Problem Contained

Pet carriers, crates, pens and gates address a surprising number of needs for pet owners–and afford retailers great sales opportunities.


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Just as dogs come in all sizes and shapes and with varying temperaments and needs, the industry has developed a vast array of carriers, pens, kennels and crates, enclosures, doors and  packs to address a multitude of needs. Quite simply, these products are meant to help humans and dogs cohabitate.

The biggest challenge store owners have when selling this product category is finding space–specifically, the display space these big, often boxy, unwieldy items take up in a shop’s precious retail landscape. On top of that, gates and pens and crates aren’t necessarily eye-catching items on the showroom floor. A retailer can merchandise carriers with a bit more pizzazz, but you have to be creative to make gates, pens and crates pull their weight in the inventory lineup; and with some thought, you can.

Store employees’ ability to demonstrate how pens and gates function and how to use them is  vital to helping customers make that purchase decision. This means, of course, a employees must be trained to understand how to use the products. Retailers also have to factor in the time these products will demand of staff, time that could be spent on other issues equally as important to the business.

Gates and pens tend to be viewed as commodity products without much differentiation. Customers will often look for these items online-–a quick purchase conveniently shipped to customers’ homes. Retailers can counter this perception with creativity and a commitment to customer service.


Opportunity Knocks
If a customer needs a doggy gate or some kind of enclosure, it’s because there’s a household to run and the dog must be managed. It isn’t just a gate or pen the customer seeks; she needs a solution to a home-management problem.

Gates help organize life indoors, and pens contain chaos in the home. They help provide order in the home, safety for the pet and independence for the pet owner. Ask customers to talk about their homes, the rooms they need to close off, and the children or elderly whose areas need to be off-limits to the dog. You need to be able to talk about sizes and heights, ease of access, and storage options when the gates and pens aren’t needed. In this way you build value into the purchase by helping to personalize it to the customer’s specific needs.

To do this effectively, use a merchandizing strategy that includes a reasonably representative variety of gate and pen designs to showcase on your shop floor. Help your customers get a sense of the possibilities. Help them see the systems at work in their own home.

Ask questions to ascertain what your customers’ needs are. Does your customer have a new puppy that must be house trained? If so, then how big will the dog get when fully grown? Is the dog left home alone much of the day and confined to a particular area of the home? Does the customer need a stout, heavy-duty pen that will stay in one place, or does he need mobility and portability? Must the gate system allow easy access for human traffic while staying in place? Does the dog owner need a gate or pen for only occasional use, such as for parties or for when guests arrive? Or is a more permanent system needed?

Above all, help your customers see the value of the purchase. You might even want to consider employing some bold in-store promotional strategies to demonstrate the value of these products. For example, if you or your employees bring their dogs to the store, consider using a variety of gates or pens to help demonstrate their use. Give customers a chance to “test drive” gates and pens by letting them operate the latches, doors, locks and stays of the various products. They can see your employee’s dog behind the gate and visualize their own dog there, comparing size differences and spatial variances.

You might not have the space to showcase a large selection of crates and pens, but you can offer catalogue options and special ordering services. Also, these days it’s especially important to emphasize a range of price points that give the customer enough room to feel comfortable with his or her options.

Gates and pens, as a product category, might not seem exciting, but they are necessary–it’s wise to be prepared to satisfy that need. Help your customers see the value of these products and to appreciate their designs and utility. With your assistance, they’ll envision the many ways these products help improve and enrich their lives with their pets.


For Pets On the Go
You have to really talk to your customers to understand what they’re going to need in the way of pens, gates and crates, but with carriers, you’ve got a chance to show off. 

Gates and pens tend to be bulky items, difficult to display, and hard to stock in enough variety of selection to satisfy all your customers’ needs. But carriers are designed for small dogs and can be merchandized as the fashion items they are.

Carriers are undoubtedly hip and fashionable, and they display quite well in a retail setting–and yet, they’re not frivolous. They are dog containers. They might look good, but they must function effectively to accommodate the dog’s height and length. They must do the job–with style. Retailers should be sure to point out the versatility of a carrier to customers. Airline-approved bags, for example, are easy to carry, practical and can serve as a permanent crate as well.

Larger containers function in the same way, and they can be stylish, too. Don’t be shy about presenting them in the same light as you would a fashionable shoulder bag that holds a miniature Yorkie.

Some dog owners need portable enclosures. Portable, collapsible crate designs fit quite nicely into pet owners’ busy lives, and they are particularly suitable for small rooms and apartments. They fold away for quick, easy storage and can be useful in the car or home. Retailers can also easily demonstrate how they operate in-store.

There are several other portable options retailers need to stock, as well. Packs–designed to be carried both in front and back–offer hands-free utility for more outdoor and casual containment on the go. Car seats for dogs keep pets still and help them ride more comfortably because they can see what’s going on out the car window, which makes driving safer for the owner and the pet. And, don’t forget strollers. These are wonderful tools for small-dog owners that enhance mobility outdoors for pet and owner.


Dan Headrick is a writer and marketing executive. He and his wife, Pam Guthrie, owned and operated Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, N.C., from 2003 to 2010. The store received numerous community and industry awards.

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