Opinion

How pet retailing is becoming more human

Retailers ‘best friend’

The petcare sector is a multi-billion pound industry in the UK. No longer focused on just food and snacks, it has adapted to shoppers’ tastes and in recent years the marketplace has begun to change.

The petcare sector is positively booming. There are 13million UK homes that have family pets, and in 2016, British shoppers spent over a whopping £6billion on their beloved animals. Naturally, the highest spend is on pet food, with £264 spent annually per household, but sales of pet products, treats and pampering services are growing at a staggering rate.

Today, almost every sector that ‘man’ uses also has a canine equivalent, from salons and hotels, to gourmet food and gifts. This is partly due to an increase in pet ownership (with dogs in particular), but it is also an industry steeped in fun and creative thinking, not to mention sound business planning, which will bring savvy pet retailers and individual doggy entrepreneurs great fortune and success in the products and services they are offering.

Online independent pet ‘bakeries’ like The Hungry Hounds Bakery, which are selling healthy dog-safe cakes, confectionery and treats, are big business these days. Such products have become so popular that there are now dedicated standalone stores on the UK and US high streets.

Known for its baked goods and dog accessories, George has four vintage-styled stores in California, all with really quirky store environments that are easy to shop. Products are displayed by type and dogs are welcome to shop alongside their owners. It has even been quoted as offering ‘the best doggy birthday cake in the US’, so it is well worth a look.

Today, owners are keen to take their pets on holiday, with an average of £126 being spent per pet

A similar, but much larger US brand is the Three Dog Bakery, whic has numerous franchises in each state. Across the pond, Mrs Bishop’s Doggy Deli, based in the UK, has been trading since 2010, and is considered as Nottinghamshire’s premier family-run bakery offering DEFRA approved products, healthy treats and all types of dietary needs for both cats and dogs. Another online shop called The Barking Bakery specialises in iced ‘Woofin’ cakes. Demand has become so high that they are now available in selected ‘Pets at Home’ stores in the UK.

Pet food and snacks will always be big money, but with a colossal £380million spend on pet health and hygiene predicted for 2017, grooming salons are an interesting and lucrative retail service proposition. As such, extreme dog grooming is increasing in popularity in the UK. Since the recession and its associated tightened purse strings, households naturally consider the motto ‘family first’ to be of great importance and significant value. But it is clear that pets are unquestionably included in this family status. This may be one of the reasons why places like Essex are bucking the spend trend, in favour of pampering and showering gifts and attention on their beloved animals. Or all of this dog preening activity could be simply due to mass sensational attitudes from celebrities and popular reality television programmes.

One pooch parlour that is a real eye-opener is Daniela’s Dogs in Turnham-On-Crouch, Essex that was recently featured on The Only Way is Essex show. It is a bustling salon filled with pink grooming tables, stools, a mirrored vanity unit, stainless steel washing station and an industrial-sized hairdryer. The salon may be located in a wooden shed, but no expense has been spared in kitting it out with the latest pet grooming accessories. During a visit, a pair of Chihuahuas and a lively Bichon Fries were having ostrich-feather hair extensions and Swarovski fur-jazzles (which is Daniela’s most popular treatment at £30)!

In addition to these extreme makeovers, there are incredible spa treatments available 50 miles up the road in the exclusive area of Chelsea in London. Stephanie Mahanan owns the luxury Pet Spa, and like ‘human’ hair salons, pet owners can book an artistic director, senior stylist or stylist. A typical grooming session for a dog like an Afghan Hound would cost £118, but the most popular service is the Fresh Breath Treatment at a more pleasing cost of £9.95. Or for an eye-watering £600, Stephanie will organise a doggy birthday party that will include games like ‘musical sits’ and ‘pass the pawcel’.

Dog grooming is also becoming more popular outside of the UK. The exclusive district of Polanco in Mexico City has seen businesses setting up shop to capitalise on associating with the area’s wealth, reputation and upcoming destination status for modern retailing and services. One such business that opened in July is called Pet Grooming. The name itself is quite unassuming, but the standard of facilities provided are world class. Here, cats and dogs can receive a top notch makeover by fully trained staff. The catch is that it is all completely on show to the public. Visitors of all ages revel in watching the pampered pets receive the full five star VIP treatment – a great piece of ‘street theatre’ that attracts passers-by. It is a prime example of how customer service is being repositioned and promoted to provide a premier experience, along with a premium price tag that punters are more than willing to pay.

Extreme dog grooming started out in America, where it has become a multi-billion dollar trend. For example, the Dog Groom EXPO organised by the thriving pet company Barkleigh Productions, is a large annual (and highly competitive) event held in Pennsylvania where dog owners groom their hounds to the absolute extreme to try and wow the judges in what can only be described as a glamourised beauty pageant for dogs. Opinions on the subject state that as long as the animals are happy throughout the experience, then this is not deemed as cruel. Indeed, studies have shown that creative grooming sessions can create a stronger bond between pet and owner.

Another industry that is sharing the pet limelight is travel and tourism. Today, owners are keen to take their pets on holiday, with an average of £126 being spent per pet, per vacation. But forget kennels, as it is now all about pet hotels and the associated services on offer that go with them. Major American hotel chain Kimpton markets ‘pet-friendly’ as part of its promotional pull, where customers can request specific services from the Directors of Pet Relations.

Shoppers can expect to see further creative developments in this growing industry

Raithewaite Hall, near Whitby, was the first luxury UK spa hotel for dogs, where ‘The Keep’ is the part of the hotel run exclusively for dogs. Calm owners in a spa situation creates happy and calm canines – another great concept. Holidaying with pets has also been made even easier, thanks to the personable pet lifestyle website Pets Pyjamas. Launched in 2012, pet owners can shop a collection of over 10,000 pet accessories and book from over 1,500 pet-welcoming hotels, cottages, country houses and B&Bs around the UK and Europe.

With so many pet-friendly venues, products and services now available, pet owners are truly spoilt for choice. As pets are becoming more and more humanised, shoppers can expect to see further creative developments in this growing industry, with an increasing number of pet-based businesses springing up all over the globe. Watch this space!

 

This article is taken from Counter Culture, our free digital magazine.

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By Karl McKeever

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