From the September 2003 issue of Startups

Some people say this country is going to the dogs--and they're right. It's a proven fact: There are more pets than people in the United States today, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). Sixty-two percent of all households in the United States now own a pet. American pet lovers own 77 million cats, 65 million dogs, 16.8 million small animals, 17.3 million birds, 8.8 million reptiles, 7 million saltwater fish, and 185 million freshwater fish.

What does this mean to you? If you're a teen entrepreneur who likes animals, America's infatuation with pets could be your cash cow! "We estimate that pet owners will spend $31 billion in 2003 to care for, feed, spoil and pamper the American pet population," says Lee Alvarado of the APPMA.

Hottest Pet-Care Products
Pet owners are sparing no expense on their furry, feathered and finned best friends. As a result, pet products and services are one of the country's healthiest industries. Even the downturn in our economy hasn't adversely affected the pet industry. Here are just a few hot items fueled by the pet-care craze:

  • Extravagant dog houses decorated with fine linens and luxurious leathers to pamper "delicate" pooches
  • Novelty outfits for pets such as "microsuede" raincoats and a line of pet costumes for birthday parties and holidays
  • Padded doggie headrests for car windows that protect dogs' noses from injuries and keeps upholstery drool free
  • Pet spas that offer acupuncture, massage therapy and hydrotheraphy, and at-home yoga classes that help pet owners bond with their furry friends
  • Fast-drying, nontoxic nail polish for pets in pastel or glitter shades and blow dryers with special low-noise, low-heat settings for dogs
  • Freezer pops (frozen meat and cheese on a stick) and frozen dairy treats to reward four-legged friends on a hot day
  • Microwavable popcorn for dogs and dog owners, now available in bacon or chicken liver flavors

So how can you attract some of this "petty" cash your way? Help pet owners lavish their love on Fido and Fluffy! For example, today there's more demand than ever for pet-sitting services. Fourteen-year-old Neya Beattie of Lawrence, Kansas, noticed that lots of pets are traumatized by having to stay in kennels. "As a pet owner, I knew I'd pay money for my pet to be able to stay at home when I'm gone," Beattie says.

When she opened for business, Beattie set her prices for in-home care of pets at $12 per day for one-to-three daily visits or $15 for four or more trips to the same house. While her prices are slightly higher than local kennels, she's undercutting other pet sitters in her area who typically charge $30 for only two visits per day. As an extra service, Beattie provides checklists and report cards when pet owners return from their travels. The checklists allow owners to see exactly what she did and when, including the treats she dispensed. The report cards tell owners how their pets were feeling and how they behaved.

Adam Welti says it only costs him about $50 to $60 a month to advertise and operate his pet-sitting service, which he started in Plainview, Minnesota, when he was 16. In just a little over a year, his business has grown to more than 17 regular clients. Welti walks, feeds and plays with pets--even cleans kitty litter--as well as brings in mail and newspapers and takes out trash. Although some months are busier than others, Welti maintains fiscal stability by using monthly cash flow forecasts to predict the amount of money coming in and to plan his expenditures.

Canine Inventions
Charlie Matykiewicz, in Windermere, Florida, launched his pet-oriented business venture when he was 13 by inventing a new product that makes it easier to wash dogs--the Automatic Dog Washer. His PVC pipe washer won local, state and national inventing contests, and soon Matykiewicz found himself discussing his clever contraption with newspapers, radio stations and on four television shows, including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "I have dogs, so I tried to think of a better way to wash them," he explains about his inspiration for the Dog Washer.

Dana Philen, the 15-year-old inventor of the Walk 'N Train dog collar, got her idea for a profitable pet product when she saw her neighbor struggling as she tried to switch her dog's choke collar for a regular collar. Philen thought dog owners would like one collar that serves both purposes. "There was nothing on the market like that," Philen says. "There were similar things, but you usually have to put them on and off over their heads, which most dogs hate." She has since trademarked the Walk 'N Train name, applied for a patent, found a manufacturer, written a business plan and now markets the collars over the Internet as well as through pet stores.

Pets can be messy, so several years ago 24-year old Richard Scott started Dog Butler in Seattle. He soon had four employees "pooper scoopering" waste from 500 dogs at 160 homes and kennels weekly. Customers paid $22 per month for the service and $2 extra for each additional doggie. People called him funny names like The Dog Doo Guy, but Scott laughed all the way to the bank and has made $40,000 per year.

So listen up, pet-loving teens: There's plenty of room for you in the pet-care industry. But don't hold back too long--if you love animals, find a way to get paid to spend time with them. And while you're snagging your portion of the pet-care dollars, have a tail-wagging good time!

Next Step
Ready to launch your own business? Visit YoungBiz.com and read "Be Your Own Boss - Why Not?" for more start-up advice.