A Good Safety Gate
• Where will the gate be installed? (e.g. at the top of the stairs, in a doorway, or to section off a room)
• How wide is the opening? (exact measurements since there is no “standard”)
• To what surface will the gate be mounted? (e.g. doorframe, hollow wall, wrought iron, brick, wood)
The design diversity of today’s homes commonly includes open architecture, sweeping staircases, oversized openings, and wide patio doors. Gone are "standard" doorways, which today can mean anything from 30", 32", 34", or 36". That's why so many different child safety gates are on the market and why it's easy to understand why close to 7 million units are sold in North America, making gates and enclosures one of the top baby product categories. For retailers, this is a very important category, and one that should be thoroughly understood in order to maximize sales.
Gates fall into several categories: pressure mounted, hardware mounted, and enclosures/gate systems. The installation decision should be determined by where and how the gate is being used. Safety gates can be wood, metal, plastic or mesh ranging from 22" to 36" high and as wide as 6' or longer. Most experts agree that accordion style expansion gates with the crisscross diamond shapes should be avoided since they can ensnare clothing, pacifier strings, etc. Unless the safety specifications at time of manufacture can be determined to show they pass the minimum safety standards, consumers should avoid hand-me-downs and garage sale purchases. In some cases, a pet gate does not necessarily pass child safety standards.
Pressure mounted gates require no holes or hardware for installation and are best suited for less hazardous locations such as a doorway, between rooms or at the bottom of a stairway. Traditional pressure gates are made of wood and plastic, and have panels that slide past each other making them more of a barrier. They utilize a locking bar or other locking mechanisms combined with rubber feet to wedge the gate into place. These barriers can easily be dislodged if not properly adjusted each time they are repositioned, which often encourages adults to "climb over," causing another safety hazard. More advanced pressure designs made from wood, metal or a combination of the two stay mounted in uneven openings and utilize a step-through, walk-through, or swinging door section that can be easily opened in one or two directions. These styles are a little more expensive, but their convenience encourages proper use. A smaller subcategory of pressure mounted models is soft mesh, marketed for travel or temporary situations and are, too, considered more of a barrier as there is no mechanism by which to ‘open’ the gate to pass through.
Hardware gates can be made of metal, wood or retractable mesh and are considered safer than pressure gates because they are permanently mounted and are best for areas where safety is paramount, like at the top of stairs. Gates should never swing out over the stairs, and some models have built-in directional devices to prevent this from happening. No one likes to drill holes, but parents and caregivers need to understand that a little wood putty or spackling can save an agonizing trip to the hospital emergency room. The screws generally included with these gates are for mounting directly into wood. Installation into other surfaces like dry wall, brick or wrought iron will require additional hardware available from any hardware store or home improvement center. Specially designed gate installation kits are offered by several companies to aid in the mounting of any gate.
Enclosures and Gate Systems
Most gates have to be mounted from point A to point B in a straight line. Resulting from today's open architectural designs and irregular openings, "build your own gate systems" are now available that form angles to isolate dangerous areas like staircases, exercise areas, home offices, hot tubs, fireplaces, etc. A typical system is available in basic sizes and then can be extended with optional sections to create the length and shape necessary to enclose these hard to fit areas. These gate systems create wonderful play areas for babies and are very useful for pet confinement.
Gate Safety Standards
A well-designed safety gate protects a child from danger while at the same time is convenient, aesthetically pleasing, and easily adult-operated. It is especially dangerous to step over any gate while carrying a child or packages. The JPMA recommended age for gate use is 6 months to 24 months. Use should be discontinued if the child can open the gate independently, climb over it, or if the height of the gate is ¾ as tall as the child. Pressure gates that utilize locking mechanism bars must be installed with the locking side away from the child since they can act as a stepladder.
In the USA, there are no mandatory Federal child safety gate standards beyond those for toxicity of materials, small parts, and sharp edges or points. Voluntary standards have been developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and sponsored by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Government approved agencies worldwide perform ASTM F1004 testing for Expansion Gates and Expandable Enclosures, the most current of which is ASTM F1004-10. The majority of these voluntary standards concentrate on size of openings, height, vertical strength, bottom spacing, configuration of the uppermost edge, and plenty of label warnings.
Due to the importance of matching the proper gate to its use and application, child safety gates can result in a higher than normal rate of return if improperly selected.
The solution to getting the sale right the first time is to ask the customer a few basic questions and mention a few basic points:
- Where is the product to be used? Pressure mounted and barrier style gates are not recommended at the top of the stairs. Wall mounted gates should not open out over the stairs and should contain a stop to prevent this.
- What are the exact dimensions of the opening? Special use gates are available for openings where mounting points are not in a direct line.
- If the customer has a digital camera, have them take a picture and bring the dimensions.
- When hardware mounting, it is normally very easy and inexpensive to fix holes in wood or drywall with putty or spackling available at any hardware or paint store.
- Retail prices are normally commensurate with fit, finish, features, and function.
To increase volume of child safety gate sales, utilize a gift registry list when the new baby has reached 6-9 months of age. This is also the prime time for other home safety products like cabinet locks, refrigerator latches, toilet locks, electrical plate covers, etc.
Consider a coupon that offers a discount for a gate or other safety related products.
Offering a broad assortment of different price points (styles, finishes, overall applications) will give the shopper more choices. A few quality gate suppliers offer demonstration display stands so the simplicity of use and better workmanship of the gate can be appreciated. Point of sale pieces can be used to help point out product features. If it appears that the customer is not handy or lacks basic home tools, it is a good service to offer in home installation. Developing a relationship with a professional "Baby Proofer" in the area might be an alternative to having the overhead within your own operation.
In the child safety business, competition is keen and points of differentiation need to be identified for today's busy parents. By offering quality service, knowledge and a selection of merchandise, retailers can develop a profitable and successful safety gate business.