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Dog Marketplace: Doghouses Offer Marketing Opportunities

Posted: Feb. 24, 2012, 9:05 p.m. EST

Retailers may want to reconsider this frequently passed-over product category as family dogs still need protection from the elements.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Like a colorful beacon luring passers-by inside, a pink and orange Snoopy-style doghouse sits in front of Allison Levitt’s retail store, Two Paws Up in Frederick, Md., welcoming two- and four-legged customers—but, ironically, the shop stocks no doghouses at all.

“There has been very little demand from my customers for doghouses,” she said. “We have the handmade one in front of our store, but we’ve had really no inquiries about people purchasing them. In the eight years since I’ve been open, I’ve sold one doghouse, which I special ordered for the customer. But that’s about it.”

Levitt’s not alone. Many retailers—independent dealers and pet boutiques, in particular—reported little or no demand for the outdoor dog domiciles.

Dog houses
Doghouses with extra lounging space are one industry trend. Courtesy of Merry Products.

“I don’t carry doghouses because I haven’t had anybody ask for them,” said Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu: A Pawsworthy Emporium & Deli in Santa Fe, N.M. “It’s a space issue, too. Doghouses take up a big footprint in retail stores.”

Mary Beth Gates, owner of Pepper’s Pet Pantry in Solomons, Md., agreed, adding that she actually discourages clients from keeping their pets in doghouses.

“We don’t have adequate room,” Gates said. “And we like people to take their animals inside. We have people here in southern Maryland who chain dogs outside all day long, and I don’t think it’s a very good life for a dog.”

She did note, however, that dogs do need shelter if they’re going to be outside—and that’s where retailers have an excellent opportunity to revive this waning pet product category.

Survey Says…
The American Pet Product Association’s 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey echoes these retailers’ reports. Compared to 2008, more dogs stayed indoors during the day in 2010 (58 percent versus 52 percent in 2008) and fewer dogs stayed outdoors during the day (11 percent in 2010 compared to 18 percent in 2008). And at night, a whopping 74 percent remained indoors in 2010 compared to 66 percent in 2008.

Outdoors, apparently, is not the preferred place for the family pooch.

“The percentage of dogs kept outdoors in the daytime continues to decline significantly from the level reported in 2000,” according to the survey.
However, a considerable percentage of people—31 percent of dog owners who responded in the survey—let their dogs roam between indoors and outdoors during the day.

Dogs need shelter from weather extremes, even if they’re given free access to their dog door, and that’s where doghouses come into play.

“If you talk to anybody who is involved with health care for animals, particularly dogs, they will tell you that a dog who spends any appreciable amount of time outdoors should have a shelter of some sort that they can go to not just to escape cold and rain, but the heat, too,” said Don Reisinger, director of sales and marketing for Pinta International Inc., which has U.S. offices in Hayward, Calif. “Most consumers do not realize that.”

House for Sale
Though traditional four-sided or domed wooden or plastic doghouses remain industry staples, today’s newest designs cater to customers looking for amenities that keep their pets cozy and comfortable, said Chris Sides, vice president of marketing for Arlington, Texas-based Petmate.

Tapping the Indoor Den Trend
Because more dog owners keep their pets inside, retailers may wish to offer customers a range of high-end indoor dog dens that complement home décor, said Alex Riffle, who represents Bellevue, Wash.-based DenHaus Inc.

“One of the biggest trends has been the emergence of the luxury ‘dog-in-home’ category,” he said. “Some of the first products in this category were feeding stations and luxurious bowls. Since then, there has been an incredible increase in other items, like dog crate furniture, dog couches or platform beds, stairs and gates.”

Antonietta Botticelli, account manager for Markham, Ontario, Canada-based Merry Products, agreed, adding that indoor doghouses provide protection and security for dogs as well as décor-friendly design for people.

“When purchasing such houses and beds, not only do dog owners look for comfort, but they are also looking at the aesthetics and how the doghouse and bed will fit their décor,” Botticelli said.

Overall, these dog furniture designs center on customization, both in function and look, Riffle said.

