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Break Into Home Containment

Posted: December 10, 2010, 2:20 p.m., EDT

Consumers want functional pet barriers styled to fit in at home.

By Sandy Robins

Keeping pets safe and contained, yet within easy reach, is a common concern for pet owners, and customer demand, along with new pet containment offerings, are changing the marketplace. Customers increasingly look for products with flexibility, functionality and aesthetics that reflect their own home décor, retailers reported.

In-home pet containment can be a difficult category for many small retailers to display in store due to floor-space limitations. One way around this problem is for retailers to use particular products in store and consequently give customers an opportunity to see how they perform and translate to a home environment.

“Gates are very easy for retailers to use in store to close off an area and thus display the item’s functionality,” said Milan Bhandari, director of sales for Pets Stop of Bolingbrook, Ill. “We recently expanded our range to nine different styles in either black or a dark mocha finish so that customers have a better opportunity of finding something to match the interior design of their home.”

Bhandari said freestanding gates are becoming very popular, as they give pet owners the opportunity to place the product in different locations within the home.

Industry Voices

What is the biggest challenge in marketing pet containment products?
“The challenge has been to take a product that’s been around for more than 50 years and make it fashionable but still functional.”
—Todd Jakubowski, president Pet Gear Inc. in West Rutland, Vt.

“We’ve had great success with an instructional DVD as a marketing tool for retailers and have found that pet owners have been very resourceful in coming up with applications for the product.”
—Marty McNee owner of The Pet Barrier Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“The biggest challenge in marketing containment items is educating pet parents on their choices and helping them choose the right item to meet their needs and the needs of their dog. We try to inform consumers through our website, at the point of purchase through full-color packaging with clearly defined features and benefits, and by educating the retailers about our products so they can assist the consumer in making a good purchase.”
—Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind.

He added that the company provides retailers with brochures and relevant information to make it easy for them to talk to customers about their options.

Several new products are entering the product category, as well. Bamboo Pet of North Hills, Calif., launched the Auto Gate in September 2010. The gate features a “gravity-fed” hinge that closes every time, even if it’s been left open a couple of inches. It can also be opened and closed from either direction, according to the company .

Jennifer Campana, public relations spokesperson for the company, said its research has shown that most people use gates to corral pets when they have guests over. As a result, pet owners use the gates for the entire lifespan of the pet.

“However, they also like to move them around,” she said. “So the option of being able to pressure mount is appealing.”

The pet containment category increasingly features products designed for multiple applications. Tara Whitehead, marketing manager for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Ind., said gates are a growing sector within the containment market as people learn the multi-functional benefits.

“They help keep pets in a good, safe place within the home and can be helpful in a variety of scenarios, such as when small children are over, or when repairmen are working in the home—whenever you want to keep your pet in a certain area of the home without crating them,”  she said.
Safety is often one of the primary concerns for customers seeking containment products, retailers reported. One issue pet owners face is stopping pets from rushing out through an open front door.

“The Pet Barrier is a self-contained, retractable barrier consisting of two separate pieces; the housing unit, which is installed on the door jamb, and the receiving bar, which is installed on the door,” said Marty McNee, inventor of the product and owner of The Pet Barrier company, headquartered in Nazareth, Mich. “When engaged, the barrier automatically draws from within the housing unit as the door is opened, providing a barrier across the expanse created by the opened door.”

The barrier is made from reinforced opaque vinyl that is puncture- and tear-resistant and is currently available in white, the company reported, adding that it is working on producing a variety of colors.
“I have found that customers have been very inventive when it comes to ways of utilizing the barrier,” McNee said. “I have even heard of customers fitting them to the top section of a door to prevent birds from flying out of a room.”

Functionality is the No. 1 concern in the market, industry professionals reported, but increasingly, customers are looking for containment products that also fit into home décor. Despite the variety of options available, a number of retailers reported that crates still hold a large percentage of the containment market, and, over the years, manufacturers have come up with novel ways of making crates more decorative and appropriate for a stylish home environment by incorporating them into functional items of furniture, such as nightstands and end tables.

Dan Dietz, founder and CEO of Dietz Designs Inc., the parent company of Animal House Inc. in Houston, holds 12 patents on his Animal House, a product that he said functions as a crate with its own ionic filtration system and offers a second sleeping area on top linked by steps that fit alongside the unit from different angles. The mesh door to the crate section is removable, turning it into a standard sleeping area ,and both sleeping surfaces are fitted with high-density memory foam, he added.

