BY SUSAN G. HAUSER
People love their pets. Translating that simple statement into dollars and cents means big bucks for the pet industry. Sales of pet food, supplies and services continue to go nowhere but up, proving that the industry didn’t just weather the recession, it made like a St. Bernard puppy and grew like crazy.
National sales statistics are impressive enough, but in Oregon, where people’s love affair with pets is on public display, pampering pets is a given.
67% of households in Oregon have at least one pet
65% of U.S. pet owners don’t have children at home
43% of pets sleep in bed with their owners
78% of U.S. pet owners talk to their pets in a different voice than their normal one
52% of all pet owners remember their neighbors’ pet names but not their neighbors’ names
62% of all U.S. households have at least one pet
39% of all U.S. households have at least one dog
33% of all U.S. households have at least one cat
Sources: Oregon Humane Society, American Pet Product Association
“I would say Oregon has a legacy for pets and being responsible pet owners,” says Barbara Baugnon, the Oregon Humane Society’s marketing and communications director. The fact that OHS is the third-oldest humane society in the U.S., she says, “speaks to Oregonians’ long-term love of pets. It’s just built into their nature.”
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011. The projected figure for 2012 is almost $53 billion.
The market research company Mintel predicts that the pet industry will grow 33% over the next five years. With growth showing no sign of slowing, the pet industry is fertile ground for entrepreneurs offering specialty items, says the APPA. Sliding glass dog doors are some of the most popular items with the growth of the industry and the increase in number of pets.
Another good example is Ruffwear, a Bend company that started in 1994 by selling collapsible water bowls. But even as the products gained customers nationally, they really reflected the active lifestyle of Bend’s dog-loving denizens. Now Ruffwear makes gear for dogs that romp or ride along with their owners during mountain biking, hiking, whitewater rafting and other sports. Popular sellers are canine backpacks, lifejackets, booties and fleeces.
“I wouldn’t define our product as a luxury item,” says Ruffwear president Will Blount, adding that generally, sales of luxury pet items weren’t as vigorous during the economic turndown. “People are already doing things that are their passion. I don’t think anybody would say their passion’s a luxury; it’s a part of who they are.”
Even after his Eugene pet store suffered a devastating fire in 2009, Nate McClain saw evidence that the pet industry was recession proof. He and his wife, Amy, own Zany Zoo Pets, which they bought from the original owner in 2004. After the fire, it took a year to get the business going again at a location across the street. But now it’s stronger than ever.
“There are always people who say, ‘Oh, they burned it down for the money,’” says McClain. “But we were one of the few places that were seeing significant growth. For about nine months leading up to the fire we were in a pretty healthy growth period, even though every other business around us was going belly up.”
Zany Zoo Pets is licensed to sell exotic pets and emphasizes consumer education. Still, says McClain, pet stores get a bad rap from people who associate them with puppy mills and other unethical practices. But he and his wife promote the concept of pets as members of the family, rather than as a commodity.
Apparently, most Oregonians agree. Baugnon says OHS manages to find homes for nearly all the animals that pass through its doors, a total of 11,521 pets in 2011 alone. Its “save rate” of 99% for dogs and 96% for cats compares to the national rate of 25% for dogs and 20% for cats.
“Oregonians really demand that we take care of our homeless pets,” says Baugnon, who notes that the state’s animal protection laws are among the strongest in the country. “People are making pets a priority, even homeless pets. I think that makes us an exceptional place to live.”