“As urbanization and downsizing increases, humans are finding it more and more important to provide their pet with their own space and ensure that this ‘space’ fits into their home, aesthetically and functionally,” he said. “We are seeing this trend manifest itself in different door configurations—multiple doors, removable doors or out-of-the-way sliding doors—as well as more color, size and style selections.”

When merchandising and selling indoor dog dens, Botticelli recommended retailers display floor models and provide informational sheets for prospective purchasers.

“Have live samples displayed on the floors, with literature of the product highlighting their unique design and function,” she said.

Features of the company’s latest doghouses include “elongated door entry design and rain gutter protection from the elements,” Sides said. “They also include an extended doorway to improve rain resistance, increased lounging space for extra-large dogs, thick structural foam construction that’s warmer in winter and cooler in the summer, and adjustable top ventilation.”

The company plans to introduce cooling gel mats to help dogs regulate their body temperature in the summer months, Sides added, noting that the mats, along with pads and doors, offer excellent opportunities for add-on sales at retail.

In addition to the comfort features, some of the newest doghouses are made with eco-friendly materials and offered at a lower price point—a combination that caters to an international audience, Pinta’s Reisinger said.  

“The interest we’ve had from Europe has been strong,” he said of his company’s doghouses, which are made with a composite of reclaimed wood fiber and recycled polymer in a variety of sizes and styles.

“Dog owners there are looking for a green product at a lower price,” as well as one that lasts, he said. “The composite is immune to most of the elements that cause deterioration of other pet homes, especially those made of wood.”

Climate Control
To ensure dogs’ ultimate comfort inside the dog domiciles, a new wave of climate control options have emerged, including heaters, cooling units and heating pads. When coupled with cozy bedding and flap-style doors, these temperature regulators ease the minds of consumers, too, said Todd Arend, general manager of Columbus, Ohio-based Tacom Ltd., makers of ClimateRight products.

“They not only add margin dollars and increase the size of shopping baskets, but they create new excitement in the category,” he said. “People honestly love the idea of creating a comfortable and safe living environment for pets, just as they do inside their homes.”

Whether heating pads or HVAC units, most include thermostats to prevent overheating or over-cooling, said Larry Cobb, vice president of sales for K&H Manufacturing, which makes indoor-outdoor heating pads, as well as other heated pet products.

“What people want is something soft, warm and safe,” he added, noting that the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company’s products contain multiple thermostats that prevent the pad from getting any warmer than the body temperature of the dog.

“The pads can go inside a dog’s house, outside on the back deck, in the garage: wherever dog owners want to keep the pet warm and comfortable while they’re at work or away,” he said.

They really work, too, said Mike Hill, founder of Akoma Dog Products and maker of the Hound Heater. On a 20-below day in Big Lake, Minn., where the company is based, his easy-to-install heating unit, for instance, kept a 27-cubic-foot doghouse at a toasty 52 degrees Fahrenheit, he reported.

“No matter where you are, the dog is going to be more comfortable,” he said. “Plus, the dog will eat less food because he’s not converting the kibble into energy to heat himself.”

Big Footprint, Big Opportunity
Though doghouses do take up some prime retail real estate, store owners can make the most of their size by incorporating them in head-turning displays, stated Caitlin Carey, co-owner of Land of Paws in Overland Park, Kan.

“We decided to focus some attention on our designer pet homes and bedding by relocating them to the center of our floor space,” she said. “We wanted this new section to be easily accessible and organized.”
To save space, retailers can also nest pet homes, Petmate’s Sides noted.

“Some traditional-style shelters, with their nestablity and single-pick design, merchandise easily on the shelf,” he said, adding that his company offers wire stackers for vertical displays. “Dome-style shelters also have nestable tops and separate nestable bottoms. The best way to merchandise them is with wire stackers that allow all three sizes to be stacked on top of each other.”

Having a home set up and ready to move in helps move merchandise, too, Reisinger of Pinta International said.

“Innovation in display and in-store support doesn’t count as much as simply assembling a house and using the available signage manufacturers all supply to retailers to support the sales,” he said. “With things like QR codes on the packages, signage and on free-style labels that can be used anywhere, consumers can scan the code with their smartphones and view videos where they can get the complete story.” 


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