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Petscaping: A New Retail Category?

Pet-specialty stores can help pet owners create pet-friendly backyard environments.
By Elisa Jordan

Petscaping: It’s a buzzword that’s quickly starting to permeate the pet industry. In some instances, when referring specifically to the canine side of the business, petscaping gets narrowed down to “dogscaping.” But what exactly is “petscaping”?

It’s probably something many pet owners are already doing without realizing.

The following is a list of just some products retailers can consider when promoting petscaping.

  • Doghouse
  • Invisible fence
  • Electronic collar
  • Crate
  • Food and water bowl
  • Water spigot
  • Mister
  • Pond-fish food
  • Wildbird food
  • Squirrel baffler
  • Cat deterrent
  • Animal deterrent
  • Pet-friendly pest control
  • Pet-friendly fertilizer
  • Cat enclosure
  • Catnip kit
  • Cat grass
  • Books on petscaping
  • Toys
  • Dog run
  • Pet first-aid kit
“We’re doing what we normally do in our yards and gardens but just with additional respect toward pets’ special needs and an eye toward how they use their space,” said Tom Barthel, a Lansing, Mich.-based master gardener and author of “Dogscaping.” “Petscaping is sort of embracing that outdoor living concept.”

According to Mark Grambart, president and CEO of Contech Enterprises Inc. in British Columbia, Canada, pet owners who are gardeners have always taken an interest in their yards, but what’s becoming more of a trend is thinking of yards from a pet’s perspective.

That’s great news for retailers because if customers are already taking pets into consideration when working in their yards, a lot of the work is already done. Retailers simply need to brand the concept and re-market products that are already in the store.

“The most basic needs for outdoor pets are adequate fencing, shelter from the elements, clean fresh water, enough space to move about, and a place to ‘do their business,’” said Julie Orr of Julie Orr Design in Menlo Park, Calif.

Placing doghouses, crates, dog runs, cat enclosures, electronic collars, bowls, cat grass, pond-fish food, wild bird products, and potty products in a cohesive display to emphasize their petscaping qualities can get customers curious and excited.

Many of these products, Barthel noted, are convenient to carry because they have a small footprint on the shelf.

“There are a lot of things people might be interested in purchasing and they could get them at your store but it’s not often easy to see the connections or make those connections and market them appropriately,” he said.

The Landscape Connection

Now more than ever an increasing number of trade shows are embracing the indoor-outdoor connection, and many incorporate both pet and garden products. Home shows, too, have embraced the importance of animals.

Barthel encouraged retailers to take advantage of networking and learning opportunities these shows can provide.

“It’s natural for [pet-specialty retailers] to think, especially now, about all-natural products for the indoors for pets,” he said. “But to start making connections for outdoor living, it might help to attend a green [landscape] trade show.”

According to Barthel, artificial turf is another growing trend.

“It doesn’t look like Astro turf anymore,” he said. “If you’re at a show and you see people on one side of the aisle trying to help people with [urine] burning of the lawn and they’re selling a product for that and then you walk to the other side of the aisle and you see somebody merchandising faux turf, then you’ve identified two products that might market for one of the most common problems people have in their back yards.”

Speaking with professional landscape designers can help retailers come up with basic tips to pass along to customers. For big landscaping jobs, retailers can refer interested customers to the designers, who can in turn refer customers in need of pet products back to retailers (see sidebar “How Did You Hear About Us?”).

Pet Proofing by Design

Advising customers to watch their pets’ natural behavior and work with it, not against it, is a good start to identifying products the pet’s owner may want or need. Digging, for instance, is a common problem for dogs.

“Dogs that dig do it because they need to dig,” said Canoga Park, Calif.-based Scott Cohen, landscape designer, owner of Green Scene and co-author of the book “Petscaping.” He and his co-author, dog trainer Carolyn Doherty, recommend building a digging area—almost like a sandbox—that allows dogs to satisfy that need. According to Doherty, burying toys in the sandbox encourages dogs to dig only the designated area.

Another common issue: Dogs that like to “patrol” the yard. This often results in the dog wearing a track through landscaping.

