Alissa Wolf wrote about pet shops and the pet services industry for The Balance Careers and has worked as a newspaper columnist and correspondent.
Updated January 20, 2020
Animal lovers who possess a creative, entrepreneurial spirit may be barking up the right tree by starting a pet store business.
In addition to the fun and personal satisfaction of working with a clientele of furry, finned, and feathered creatures, a pet store can be a very lucrative enterprise. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $72.56 billion on their pets in 2018 and were forecasted to spend $75.38 billion in 2019, continuing a steady upward trend. If you’re thinking about getting into the pet industry, here is some important information to consider.
There are some definite upsides to owning your own pet store. You have the freedom to choose your own products and supplies, offer more personalized service, and establish a rapport with members of your community. But there are some more specific benefits.
Offering products and services not readily available at the big pet stores will give you an edge. For example, a customer who feeds their cat premium natural foods will likely patronize a small pet boutique precisely because this store exclusively sells holistic pet products, many of which cannot be found at the franchise outlets.
Pet parents are becoming more sophisticated and discriminating about the products they purchase and the services they seek. Thus, they’re increasingly likely to frequent pet stores where the staff has a lot more knowledge about pets than employees at the big outlets, the majority of whom are merely sales and stock clerks with little or no training in animal care.
A manager who has an encyclopedic knowledge of animals will attract and retain customers who want the best care for their pet, giving them a leg up.
On the downside, starting a business such as this can be quite an expensive undertaking. If you’re like the average small business launcher, you probably don’t have tons of startup capital at your disposal.
The good news is, there are plenty of avenues to obtain small business financing. So do your homework about what you’ll need, and the best ways to go about getting it.
Petco isn’t the only place the pets go. Large general merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target are expanding their pet product selections, due to their wise recognition of the current market boom. While this may be a challenge for the small pet stores, the good news is the big-box stores that exclusively sell pet products are feeling this pressure. Some are experiencing slowed growth as a result.
You can turn this scenario to your advantage by uniquely positioning yourself within your market. Offer products not found elsewhere and establish yourself as a go-to expert on certain types of pet foods. (Walmart and Target don’t have such knowledgable staff!)
Plus, there’s one area in which smaller, more personalized retailers can really excel: customer service. Learning everything you can about this will further help you to compete.
Realistically, the big boys have huge advertising and marketing budgets. That’s why it’s important to find low-cost, yet clever ways to promote your business. One way is a business blog. The great part of a blog is that it’s easy to use and maintain; you can update it as often as you’d like, and it’s very inexpensive. Meanwhile, there are a number of low- or even no-cost advertising options available, from sharing your business cards to celebrating pet holidays. All it takes is some creativity.
Test the waters. It’s a great idea to work or volunteer at a pet store—a good, no-cost, no-risk way to begin to learn the business and to determine if you’re cut out for this undertaking.
Aside from that, learn as much as you can about different pets, their specific characteristics, and needs. If you do open your own pet store, you will be in a better position to relate to and serve your clients.
If you do open your own pet shop, you will want to become an expert in marketing a small business. You may actually have an edge over the big fish in this area, because owners of small pet stores have the opportunity to get more creative. You’re also in a great position to forge a deeper, more personal connection with your core audience, which can set you apart and establish your own unique brand. Above all, evaluate what might help distinguish your business from others in your area, and come up with ways to capitalize on that.
When starting a business, it’s especially important to solidify a strong identity for your brand. One of the first rules is to come up with a memorable business name. It’s a good idea to put a lot of thought into your pet store’s name and with this kind of business, you can have a lot of fun doing so.
The state of the economy—nationally and where you are looking to open your pet store—will affect how easily you can get a lease. In a slow economy, it may even be advantageous to buy your space. You may also consider buying an existing store. If the economy is up and rents are high, you may have to get creative about the location and square footage. Meanwhile, remember to check your area’s zoning laws before you make a decision about a spot.
A pet business can be a great option for the entrepreneurial pet lover. If that’s you, don’t let the big-box pet stores scare you away. With your unique expertise, a strong brand identity, and a little creative marketing, you can have a good shot at carving out a niche in this industry.