Critter Sitters In The News
 
St. Louis Post Dispatch , October 26, 2007
 

Pet care breeding business opportunities
By Angela Tablac

Despite the dozens of pet shops and boutiques in the St. Louis area, local entrepreneurs selling pet products and services say they aren't operating in a dog-eat-dog world.

Americans are expected to dole out $40.8 billion this year on pet items and services, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. That's up 5.9 percent from $38.5 billion in 2006 and double the amount spent 10 years ago. Area business owners say they are noticing the growth and there are opportunities for more pet companies.

National retail chains like Petco and PetSmart dominate accessory and food sales, but small local businesses have found a stake by concentrating on the personalized segments of pet care: services and upscale products. According to Bob Vetere, president of the pet products manufacturers group, and several business owners, pet-related companies require less training and smaller startup costs than other ventures.

Although no data tracks pet-related spending or businesses in the St. Louis area, Greg Tucker of the Small Business Development Centers — a part of the University of Missouri Extension that helps established and startup firms — said the local pet industry is expanding. The number of startups for doggy day cares, grooming services and posh boutiques especially has increased locally in the last two years.

"It's not a cute little novelty anymore," said Tucker, an SBDC director who counsels entrepreneurs. "It's becoming a trend."

Tucker, who fields calls about startup businesses, said the initial investment depends on the types of services or products sold. Day cares, grooming services and kennels tend to cost more than pet-sitting companies and other mobile services because more equipment and space are needed. Most pet-geared ventures, however, cost less than $50,000 to start, he estimated.

Jeanné Newberry spent about that much to launch her pet photography business, Puppy Paws & Kittens 2 in O'Fallon, Mo., because she had to buy equipment, including several backdrops for pet portraits.

Newberry has built her business, which she started about a year ago, on taking photos in pet owners' homes. Although there are several pet photographers in the St. Louis area, Newberry said she isn't worried about the competition because "there are probably enough customers out there."

Other owners echoed Newberry's approach.

At Pets in the City in Soulard, Amy Pizano specializes in sales of natural, organic pet food and holistic treatments in addition to grooming and other services. Her targeted niche helped her capitalize on the pet food recalls last spring and double her business. Since she opened in October 2004, a few competitors have started, but Pizano said the St. Louis market has room for more pet businesses.

"There are so many different kinds of pet-related businesses you can open," she said. "There are holes (left to fill)."

But some parts of the pet business are tough. Pizano and Newberry said they faced the same obstacles as other entrepreneurs: getting loans and startup capital and figuring out ways to advertise their firms.

But pet businesses find success by offering convenient locations for customers, generating strong word-of-mouth endorsements and tapping into an underserved niche, owners said.

Tammy Tvetene, who opened Critter Sitters pet sitting in 1994 with sister Cindy Berndt, said good customer service is essential.

"In this type of business, you always have to keep in mind we're not just selling pet care," ­Tvetene said. "We're selling peace of mind."

atablac@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8140