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A Place to Call Their Own

Posted: August 9, 2013, 12:00 p.m. EDT

Pet furniture remains a healthy niche category.

By Patricia Morris Buckley

While pets enjoy snuggling with their owners on the bed or the couch, sometimes they want a place just for them. That’s the thinking behind high-end pet furniture, according to pet furniture manufacturers and retailers.

Today’s high-end furniture pieces for dogs and cats are no longer about just utility and single functionality; they also encompass a designed look that pleases both pets and owners, said Barbara Thulin, owner and designer of Decadent Digs in Phoenix.

Pet Furniture
Courtesy of Merry Products.

"Today’s pet bed options are more than just an old blanket tucked in the corner of the living room,” reported Tony Wu, general manager of Aquatica Gallery, which manufactures the Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Classic Paws pet furniture and beds. "This has opened pet style furniture markets with new products and service trends, such as furniture-style pet beds and pet hotels. Pet beds that match their home décor satisfy their increasing ‘good life’ living standards and the expectations they have for their four-legged friends.”

A sampling of pet furniture currently available includes chaise lounges, hammocks, decorative cat trees, sofas, and beds with headboards and footboards or fabric canopies, as well as litterboxes that do double duty as a nightstand or plant stand.

"During the height of anthropomorphism, people wanted furniture that appealed to their animal,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face, a pet boutique in Redlands, Calif. "Now it’s just as much about furniture that fits their décor.”

Who Are the Customers?
According to manufacturers and retailers, customers for high-end pet furniture mostly are those with disposable income. Wu pointed out that quality furniture-style pet beds are not cheap.

"Google it and you will find pet beds sold for hundreds of dollars,” he said.

With the uptick in the economy, "People are spending more and more on pets because they want to take better care of them,” said Tarrah Hersey, vice president of operations for Pet Lounge Studios in West Palm Beach, Fla. "But they want a designed piece that integrates well with their current décor and might even be a conversation piece.”

Thulin reported that though her furniture is higher priced, customers are getting a higher value rather than a "landfill piece.” But some owners aren’t interested in high-end furniture, she said.

"They appeal more to someone more into art and design,” she said. "But probably not to someone with an outdoor dog.”

Greg Phillips, owner of Gone to the Dogs Boutique in St. Pete Beach, Fla., said typical customers are people who spend a lot on their pets. However, Thulin pointed out that customers without extra funds are willing to make the investment.

"People can save up,” she said. "It doesn’t always equate to income. Sometimes they find a way to justify it.”

Steps Bring Pets Closer to Owners
As people age, stairs can be a challenge. Not so for pets. Many pet owners purchase step or stair units to help their animals overcome physical challenges, said Antonietta Botticelli, account manager for Merry Products in Markham, Ontario, Canada.
"They are really popular for elderly pets, especially dogs, and for pets with physical issues,” she said. "People use them to get their pets into the car, up on the couch or into bed. The major focus is to help pets get to where they need to go.”
Steps aren’t just for dogs. PetPals Group offers steps that help a cat into a cat tree, said Timothy R. Le Claire, national account manager for the City of Industry, Calif., company.
"They’re more for the older, arthritic cat that can’t jump,” he explained.
Stairs come in a variety of heights. For instance, Decadent Digs of Phoenix recently created an 11-step unit for a customer. Merry Products has Motion Combo, a two-step stair unit that converts into three steps.
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., reported that she has a fairly steady customer base when it comes to stair units. She attributes her success to taking the time to fit a unit to the specific needs of each animal.
"Most customers aren’t sure what their pets need,” Grow said. "We teach people how to measure properly so that the top step is the bed. We also choose stairs that aren’t too shallow, too high or too rounded.”
Like other pet furniture, step units are not just utilitarian in design, according to Barbara Thulin, owner and designer of Decadent Digs. The company’s units include lush fabrics and fringe, while Merry Products’ use a leather look with textured treads.
Still, safety is the primary issue at hand, Grow said, adding that it trumps the material, design and cost.
"People really want to protect their pets,” said Thulin. "They want to get their pets on the furniture and do that with safety and peace of mind.”—PMB

What Customers Want
Beauty is definitely a part of what customers respond to, said manufacturers. Some prefer the clean lines of Pet Lounge Studios’ Swedish-inspired hammocks and others the elegance of Decadent Digs’ opulent designs, such as the Cabana Couture, which comes with an LED chandelier.

"Many of the newer pieces are human grade, and they are beautiful as well as have great construction,” said Cathy Bedell, owner of Little Dog Heaven, an online pet boutique based in Temecula, Calif. "They really do look like high-end furniture.”

This isn’t furniture that’s pushed back in a corner, Thulin said.

"They want something they don’t have to hide when company comes over,” she said. "It’s also wonderful for the pet to be out in the family’s living area and not hidden away in the laundry area.”

Cat trees are another way to keep pets nearby, said Timothy R. Le Claire, national account manager for Pet Pals Group in City of Industry, Calif.

"Trees serve a lot of functions,” he added. "They alleviate scratching on furniture, make a cat’s paws stronger, allow them to leave scent from their glands and give them a place that they own.”

That allows a pet to reduce its stress, said Antonietta Botticelli, account manager for Merry Products in Markham, Ontario, Canada, where the company creates wooden pet houses.

"It’s about giving them a little serenity,” Botticelli said. "They need a place to chill out or go when people are over.”

Customers like furniture that is easy to clean, durable, eco-friendly and easy for the pet to use, manufacturers added. Dual functionality is a plus, especially at the higher price point, Botticelli added, which is why the company’s Cat Washroom is popular—it’s a nightstand or a side table as well as a place for the litterbox.

Bringing the Two Together
Retailers reported experiencing different results with high-end pet furniture. Both Little Dog Heaven and Gone to the Dogs Boutique carry high-end furniture items and admit they are not a top seller. At Furry Face, products move slowly, but they’re selling more as the economy improves. Many manufacturers reported steady growth and offered advice for retailers to improve sales.

Hersey is a proponent of using social media, including Facebook and Pinterest.

"People are more online,” she said. "This is one way we can get their attention.”

Many retailers reported that they carry larger items online or through special order. This reduces the rather large footprint of the line, Phillips said.

Thulin suggested having a few pieces assembled and the rest in boxes or available by special order. Several of the pet furniture manufacturers said they ship in "knocked-down” boxes.

"With the large pet beds, you have to be creative,” Furry Face’s Grow said. "We found that you can’t keep it low because people try to sit in it; I have no idea why.”

Thulin encourages retailers to try the products on their pets.

"They’ll see how much their pet enjoys it,” she said. "Once they see it’s functional, they’ll understand the benefits and can better tell the customer.”

This advice falls in line with Le Claire’s: Become educated about the products in order to talk about customer needs and what furniture will work best for their pets.

Despite her success with high-end furniture, Grow is cautious about it.

"The more specialized the furniture gets, the smaller the demographic it appeals to,” she said. "It’s still popular, but it’s a niche.”

Yet it’s a niche that sells, Botticelli said.

"The pet industry is millions of dollars,” she added. "Whether people are in debt or not, they’re going to spend on their pets.” <HOME>


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