Gaining a Competitive Advantage with Artificial Grass
By Ken Karmie
The pet boarding and daycare industry has proven to be one of the few established industries to achieve consistent growth over the past decade. Evolving consumer attitudes toward their pets have driven growth as an increasing number of pet owners now treat their pets like family members. This trend has led to rising demand for luxury services as pet parents want their pets to have the best products and services available.
IBIS World research states, “The strong performance experienced by the Pet Grooming and Boarding industry prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to resume.”
Understanding consumer demands and industry trends is key to success for pet business owners desiring to flourish. It is important to note that aggressive industry growth alone does not necessarily translate to individual business growth or financial success. Instead, it is an opportunistic environment that is rich with promise for those that are willing to invest and take the necessary action to differentiate their businesses from others.
This may leave you asking, how do I meet and exceed customer expectations so that my business is the clear preferred provider? And, how do I do this in a way that makes financial sense?
What to Consider
There is a plethora of capital improvements options to consider. A common mistake made evaluating these is focusing on initial investment versus the long-term benefit and value over time. Identifying and investing in differentiating amenities that are viewed as true added value, by clients and staff, will also be accompanied by financial benefits.
This article will focus on opportunities associated with one of the highest-use components of any boarding and daycare operation: surfacing, both indoor and outdoor, and where an investment in artificial (synthetic) grass can be leveraged strategically as a distinguishing competitive advantage.
Competitive Advantages of Synthetic Grass
At a high level, clients desire a happy and safe boarding experience that enables them to work or enjoy leisure time away from their pets. Since surfacing (yards and floors) are present in every facility and where the dogs will spend most of their time, leveraging these areas as amenities that clients can be excited about provides a huge opportunity to impress. It also provides a feature to promote in pictures, websites, on tours and in advertising.
It is a fact that effectively utilizing synthetic grass for surfacing has the potential to appeal to four out of the five senses. A properly installed and maintained synthetic grass surface designed specifically for dogs will provide a lush, natural, grass-like surface that creates a warm and friendly appearance (sight). It also conveys safety and cleanliness (smell) that provides peace of mind. It is an inviting surface that is comfortable (touch) to dogs and beneficial for their joint health. In many situations, the artificial grass will even help suppress loud sounds (hearing) often associated with dog care.
Dogs, staff and pet parents will all benefit from the increased cleanliness of the synthetic grass surfacing. Since the dogs will stay cleaner (no longer exposed to dirt, grass, gravel or mulch), uniforms and floors stay cleaner, and ultimately clients’ cars remain clean without having to bathe dogs prior to pick-up. Maintenance is also typically reduced as bathing needs are reduced or eliminated, floors need mopped less and yards no longer need to be mowed, reseeded or treated with undesirable chemicals (for growth, bugs and weeds).
Getting it Right is Critical
The decision to include synthetic grass can be a significant capital investment. Costs associated with the product purchase and installation can be intimidating; however, the investment over time can quickly pay for itself providing new or enhanced revenue streams.
Smart business owners/managers take the time to do the research necessary to get it right. There are three primary components that are key to success when utilizing synthetic grass with dogs: 1) Utilize a product specifically designed for dogs, 2) Make sure the product is installed in a way that is conducive with dogs, and 3) maintenance products, equipment and protocols are vital.
When done correctly, you, your staff, the dogs and pet parents will enjoy years of benefits from the investment and the financial returns will come quickly. Implemented incorrectly (wrong product or a poor installation), synthetic turf surfacing can have a negative impact on staff, clients and finances.
What to Look For:
- Synthetic grass product with “edge-to-edge” drainage. This means that any amount of liquid (large or small) will quickly pass through the product anywhere across the surface.
- No infill. Sand, rubber or volcanic ash products are often placed on the surface of synthetic grass as a deodorizer. The infill can cause odors, slow drainage, harbor waste, and make it impossible to remove hair and unwanted debris.
- A company with a strong history. Get references and look for a company/product with a long history of success. Ensure the product was produced utilizing premium components that will hold up to the unique challenges dogs present.
- The installation. It is advisable to have the installation done by certified professionals. All edges should be secured into a plastic perimeter board utilizing stainless steel staples (galvanized will not hold up). Turf that is affixed using spikes can be dangerous over time if/when the spikes come loose. The base material needs to be an aggressively-draining gravel or specifically-designed grid to allow liquids to flow to an exit point.
