Guest Column - May 2021
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inPERSPECTIVE / DOG PARKS

Monetize Your Community Dog Parks

By Katie Boutwell


It is no secret that dogs are becoming more and more a part of the family than ever before. People joke that millennials are not buying houses for their children but rather for their dogs. And everyone knows someone who opted to add a pandemic pup to their family during the COVID-19 quarantine. According to the Washington Post, the number of pets adopted during the pandemic has been so great that animal shelters are running low on adoptable inventory. If canines were man's best friend before, they might be considered BFFs now, with matching clothes and all.

As the number of families with dogs increases in the community, they will be on the lookout for green spaces to frequent, like their local dog park. In fact, according to a 2018 NRPA survey conducted by Wakefield Research, 91% of Americans believe dog parks benefit their community. It's in part why dog park usage has grown among millennials (94%), gen Xers (92%), and baby boomers (89%). Not only do dog parks allow dogs (and their owners) a safe space to exercise and roam freely, but they are also a catalyst for socializing and community engagement. There are many positive benefits to having and maintaining a dog park for your citizens, but a vital one for your parks and recreation department is the potential to monetize the initiative as a revenue generator for your administration.

As families continue to prioritize their pups and invest in their happiness as they would any member of their family, they are willing to pay for safe, clean and engaging experiences. Perceived benefits of paying to be a part of a dog park include the size of the park and access to amenities, cleanliness of facilities, and safety for pets and owners. These factors contribute to the frequency with which patrons visit the park and how likely they are to recommend it to other pet parents. To ensure a satisfying experience for your paying citizens, consider these tips when monetizing your dog park.

There is no right methodology for creating a system that allows for the monetization of a public park or community service. Essentially, the number of resources available might dictate what tactics you implement. It's beneficial to audit resources needed versus available resources before taking on a new project. With that in mind, there's a vast array of strategies that can accommodate budgets, big or small.

Establish a membership pricing structure. A "pay-to-play" park benefits all park-goers and provides a more customer-centric atmosphere. Package tiers could range from day passes to yearly memberships depending on what best satisfies citizens' needs. All registrations should include requirements for vaccination records and a code of conduct for owners and dogs. Providing a high-level overview of what services are financed by park memberships can help thwart negative reactions. Consider itemizing such cost benefits as maintaining safety fences, lawn, waste, overall park maintenance and the upkeep of signature amenities, including self-service dog-washes, well-stocked poop bag stations and receptacles, or agility equipment.

Also, make the process for citizens to sign up and register easy by using a parks and recreation management system to take secure payments through your website, store vaccination records and keep track of membership statuses.

For an example of what a pricing structure might look like, visit the Canine Recreation page on the City of Durham's website at www.dprplaymore.org/212/Canine-Recreation.

Provide pet products for purchase. According to Nielsen's research, with an increase in dog ownership comes an increased demand for dog-related products. Dog leash sales increased to $44.6 million, up 13% for the 24 weeks ending Aug. 15, 2020, and pet toy sales increased 18%, to $243 million, for the same period. Capitalize on this growing trend by offering park guests pet-approved merchandise like frisbees, dog-safe treats or collapsible water bowls. Consult the local kennel club or survey park members to see which products would be best to promote since some dogs can become territorial of toys and food.

Offer dog-training services. When starting any new venture, cultivating various community partners is a plus, especially if they are mutually beneficial. Since resilient puppy energy has exhausted even the most patient of dog parents, offer some reprieve by partnering with your local kennel club or doggy daycare to contract out trainers to teach classes citizens can register for or help develop a robust training and wellness curriculum for purchase on the website. This way, people associate their local park with well-behaved and engaged pups, and your administration can establish better ties to the community's local businesses. Employ a park and recreation management system to manage your trainers and class registration schedules.

Recruit volunteer dog park referees. As previously mentioned, dog-park members who pay for access expect a certain safety level for themselves and their dogs. Since resources like staff members are not always available to oversee puppy playtime, recruit volunteer dog park referees to enforce dog park rules. While the volunteers themselves don't add to park revenue, the certification classes they must pass can definitely serve as a revenue source. Partner with a local vet clinic to develop a course for people to take that provides them the necessary qualifications to be a park referee. Another option is to partner with entities with established courses, like Rutgers Pet Care School. To make sure the park is always staffed, maintain a volunteer calendar that can be found using your parks and recreation management system.

You can also supplement your trained community volunteers by partnering with local certified dog trainers to serve as dog park referees. Your community members will benefit from networking with professional dog experts, and your refs may just pick up some new paying clients.

Hold an annual dog fair. Add to your event calendar an annual day at the park for dogs and their humans. Invite local pet-themed retailers, trainers and adoption organizations to set up booths to network with citizens. Also, invite community members with well-behaved pooches to stop by to meet, play, talk to vendors, watch agility competitions, enter raffles and contests, and enjoy what it means to live in a community that welcomes all four-legged residents with warmth. RM



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Boutwell worked for a leading behavioral healthcare software company where she helped behavioral and mental healthcare clinics and hospitals across the U.S. She helped clinicians and operations implement and streamline workflows to improve patient outcomes with technology. Katie then joined the CivicRec implementation team and is now a solutions manager. After helping many clients launch successfully with CivicRec, she now helps existing clients take full advantage of all the features and functionality CivicRec has to offer.