FOCUS: There’s No Business Like Dog Business
With the rise of terms like “fur babies” and “fur children,” it doesn’t come as a surprise that according to an October 2016 report from sales and marketing agency Acosta, 94 percent of pet owners view their pets as members of the family, and 80 percent treat their pets like children. This increased humanization of our pets — particularly our dogs — has led to new consumer trends and business opportunities within the pet industry. Namely, there is growing demand for more specialized, higher-end products and services for dogs. Frugality has been replaced with dog owners seeking out the best products for their four-legged friends, whether that applies to food, toys, treats, accessories or grooming regiments. Specialty pet boutiques, including those in the Upstate, have provided a new niche for business owners and consumers.
The pet industry’s growth has been boosted by the spending habits of baby boomers, specifically those ages 55–64, reports petbusiness.com. Susan Fredricksen, a sales associate at Paw Paws USA on West McBee Avenue, notes that women ages 50–60 that “want to spoil their pets” are a large portion of the shop’s clientele.
At the same time, millennials — those born between 1985 and 2010 — have now “surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation of pet owners” and have also readily embraced the “pets as children” phenomenon. This development should be welcome news for business owners, as Acosta reports that millennials are more likely to view extras for their pet, such as toys, accessories and treats, as necessities compared to the baby-boomer generation. In fact, according to Acosta, 60 percent of millennials purchase such items for their pets once a week.
The increasing average age for both marriage and entry into parenthood could be impacting this trend. “We see a lot of young couples come in who have just got their first dog, and they’re treating it like their first baby,” says Meghan Whisnant, managing partner at Barkery Bistro on Augusta Street.
You are what you eat
Whisnant and her mother, Diane Ludwig, opened Barkery Bistro in 2008. The pair originally started making homemade treats for their golden retrievers that had severe food allergies. From there, they became interested in the “health side of pet care,” Whisnant explains.
“We were trying to find alternative ways to help dogs and their allergies, so it kind of grew from there,” she says. Since originally opening as a dog bakery, Barkery Bistro has expanded into a dog boutique, with a grooming service and retail offerings.
Providing pets with better food is a growing consumer trend within the industry, and Urban Yap Pet Spa & Boutique, located on The Parkway in Greer, has responded to this demand by selling a variety of holistic pet foods, in addition to toys and treats and offering grooming.
Purchasing food with premium ingredients is a way for owners to improve and maintain the wellbeing of their pet, and it’s also the result of people’s increased humanization of their pets. “Health and wellness trends for pets mirror what’s happening in the human world. The reasoning is what’s good for us must also be good for Fido,” reads the Acosta report.
More specialized and holistic pet food comes with a higher price tag, but the perception is that the wellness benefits outweigh the costs. “We are finding that many dogs have severe skin issues, food intolerances and food or environmental allergies. Many of these problems can be reduced or even eliminated by changing your pet’s diet,” says Lee Anne Townes, owner of Urban Yap.
“Holistic pet diets can also help you reduce the number of visits your pet makes to the veterinary office. We see a lot of dog owners who are realizing the value in better foods and treats,” adds Townes. “Fewer vet bills will more than make up for the price difference.”
Urban Yap has also expanded to sell supplements that, until recently, one wouldn’t expect to find in a dog’s diet, including probiotics, pre-biotics, essential vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants.
Who wants a treat?
Change in the type of food that consumers want for their dogs has also extended to treats. Petbusiness.com reports that treats are the “fastest-growing pet retail category,” and that in 2015, 40 percent of the 3,300 new products on the market were treats. According to APPA’s 2015–16 National Pet Owners Survey, dog owners spend an average of $61 on treats annually.
“All of that birthday gourmet treat stuff is the biggest trend we’ve noticed,” says Whisnant. People often come to Barkery Bistro specifically for the store’s birthday “pupcakes,” and Urban Yap also sells decorative cookies and cakes for birthdays and other special occasions.
That purchasing homemade, specialty birthday treats for dogs is a growing hit isn’t a surprise when looking at consumer trends. According to the Acosta report, 60 percent of pet owners celebrate their pet’s birthday, which has opened opportunities to introduce new products to the market.
“When we ask [customers] what they’re looking for, their dog is turning a year old or their senior dog is turning 13,” says Whisnant. “It’s like their baby and a member of their family. It’s the same thing even with people who come in with kids. They’ll come in … and help pick out the treats. It’s a thing for the whole family and just a fun memory.”
So fresh, so clean
Another trend that is emerging is that grooming is not always referred to as “grooming” now. Instead it’s a “spa day,” which, for the owner, connotes that they are pampering their dog.
In addition to their basic grooming packages, Urban Yap and Barkery Bistro offer fancy add-ons for purchase. For example, Urban Yap has specialty treatments that can supplement a dog’s regular grooming regiment, including de-shedding treatments; paw, nose or skin moisture treatments; blueberry facials; “pawdicures”; and teeth brushing, among others. In keeping with the idea that a pet is a family member or child, these extra treatments make owners feel that they are helping maintain their dog’s wellbeing.
One grooming offering that has recently become popular on spa days is the blueberry facial. It consists of “a concentrated blueberry-scented shampoo placed on your dog’s face and ears, which sits for 10 minutes complete with a warm towel wrap, then rinsed thoroughly,” explains Townes.
“It’s relaxing for them, too,” says Whisnant. “They get a little face massage, just like if a person got a facial.” Barkery Bistro includes a blueberry facial with many of their grooms, which is a big selling point for customers, she adds.
Paw Paws USA has filled another niche in the market for dog owners who want to buy high-quality, distinct accessories for their pups. The store specializes in collars, leashes and harnesses. Today, many dog owners intentionally seek out these personalized and customized accessories, because “they want to humanize their dogs,” explains Fredricksen. “Today’s pet owner likes to extend their individuality to their pets.”
The specialty store has capitalized on this growing trend. Founder and owner Anne Nutter has created almost all of the 65 unique ribbon patterns used in the store’s products. She opened her business in 2006 and has a workshop above the store’s current location. After doing wholesale, Nutter transitioned to retail and opened the brick-and-mortar store downtown in 2013.
With a more visible presence near Main Street, Paw Paws USA has experienced a 40 percent increase in business since 2015. “You can’t find Anne’s products just anywhere,” Fredicksen says. “The design and printing of our own ribbon and exclusive patterns is one of our many competitive advantages.”
“Everything is not only exclusive to the store but also it is customizable and able to be monogrammed. You can pick the colors and patterns within the limits of what the design studio can do,” she adds. For example, one of the store’s recently fulfilled special orders was for a leash, collar and bowtie that all matched each other.
“We have a lot of flexibility, and we can help bring that customized product to the marketplace and service the customer that way,” says Fredricksen.
The Dogs Issue
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Dressing Doggies: AllyJay has the accessories your pooch didn’t know he needed
Walking the Dog: Small businesses can make big money in pet services
Hound Hotels: The Upstate steps up its pet boarding game