Gate Keepers

Gates and pens present some particularly unique selling challenges, but retailers have a unique opportunity when it comes to promoting this product category.


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Pet owners love their dogs and gladly share their homes with them, but these four-legged friends often need their own spaces that don’t always conform to the interiors humans occupy. That’s why the industry has developed a vast array of gates, pens, kennels, enclosures and doors that help humans configure their world to accommodate their beloved dogs.

For many retail store owners, however, this product category presents some particularly unique selling challenges. For example, gates and pens are hard to display with the same impact that carriers, beds and toys can deliver. To showcase crates and gates for maximum impact, precious retail floor space is sacrificed. These products scream for in-store marketing tools with compelling visuals, and are good candidates for a small product video loop.

In addition, pens and gates often require that store employees demonstrate their use and function to help customers make that purchase decision. This means that employees must understand how to use them and should be trained accordingly. Also, storeowners must factor in the time these products will demand of the staff–time that could be spent on other issues equally as important to the business.

Gates and pens also tend to be viewed as commodity products without much differentiation that can be purchased online and conveniently shipped to the customer’s home. This perception presents a huge challenge to the retail store owner. Meet this challenge with creativity and a commitment to customer service. Providing a free delivery service is a good place to start.


Gateways to Selling

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

Gates help organize the life of an interspecies family. Pens contain chaos in the home. Take this opportunity to get customers talking about their home, the rooms they need to close off and the children or elderly whose areas need to be off limits to the dog. Talk about sizes and heights, ease of access and storage options when the gates and pens aren’t needed. This way, value is built into the purchase, because it is personalized to the customer’s specific needs.

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

Does a 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 she or he need mobility and portability? Must the gate system allow easy access for human traffic while staying in place? If so, then suggest designs that include a hinged door built into the fixed gate. Does the dog owner only need a gate or pen for occasional use, such as for parties or for when guests arrive? Or is a more permanent system needed?

Above all, help customers see the value of the purchase. This product category carries certain over-arching and compelling benefits. Gates and pens help provide order in the home, safety for the pet and independence for the pet owner. These products can help prevent damage to furniture and floors, and they reduce the chance for accidents.


Closing the Deal

These lines of questions accomplish a number of things. First, they help a storeowner establish a close connection with a customer that opens other selling opportunities. It helps the customer appreciate the value of the product, and cultivates confidence in the final purchase decision. And for both storeowner and customer, the service provided in the form of sensitive counsel and discussion enhances the value of the transaction.

Probing questions and thoughtful decision-making, however, only launch the sale. Gates and pens tend to be bulky items that are difficult to display and hard to stock in enough variety. Retailers can offer catalogue options and special ordering services. Also, especially these days, try to emphasize a range of price points that give the customer enough room to feel comfortable with his or her options.

Storeowners also might want to consider even bolder in-store promotional strategies. For example, if employees bring their dogs to the store, consider using a variety of gates or pens in the store to help demonstrate their use. Give customers a chance to “test drive” gates and pens by allowing them to operate the latches, doors, locks and stays of the various products. They can see an employee’s dog behind the gate and visualize their own dog there, comparing size differences and spatial variances.

Gates and pens, as a product category, might not be as sexy as toys, diners, plush beds, and stylish leads and collars, but that’s no reason to consign them to commodity status where they sit in a heap that customers simply stroll past. Instead, pull them out, play with the possibilities and learn to see them as something unique that can speak to customers in ways few other products can. You never know what doors might open.

Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who, with his wife Pam Guthrie, owns Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, NC. The couple, former corporate burnouts who just got fed up with having to leave their dogs home alone all day, opened Wag in 2003. The store has received numerous community and industry awards.

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