Despite a serious downturn in the economy, pet ownership and spending continue to grow. But competition within the pet market is also growing. On one side is the growth of big-box pet outlets while on the other are retailers increasing the number of pet and pet-related products they sell.
For example, even Home Depot is increasing its pet product selections and in some cases is actively promoting these products. Even smaller local retailers such as gift and hardware stores are stocking more pet and pet-related merchandise.
For veterinary practices seeking to add or grow existing pet product revenue streams, these trends create a number of challenges, but opportunities as well.
In terms of challenges, veterinary practices do not have the resources to compete with big retailers’ ability to advertise or offer deeply discounted prices. However, there is room for veterinary practices to cut out specialized niches, such as medications, prescription diets and specialty foods, medicated and/or therapeutic grooming products, and more.
Veterinary practices can also leverage their client base through e-mail and direct mail marketing efforts and resources, such as websites and brochures. The key is identifying a niche and using available assets to promote sales.
For example, a larger retailer may have flea and tick products, but the products don’t come with a veterinarian’s qualified recommendation for safety and effectiveness. Veterinary clients trust their veterinarians’ expertise and knowledge and probably will even pay a little bit more for a product from their veterinarian than a modestly trained clerk at a big-box retail outlet.
According to the American Pet Association’s (APPA) 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, pet ownership is still at an all-time high with 62 percent of homes owning a pet. This translates into 71.4 million homes.
The chart below shows types of pets owned, in millions by species:
|Type of Pet||2006/2007||2009/2010|
The survey also showed that Americans’ spending on their pets remains strong:
|Amount Spent on Pets||In Billions|
|Live Animal Purchases||$2.21|
|Pet Services (grooming and boarding)||$3.45|
|Total (includes other forms of spending)||$47.7|
The chart below outlines how much the average pet owner spent for the year on products and services for pets:
|Routine Veterinary Services||$225||$203|
|Grooming and Products||$66||$22|
2010 Top Product Trends
According to the APPA survey, trends in pet products reflect larger consumer trends, ranging from environmentally friendly goods to fashionable accessories to nutritionally rich organic foods and more.
The suggestions should help drive some thinking around niche products veterinarians could successfully market at their practices.
Going Green. A number of new earth-friendly products are making their way to market, such as natural litters, organic foods, hemp leashes and collars, biodegradable pet waste bags, bedding and cleaning products.
Recommendation: Not only can you carry these products, but you can promote your practice as incorporating green products and sustainable practices in its services.
Vacationing with a pet. Hotels recognize that reducing barriers to travel is in their best interest so they are making it easier for guests to bring their pets. Beyond opening their doors to pets, amenities include pet pillows, doggie robes, check-in gift packages, grooming services and more.
Our recommendation: Along with travel-related products, you can leverage expertise and client trust through travel-related services. This could include pre-trip planning for pet owners, documentation stating pets are safe for travel and are vaccinated, and help finding pet friendly accommodations. You may want to seek out hotels and motels that allow pets and seek out ways to build mutually beneficial partnerships.
Clean and Odor Free. Pet owners have generally never been big fans of stale dog or kitty litter smelling homes, but there are now far more cleaning products available to them than ever before. Many groomers and most veterinary practices are also offering toothbrushes and mouthwashes for pets.
Recommendation: Who would know better the best products and methods to clean up after pets than a veterinarian? If you have a range of products that work well for you, why not offer them to clients, too?
High Tech Pet. The use of technology is growing to include a wide range of products: computerized ID tags, digital aquarium kits, automatic doors and feeders, advanced terrarium lights and heaters, touch-activated toys and more. Many of these products are designed to make pet ownership more convenient and easier.
Recommendation: This is one area where retailers may have an advantage because they have more floor space to display a wide range of products and receive favorable pricing from manufacturers. However, you can still use your expertise by helping clients understand risks and which products you have heard work best.
New Age Pets. Yoga, massage, acupuncture and herbal treatments are growing market areas for pets. In some cases these are directed only at pets, while in others is the services are an attempt by providers of these human services to increase clientele through pet-friendly policies and services.
Recommendation: If you offer grooming services, adding some of these alternative therapies and services may be a low-cost, high return-on-investment way to increase client visits.
You may also be able to either partner or offer your expertise for a fee to other businesses seeking to offer these kinds of pet-related services.
Pet Fashion. Clothes, costumes and accessories for pets are still a growing market. Some are practical, warm clothing for winter walks, while some are more fanciful, such as designer collars, Halloween costumes and fashionable pet clothes.
Recommendation: This is another area where retailers have a real advantage. However, you could seek out clothes and similar accessories that have a real medical value such as products to protect paws during winter and summer months. You may also want to offer sessions with pet owners to help make them aware of seasonal pet care issues as a means to increase client visits.
Our Daily Companions. Pets are going to the store, on day trips and vacations as never before. To make traveling easier and safer, there are a number of products such as car harnesses and portable carriers, food and water carriers, safety kits, waste disposal products and motion sickness remedies for pets.
Recommendation: This is an area where your pet-care expertise could encourage clients to purchase pet travel and safety products from you. Your ability to offer advice on the proper use of these devices also increases the value of purchasing these products from a veterinarian.
In all, the fact that people are still spending money on the care of their pets is a very encouraging sign for veterinarians and pet product retailers. Even though there is increased competition for this spending, veterinarians have some natural advantages that should be exploited to increase the value of your practice.
Dr. Mark Feltz was a practicing veterinarian from 1979 to 2002, previously owning practices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He also holds advanced degrees in advertising and internet technology. Currently, Feltz owns VetNetwork LLC in Dover, N.H. His website is VetNetwork.com..