With even the best-trained pets, the “stay” command only holds so much weight. So, for pet owners who need to contain their four-legged friends in a specific area, effective containments products such as gates, pens and crates have long been pet-keeping essentials. But while this category of pet products has been around for decades, it is rapidly becoming more diverse as consumers demand products that deliver the form or function that fits their lives perfectly. Not surprisingly, manufacturers are rising to meet this demand, and this response is, in turn, further fueling consumer interest in the burgeoning category.
“With an ever increasing assortment of pet gates and crates entering the market, consumer awareness of these items is at an all-time high,” says Nancy Swartzentruber, president of sales and marketing for Wooster, Ohio-based Dynamic Accents, Ltd. “Consumers now demand higher quality, more innovation and better value in their pet containment product choices.”
At the top of every pet owner’s list of must-have features when shopping for pet containment products, says Swartzentruber, is peace of mind. “The pet owner has a distinct need to trust in the brand of pet gate or crate that they purchase,” she says, noting that Dynamic Accents fulfills this need by not only producing high-quality containment products, but constructing them from sustainable American hardwoods and finishing them in non-toxic water-based finishes.
According to CJ Pomerantz, marketing manager at Moorpark, Calif.-based Advantek Marketing, makers of the Pet Gazebo outdoor kennel, while function will always be critical in the pet containment category, it would be a mistake to discount the impact that improved aesthetics is having on the market. “The biggest reason we’ve been able to identify for this upward trend is a new commitment to advancing the aesthetics of pet containment,” he says. “With the improving economy, people are willing to spend a little more to get something that is both functional and attractive.”
Of course, the growing demand within the pet containment category extends beyond products designed for use in and around the home. Keeping their companion animals safe and secure on the road is another pressing need for today’s pet owners—especially those on a tight budget, says Brad Forgette, executive vice president for Lyndhurst, N.J.-based Marchioro USA. “Domestic travel seems to be on the rise and pets seem to be going on more vacations with their owners,” he explains. “I sense this is a cost saving trend of pet owners vacationing more at destinations they can drive to and take their pets, to cut cost.”
While the growing product diversity within the pet containment category is decidedly good news for pet retailers, it does make building a well-rounded selection a bit of a challenge. With the wide range of options on the market today, and the limited selling space available in most pet stores, it is critical that retailers tailor their selection to meet their customers’ needs as efficiently as possible.
The first step for retailers, says Swartzentruber, should be to identify what needs must be met. “Understanding the containment needs of their customer based on the characteristics of the pet and the pet owners preferences is first order of business,” she says. “Whether catering to clients who prefer luxury styles of pet gates and crates or perhaps a more basic assortment should be the basis for selecting the correct product assortment.”
See what PetSafe's Jason Hart has to say about high-tech advances are
impacting the pet containment category, and take a look at some of the
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To make the most of their limited selling space, pet specialty retailers should focus on products that offer as much flexibility as possible, says Julie Yager Grad, vice president of sales and marketing for Blaine, Minn.-based North States Industries, Inc. “Look for an assortment that offers solutions for multiple breeds and uses.”
Pomerantz agrees. “With limited floor space, it’s important to stock a selection of items that can do double or triple duty,” he says. “[A] big trend is finding one piece that can satisfy multiple needs, whether that’s security and portability, something that’s good both indoors and out, or something that can be used for different pets of different sizes.”
In addition to offering shoppers as much flexibility as possible in the functionality of the containment products that they stock, experts say that pet retailers should also strive to offer their customers flexibility in the price points of these products. “Many retailers build their assortment from a ‘good, better, best’ approach when it comes to containment,” says Steve French, national sales and marketing manager for Jewett Cameron Companies in North Plains, Ore. “By offering the three categories, the customers have the opportunity to purchase the appropriate-size, safe product at a price they can afford.”
The ultimate point is to offer customers as much choice as possible. Doing so will go a long way in helping small, independent pet stores compete with big-box retailers (both in the pet specialty and mass channels), for which breadth of selection is a decided strength. “Retailers need to offer a variety of sizes and colors,” says Forgette. “Many times, [a retailer] will have one color per size, and most consumers want choices. Features and benefits of product continue to be important as today’s shoppers are always looking for the most for their money.”
