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Dog Marketplace: Portability and Durability Are Key When It Comes to Pet Containment

Posted: Sept. 25, 2012, 6:05 p.m. EDT


Trends in dog crates, partitions and adjustable pens point to portability and durability.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Sometimes, dog owners just want to keep their pets contained.

Whether they’re at home or away, inside or out, customers need crates, partitions and adjustable pens to cordon off their pets and keep them safe and sound. That means savvy retailers can stock a range of containment devices that offer mobile and multifunctional options for pet owners.

“I just ordered the Aussie Naturals version of the collapsible crate for my store,” reported Laura Bednarczyk, co-owner of LuLu & Luigi, a retail boutique with three locations in the Twin Cities, Minn., area. “I really liked the design and ease of use. It also slides into a pouch for easy portability, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in the store.”

Dog carriers
Hard-sided carriers remain one of the most popular options for pet owners. Carrie  Brenner/BowTie Inc. at Pet Country
Today’s hot trends in products that contain dogs center on portability and durability, said Damian Hall, marketing communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., based in Mansfield, Mass.

“With pets being such a part of the family, we’re seeing people very interested in having portable options,” said Hall, whose company offers a range of soft crates and portable playpens for dogs. “They really want to be able to take them and go. You can use these to-go crates and pens camping, to the hotel and even to your mother-in-law’s house when you’re visiting and don’t want to leave the dog at home. They’re 100 percent mobile.”

The American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey reflects Hall’s findings. Thirty percent of dog owners polled reported owning a carrier/crate in 2010, with traditional hard-sided or wire being the most common types. However, a growing number are investing in soft-sided varieties—11 percent in 2010, up from 8 percent in 2008.

Additionally, because nearly a quarter of dog owners reported in APPA’s survey that they travel with their pets, portable and packable containment solutions offer a convenient way to hit the road in style, which is perfect for the much-anticipated dog days of summer.

“Dogs travel with their humans everywhere,” said Elizabeth McNeilly, owner of Equus & Paws LLC, a holistic dog grooming spa and boutique in Missoula, Mont. “People want to take their dogs with them and they want them to be safe, but they also want a crate that will fold and collapse to fit in tight spaces.”

Let’s Go, Fido
The newest portable crates and playpens showcase a range of features designed to attract pet parents, product manufacturers stated.

“Functionality, primarily ease of product use, and excellent safety features continue to evolve and improve for indoor and outdoor dog containment,” said Jill Lockhart, marketing manager for Midwest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind., whose company designs portable and adjustable crates for dogs.

Industry Voices
Do you have assembled crate and containment displays in your store?

“We have some set up. When people can feel and see the product assembled, they can visualize it better in their homes. Many crates also can be used for the pet’s bed, so having them set up helps people see if it’s the right size for their dog.”
Alan Ronay, owner of Best Buddies Dog Boutique & Bakery in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

“I don’t have one set up at this moment, but I normally do. I have one large example in the back that I’m using in-house, and then I tell people they can order any size they need. I do a lot of special orders of crates and gates for people.”
Elizabeth McNeilly, owner of Equus & Paws LLC in Missoula, Mont.

“We are very limited in the number of crates we can carry because of space restrictions. Overall, the demand for these products has traditionally been low in our stores, but we do like to offer a large scope of products we believe in.”
Laura Bednarczyk, co-owner of LuLu & Luigi, with three locations in the Twin Cities, Minn., area

Portable crates made of easy-to-clean nylon or canvas and sturdy steel frames offer lightweight protection for pets, Lockhart said.

“Our new portable tent crate uses a folding frame design,” she stated. “A U-shaped bar secures the tent crate to stay in place so pets can come and go as needed, and the secure easy-zip mesh door provides them safety and accessibility.”

In many of these new portable crates, convenient pockets stow food and water bowls, waste bags and other canine essentials, Hall said, while zippered windows let the fresh air blow through the crate.

“They’re soft-sided, easy to clean and durable,” he continued. “And they’re going to be scratch-resistant, meaning the dog isn’t going to dig his way through it. That’s very important: You don’t want the dog breaking out of the crate.”

Portable playpens, similar to a child’s playpen, give dog owners a mobile place for their pets to “just chill out,” Hall said. “You’re at the hotel or campsite and you don’t want your dog running around, but you do want him to have a nice little play area. These 4-foot-by-4-foot playpens work great as a safe, secure spot.”

