Pet care is booming for Minnesota businesses as spending hits record highs
When Dee Kauffman noticed her black Lab Libby was battling early arthritis, she turned to a remedy she herself relies on: massage.
Heidi Hesse of Sound Hound Canine Massage in Minneapolis visits Kauffman’s home in Woodbury every few weeks to work on Libby.
“She loves it,” Kauffman said. “You can tell when Heidi is getting to a trigger point. Libby can get up and shake her fur, then calm down. Heidi is great at working on those sore, tender points.”
The cost: $90 plus mileage per visit.
“It’s a priority for our family,” said Kauffman, a stay-at-home parent whose husband is a lawyer. “Some people have other hobbies that they prioritize. For us, those are our pets.”
Spending on pets has reached record highs, topping $100 billion for the first time in 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association. Preliminary data for 2021 shows a 10% increase, said Andrew Darmohraj, the association’s chief operating officer.
Even before the pandemic fueled demand for pet products and services, the role of the domestic dog or cat evolved into that of the youngest pampered child or treasured companion.
“From what I see on a daily basis, this is definitely the trend of the last 10 years,” said Dr. Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. “Young couples have more pets and fewer children.”
The Pet Products Group’s 2021 survey found that 70% of US households own a pet, or 90.5 million households. In 1988, the first year the survey was conducted, 56% of US households owned a pet.
Pope Francis caused some controversy last month when he lamented that some couples choose to have pets instead of raising children. He warned of declining birth rates in many countries and encouraged people to “take the risk of fostering children”.
Amanda Esler, pet products manager at Bone Marché, Lunds & Byerlys pet specialty store and department in St. Louis Park, sees shopping habits reflecting the changing role of a pet, with increasing sales every year.
“They do the same thing for their pet that they would do for their children or any other family member,” she said.
One driver of sales growth is the “premiumization and humanization of pets,” Darmohraj said. “People want to buy things for their pets that are very high quality or something that is considered human grade,” he said. “Nothing but the best for me and nothing but the best for my pet.”
Teef, a biotechnology company specializing in dental hygiene for pets and humans, is responding to this demand. The Minneapolis-based company produces a dissolvable daily supplement developed by microbiologist Emily Stein that goes into a dog bowl daily so dogs can drink for better oral hygiene. A companion product for humans in the form of mint is used by astronauts on the International Space Station.
“The good news is that the pet industry is pretty stable regardless of economic conditions,” said Lindsey Campbell, business development manager and co-founder and co-founder of Teef. “More and more people are treating their pets like children. They are willing to make sacrifices so that their dogs can have a happy life.”
Minneapolis-based Target Corp. launched its own pet food brand, Kindfull wet and dry foods and treats last September.
Golden Valley-based General Mills last year bought a line of pet treats from Tyson Foods for $1.2 billion that includes brands like Nudges, Top Chews and True Chews. The company re-entered the pet food market for the first time in 50 years in 2018 when it bought Blue Buffalo Pet Products Co. for $8 billion.
Meanwhile, pet care is booming for small businesses in the Twin Cities. A labor shortage has delayed vet appointments. Dog trainers are busy working on puppy social skills when a new addition joins an older dog in the house, or easing animal anxiety when an owner returns to the office. Grooming appointments are also more difficult to obtain.
“Before COVID, January or February, you could get a same-day grooming appointment,” Keith Miller, owner of the four Bubbly Paws in the Twin Cities, said last month. “Now you probably won’t have an appointment until the end of February.”
This is especially true with the growing popularity of doodles, poodle mix dog breeds, with their high-maintenance fur.
“He’s the fashionable designer dog right now,” Miller said. “They just take longer to groom.”
The average cost to prepare a doodle is $90 to $110, and he recommends visits every six to eight weeks.
Miller has added more groomers to its locations to meet growing demand and is working on a national franchise model. Last year, its sales topped the 2019 level after a slight dip in 2020 which it attributes to a seven-week pandemic shutdown.
It raised prices last month, as it does every January, but said it was not concerned about customers’ ability to absorb them.
“You’re more at home with your dog, so you have your people working from home thinking, ‘Oh my God, my dog really stinks,'” he said.
Nicole Boe, owner of Dog Day Getaway in Apple Valley, said customers tend to have higher incomes and can absorb higher prices.
“We don’t necessarily see the blow [from inflation] like other companies do because people who use us are luckier than others,” she said.
The dog daycare business, which has been open since 2004, had its best year last year, Boe said. The company relied on federal pandemic assistance to get through 2020, she said.
Dog trainer Anne Hendrickson said she was overwhelmed with demand when the pandemic started. Clients hire him to teach puppies how to behave around older family dogs and at the dog park.
“I didn’t see it explode like that. I didn’t expect to work seven days a week,” Hendrickson said.
For Hesse of Sound Hound Canine Massage, business temporarily stagnated during the pandemic’s first shutdown, but quickly recovered.
She is often hired after dog owners notice that their pets are having trouble climbing stairs or getting over injuries. Nationally certified in canine acupuncture and massage, Hesse derives most of its business from word of mouth.
“I think that legitimizes it because a lot of people say, ‘You can live with companion dogs,’ and there’s a lot more to it than that,” she said.
Kauffman said she sees the difference massage makes to her lab. Libby took to massaging easily after watching Buddy, the family’s late golden retriever, get them. The family was convinced that Buddy’s quality of life and longevity were improving, so they followed the same path for Libby as she got older.
“My husband and I are both people who benefit from deep tissue massage on a semi-regular basis. We know that as humans there are benefits to our health,” said Kauffman. “Being able to provide that to Libby is something we are prepared to do.”