9 Low-Cost Business Ideas for Animal Lovers
'Products and services that help people care for their four-legged family members are in a growth pattern that I don't see slowing down for the near future.'
I wish I could just play with animals all day.
If you’re an animal lover you know you’ve said that once or twice before. What if that dream could become your next business?
“With so many people having dogs instead of children, products and services that help people care for their four-legged family members are in a growth pattern that I don’t see slowing down for the near future,” said Matthew Osborn, doo-doo guru and owner of Pooper Scooper Services.
Since 1994, the pet industry has nearly quadrupled in sales. In 2017, Americans spent about $69.5 billion on their pets, according to American Pet Products, a nonprofit trade association serving the pet industry. It’s estimated that 2018 will see an increase of about $3 billion in sales.
If you’re an animal lover looking to go into your own business, these are 9 low-cost business ideas that can start you on your way. The paw-ssibilities are endless!
NOTE: Before starting a small business, research your state for requirements for business licenses and tax registration for small businesses. Here are three must-read resources to help you.
Startup cost: under $1,200
Equipment: digital camera, backdrop and lighting, editing software (such as Adobe Photoshop), backup hard drives
Do you have experience with a digital SLR camera? Love hanging out with animals? A pet photographer might be the business for you.
“The most important thing in establishing such a business is to create a memorable, identifiable style of pet photography that appeals to dog lovers,” said Mark McQueen, owner of phoDOGraphy, a New York City-based business that specializes in dog photography with a city feel. He added that being a pet photographer requires a lot of patience.
Some ideas for how you can cut down on costs? Take photos of your subjects outside of a studio, which can be a fun way to catch them in a unique environment with natural light but also presents some challenges in a less-controlled environment. Or use the owner's home as a setting. Another way to save is to rent camera equipment until you have the funds to purchase.
Startup cost: under $1,000
Starting a pet-sitting service requires little in startup costs, but you do need credentials, such as past or present pet ownership, as well as other pet-related experience, including working at a pet retail shop, an animal hospital or another animal-related work.
You’ll also need to be able to build the “trust” credential, sometimes referred to as "honesty insurance.” Owners often regard their pets as children, so bond with your client’s precious pet by offering a brief but important “meet-and-greet” with both the client and pet to get to know each other and go over your policies and ask questions about the pet’s needs.
Consider what services you’ll offer by researching the services that other pet sitters offer, such as overnight stays and/or private dog walks versus non-private services (such as walking multiple dogs at once); plus, come up with your own set of policies to protect your business, such as cancellation and payment policy and what sort of management system you’ll use to record your clients’ information and keep track of your pet-sitting schedule.
Some startup costs? Consider pet-sitter’s insurance (for liability coverage), which costs approximately $190 to $290 annually through Pet Sitters Associates and animal first aid class, which runs $100.
Related: 9 Pet Businesses to Start Today
Gift basket service for pets
Startup cost: under $1,000
Equipment: basket items, shipping costs, wrapping items
Finding a niche to corner is the best way to start out in the gift basket business. And if you love animals, why not create a gift basket for pets?
Will you focus on homemade tasty treats for brachycephalic dogs (that have flat faces, such as French bulldogs and pugs) that have sensitive stomachs? Or a starter puppy kit, full of safe toys and snacks -- and a booklet containing 10 important training tips?
Will your basket be filled with goodies for dog grooming?
One company that has capitalized on this idea is Bark & Co. through its BarkBox product. The BarkBox is a monthly subscription service that sends dog treats and toys to pet owners every month.
“One of the reasons so many startups in this industry fail is that they act like humans and not as dogs,” said Henrik Werdelin, co-founder at Bark & Co. “We have from day one built BarkBox with dogs values, like contagious optimism. We are always trying to please and not be too serious.”
Try cutting down on costs by marketing through social media. BarkBox uses its customers on social media to market their brand. “Try asking on Twitter 'should I get a BarkBox?' and you will find that our amazing customers do the branding for us,” Werdelin said.
Pet clothing and accessories designer
Startup cost: under $1,000
Equipment: clothing material, sewing equipment and shipping and packaging materials
Kitty couture. Designer hoodies for dogs. The entrepreneurial possibilities for pet clothing are vast.
“Coats and pajamas are a mainstay, as well as Halloween costumes and fun holiday wear,” said Madelena Perrelli, owner of Diamond Collar, a pet attire store in Brooklyn.
According to Perrelli, this business is beneficial for small animals in particular. “They need comfort from the cold in winter, and in the summer as well due to air conditioning,” she said, so there is a large market geared towards smaller animals.
And for ideas on how to cleverly market your pet threads, check out Lucy & Co., an online store that specializes in signature dog clothing classics, such as puffer vests and hooded sweatshirts, which uses Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to show off its adorable wares.
Gourmet pet treats
Startup cost: $1,000
Equipment: baking materials, kitchen costs, shipping costs, base ingredients, packaging materials
Sick of going to the store for dog biscuits every week? Think cats deserve some unique treats too? Start a pet bakery business! Gourmet pet snacks are not only a unique business idea, but they could also be your foot in the door for other animal-related businesses.
