Artificial Grass for Dogs
By Ken Karmie
One of the keys to success in business is to maximize space while offering value in excess of the price of a good or service. I have found this to hold true in the pet boarding and daycare businesses. Every facility has a personality, and each owner is responsible for defining that. The “value proposition” to the customer is either enhanced or reduced by the use of space and becomes a defining part of that personality.
Maximizing space involves making it as safe, warm, clean, and inviting as possible. That being the case, wouldn’t it be great to have the option to provide luscious green grass in indoor areas? The exciting news is that you can.
I encourage you to refer back to two previous articles in Pet Boarding & Daycare (“Artificial Grass for Dogs – Considering the Benefits,” January/February 2013; “Artificial Grass for Dogs – Outdoor Use,” March/April 2013). This issue will focus specifically on the value, challenges, considerations, and practical application with regard to indoor use of artificial grass in pet facilities.
The use of safe, inviting, soft, green artificial grass as a surfacing solution inside your facility provides the benefits of grass previously only achievable outdoors. It is a difference maker when someone walks into your facility and is greeted by this comfortable atmosphere rather than cold hard concrete or rubberized floor. It is even more of a difference maker when they decide to “try you out.”
In addition to the aesthetic benefits, selecting the right product and having it properly installed and integrated provides a safe and durable surface that dogs really enjoy. Feedback that I have personally received from owners of facilities across the nation confirms that it adds value that is typically beyond their customer’s wildest expectations.
You only have one chance to make a first impression, and indoor artificial grass is a great way to assure it is a great one. It is a statement of quality and comfort, which is an exclamation point to everything you and your staff provide. Even if the concept is initially foreign to a customer, the reaction of their pet reinforces the value of this exciting perk. Of course, happier clients equate to more business, more referrals, and ultimately more revenue.
While the benefit to the overall “indoor doggy experience” is unmistakable, it is important to understand that it does not come with the same cost savings associated with outdoor artificial grass use. When used outdoors, you can often expect to reduce or eliminate costs associated with cleaning the area, cleaning of dogs, mowing, fertilizing, and more. Indoor cost-reducing benefits are minimal (it will vary depending on your current situation), and overall cost (initial integration and ongoing maintenance) is typically higher. Even without quantifiable cost savings, the astute business owner understands the enhanced offering and the positive impact to customer satisfaction and revenue.
To get a better sense of “cost,” it is also important to ask and consider what specialized equipment (e.g. vacuum, extractor, blowers) as well as possible enhancement to peripheral mechanical systems (e.g. HVAC, dehumidification, floor, plumbing) may be needed. A good understanding of this will help you get beyond the “cost per square foot for product and installation” to a number that is more representative of what it will take.
Innovation and progress are components of the American spirit and are the backbone to the success of our great nation. The use of artificial grass in indoor pet facilities is a great example of that. Innovative pet facility owners saw an opportunity and pushed the artificial turf industry to respond. Dogs and their affinity for grass is an unquestionable match made in heaven. Unfortunately, common sense and the laws of nature remind us that it is not practical or even possible to grow grass indoors (especially considering the beating that dogs naturally put on it).
Never fear! The American spirit, innovation, and ingenuity are here. Pioneers in both the pet care and artificial grass industries witnessed the successful use of synthetic grass in indoor sports arenas and began considering the possibilities. The question quickly became, “What if we could utilize this product indoors for use with our dogs?” Simultaneous efforts to create a dog-specific artificial grass by a specialty turf company gave the concept momentum. Just like chocolate and peanut butter, the perfect storm was created, and a good idea became a viable option to an industry.
As with most new concepts, especially ones that utilize a product for something that it was not originally designed or intended, there is a refinement period. This is the phase where the product and the application typically undergo significant changes. Challenges are identified, changes are made, and solutions are incorporated. Although the intensity may decline, this phase is never over, as there is always an opportunity to improve.