Merry Products of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, reported that it produces both functional furniture-styled crates as well as doghouses that can be used in both interior and exterior settings.

Consumers want functional pet barriers styled to fit in at home.
Consumers want functional pet barriers styled to fit in at home.
Pets increasingly inhabit indoor spaces, industry professionals reported, meaning containment products designed to fit in with home decor are growing more popular.
Photos courtesy of Den Haus
New to the company’s range is the Crate Cover, designed to “convert” a metal crate into a functional and structural table surface with a natural wood finish without limiting the pet’s visibility from inside the contained area.

According to Merry Products’ marketing assistant Iuliia Sotnyk, the panels cover the main components of the crate that are unsightly, giving the crate a more finished and interior-appropriate, furniture-like appearance. The company has a patent pending on the design and also plans to produce a new item along similar lines with a white finish to conceal cat litterboxes.

Containment crates and gates designed to appeal to customers seeking products with aesthetic appeal as home décor can be especially difficult for retailers to display in the store. Sotnyk said while small retailers do stock these items, more often than not they are sold through online stores and drop-shipped by the company for practical purposes because of their size and weight.  Dietz agreed that this is the most practical form of distribution for his products, too.

Despite display difficulties,  several retailers reported fashionable crates are increasingly popular with customers. Retailer Steven Cohen, owner of The Dog Bar stores in downtown Miami and Miami Beach, said the latest trends are showing growing popularity in functional plastic molded crates in fun fashion colors as well as material covers made to fit wire crates and turn them into “pet palaces.”

When it comes to plastic crates, the range produced by Pet Gear Inc. in West Rutland, Vt., is designed to work well in both interior and exterior settings and also become a home away from home for pet’s that travel with their families.

“The designs feature multiple doors that slide upwards like garage doors so that they can be used in various settings, especially small spaces within the home,” said Todd Jakubowski, co-owner and president of sales for the company.

The range is available in various sizes and they all have wheels so that they can be easily transported both inside and outside of the home and also collapse flat for easy storage or transportation, according to the company.

“Pet lovers like the idea of bright colors to make them a feature or the choice of blending them with the color scheme of their home,” Jakubowski added.

Containment products designed with materials intended to fit in better with home décor, such as wood or painted plastic, are growing in popularity, but crate covers and other products intended to make traditional containment products fit in with home aesthetics are increasingly sought by pet owners as well, according to industry participants. For example, crate covers in a variety of fabrics are also becoming more popular, Cohen reported.

“We sell the sets that include a mat and bumpers,” he said. “By the time a pet owner has finished pimping it out, it looks like a pet condo. Leopard still remains a popular print.

“Over the years, I have built up contacts with local designers and thus can call upon a number of sources at moment’s notice if a customer is looking for something special for their home,” Cohen added. “This type of relationship with local small businesses has proved very successful for us over the years.”

However, retailers don’t necessarily have to maintain contact with various local designers to fulfill customers’ needs. Many companies, such as MidWest Homes for Pets, are now also making covers to suit their crates.
“From our standpoint, they are not meant to ‘jazz up’ the crate as much as they are to provide privacy, security and comfort that dogs instinctively seek and desire,” Whitehead said. “There are a lot of dog owners who will use a blanket or cover on their crate, especially at bedtime.  So a well-fitting crate cover is a nice option. They have Velcro tabs so you can have access to all sides and all doors on the crate while keeping the cover in place.”

Dog-specific barriers aren’t the only products on the market, however. A growing area in exterior containment has focused on cats. With statistics showing that cats are much safer if they live an indoor lifestyle, many cat owners who want to enrich their pet’s lives by giving them secure access to the outdoors are considering specialty pet fencing to contain a specific area of a garden or a balcony to keep their cats safe, retailers reported.

As with crates, cat containment products can also be difficult to display for a small shop. Fortunately, a few manufacturers are taking this into consideration when creating turn-key displays. 

“Our product display is designed as an endcap and holds five units,” said Matt Hough, vice president of Purr…fect Fence in Conshohocken, Pa. “An alternative is to have an empty box on a shelf with a poster and plenty of information available and have the product shipped directly to a customer. Each box contains 100 running feet that can be attached to an existing fence by the homeowner.”

Initially, the company reported it had great success with its system utilized by cat shelters and welfare organizations and subsequently found that it worked well in a domestic setting too, giving cats much needed enrichment opportunities outdoors.

Read the full article in the January issue of Pet Product News. To read the article, readers must be a subscriber. To subscribe, click here.

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