Critter Comforts

Secrets to Success

If you have no background in the pet field, first consider working part time for a noncompetitor for a few months to see what is and isn't selling, and what you can do better or differently with your proposed product or service, Poindexter says. This is especially true if you are considering opening a day-care or boarding facility. These are labor-intensive businesses and may not be quite what you had expected, Krack says.

It also helps if you've been a consumer of the product or service, either through your own pets or through others you know. For instance, Puga Keesey found that shea butter soothed her Rhodesian Ridgeback's itchy skin. She then brought in a chemist to refine the shea butter into a sellable product and launched her company. Doug Grabe, 40, chairman of Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Atomic Pet--which manufactures illuminated pet collars and leashes--first used his merchandise for his two dogs. If you don't have personal experience like Puga Keesey or Grabe, form a focus group of pet owners, and ask them what they want and don't want.

A related background can also serve you well. Grabe, who has 10 employees and expects sales to reach $2.5 million in 2005, used his experience as a sales and marketing executive in the technology field to help promote his products. He was able to sell his items through small retailers as well as big-box stores like PetCo by knowing how to approach their buyers. His high-tech know-how even enabled him to create the special power pack that illuminates his accessories, which sell for $20 (collars) and $25 (leashes).

"If you have a passion for pets, related skills, and an innovative product or service, you can enter this industry and make real money," says Grabe, whose company manufactures about 400,000 leashes and collars a year that are sold through distributors worldwide.

In addition, observe the market closely by visiting several competitors in your area--perhaps with your own pet. "If you notice that a doggy day-care center or pet boutique in your area is getting a high volume of business--but no repeat business--then you know there is a demand out there and they are just not doing something right," Chung says. "That may leave an opportunity for you to come in and do it right."

Also, be willing to tinker and alter your product or service often, since trends in the pet arena can come and go quickly. "You want to keep tabs on any population shifts, to make sure that item will still be popular in a couple of years," says Poindexter. "This is why you need to be flexible in the pet world and go with the flow. It's just that kind of industry."

What's Hot?
While kitty litter and dog and cat toys have become oversaturated segments of the pet industry, Andrew Darmohraj, vice president and deputy managing director of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, says the following areas are growing fast and continue to offer opportunities for entrepreneurs:

Fastest-growing pet service businesses
1. Grooming shops
2. Dog day care
3. Dog hotels and spas
4. Care and maintenance of high-end aquariums
5. In-home and mobile grooming services

Fastest-growing pet product businesses
1. High-end clothing, beds, jewelry and other accessories for pets (largely dogs and cats)
2. High-tech convenience gadgets, such as self-cleaning kitty-litter boxes and automatic water dispensers for dogs
3. Leashes and carryalls (for instance, tote bags to carry dogs in)
4. Natural and organic foods, soaps, shampoos, lotions--all designed to mimic similar human products
5. Nutritional supplements

For More Information

Laura Koss-Feder is a freelance business and features writer in Oceanside, New York, who has written for Business Week, The New York Times and Time.

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This article was originally published in the November 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Critter Comforts.

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