Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have kept a social calendar for your French Bulldog and there certainly wouldn’t have been as many Halloween costume choices for your four-legged friend as there were for you human child — but a lot has changed in the past decade.
Spending on pets in the U.S. has increased 81 percent, to 53.33 billion in 2012. Dog owners spend an average of $1,649 of their furry friend each year and cat owners fork out about $1,271, according to the 2013-2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.
“There are all types of events that retailers such as ourselves are hosting that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” explained Bill Greene, general manager of Reber Ranch in Kent.
This weekend, his store will host its annual Howl & Prowl Halloween event for pets and their owners — one of many year-round activities at the store on 132nd Ave. SE.
“Pet costumes are just about as crazy as kids costumes are,” Greene said.
The take your pet everywhere trend has transcended his industry, though, changing the way businesses outside his sphere operate.
“As we’ve humanized our pets, they come with us more. At hotels, one of the big criteria right behind a pool is, are they pet friendly?” Greene explained. “Those kinds of things certainly didn’t exist a few years ago. It’s going to be amazing where they’re allowed to go in a few years.”
Another — and perhaps the biggest — shift seen in the last decade is the growing concern with pet health.
“People are becoming more aware of the fact that food is medicine. What we feed ourselves and our pets has an effect on our health,” said Tamie Waugh, owner of Cobber's Pet Pantry.
She opened her 4,100-square-foot store in Enumclaw in April and has been benefiting from the increasing awareness of human and pet health.
“People are realizing that the highly processed diets are not good for any of us,” she said. “The natural and holistic lines in pet stores I think are going to continue to grow.”
Beyond the retail aspect of her business, Waugh also offers holistic therapies, grooming, education and a gourmet coffee bar where pets and pet owners can socialize.
Another Tamie, Tammy Brueske, also recently opened a pet supply store.
Her opening of Yelm Farm and Pet in August 2008 followed the numerous major pet food recalls that occurred in 2007.
“We had a pretty astronomical start. We were profitable from day one,” Brueske recalled. “People are moving a little more away from advertised grocery stores brands and toward the upper-end grain free products. They want them to eat the same quality food they’re eating.”
She’s been seeing a five- to six-percent growth in sales each year, which is in line with increases in overall pet expenditures across the country, which also includes routine and surgical vet visits and boarding.
Before the economic downturn, though, the pet food and supply side of the industry was growing for eight or nine years at eight to 13 percent each year, Greene said.
Then ‘08 happened and it slowed down.
The majority of conscientious pet owners continued to buy premium pet food, he said, but they stopped buying things like new bowls or treats and toys, leaving their part of the industry at three to six percent growth.
Over the last year to year and a half, though, these businesses have experienced between five and six percent growth. Sales at Reber Ranch are higher, however, up 12 percent this year and 16 percent this month, which is likely in part tied to its recent remodel.
“People are kind of looking at spending a little more money on their pets,” Greene said. “Their collars, their leashes, their bowls — you don’t tend to replace those every few months — we’re seeing some of those things have some really nice growth for us.”
Safety and travel items have also been popular.
“Safety restraints, protection for seats and your car, travel bowls… It’s unbelievable how much of that stuff we’re selling,” he said.
With the remodel of his store, he was able to add an eight foot section of these items.
There has also been significant development in treats and toys, which have always been popular.
“There are a lot of soft meat treats that have grown. They’re really healthy,” Greene said. “Pet toys, particularly dog toys, we’re up over 60 percent. We doubled the size of our toy section for dogs and it has gone crazy. Some of these toys are crazy. You look at them and go, ‘Is that my kid toy of my new dog toy?’
“Nerf is coming out with a line of dog toys and some of them are very similar to the human toys but they’re more durable. We ought to sell these for kids because they’re a lot more durable than the kid toys.”