Dog owners may think of their canine companions as kids, pretty much giving them the run of the house and yard, but even human children have to be corralled at times—and it’s no different for the four-legged versions. To this end, pet products manufacturers have devised all manner of containment options—gates, pens, carriers, and crates—to keep pets safely in one place or securely transportable.
These product categories are on the rise, particularly when it comes to pet carriers, where demand is being fueled by the small-dog trend. The (slowly) improving economy may also lend this segment a hand. According to Brad Forgette, executive vice president for Lyndhurst, N.J.-based Marchioro USA, while sales waned a bit during the recession, which affected leisure travel with pets, it has started to improve.
“Marchioro is seeing the buying trend increasing on high-quality and moderate to high price-point carriers,” says Forgette, whose company manufactures high-quality plastic and wire products for the pet and garden industries. “Consumers seem to still be willing to spend money but are looking for the best quality at a fair price.”
Consumers are tiring of “staycations” and are starting to travel more, taking their pets along for the ride. But even at home, dog owners seem loath going anywhere without their furry friends, a trend that has increasingly made safety and easy portability primary concerns.
Then there’s the dog-as-family-member concept, which also means incorporating their various accoutrements into the household as aesthetically as possible. Consider pet gates, the sales of which have remained strong year after year, according to Nancy Swartzentruber, president of Dynamic Accents, Ltd. The company, headquartered in Wooster, Ohio, designs, manufactures and wholesales furniture-grade pet containment products and accessories. This particular segment keeps manufacturers on their toes.
“Consumers are constantly looking for innovation and convenience,” she explains. “Especially in furniture-style pet products, the finishes must be on trend to blend nicely with existing décor and the quality needs to offer lasting durability.”
Appearance is also important for outside areas, says CJ Pomerantz, manager - marketing and advertising for Moorpark, Calif.-based ADVANTEK Marketing, Inc.
“Need a kennel for your backyard that looks better than the traditional galvanized chain link? There are lots of options out there,” says Pomerantz, whose company provides solutions for the pet industry.
Lack of options isn’t the problem. Instead, for most retailers the challenge is finding the space to effectively display these often large-sized products. It’s an issue retailers should strive to overcome, since customers are more apt to buy merchandise they can inspect and interact with.
Providing sufficient choice and creating an impact is also important for sales, says Bruce Haas, co-owner of Chicago-based Petote Group, LLC. The company designs and manufactures pet carriers. “Retailers need to offer a compelling assortment of styles and prices,” he says. “This way, they can appeal to a wide range of clients.”
Stacking floor models will take up just one floor footprint, while still allowing for the display of multiple models, Forgette says. For retailers lacking even this space, he suggests using catalogs and photos showing the assembled product.
Pomerantz advises setting up a floor sample of larger containment products like pens—if space allows. Although many pet stores have leash policy, allowing the sample to be used for pet sitting while the owner shops, gives the customer a chance to see the product in action, encouraging sales.
Other sales-generating tips include:
• Get creative when working gates and crates into your store layout, says Swartzentruber. “We recommend that at a minimum, retailers bring in a piece or two as store samples,” she says, adding that Dynamic Accents will drop-ship to the store or consumer.
• Create a carrier/tote/travel section enabling customers to easily locate these products, says Nicola Plevin, marketing manager of Denver-based Quaker Pet Group, LLC. The company’s pet carrier brand is Sherpa, located in Rockaway, N.J. “Educate consumers on how certain carriers/totes are better for different uses, different sized, dogs, etc.,” she says. “Clearly call out features and benefits with easy-to-understand signage.”
• Encourage add-on sales by discussing appropriate accessories and reminding consumers of the need for products, such as replacement liners for carriers and totes, says Plevin. Create repeat sales by stocking these accessories, as well as replacement parts for pens, kennels, etc., says Pomerantz.
Become the Go-To
It’s important to establish your store as an educational resource for customers, helping them understand their needs and matching them to the right product. To this end, retailers should first query customers on breed, size, and need/use, says Haas.
For example, a crate might be best for a dog that needs containing for a short time-period; for a longer period, a good-sized pen or kennel might be best, says Pomerantz. A Dachshund might not weigh much, but because they’re longer, they’ll need a bigger carrier, says Plevin. Totes are better for shopping or taking the pet to a restaurant, she adds, while carriers are more appropriate for flying (these should be airline-approved) or transporting the pet to the vet.
A customer needing a carrier for around-town use will have different requirements than one needing a carrier for out-of-town travel, says Haas. In the case of pet gates, understanding the features the owner is seeking and the pet’s characteristics are important, says Swartzentruber.
Knowing the manufacturer guidelines is also helpful, says Forgette, explaining that for carriers, these are based on average breed, size and weight. “Generally speaking, the pet needs to be able to stand and turn around unimpeded,” he says. “Retailers need to be familiar with these guidelines or have them posted for the customer.”
It’s a lot to wrap your arms around, but the task is made easier by manufacturers, which provide education and product knowledge in a variety of ways. By utilizing what manufacturers offer, and doing business with those that provide good support, retailers can take full advantage of the profits containment products offer and at the same time, provide a valuable service to their customers.