Fancy doggie daycare. Cat salons. It’s no secret—pets are pampered. Find out how you can take a bite out of this lucrative product category.
At K9 Scrub Club in San Francisco, Steve Davis understands that pets aren’t just pets—they are full-fledged members of the family.
“We cater to people whose pets are their children,” Davis says, “and these people are spending a lot of money to pamper their pets.”
K9 Scrub Club provides a lot of pampering opportunities. The business is not only a pet boutique with lots of high-end items not found everywhere, but also a self-serve dog wash. His customers are all ages—young adults who don’t have children; couples who now have an empty nest and focus their attention on their furry “children”—but the common denominator of the customers is they have discretionary income and a willingness to spend top dollar on items ranging from doggie beds to breed-specific dishes to adorable outfits.
A big bite
What Steve Davis has experienced at his business is part of a national trend. Even though the pet product market felt the pinch of the tough economy, the pet industry is a multi-billion dollar business. According to Packaged Facts, U.S. pet industry sales totaled $56.67 billion in 2011, an increase of $2 billion from 2010. The research found that pet supplies had the slowest growth, largely because these items are discretionary. Your cat may need a collar for example, but that collar may last several years. Pet food, interestingly enough, was purchased at either end of the spectrum. Either petowners looked for the best bargain brand or they sought out top-of-the-line specialty food.
Just as Baby Boomers are creating a graying population, Packaged Facts points out that our animals are getting older too. People are taking better care of their pets with better nutrition (hence the popularity of specialty foods) and with better medical attention.
That’s a trend that at least one manufacturer of pet products has seen. “People are slowly making sure their pets are eating healthy. They are thinking of their pets more as furry humans,” says Amy Finkel, who is in charge of marketing and sales of
Seattle-based, These Creatures. This attitude toward pets has changed pet owners’ buying habits.
Chew on this
These Creatures wants to make sure dogs and cats are able to eat their healthy food in a way that is more natural. Using recycled metal, Finkel’s brother, Andrew, an artist, created breed-specific feeding stations. The wall-mounted feeders can be hung at the right height so the animal can better digest its food. The company claims these feeders reduce neck and back pain an animal might endure from leaning over to reach the dish placed on the kitchen floor. These Creatures also has raised feeders at three different heights—and provides guidelines for measuring your pet to determine the right height. The bowls themselves are stainless steel.
The focus on health extends to making sure pets (and owners) get enough exercise and that’s where pet products that help for pets on the go, really help. The Dog Is Good water bottle helps to solve a problem for pet owners: making sure there is always water readily and easily available.
Gila Kurtz from Dog Is Good in Los Alamitos, CA, describes the product as a “gerbil meets dog” water bottle. It looks like the stainless steel water bottles that are popular for humans today. The difference in the Dog Is Good product is a rolling ball in the tip of the bottle that the dog can lick. “The dog can get access to the water without wasting water,” Kurtz says. The bottle comes with a lid that doubles as a water bowl for little dogs that might struggle with licking the water from the ball.
Kurtz says the company had to come up with a unique way to display the doggie water bottles in stores. Because it looks like the same bottle a human would use, shoppers don’t automatically recognize that this is a pet product. The display tilts a bottle, with the top off, downward, so shoppers can see how it works. Photo displays show the water bottle being used by a pet. The price—retailing around $20—and product functionality have made this product popular with pet owners in all demographics, but Kurtz says it is especially popular with those who enjoy taking their pets on hikes and walks.
For those who prefer to carry a bowl with them for water or for food, there is Cycle Dog’s Trail Buddy Bowl. Like all of Cycle Dog’s products, the Trail Buddy Bowl is made from post-consumer recycled inner tubes.
The use of the recycled rubber fits into a couple of trends that both manufacturers and retailers are seeing, especially among upscale pet product purchases.
“The big trends right now in the pet industry are earth-friendly and made in the U.S.A.,” says Lanette Fidrych, president of the Portland, OR company. Finkel agrees with the assessment saying that her company’s focus on “green” products—in her case, recycled metals—and on manufacturing the products in the U.S. are important to both her customers and to the company.
