards and engraving customers are also pet owners themselves, and will likely be interested in customized products for their pets. Outside this built-in customer base, a business can expand into the general community, promoting its capabilities both directly to the consumer and to specialty pet retailers looking to outsource printing and engraving services.” To generate interest, Roland recommends showing what the equipment can do. Using your own pet as inspiration, Hammer guides, create samples of the output, from custom rhinestone collars to engraved water bowls and photo frames.

She also encourages keeping an eye open for opportunity and all varieties of pet owners: don’t just focus on dogs and cats. Consider printed and engraved nameplates for aquariums and cages for those loved ones who are a little less cuddly. Remember, in addition to accessorizing the pets themselves, creating custom key chains, T-shirts, giftware and jewelry items for their owners can bring in additional revenues. Window clings featuring pet photos are great decorative items for homes and offices. Be creative and explore new ideas.

“This market is also perfect for online sales, as the products are typically small and can be shipped nationwide economically. You will also have a much bigger audience by going online. Use of social media can be a great way to promote your business, as well,” Hammer adds.

Just as providing pet market products can lead to additional purchases and orders for services presently offered, so, too, can the reverse take place. On-the-spot pet tag engraving is becoming well-known for its ability to draw customers in to the location where the tags are being engraved. Inevitably, purchases of other products in the store will be made as a result of the customer coming in to purchase the engraved tag, says Christie for Inland Products. “If you are the owner of an awards and engraving store, there is simply no reason not to offer your ‘walk-in’ customers engraved pet I.D. tags…with the Tag Cube on your counter this becomes a very easy way to profit from the expanding pet product market.”

Griffin suggests that appealing to safety precautions will allow this investment to sell itself. “Pet identification has grown, and will continue to grow as more families are created and pets are brought into the home. It will continue to be a profit center for retailers as responsible pet owners ensure their pets safety with an ID tag.”

She continues, “Identifying pets allows a person to automatically call an animal by its given name and contact the pet owner quickly, reducing the number of homeless and abandoned pets in rescue organizations. This ensures lost pets a safe and speedy recovery.”

Finally, Stanaway reminds readers that there will always be a buyer for and profit from customized goods—as industry members, that cardinal rule shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to our non-human cohabitants. “Take advantage of the disposable income of pet owners. When you can personalize any item, the value of the item increases, as does the price a customer is willing to pay for it.” He adds, “If you’re able to offer a service that your competitors cannot, it is the best way to win a loyal customer that will remain loyal and keep coming back to you for your products and services.”

All of this presents a great opportunity for awards and engraving businesses; many are already equipped with the right engraving and printing equipment to move into this fast-growing space, says Hammer. “And, with the right technology and a little focus on the sales and marketing of these items, an awards business can add these services into the mix for greater profit and a more diversified product offering.”

Many pets (okay, mostly dogs) spend all day assuming that we’re out conquering the world, yet at the same time, they seem relieved we’re back after a trip to the mailbox. The haughty and always composed pets (okay, mostly cats) who barely offer a sideways glance are keenly aware and happy you exist—you provide the food, in most cases. The lizard, the parakeet, the fish, frog and ferret: all of the little sidekicks who are the true providers and selfless heroes have a place in our hearts and our homes more now than ever. It turns out they take up a pretty big place in the market, too. Fine by them; they have more than enough love to go around.