Creature Comforts

Pet Plethora

For purveyors of pet paraphernalia, there doesn't seem to be any saturation point in sight. With 66 million American households owning two or more pets--or "companion animals," as those in the industry call them--the demand for cool products for pets will continue well into the new millennium.

That's excellent news for entrepreneurs like 31-year-old Kristi Kirsch, owner of Cool Pet, an online pet products business she runs from her home in Newport Beach, California. Started in May 1998 with $20,000, Cool Pet has already racked up more than $50,000 in sales selling 150 unusual items not typically found in pet stores, such as cat drinking fountains, backpacks for people to carry their dogs in, luggage to carry cats, bathrobes for dogs, toothbrushes for dogs and cats--even an original watercolor portrait of your pet for $425.

Kirsch and her husband, Steven, were initially looking for a business that would bring in some extra income but would allow her to stay home and raise their young daughter. As animal lovers and the owners of a beloved terrier named Pablo, they latched on to the pet industry because of their personal interest and the industry's seemingly huge growth potential, which appears impervious to economic conditions.

A cyber-business was a perfect choice because it has allowed Kristi to work from home and, at the same time, reach potential customers around the world. Steven still works full time as a dentist but helps her fill orders and update the Web site on the side. Within the first seven months of operation, Cool Pet had filled orders from customers across the United States and in Japan, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Canada.

As long as a pet product is new, different and serves a function, it will sell, according to Funda Alp of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Popular items at the association's huge annual trade show include tennis balls with a built-in minty breath freshener for your dog, cat hammocks, and organic veggie burgers for reptiles with discerning palates. "There are a lot of unusual products out there, but when you boil it down, they all [have a common goal]: to make pets happy and comfortable in a human environment," Alp says. In addition to novelty and function, she adds, pet owners are looking for products that are well-designed, colorful and aesthetically pleasing.

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Creature Comforts.

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