I have a scary admission to make: I will embarrass my dog by dressing her in a pet costume this Halloween.
I am certainly not alone. Americans will spend more than $350 million (that’s a third of a billion) on pet costumes in 2014. A pumpkin is the favorite costume of choice, closely followed by “hot dog,” the National Retail Federation reports.
Pets are big business, and the really good news is that pet-related industries are dominated by small business.
If you absolutely love animals — adorable puppies, cuddly kitties and rambunctious rabbits — and you want to own your company, consider starting a pet-related small business.
In the past 20 years, the size of the pet market in America has skyrocketed — from a “mere” $17 billion in 1994 to more than $58 billion estimated to be spent this year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
This trend shows no signs of stopping. Americans love their pets, and they are constantly looking for new ways to better care for — even indulge — their beloved critters.
Fortunately, this is an industry that’s still competitive for small businesses and the self-employed. Folks may spend the biggest percentage of their pet dollars on food, but more than half of their expenditures go for services and supplies that are traditionally provided by smaller companies — veterinarian care, boarding, grooming, dog training and the like.
And small pet retailers manage to survive even though every supermarket has an entire aisle devoted to pet food and there’s a pet “superstore” next to every suburban Bed, Bath and Beyond. Many Americans still rely on small, independent pet stores to get knowledgeable advice and high-quality products for their four-legged family members.
We’re on the cusp of an explosion of innovative pet products. New electronic gadgets help you find a lost pet, or ensure that only the right pet opens a doggy door. Do you wear a “FitBit” or Nike “Fuel” to measure your activity level? Well, why not one for your dog too? “Wearable technology” devices can measure your dog’s physical activity, food consumption, heart rate, and calories burned. You can even keep track to see who’s getting more exercise — you or your dog.
These products may seem silly — but they represent the dawn of a new pet industry and opportunities for entrepreneurs.
If you’re thinking of starting a pet-related business, you’ve got many options, including:
• Food and treats
• Doggy day care
• Dog walking
• Pet sitting
• Pet bedding
• Pet leashes and accessories
• Dog clothes and costumes
• Pet massage (yes, really)
If you are truly devoted to animals, you can even launch a non-profit small business. You won’t get rich starting an organization like this, but you can make a difference.
I know firsthand how non-profit organizations can help. Like many dog owners, I adopted my beloved pet from a local, legitimate, independent pet rescue organization. These groups help save dogs and cats (and other animals) destined to be killed by overcrowded shelters. My adorable ZuZu was scheduled to be killed at a city shelter, even though she was a highly desirable small hypoallergenic puppy. A local rescue group fostered her until I adopted her.
One type of business I’ve left off the list of pet-related entrepreneurial options is “breeding.” Many people think they can make money by becoming a “backyard breeder.” Not a good idea. Look at the statistics: every day in the U.S., 70,000 dogs and cats are born. That means, inevitably, many will be killed or made feral. It’s not only heartbreaking, it’s bad business. There are far better, more ethical options.
And by the way, my dog, ZuZu, will be dressed as Yoda this Halloween. After all, she has such big ears!
Pet business resources
Want to get started on your pet-related small business? You’ll find trade associations and training programs for virtually every aspect of this industry. Here are a few:
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2014
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 24, 2014