Any successful indoor pet facility surfacing solution must stand up to the high demands of dogs. Whether the facility’s primary purpose is training, entertaining, rehab, or boarding, there is inevitably a short list of key challenges. Use can range from potty areas to play areas and all things in between. Each use presents its own unique challenges. To succeed in this environment, versatility and flexibility of both the product and application are vital.
Typical challenges that must be addressed and accounted for include the following:
- Dogs are tough and need a product and installation that will stand up to their demands.
- With no sun or wind, alternate forces are required to clean and dry the grass surface. This calls for effective integration with the facility’s mechanical systems (i.e. HVAC, plumbing, structural).
- Washing the grass is imperative, so appropriate drainage and/or water removal is required.
Product and Installation
The product you select needs to be designed specifically for use with dogs. Again, I strongly advise you to refer back to my previous articles on the attributes that you should be seeking. In brief, I strongly encourage that you find a product that drains aggressively everywhere while being strong enough to stand up to the playful and often challenging nature of dogs. Infill (sand and rubber) is not recommended. Short, dense (many of them) blades are important, as they make locating and removing solid waste much easier than a product with long blades.
The long-term success of indoor artificial grass is dependent on a properly prepared base and quality custom installation. It is important to understand that the approach and techniques utilized will need to be customized to meet your needs. They are also drastically different than what is required for outdoor use. While there are always exceptions, the following are three aspects that are commonly required:
- The grass needs to be secured in a way that protects edges from curious dogs while still providing accessibility to what is underneath (i.e. drains or floor grid).
- Liquids (typically urine, water, and cleaning products used) need to be contained and directed to a sanitary drain for fast evacuation.
- The grass needs to be elevated off the floor to allow free flow of liquids to the drain.
It is not feasible to provide specific installation instructions in this article due to the uniqueness of each facility (e.g. new build vs. conversion of existing space, lease considerations, flat floor vs. sloped floor, need for drains, etc.). However, I strongly advise that you consult and work closely with a qualified provider with a proven track record. I also recommend that you get this expert involved early in the planning, which should reduce cost by improving compatibility.
Finally, the most overlooked and misunderstood success ingredient goes beyond the grass and the way that it is installed. It has to do with the way that you and your facility are equipped to deal with the removal of water. The truth is that the grass is going to get wet. How often and how much may vary, but it is going to get wet from the dogs, from staff cleaning up after the dogs, and from regular maintenance. How long it stays wet is the challenge.
Finding the right combination of building features (e.g. dehumidification component and controlled air flow patterns built into HVAC) and use of auxiliary equipment (e.g. extractor, air mover, or dehumidifier) is almost always required. Your artificial grass professional may or may not have the expertise to advise in all areas. However, if they are not able to guide you directly, they should suggest that you seek the advice of those with the specific expertise.
Adding artificial grass to your indoor pet facility is a great way to maximize space, add value to your offering, and enhance the personality of your facility. Doing so will increase your competitive edge, which is a great way to raise revenue and profits. When you are setting budget numbers, it is important to remember that you need to think beyond the grass and include maintenance and potential equipment purchase. Factor in what it will take to integrate properly with other key components of your facility. Now with this understanding, I encourage you to “do it right” and watch your guests enjoy wonderful green grass inside your facility for years to come.
Ken Karmie is the K9Grass Brand Manager and part owner of ForeverLawn Incorporated the makers of K9Grass, artificial grass designed specifically for dogs. In addition to his experience with K9Grass, he also has extensive knowledge and experience with artificial grass for sport fields, playgrounds, landscape, rooftops, golf greens and other specific markets. Ken received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Mount Union College and spent 20 years working in the technology field before joining brothers Dale, Brian and Jim at ForeverLawn Inc. Ken designs artificial grass and related products, installation systems, maintenance programs and has worked in the synthetic grass field for over 9 years. Ken currently has two patents pending related to Indoor K9Grass design and Flushing System. Ken has also been invited to speak at various conferences and seminars regarding aspects of artificial grass use with dogs.