A Growing Opportunity: Selling to Pet Parents

With BP’s two children off to work and college, she has directed her abundant love and energy to Zoey, a slightly overweight, nine-year-old golden retriever. “Zoey is just like a person,” BP told me. “Actually, he’s better than a person. I wish the people I know were as good as Zoey.”

DM, my sister, is very sympathetic to that point of view. An avid pet lover and devoted “mother” of Pali, DM has become an amateur expert in all sorts of pet-related fields, from pet grooming to pet training to pet medicine and psychology.

BP and DM are planning to spend future Wednesday evenings at the Falcon House, a local restaurant that has smartly capitalized on the pet trend by offering a weekly “K9 Kocktail Party.” I hear that the restaurant brims with dogs enjoying doggy delicacies from dog bowls while their owners sip pet-themed drinks like Salty Dogs and Greyhounds. (A portion of the proceeds from dog-related items is donated to the Humane Society.)

BP and DM are prime examples of their generation. Baby boomers, already a major force in American commerce, are getting nutty over pets. As their children grow up (and become increasingly less cuddly), they are transferring their attention to their pets.

“Pets have replaced children,” says Ken Hall, chief marketing officer for PetSmart. The trend today, Hall says, is to pamper “four-legged children instead of two-legged ones.”

The pampering of pets by surrogate human parents is not new, but the scope of it may be unprecedented. In the past 12 years, U.S. spending on pets doubled, from about $17 billion in 1994 to about $35 billion today.

Riding on the waves of this tide, PetSmart, with 700 stores in North America, is selling “thousands of goods, including disposable diapers, The Doggy Bone Cookbook, and apparel such as a faux-fur trimmed pink wool coat,” says USA Today.

“By buying pets human-type gifts, we are making ourselves feel good and making them happy,” says Bob Vetere, chief operating officer of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). In fact, Vetere credits the “humanization of pets” with driving the market of high-end pet products and services that reflect more human desires.

The excessiveness of this trend cannot be underestimated. Theresa Howard, writing in USA Today, pointed to these hot new pet products:

A $200 Swarovski crystal necklace with coordinated “Mommy” bracelet from Le Prissy Pets in Honolulu
A GPS Global Petfinder at $350 and a Gucci pet carrier at $720, both from Neiman Marcus
Aromatherapy baths for $50 and monogrammed terry spa robes for $40 from a Massachusetts dog spa
And, best of the best, a bone-shaped doggy cellphone, selling for $349 (plus a $16 per month calling plan) at PetsMobility in Scottsdale, Arizona

If all this weren’t so disturbing, it would be funny. And if it weren’t so profitable, we wouldn’t be talking about it in ETR.

There is only one way to deal with a rising trend that has core values you question: Invest in it. In this case, you can invest in the booming pet market by opening up one (or several) home businesses in the following pet-related fields:

  • boarding
  • grooming
  • training
  • feeding
  • supplies

And that’s just to name a few.

To capitalize on the boomers’ tendency to treat their pets like people, position your home-based business as if it were serving human beings instead of animals. For example, the short list of pet services above may be converted as follows:

  • Turn your boarding facility into a Pet Hotel.
  • Turn your grooming service into a Pet Spa.
  • Instead of calling yourself a trainer, market yourself as a Pet Behavior Specialist.
  • Turn your pet food supply business into a Gourmet Pet Food Shop.
  • Instead of a pet supplies store, open a Specialty Pet Boutique.

According to the January issue of the APPMA Advisor, there are several other industry trends to keep an eye on. Among the top are doggy day care and in-home grooming services, as well as things like braces and prescription lenses for pets.

Of course, none of this has to be done in brick and mortar. If I were starting a pet-related business today, I’d do the whole thing online. And I’d pursue baby boomers and baby procrastinators (young couples who are waiting to have human children) by targeting lists such as:

  • List Title
  • Description
  • Universe Size
  • Lead Source

Adorned Pampered Pet Owners

Targets people who buy expensive items for their pets:


Direct mail

Alliance Buyers: Pet Lovers

People who share their homes with pets (44% male, 50% female)


Compiled retail buyers

Signatures – Pet Merchandise Buyers

Animal lovers who have purchased specific items for their pets (10% male, 90% female)


Direct mail

Keep in mind that though these lists are intended for direct mail, you can usually contact the marketer to get e-mail addresses for an online sales effort.

I usually prefer “push” marketing strategies (direct email) over “pull” (website-based) strategies. But in this case, I think you can indeed begin a business with a good website because of the huge number of information seekers who are on the Web every day looking for the newest pet idea/product/gadget. The APPMA estimates that this includes14% of dog owners, 19% of cat owners, 18% of fish owners, and 23% of bird owners.

With so much money and time being spent online, you could certainly garner a chunk of the action.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]