Eco-friendly is what retailer Leslie Hayes-Houtkooper sees customers purchasing at her online store PupLife. “We have an official green policy, so we sell eco-friendly beds, toys, and organic dog treats.”
Customers are definitely thinking about the materials used in the products they are purchasing for their pets, says Christine Watts, owner of Charming Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, CA, but they also want a good value.
“If a toy is cheap it doesn’t necessarily mean that it represents value,” Watts says. “Factors such as good quality and safe materials and durability are just as important in the decision-making process as are whether or not the customer believes their pet will enjoy playing with the toy.”
Charming Pet Products makes dog toys and recently changed its latex toys to include 86% rubber content to improve the chewing experience, as well as make the toys more durable. The company’s most popular toys are latex squeaky toys that are shaped specifically for the dog’s mouth, making them easier to chew and to toss around. Watts says the customers who seek out her dog toys are middle-aged women, often empty nesters.
Whether customers keep pets indoors or like to take them on adventures, every dog and cat will need a collar. True, collars are easy to find in grocery stores or any place that sells pet products, but the pet owners who like to pamper their dogs and cats want something a little more special or unique.
BLUEBLOOD Luxury Goods was founded by two San Francisco dog lovers who met at a dog park. Their most popular products are the designer pet collars (with matching leads). The collars sell for more than $35 and the leads are several dollars more–definitely a high-end purchase, but as owner Tina Pao points out, “Most of the items available in the market today tend to be very cutesy, but we have taken a more sophisticated approach to design and think of our patterns as styles we would personally want to wear or carry.”
The company also sells dog beds and tote bags that feature pictures of different breeds of dogs and are just the right size to carry a miniature-sized pooch.
Of course, not every pet owner is looking for sophisticated. They want something stylish, to be sure, but also something unique and sturdy. Cycle Dog’s most popular product is its Bottle Opener Recycled Collar. Like the company’s other products, the collar is made from recycled inner tubes, with a metal buckle. This is ideal for the pet owner and pet who like to work up a sweat, as the collar, which includes a bottle opener, is durable and sheds water easily.
Paws for comfort
The well-dressed pet is popular too, retailer Samantha Matteoni discovered. Her online store, NuttButt Bakery, sells T-shirts, sweaters, and hoodies made especially for dogs. Her best selling item right now is a harness vest.
And just as people purchase soft blankets for human babies, Matteoni sees a lot of orders of super-soft blankets to swaddle new puppies.
“Our intention behind NuttButt was to create a shop where men wouldn’t think the clothes looked silly, and women would be attracted to the styles and colors,” she says.
Pets also need time to wind down, which means another popular trend in pet products is the lifestyle products that not only provide pets with comfort but also complement the home décor. The P.L.A.Y. bed is one such product.
“We believe pet beds should not only be comfy for pets, but also stylish for their owners and better for our planet,” says Phuong Phillips, marketing manager with the San Francisco company. Each bed is filled with a PlanetFill filling that is made from recycled plastic bottles and features furniture-grade fabrics. The most popular product is the Lounge Bed, which comes in 15 different styles. “The beds include a flippable center pillow and reversible exterior, providing pet owners with four different looks in one product,” Phillips says.
The P.L.A.Y. products are popular sellers for Steve Davis at K9 Scrub Club because they fit the types of products his customers are looking for when they come in the store—bedding that is comfortable, fits well into the home’s overall style, and durable. “That’s what customers want,” Davis says, “they want durable. Durable and healthy.”
Davis says he and his staff don’t sell any products they don’t personally have a connection to. “My goal is to find the best product,” Davis says, “not [necessarily] the most inexpensive.”
Yes, it will cost a bit more to purchase products from K9 Scrub Club and other upscale pet shops. But as Pao says, “We find that people are far more willing to spend money on their pets than on themselves.”
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