Where to Include Synthetic Grass:
- To replace high-maintenance natural grass yards that can be difficult and costly to maintain
- To replace gravel and mulch areas that dogs tend to eat and kick around making solid waste difficult to find and difficult to keep clean and looking nice in general
- To cover and reclaim asphalt, concrete, dirt or even rooftop areas
- Transform indoor areas into grass-covered warm, inviting areas
- Get creative and include grass-covered mounds, company logo and even grass-covered play equipment.
The following are three testimonials from pet boarding and daycare facility owners that share their perspectives on how synthetic grass has benefited their businesses.
The Bone Adventure Case Study Interview with Diane Cuniff
Do you feel you have been able to leverage your artificial grass area as a tool to grow your business?
“Prior to getting artificial grass, we had special rubber flooring. It was much harder to keep clean and to remove all the waste. We had issues with it almost right away. Once the grass was put in, it changed the entire look of our facility. It looked much more natural and became more cleanable. The dogs have a more comfortable experience. They are able to relax and lay on the soft green grass. It looks great as well, so the staff and clients are happy.”
How has it helped you to retain clients?
“When we put in grass for the first time, we did an email and social media blast to current clients as well as prospective clients. It absolutely brought back previous clients and new clients as well. Ten years later when we made some improvements and expanded additional play yards with the grass, we did another blast and it again brought in so many previous clients. It was great to see that people appreciated the changes.”
Does having artificial grass give you a competitive advantage?
“Yes. No one else was using artificial grass when we put our first area in. It immediately set us apart. Then as we’ve grown and built a relationship with our grass provider, we’ve been able to learn best practices from each other. We set the standard together and now there are facilities that have synthetic grass, like us, and those that do not. The facilities that do not are at a disadvantage.”
Can you speak to your return on investment?
“There is a certain amount of maintenance that has to happen with artificial grass. However, it is maintenance and not replacement. You can’t repair sod or a rubber floor. It’s great that we are not using materials monthly or yearly and are able to maintain our investment for upwards of 10 years at this point.”
La Petcare Case Study Interview with Lauren Kornberg
Have you been able to leverage your artificial grass area as a competitive advantage?
“Yes. We built LA Petcare Doggy Dream Park to be beautiful and for our dogs to thoroughly enjoy spending time in the space. We’ve been able to use the space to host pet-friendly events. Plus, it is so visually appealing on social media. You see the dogs on this beautiful green lawn. We let people know that we invested in the best surface and clients are always blown away by the way it looks and smells (or doesn’t smell).”
Does having the artificial grass at your facility help you grow your business and retain clients?
“Absolutely. Before the artificial grass, we just had dirt. The dogs and house and whole property would be dirty and dusty. We would have to clean ALL of the dogs, every day—or even worse—the pet parents had to clean the dogs. Now we have the grass, and no one is dirty or dusty. No muddy paws. Everyone goes home clean and smelling great.”
Whitaker Dog Day Camp Case Study Interview with Ethan Whitaker
What impact do you think choosing artificial turf has made on the dogs in your care?
“The day the grass was installed, we had a few clients on site. I let them onto the lawn, and our decision to invest in the lawn was instantly vindicated. Seeing the happy dogs frolicking on the green grass, I knew we made the right choice. Happy dogs mean happy clients and a successful business. We really took the ‘If you build it, they will come’ mentality.”
How have you been able to leverage choosing a superior artificial grass to grow your business?
“We talk about the grass with each client visit. I am able to explain the choice we made and the technology that goes into the product to ensure drainage and safety. The client really understands the investment we are making into the care of their pet. There is never a complaint by the client about odor of the facility or odors that come home with their pets. Plus, it looks incredible for social media. There is just something about the contrast of the beautiful, bright green grass with the dogs running and having fun that just looks perfect.”
What effect has choosing artificial grass had on the care and maintenance of your facility?
“The maintenance is streamlined. Our employees are trained, and consistency is key. We are able to routinely keep it clean with minimal labor and time spent. It’s great knowing that we chose a product that actually works the way it says it will. We are already planning our next facility with more lawn space.”
Ken Karmie spent 20 years in the technology field before leaving to join ForeverLawn, where he is the K9Grass Brand & Product Leader and is affectionately referred to as “Kenny K9”. Ken has successfully designed and implemented synthetic grass products, installation systems, and maintenance protocol. Ken has traveled the country consulting and providing surfacing solutions for veterinary and boarding facilities, dog parks, pet-friendly apartments, hotels, and residences. Ken has been a member of the Synthetic Turf Council, is an STC Certified Installer, and has had multiple articles published on subjects related to Artificial Grass for Dogs.