Many of these portable crates and playpens come with convenient travel bags, too, making them easy to pack in the truck, RV or even as checked luggage, Hall said.

Your Space, My Space
In addition to portable crates and pens, in-home crates and partitions that sequester pets while complementing home décor continue to be popular sellers, reported Alan Ronay, owner of Best Buddies Dog Boutique & Bakery in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

“We are seeing crates used primarily for training puppies and for holding pets when the humans are away during the day,” he said. “The trend shows people buying crates and cages that look like furniture so they blend into their décor. Crates made of nice woods with rich tones are becoming more popular.”

Bednarczyk of LuLu & Luigi has seen this buying trend, too, so she recently chatted with a local woodworker about offering his wares through her store.

“Minnesota Woodcraft Inc. makes high-end wood crates and playpens for dogs,” she said. “I definitely don’t have room for these items, but the designer and I are making arrangements for visibility in the store in the form of a catalog and wood samples in exchange for a referral fee.”

Manufacturers reported seeing these trends, too.

Indoor containment products that are both stylish and functional have made a “huge impact in consumer shopping habits,” according to Barbara Button, product and marketing manager for Richell USA Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Do crates and carriers
Displaying crates out of the box is one way to garner customer attention and can make it easier for pet owners to decide which size will best fit their canine companion. Courtesy of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming
“The pet parent now has an opportunity to be much more selective in choosing a product that not only fits the needs of their pet but also looks great in the home or on the patio or deck. This category offers a wide range of styles, materials and finishes from which to choose,” she continued.

An added bonus: Some of these stylish yet functional partitions can be used indoors and out, said Button, whose company recently introduced an indoor-outdoor playpen.

“It’s perfect to use outdoors as a pen to keep your pet comfy during family gatherings, and indoors, it can be converted to a freestanding pet gate or room divider, making it multifunctional,” she said. “The panels also are designed in such a way so you can add as many as you need, so it would be perfect for groomers, breeders and boarding kennels as well. Plus, it looks good indoors or outside.”

Hands-On Merchandising
Though retailers reported a low but steady demand for portable crates, pens and partitions, they can drum up interest by displaying them where they can be seen and touched easily, Hall advised.

“We always recommend that you set items up live,” he said. “In some pet stores, you’ll see the crates 15 feet in the air on top of a giant rack. Really, they need to be set up on the ground where customers can go up-close and personal and see really the quality that goes into these products. Let them play with it; let them see how it works.”

Other manufacturers agreed.

“People like to touch and feel products,” said Caterina Novotny, marketing director for Chicago-based Prevue Pet Products Inc., which offers cages and exercise pens. “It typically is helpful to have one product set up or out of the box as the ‘example’ with the packaged product nearby.”

The packaged product should clearly state the product’s specifications, she continued, including its size and color, “so that the boxes aren’t ripped open by people who want to check what is actually in the box,” she said.
Displaying crates is something Ronay does in his store—though sparingly.

“Having too many doesn’t work,” he said. “We incorporate the crates into the décor of the store to show how they can blend into the home. We also keep the crates open with a life-size plush dog inside each to give people an idea of how large a dog can fit comfortably inside. By visualizing how the product will look in their own home and how it will be used by their dogs, customers are less apprehensive about buying one.”

As always, a well-educated staff—resulting in well-informed customers—is important, Hall said.

“Associates need to understand the products, their limitations, what they’re good for, how they work, how they’re assembled and how they’re cleaned,” he said. “Get your sales team interested in understanding what the product does and what it can do because that’s where the sale is going to happen.”

Electronic Fences
Physical barriers aren’t the only containment option retailers can offer consumers.

Electronic fences—those invisible subterranean barriers that keep dogs contained via a vibration- and stimulation-creating radio receiver on their collars—comprise a small yet steady segment of the containment marketplace.

Dogtra Co.’s electronic fences now feature improved electronic durability and longer-lasting rechargeable lithium batteries, said Pete Fischer, product consultant for the Torrance, Calif., company.

“Better batteries with faster charge times are being developed for everything,” he said. “With a fence system like ours, it used to be you’d have to have it on the charger for approximately eight to 10 hours. Now, we feature a rapid-charge lithium battery. If it’s completely dead, within two hours or less you can have the unit completely charged again.”

That selling feature could make all the difference when customers want to keep their pets contained in their backyards, he said. 

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