May 2008
Pets: Your Garden Center’s Best Friend By Christa Reynolds

The pet product industry is growing, but this should not come as a surprise. Pets have been growing steadily more popular over the past decade, and with this growth comes an increase in the quality of care pet owners are providing for their pets, according to an April 2008 Pet Style News article.

From celebrities whose pets accompany them everywhere to the child who can’t imagine a vacation without his puppy, we see pets becoming more and more a part of the family. The 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey found that 63 percent of households in the United States own a pet, which equals about 71 million homes. Pet owners spent an estimated $41.2 billion dollars on pet industry expenditures in 2007, as published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). This figure includes all expenditures on products related to pets, from veterinary costs to food to toys, compiled from market research sources by the APPMA. The APPMA also released information regarding trends in the pet product industry and found that pets are being treated to more specialty items and included in more parts of their owners’ lives. Many hotels welcome pet guests and some even offer them special packages.

Additionally, pet owners have become interested in more luxurious items for their pets such as feathered day beds, designer birdcages and coats for cold weather. The APPMA concluded that these trends show the ways in which “owners embrace their pets as true members of the American family.”

A Part of Our Lives (and Your Garden Centers!)

One reason that pets are becoming greater parts of our lives than ever may be linked to health benefits associated with owning a pet, according to the APPMA. Whether it’s the extra exercise a dog owner can get from a daily walk or a result of the affection pets show (which has been reported to decrease loneliness and depression), the benefits of pets are certainly not superficial. But while this may be interesting from an economics perspective, what does this all have to do with a garden center?

Some garden centers have been working to meet the need that owners feel to pamper their pets. You may feel there is not an immediate connection between pets and garden centers, but pet product departments have gained popularity and are found in a variety of garden centers across the country. These products present a great way to diversify merchandise and attract more customers.

Mary Peplowski, who owns Madison Pet & Garden with her husband in Madison, Ohio, says the store has always supplied both pet and garden supplies because “these are the two central focuses of people’s lives — their home and their pet.” Carrying pet products is a way to “diversify business but stay within the same lifestyle industry. People want pets, who are an extension of their family, to be healthy.”

Pets and Pasquesi

According to Mary Ann Catella, buyer for Pasquesi Home and Garden Center in Lake Bluff and Barrington, Ill., Pasquesi has always offered pet products. This specific area has been successful and continues to grow in popularity. Pasquesi carries supplies suitable for cats and dogs and keeps these products grouped together in the store. An entire 12- by 16- foot wall is dedicated to the toy section. This creates a visually impressive display and catches pet-owning customers’ attention. Merchandise is also displayed on the end caps of the aisles, which hold biscuits and treats.

Catella says the store carries merchandise from 30 to 40 different vendors, presenting a great deal of variety. Pet products are popular, and Catella stated “it does help a lot, especially during the off-season when there are no plants to buy. People buy dog treats and then they will turn around and pick up a dog bed also.” The most frequent questions customers ask regard the “indestructible dog toy.” Catella says pet owners are always looking for the “indestructible toy” and treats and chews that will last a long time. Many customers also show interest in all-natural dog biscuits and washable dog beds.

Pets versus Plants

At Kiski Plaza Garden and Feed Center in Leechburg, Pa., customers are interested in high-quality pet foods. Kiski Plaza, located in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley, offers animal care supplies and pet food for dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and guinea pigs. They also stock products for some farm animals, including horses and chickens. The animal product section is partitioned from the garden section, and David Vargo, Kiski Plaza owner, says he has noticed customers generally come to the store to either buy animal products or garden products. There has not been as much product overlap as he had expected. “A dog food customer won’t also buy a tomato plant,” he says.

The pet product department really expanded about 15 years ago. Customers have recently grown more interested in premium dog food.

Previously, such products were not readily available, but now the store carries exclusively premium dog food and has had success. Although these premium foods and treats are more expensive than brand names, Vargo says their customers are willing to spend the extra money for a specialty product.

Dedication and Expertise

Madison Pet & Garden carries a variety of high-quality dog, cat, bird and horse feeds along with their lawn and garden products. Because the store is in a highly seasonal area, pet products are the core of business. “The lawn and garden season is limited to spring, summer and fall, but people feed their pets every day,” Peplowski says.

Any store owner or manager considering carrying pet products needs to be sure that all employees are onboard. Whether this requires extra training or a weekend session, Peplowski says that this can set your business apart from the big boxes and ensure that customers keep coming back.

A good portion of their business stems from veterinarian recommendations, says Peplowski. She advises any retailer looking to carry pet food products to contact their local vet; often pets respond poorly to mainstream foods and a vet will recommend owners switch to a premium brand. If your store has its selection known to the vet — Peplowski suggests dropping off a gift basket with lots of brochures at the local vet’s office — customers will come looking for your product, and your trained staff can help them find the right product for their four-legged friends.

Pet-Owning Gardeners

Specialty items appear to be particularly attractive to customers. As with many other retail products, showing that your store has something unique from what the big boxes offer (whether it’s high quality or a familiar face) can help give you an edge. Attracting the customer who is interested in specialty dog food or a high-quality washable dog bed is a way to show your store carries something special for the pet-product connoisseur and fosters loyal customers. Work to cultivate your customers’ care for their pets just as you help them beautify their homes and gardens.

Christa Reynolds

Christa Reynolds is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected]


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