There are many options with animal treats ranging from a focus on healthy, all-natural selection, to unique and crazy flavors. Just make sure to do your due diligence for what dogs can and can’t eat -- for example, did you know that dogs can get sick from eating onions, garlic or avocados?
“It took me three years before I opened to come up with recipes that are safe and that dogs would love,” said Penny Milligan, owner of pet bakery The Hungry Hound.
Karry Barolo, owner of D.O.G. Bakery, whose products are carried in nearly 100 stores nationwide, creates healthy, natural dog treats. However, when she started her business, people dismissed it as silly.
“Once I was able to educate them on the importance of great nutrition for dogs, they started to see the value of what we do,” Barolo explained.
Neither Milligan or Barolo had baking experience before starting their businesses, however Milligan had worked in retail for most of her adult life and Barolo worked in restaurant management.
“As a small-business owner you have to be able to do everything. So I would strongly recommend exposing yourself to all aspects of business," Barolo said.
Pooper scooper services
Startup cost: $300
Equipment: doggie bags, scoopers
Sure, it doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job, but if you don’t want to do it, neither does anyone else. What does that mean? Business for you.
“We had a customer tell us that we saved their marriage because they used to fight over the dirty job of scooping,” said Ashlee Nestor, owner of doggie doo not! “We currently make about 1,400 stops a week scooping poop.”
The company’s website explains that doggie doo not! will come and scoop up feces in kennels, dog parks, office grounds, apartment complexes and yards -- or as they put it “anywhere a dog goes.”
The cost of services is based on the number of dogs, size of the area to be cleaned and desired frequency, according to Nestor. "We invoice monthly with most customers choosing to be automatically charged on their credit card each month.”
The majority of your efforts will be spent on reaching customers, Nestor said, who added she started marketing the company by mailing flyers to dog owners in her town. Now that the business has grown, she uses yellow trucks with the brand's logo along with “word of mouth from happy customers.”
Startup cost: $100
Equipment: CSS, Java, HTML training
If you’re technology-minded but don’t want to sit behind a desk all day, consider creating your own pet-matching app or website.
What is a pet-matching app? This could be an app that helps people connect to shelters, find animal boarding, find animal products or other pet owners for pet playdates -- a one-stop-hub for pet owners or pet-minded people.
Bark & Co., the company that created BarkBox, a subscription service that sends dog owners treats and toys every month, has embraced that idea through its BarkBuddy app. The app works a lot like Tinder and allows you to browse adoptable dogs in your area and swipe right or left, matching you with the dog breeds you search most; it also lets you “favorite” dog preferences.
The app pulls from databases of rescues around the United States and Canada and has over a quarter of a million adoptable dogs in its database.
“BarkBuddy comes from our desire to build products that foster the health and happiness of dogs everywhere. We believe that everyone should have a dog in their life, and every dog should have a human,” said Stacie Grissom, editor-in-chief at Bark & Co.
Although getting an app on the App Store only costs $99 a year for a developer’s license and $5 for the Xcode development software, it can still be difficult to get Apple to approve the app. However, Android’s Google market is free -- and the guidelines are much less strict.
Startup cost: up to $2,000
Equipment: training classes, miscellaneous treats/clickers
If you are looking to help pet-owners, being a pet trainer is a great way to do so.
In order to make this business successful, you will need to acquire dog-training skills. Formal training classes are offered online and in person. All Dogs Academy is just one example of an online institution that provides training. A dog-training course generally takes around from five days to two weeks to complete and costs between $500 to $2,000.
Jordan Kaplan, owner and founder of Petaholics, a New York City-based pet sitting and training business, suggested being an apprentice for an established dog trainer as a less costly alternative to taking classes.
Kaplan advised that anyone looking to become a trainer should spend time around dogs as much as possible to learn their natural behavior patterns.
“Volunteer at a shelter, work with a rescue group, pet sit for friends and family," he said. "Take a dog training course yourself if you own a dog.”
To cut down on the cost of a brick-and-mortar store, consider working out of an already-established pet store on a regular basis a few days a week in exchange for a percentage of the profits or traveling to pet owner’s homes, where it’ll be convenient for the owners and the dogs will be more comfortable.
Related: Become a Pet-Sitter or Dog-Walker
Pet-business marketing specialist
Startup Costs: $500
Equipment: website and social media expertise
All of the business ideas listed have one thing in common: they need to be marketed to succeed. Put your marketing talents to good use and help get business owners get off the ground.
Eric Siu, CEO of Single Grain, a digital marketing company, said that you can have any background to be a successful marketing specialist. “The main thing is picking an area of specialty and becoming an expert at it first,” he said.
To get your name out, Siu suggested pro bono work initally and then letting referrals do free word-of-mouth marketing for you.
As a marketing specialist, it is best to have both a professional-looking social media platform and website to advertise your skills. Your marketing business can offer the following services: marketing coaching with particular focus on social media, SEO analysis and strategy, website building and maintenance, blogging and more.