As mentioned, limitations in floor space will be major hurdle to offering a comprehensive selection of containment products within a small pet store. However, many industry experts note that there are effective strategies for getting around such limitation. For example: “If floor space is an issue, I encourage retailers to use the catalogs and images that manufacturers provide to make color sell sheets to post at retail,” says Forgette. “A picture is worth a 1,000 words.”
But while catalogs and sell sheets can go a long way in extending a retailer’s pet containment selection beyond the boundaries of their physical space, retailers must also be ready to use some creative merchandising techniques to give shoppers a first-hand view of these products.
“Being creative at working gates and crates into their store layout is critical,” says Swartzentruber. “Although floor space is limited, a small floor display which allows consumers to touch and interact with a sample or samples can be what closes the sale. We recommend that at a minimum retailers bring in a piece or two as store samples, and then we offer to drop ship either to the store or directly to the consumer on the store’s behalf. The placement and display emphasis put on these types of high margin, lower turn items is definitely key to their success at retail.”
According to Pomerantz, effectively displaying containment products doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the conventional way. In fact, he says, such displays can “pull double duty.”
“Many stores now allow pets,” he says. “Perhaps in some entry area or in front of your store you can set up a pen for doggy day care while your customer shops, which also lets them see the product in use. Even if you can only devote the floor space during special events—sponsoring adoptions, vaccination clinics, etc.—having a pen set up and in use will increase your sell through dramatically.”
CONTAINMENT GOES HIGH-TECH
In today’s digital world, many pet owners are looking beyond traditional forms of pet containment for high-tech methods to make sure their pets stay put. According to Jason Hart, director of marketing for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based PetSafe brand, pet owners demand for wireless containment business is growing. “I think part of that is fueled by the consumer’s desire for convenience and also ease of installation and training,” he says. “When looking at in-ground fencing systems or setting up a kennel, there is installation time. With wireless, the consumer sets it up quickly. Training takes times, but installation is easy.”
As they do with traditional containment products, retailers should provide shoppers with a number of options when it comes to wireless containment, says Hart, noting that it is a good idea to focus on products that will be relatively easy for pet owners to install and utilize, and manufacturers that are ready and willing to provide support.
“As many of the products involve installation and/or training, they should look at the instructions included and back-end support that manufacturers provide for consumers,” he says. “You want a positive consumer experience so you want to make sure if the consumer has issues, the manufacturer is there to help them out. That is a major factor in keeping down returns.”
ELEVATING PET GATES
While products designed to keep pets contained must, at their core, be functional, a number of manufacturers have gone above and beyond to add an element of style to the category. Below are several stylish yet functional options that fit right in with any pet owner’s home décor.
Ahead of the Curve
The Windsor Arch Gate from North States Industries, Inc., adjusts to fit openings 28.25-inches to 38.25-inches wide, and is 28.5-inches high. It features pressure mounts for easy installation, and tension knobs to secure the gate in openings. With one-hand operation for easy use, the gate swings both ways, is self-closing and has a hold-open feature for easy passage. The Windsor Arch Gate is constructed of steel with a home décor matte bronze finish. Two extensions are included with the gate.
This versatile, mixed-material Austin Mod Dog Gate brings a modern feel to Pet Stop’s classic heavy duty pressure-mount gates. The door panel is made of real hardwood and features hexagonal spindles. All of Pet Stop’s gates are sturdy, easy to install and require no drilling. The Austin Mod Dog Gates is available in two sizes.
Style & Function
The Design Studio Metal Walk-Thru Pet Gate by Carlson Pet Products incorporates a stylized finish and cherry wood accents to fit cohesively into a customer’s home and appeal to their eye. The Walk-Thru Pet Gate features an auto-closing door, and the patented small pet door lets small pets pass through while others stay put. Mounted by pressure, this pet gate is quick and easy for the customer to install.
A First in the Category
The Citadel Pressure Gate, by Dynamic Accent, is the first all-wood pressure-style gate on the market. It is 36 inches tall and features the largest walk-through opening available. It is constructed of solid American oak hardwood and covers openings up to 62-inches wide.