by Nancy Hassel of American Pet Professionals
It’s been almost a year ago since experts predicted that the pet industry in the United States would grow to $100 billion by the end of 2020, or very close to that number. As we were blissfully beginning 2020, with a vision towards a bright future for our ever-expanding industry, no one expected thedramatic changes just a few weeks after wrapping up Global Pet Expo at the end of February.
With the country, following suit of the rest of the world, quickly going into a historic lockdown, pet businesses that offer in-person services were forced to close with very little warning. Figuring out how to be deemed essential, state-by-state was challenging to say the least, and other pet professionals found themselves without pet parent clients in need of their services, or people were too scared of catching Covid-19 to utilize them. At the same time pet product sales were beginning to surge both online and for brick and mortar pet stores.
As we wrap up the end of what I am sure will be a year that none of us will ever forget, things are looking up for the pet industry. Many businesses have bounced back, offering new services and helping clients in creative ways. So how did the pet industry rally during Covid-19?
As state after state ordered mandatory lock-downs of residents and the closure of non-essential businesses, pet stores initially experienced a surge in sales. Panicked pet owners purchased more food than usual, leaving pet stores scrambling to fill the needs of their regular clientele, and also dealing with delays in deliveries in getting product back on their shelves.
Adding delivery services and curbside pickup helped pet stores serve their customers with less physical interaction. Implementation of touch-less cash register systems helped pet owners feel more comfortable when shopping inside the store. Stores without online shopping added ecommerce to their business, making it easier for their customers to place curbside pickup, home-delivery, or have orders shipped to them.
Pet owners are enjoying the convenience of curbside pickup and delivery, and this is one trend that may be a valuable part of doing business long after the pandemic has passed. However, getting customers back into the brick-and-mortar store is important for add-on sales, impulse purchases, and hard to find unique items, and education that the pet storeowner can provide about products they sell.
Online competitors are still a threat to small, independent pet stores, especially ones who have not yet added ecommerce to their stores. However, we have seen an encouraging push to support small businesses across social media throughout the pandemic, as many Americans realize that small business owners have been hit the hardest from lockdowns. And when it is safe to resume in-person pet events at pet-retail locations will give stores an advantage, by offering something that ecommerce does not do.
As an essential business, veterinary offices were faced with quickly figuring out how to safely treat pets with minimal contact with their humans. Dealing with a surge in new patients from pandemic adoptions, and not having enough staff to deal with the initial surge of new pet parents. Also having to deal with pet parents who were upset with veterinary staff for not being allowed to go inside with their pets, i.e. often voicing their complaints about the vet staff on social media. (The veterinary staff who is doing their jobs and following Covid protocol).
The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) was quick to provide resources for veterinarians, including information on how to offer telemedicine and curbside visits in which veterinarian technicians come to the car to get the dogs instead of owners accompanying dogs into the clinic.
With more information about the virus and how it is transmitted, some veterinarians continue to use curbside visits for certain services while allowing masked pet owners into the clinic for exams and appointments that require a conversation between veterinarians and owners.
According to Vet Success, revenue in the veterinary industry is up 14.8 percent over last year. Visits are up 5.2 percent. Some experts attribute this increase to owners spending more time with their pet. Many owners are more observant of whether their dog has a lump, is itching, or just seems off from their normal demeanor.
Emergency clinics are also seeing a dramatic increase. According to a New York Times article, “Veterinarians operating at or over capacity have put a strain on the animal emergency rooms, which typically are open 24 hours and now appear to be handling the overflow from overwhelmed clinics.”
Both the AVMA and DVM 360 report that there is a shortage of veterinarians in the United States. The rise in visits and a shortage in available doctors means that colleges will need to attract veterinary students to the field in order to be prepared to treat the increase in the pet population, particularly as the puppies and young dogs adopted during Covid-19 age into their senior years.
Depending on the state, groomers were not included as essential businesses during initial shut-down orders. This resulted in dogs going without essential services like nail trims, specialty baths for skin conditions, and trims for breeds with hair that grows long when not cut.
Groomers have been able to reopen by enforcing mask wearing; limiting the number of clients in their salons, and offering curbside drop off and pick up services. Some groomers were booked for 6 to 8 weeks, once they opened back up and an increase on a demand for mobile groomers from pet parents.
Data from Marketersmediasuggests that the pet grooming industry will continue to experience growth of 6.7 percent each year, reaching $3.5 million by the end of 2025. New dog owners are turning to groomers for basic services like nail trims, baths, and trims instead of performing these things at home. The grooming industry has done an excellent job of catering to pet owners and offering services beyond the basics.* By focusing on the health of the pet and offering skin treatments, allergy relief, and other wellness services and products, groomers are helping pets be healthy, and more comfortable instead of simply sending them home looking and smelling good.
*This was also interesting to watch during lock down of panicked owners not knowing how to trim their dogs nails, how to properly care for their pets fur and so on. Which also helped with an increase for at home dog-grooming products.
Most dog trainers were also forced to close in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and deemed to be non-essential businesses. The Pivot
Many trainers started to offer online training classes via Zoom. Others recorded videos that they shared with their clients instead of teaching in-person. Some trainers were able to move their classes outdoors to allow for physical distancing.
With most states having progressed into a less strict level of business closures, many training facilities have been able to offer indoor classes with limited attendance to allow for physical distancing between humans.
Offering training to dog owners outside of their immediate geographical area is another Covid inspired concept that can benefit both trainers and dog owners after the pandemic. Dog owners can learn from some of the best trainers in the world regardless of whether they live, and trainers can reach clients outside of their geographical area. In turn, helping dog parents learn more about training, and be better dog trainers to their own dogs.
