January 2005
Profiting from Pets By Bridget White

If you're looking for a lucrative new product line that goes well

Take a minute to absorb the following statistics.

  • Sixty-two percent, approximately 64.2 million, U.S. households own a pet.
  • There are approximately 377.8 million pets in the United States.
  • An estimated $34.3 billion was spent on pet food, care and supplies last year.
  • The amount of money spent on pet supplies has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
  • The average customer transaction at a pet store is $88.38.

The numbers look pretty appealing, don’t they? You can debate whether or not dogs truly are a man’s best friend. But there’s little doubt that dogs, cats and pets of all kinds are a specialty retailer’s best friend. Still, pet supplies at a garden center? It is a little out-of-the-box but not totally crazy. People who own pets, especially dogs, tend to be somewhat active and outside often; they are typically home owners; and they love a challenge, especially cat owners. Those are many of the same characteristics of avid gardeners. So if garden center customers really are pet owners then why forfeit more than $500 per customer per year to someone else?

There are those doubtful of garden supplies and pet supplies co-existing. They argue that the products are too dis-similar, the mega-stores are too entrenched and the customers would not respond. While pet supplies may not be everyone’s holy grail, numerous garden centers around the country have found tremendous success thorough our furred and feathered friends.

The key is giving customers a service they need. Is there a need for another “pet store” in your town? Can you find unique products to carry, to differentiate from the mass merchandisers and competitors? Most importantly, do your customers own pets? Despite how profitable some stores are with pet products, it will not work at every garden center. If you are located near a specialty pet store or your staff would not welcome pets in the store, think twice about investing heavily in this category.

A day’s worth of investigation to check out the competition (field trip!) and an informal checkout survey should give you enough information to decide if pets will work at your store. Who knows, you might just find that your best customer doesn’t even have a bank account.

Behind the Numbers

So American’s own more pets than ever before and are spending more money on them. That alone would be a big enticement to start stocking pet products, but it would only be half the story. The really interesting thing about this category is the why — why do so many people own pets, and why are people so willing to shell out cash to cater to those pets. Because the answers to these questions tell whether the pet explosion is a passing fancy or here to stay.

According to a study conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturer’s Association (APPMA), companionship, love, company and affection are cited most often as the primary benefits of having a pet. Additionally, a number of high-profile academic studies have recently linked pet ownership to everything from lowering blood pressure and preventing heart disease to reducing stress and fighting depression.

What these studies indicate is that there has been a marked shift in attitude about pet ownership. For an increasing number of Americans, Lucky is no longer just a four-legged animal that digs holes in the backyard or keeps away mice. She is a valued part of the family. She has her own bed, bowls and food; she goes to the doctor when she gets sick; and she gets treats and presents just like the other kids. In other words, at least for now, Lucky is a gold mine.

Industry Trends

As people become increasingly attached to their pets they demand more and more from pet products. No longer is it acceptable for pet retailers to offer only rawhide bones and catnip-filled mice; pet owners want the same variety, quality and, yes, fashion from their pet products as they expect from products bought for themselves. Below are a few of the hottest trends in pet products, according to the APPMA.

Going to the dogs. Companies traditionally known for human products are going to the dogs… and cats… and reptiles. Big name companies such as Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, Origins, Harley Davidson and Old Navy are now offering lines of pet products ranging from dog shampoo, pet attire and name-brand toys to gourmet treats and food. You can even get the latest styles right from the catwalk (sorry for the pun) with designer plaid raincoats, lumberjack vests and jeweled collars. The lap of luxury. High-end items to spoil companion animals are must-haves for many pet owners who will spare no expense for their furry, feathered and finned best friends. Items include faux mink coats for cold weather outings, feathered French day beds for afternoon naps, designer birdcages, botanical fragrances and even rhinestone collars and tiaras! And don’t think this kind of pampering is just for the rich and famous; there are many more middle-income customers in this category than you think.

Help yourself. If people are busy enough to replace landscaping with container gardens, imagine how much time they want to devote to such things as cleaning cat litter boxes and washing the dog’s dish. Our frenzied lifestyles have given rise to a whole category of pet products with convenience in mind. You can now purchase everything from programmable feeding and drinking systems to automatic and battery-operated toys to self-cleaning litter boxes. With the help of these products pets can practically care for themselves.

Dinner is served. Today’s pet foods include complete and balanced diets that tantalize a pet’s taste buds and cater to every need. No more one-size-fits-all formulas or substandard ingredients. There are special foods for puppies and kittens, seniors, overweight pets and those with health problems such as kidney failure. The biggest trend in food is toward organic components that are nutritionally balanced and prepared at human food cleanliness standards.

Hello, my name is… From monogrammed sweaters to personalized food bowls, customized pet products are all the rage. A selection of products branded with a single letter will be an easy way to address this trend, but someone who will stitch Spot’s name on a sweater or paint it on a water dish will really attract attention.

Keep on Truckin’. Whether it’s a quick trip to the supermarket or a long ride to the beach, companion animals are now traveling animals. Buckled up in a harness, secured in a seat belt or locked safely in a portable carrier, pets need special products when they hit the road. An array of stylish carriers is now available — no more hard plastic boxes — and if the trip is long, travel water and food bowls will be very convenient.

Bridget White

Bridget White is editorial director of Lawn & Garden Retailer. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1004 or E-mail at [email protected].


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