Stay on the Side of Safety
Pet gates, pens and crates must keep animals safe, and not just by securing them inside the house or yard.
People who buy pet containment products for their dogs, cats and other pets want their animals to stay in an enclosed area where they will remain safe. Just keeping the animal in a specific part of the yard or the house is not enough, though. The gates, pens and crates sold in pet stores have to be well-built, attractive and designed to keep everyone—animals and humans—safe.
“Safety and ease of use are primary concerns,” says Dave Link, president and CEO of Precision Pet Products in Costa Mesa, Calif. One hazard, he explains, is that paws can get injured by becoming wedged in the crate. “On lower-quality crates, you will find that if you pull on the top corner of the door, you can create a large gap. This is an accident waiting to happen.”
To prevent these potential dangers, Precision Pet Products has developed several locks and latches. In 2010, the company designed the Precision 5-Point Door Latch for its top-of-the-line SKUs, and over the years, it added the feature to all of its crates. The system is easy to latch and eliminates the possibility of the dog pushing on the door and creating a gap that can trap paws. Other features include the Precision Auto Latch Door Lock and Precision Auto Pan Latch, designed to minimize human error. The new door design automatically locks it when the door is pushed shut, and a new pan latch automatically locks when the pan is pushed in. To prevent humans from walking into open crate doors, the Fold-Away Side Door folds flat onto the top of the crate when not in use.
These are all important features, but they are not easy to see unless the crate is assembled. With this in mind, Link says that merchandising the crates at the store is very important. Staff needs to learn how to set up the crates, and Precision helps by offering training. For example, the company once held a contest at a trade show, awarding $100 to the retail manager who assembled the crate the fastest. The goal, says Link, was to make retailers, especially store managers, comfortable with the products.
Consumers have to feel comfortable too, and not just with the assembly instructions. “Pet owners want something that will work with their lifestyle and are always looking for something versatile and functional, yet appealing to the eyes,” says Kristin Butler, marketing coordinator/account executive for Richell USA, Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas. “Any type of gate or crate needs to be able to last the duration of the pet’s life, as well as be easy to use. They want their animals to be able to look and see what is going on around them, but not feel like they are trapped.”
Butler adds that pet owners are looking for wider and taller gates that work well in open floor plans and match their home decor. Among Richell USA’s newest products are the Picture It Here Freestanding Pet Gate that is customizable with photos or designs, the Easy-Clean Pet Crate, and the updated One-Touch Gates that can now expand to even more widths.
To make it easier for retailers, Richell USA provides videos to help educate pet owners about the products. The company also offers training tips for how to use the products. “Retailers should be educated on what works best for certain types of pets, so they can help make the best suggestions possible,” says Butler.
Some retailers need encouragement to merchandise the products. “I can’t even guess the number of stores I go into where there are one or two containment solutions in the whole store, and those are stuck on top of a shelf in the back of the store, and can’t be reached by the consumer,” says CJ Pomerantz, vice president of marketing for Advantek in Moorpark, Calif. To help solve this problem, the company developed sales aids that fit on a shelf and let consumers know about the products.
Features like security and ease of use will always be important, says Pomerantz. However, containment products have to look attractive too. “Gone are the days where a crate is hidden in the garage, or in a corner of the backyard,” he says. “Now the crate is next to the bed, and the kennel is prominent in the backyard.”
Advantek has been working on new designs for its Pet Gazebo to make the item easier to use and transport. The company is also working on accessories designed to enhance pets’ comfort and that of their owners.
One important consumer trend that is affecting the category is that Millennials are fast becoming an important demographic. “For them, a pet is as much a person as a friend is,” says Pomerantz.
Millennials and other consumers tend to research products online, so manufacturers are updating their web presence. “Rich online content, including great images, product videos and testimonials, will drive consumers to look at your product,” says Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind. “While some consumers will make the purchase online, many still like to go to the brick-and-mortar store for the final purchase with their research in hand. Site-to-store pick-up options are also increasingly desirable.”
MidWest’s new Spree Pet Carriers offer ventilation and a carrying handle, and are geared toward smaller dogs, cats and small mammals. They come at a lower price point and feature a simple, four-step assembly. Spree Pet Carriers are available in three bright and fun fashion colors.
Also new from MidWest, Steel Pet Gates offer an extra secure pressure-mounted option to keep pets in a safe place within the home. The gates have finishes in graphite gray and smooth white, and they feature a one-handed operating door that swings in both directions, and closes and locks automatically. They come in two heights—29 and 39 inches—with three-, six- and 11-inch extensions sold separately.
Whitehead recommends cross-merchandising to encourage sales. “Displaying products like beds and crate mats, crate covers, and food and water bowls with the product promotes additional sales of accessory items,” she says.