Many designers advise working the dog’s preferred trail into a yard’s design.

“We suggest installing a pathway in that area for the dog, something like a decomposed granite as a base,” Cohen said. “It feels the same to the dog as running in dirt but it’s not as muddy. And they tend to use that area to delineate a lawn area from a planter area.”

Orr offered a tip that also helps protect plants.

“It’s very easy to note [a dog’s] path and then mimic that path with stone pavers or wood mulch because it’s going to get really worn down if it’s just bare soil,” she said.

According to Elizabeth Bublitz, a Denver-based landscape designer and author of “Pawfriendly Landscapes: How to Share the Turf When Your Backyard Belongs to Barney,” chicken wire goes a long way in a dog’s yard. She noted it can discourage digging, make doggy windows in privacy fences and create barriers. By recommending chicken wire and a store that sells it, a pet-specialty retailer can position him or herself as a go-to pet expert and drive sales to non-competitors that can return the favor someday.

Solving Outdoor Needs with Products in Store

Pet-specialty retailers can help with smaller projects, as well. Doghouses and crates can provide shade. Misters can cool pets off in summer along with various food and water options. In addition to standard bowls, ant-proof bowls, waterers that attach to spigots, and automatic feeders and waterers are also options. Electronic collars and fences can help contain dogs in the yard.

Bublitz recommended doggy doors, which are usually already in a store, and pairing them with dog runs.

“Then a dog can actually go into a nice-size enclosure,” she said. “If [customers] don’t want their dogs running around the yard digging or eating plants when they’re gone all day, they can maybe [do] something like that.”

However, things don’t need to focus solely on dogs. For example, Super Pet offers a decorative rabbit hutch.

“As long as the hobby of having a bunny as a pet stays affordable, I believe people will continue to incorporate pets into their outdoor spaces,” said Allyson Schmidt, product development manager, small animal, central avian and small animal SBU at Super Pet in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Cat products, too, are easily worked into any petscaping display. Unlike dogs, cats are often elusive and appreciate plants in which to hide and play. Barthel noted that kitty grass and catnip kits—common point-of-purchase items—can be planted in the back yard.

Ensuring Pet Safety

Sometimes it’s important to keep cats out of certain places, either for the places’ “occupants” or the cats’ safety. Orr recommended enclosures, which also help keep cats safe from vehicles, pests and predators.

The addition of a birdbath or koi pond is another element of petscaping. Products such as CatStop, which features a motion sensor and loud noise that only cats can hear, or ScareCrow, which is designed to ward off other animals, such as herons and raccoons, are also helpful.

Clackamas Feed & Pet Supply LLC in Clackamas, Ore., sells pet-friendly fertilizers and pest control.

“A lot of people are very concerned about fertilizing and spraying when their pets are out and exposed to it,” said owner Kelle Howard. “They’re going to spray something in their yard and they want to know an alternative to use because their dogs are out there.”

Pet owners may also be worried about what types of plants are safe for their animals. Claire Vowles, co-owner of Eastern Sierra Feed in Gardnerville, Nev., said her staff has a “working knowledge” of which plants are pet friendly, but she refers her customers to a local college’s horticulture program when unable to answer a question.

“They’re very good about identifying and saying, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s OK,’” she said.

Getting Started

Establishing a referral system can be a good business strategy in general, but perhaps especially so in the area of petscaping. Pet owners interesting in the “scaping” aspect of petscaping (i.e., gardening or landscaping) may have some anxiety about going about it themselves, but pet-specialty retailers that partner with landscape designers and dog trainers, for example, can provide customers with a network of backyard professionals. Landscape designers can offer advice, estimates and services on incorporating pet-friendly plants, terrain, etc., while dog trainers can help set outdoor boundaries and train the dog to do its business in a designated area. Exchanging checklists of products and services helps boost business for all parties, while ensuring customers have access to experts in their field.

Once the connections, knowledge and products are aligned, retailers can begin to reap the benefits of promoting pet-friendly yards. <HOME>


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Petscaping: A New Retail Category?

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