Similar to what the veterinary care niche is experiencing, dog trainers are finding that the more time owners spend at home with their dogs, the more the owner realizes the need for training in certain areas. Other pet owners have found themselves with dogs who are experiencing separation anxiety for the first time in their lives, as the dogs have become accustomed to someone being home with them at all times. An increase in pet ownership will also bring more business to pet trainers.
According to MarketWatch,“The Global Dog Training Services market is anticipated to rise at a considerable rate during the forecast period, between 2020 and 2026.” This includes North America, and applies to private training and group training, as well as both working dogs and pet dogs.
Pet Sitters/Doggie Daycares/Boarding Kennels
Pet sitters, doggie daycares, and boarding kennels all faced a dramatic decrease in business during one of their busiest times of year: spring break. Travel came to a screeching halt, more people than ever began working from home, and schools took extra time off before moving online for the remainder of the school year. Many pet sitters, daycare owners, and boarding kennel operators found themselves without any dogs in their care at what is usually one of their most profitable times.
Robyn Elman, President of In-Home Pet Services, shared with us, “Our business was ‘everything-proof’ …or so we thought. We thrived in every situation, even in the most recent recession. However, the pandemic has devastated our area of the industry. We have been down between 75-90% since March.”
Many pet sitters were able to continue daily walks for clients who found it difficult to take a break in the middle of their day. Some pet sitters reported that their clients continued to use their services simply out of kindness and to help their dog walkers continue to earn a living. Some dogs also continued to go to doggie daycare as usual so that the dogs could get much needed exercise and mental stimulation while the owners worked from home and could focus on home-schooling their children.
Robyn Elman went on to say, “As an essential business, we were open for business the entire time, and became certified for COVID safety by pet sitters not to protect our staff and clients, but to make the ones still using us feel comfortable that we were taking things seriously, and potentially attract new clients to us.”
Business has improved somewhat, but these businesses are still struggling, especially in parts of the country under more restrictions than others. Traditional boarding kennels are more reliant upon overnight travel, which is still at substantially reduced levels, especially with Covid cases rising around the country again. However, many travel agents are actively promoting vacations in 2021, and the release of a Covid-19 vaccine should help people feel more comfortable traveling to other areas.
“With the vaccine now a reality, we are extremely hopeful and optimistic about 2021 – it’s just a matter of hanging on,” Robyn Elman said, “Many people adopted pets and eventually will need our services again. When they do, we’ll be ready!”
Animal Rescue Organizations
How do you adopt pets out during a pandemic? How do you raise funds when you can no longer have in-person events throughout the year, or that big gala event that draws in much needed donations to help the animals in your care?
Many animal shelters turned to Facetime or Zoom to introduce pets for adoption to potential adopters. They offered drive up meet and greets, with Covid safety and protective protocols in place so they could have dogs and cats meet pet parents – often outside in a meet and greet area.
Online events that featured vendors selling products have worked for some non-profits, with a portion of the proceeds from sales going to the organization. Virtual raffles and other creative ways to raise funds have been done – but it does not always match what would have been donated in a normal year.
Animal shelters and non-profit rescues that have relied heavily on big adoption events or local events to help get pets seen in the past, will have to continue to be creative in ways they can get their pets seen. Hopefully in 2021, we will be able to get back to having adoption events – but the pandemic has definitely shined a light on the want and need for a pet companion, especially to those who may not have thought of being a pet parent in the past.
Where is the Pet Industry Headed in 2021?
In their Pets and Finances Survey in June 2020, TD Ameritrade Holding Company surveyed over 1000 adults with more than $10,000 in investable assets. Their report shows that during the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans turned to pets for companionship and comfort. Of course, those of us who are pet lovers and in the pet industry have experienced this first-hand in our own lives and with our customers.
According to the Ameriprise data, 33% of Americans considered fostering or adopting a pet as a direct result of the pandemic. 89% of the people they surveyed felt that a pet brings them comfort during the pandemic, and 82% of them feel less lonely with a pet around. And 27% of those surveyed reported spending more on their pets during the pandemic than before.
Information from Statista indicatesthat 9% of Generation X and 13% of Millennials added a new pet to their family as a direct result of Covid-19. The greatest Covid-19 related increase in pet ownership was with Generation Z, which is just now reaching adulthood. This generation is approximately 8-23 years old as of this post, and will bring a new mindset about shopping and choosing services to the pet industry.
The pet industry is often called “recession proof” because of our ability to not only survive hard economic times, but to actually increase business. Covid-19 has been an experience that none of us could have ever predicted. Many businesses are now flourishing in our industry, and others are still struggling. Here at American Pet Professionals, while much of our business is based online, we do also host in-person evens – and 2020 we had multiple cities mapped out to have events in, which of course didn’t happen.
How did we at American Pet Professionals Pivot? We jumped right in – that first week of lockdown, we decided to host weekly networking events via Zoom of course, (which we normally did monthly for the past few years), to provide help, support, ideas, updates, and so on. We have since hosted 40 live virtual networking events since March!
Many of our members needed moral support, guidance, not to mention the insane amount of networking and seeing many of our members work together, create alliances and even do a lot of business together.
In addition, we have also hosted 23 webinars, on several different topics with many experts to help our members with information, know how, and provide education as well. For context, we normally we host about 10-12 during a normal year. Along with the virtual support, we produce original content that is just for our members, that they have access to at any time.
Along with a lot of other support we provide weekly to individual members, it has been our buisiest year, you know, without going anywhere since February.
We have many new members join us this year, and as we go into our 12th year in business in 2021, we love to help pet businesses, new pet professionals, seasoned business owners navigate whatever the future holds through our education, networking, introductions and moral support. I am proud of what our members have accomplished in 2020 and excited about what 2021 holds for our industry.
How does the future look for your pet business?