How to Start a Pet Business (2021 Playbook)

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There are few things more important to pet owners than their furry little bundles of joy.

While the pet business may be subject to the same unpredictable ebbs and flow of any industry, there’s one certainty you can count on: people will never stop spoiling their pets.

That kind of opportunity is hard to pass up if you’ve got a love of animals, but building a business from scratch takes more than opportunity. If you’re currently fending off a barrage of mental questions (What will I sell? Where am I going to find customers?), know that every successful business owner has started in the exact same spot.

Successful business owners aren’t without fear, but what sets them apart is their willingness to confront it. It’s not easy building a pet store from scratch, but with the right tools and an understanding of how to use them—it’s probably easier than you think.

Start your pet business today 🐕🐈

 

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Is a pet business profitable?

Before you even start a small business, you’ve got to think about whether or not your idea is profitable. It’s no different running a pet business.

We’ve got some good news for you. In the last few years, Google Trends shows that interest in “pet store” searches in the US has increased over time:

Google Trends for pet stores

According to the American Pet Products Association, in 2020 alone, US pet owners spent $103.6 billion on their companions (with just under half of that being spent on food, treats, and other services). It’s clear there’s a market and interest in pet stores, but are they profitable?

Overall, pet store sales in the US generated revenue just under $21 billion in 2020 and are forecasted to reach $23 billion by 2023. However, in terms of costs, they vary widely depending on the specific type of business you run.

Pet walking and sitting, for example, would only need to worry about marketing and insurance costs—whereas grooming, boarding, and day care are likely to incur higher costs due to the need for physical (or mobile) premises.

As a business owner, you can set your prices and profit margins to suit your business type. Speaking of business types, let’s take a look at some pet business ideas.

11 top pet business ideas

Pet businesses come in all forms. Some provide services like walking and grooming, while others provide products like bowls and chew toys. Some pet stores target cat and dog owners, while others may specialize in more niche pets, like reptiles and arachnids.

In the pet world, it’s key to find a niche that’s large enough to provide sustainable cash flow, but small enough that it offers a chance to brand yourself in a distinct way.

Pet stores usually offer a combination of products and pet services, but be careful to avoid becoming a “jack of all trades” pet store. Out-of-place product collections make online branding very difficult. It also puts you in competition with big, corporate pet stores, like PetSmart, that are able to offer the convenience of hundreds of locations—not to mention the pet food aisle in every grocery store.

One-stop shopping is great for customers who need to pick-up some last-minute kitty litter on the way home from work, but online shoppers put more value in specialty than abundance.

With that in mind, let’s go over ideas for pet products and services you can provide:

Pet sitting

If you love being around pets, making pet friends, and serving your local community’s needs, building a pet-sitting business is a great way to enter the industry. Considering that 70% of US households include an animal family member, you’re not likely to be short of potential customers.

You can also get set up with relatively few costs. Most of the work is in marketing and finding and retaining your first few clients. Insurance will likely be your biggest expense. But soon enough you can build up a list of clients and even scale by hiring employees.

Check out Pawkee, for example. The company offers a variety of sitting services, from dog walking to cat sitting.

pawkee example

Pawkee also provides sitting services for snakes, birds, and other pets. It offers online booking and payment, daily reports, and 24-hour customer care. All workers and pet sitters are trained in animal care and behavior.

Pet food

If you find that you would rather create a product than offer a service, and you’re passionate about what goes into pets’ bodies, creating a pet food business could be for you.

To get a competitive advantage in the huge pet food market, you’ll need to niche down. You can offer food for specific animals (such as dog food or even lizard food) or based on dietary requirements or even an animal’s size.

Naturally, there are higher costs associated with manufacturing pet food at scale. You’ll also need to look out for licenses and permits if you’re working with live animals or animal products. But if you’re handy in the kitchen you can start with much lower costs and grow from there.

Open Farm came into the industry with a unique value proposition: creating a pet food that is good for pets, farm animals, and the environment.

open farm store example

The brand sources high-quality ingredients and supports farmers that treat animals right. In an industry plagued by opaque practices, Open Farm offers full transparency into its products. This way, customers know exactly what their pets are eating and where it came from.

Homemade pet treats

For people who love baking, creating foods and treats for pets can be an exciting new way for them to practice their craft. With audiences becoming increasingly health conscious, there’s also a lot of opportunities to offer foods catered to dog and cat owners looking for healthier options.

You might decide to sell treats for animals with specific dietary restrictions. You may sell functional dog treats, such as bones used to brush a dog’s teeth. You could sell soft treats, kibble, dried meats, and a whole host of things.

Anchorage-based Drool Central is a great example of a pet-treats business. The brand creates organic, homemade dog treats from scratch using wild Alaska fish, Alaska-grown vegetables and barley, and other human-edible ingredients.

homemade pets business

Owner Daisy Nicolas was trained in culinary arts in San Francisco at the California Culinary Academy and Tante Marie’s Cooking School. Her 25 years of experience working in premiere hotels and restaurants from California to New York, and her love for pups, continues to drive the success of Drool Central.

If you have a passion for cooking, a homemade pet-treats business is a good option for you.

Pet clothes

Clothing for pets has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, so much so that dropshippers like Oberlo provide a ton of shirts, outfits, and accessories designed for dogs and cats.

Like with pet products, dropshipping provides entrepreneurs with the freedom and time to pursue new skills or focus on marketing their products. The nature of dropshipping makes this a low-risk business venture.

Niching is also particularly important when it comes to selling dog clothing. People can be very particular about their fashion choices, and this stubbornness translates to their dogs. So many avenues of fashion pertaining to dogs have yet to be explored, so there’s a lot of room for creativity and unique branding.

Frenchie Shop is a prime example. The brand offers different apparel types for French bulldogs: t-shirts, hoodies, sweaters, shoes, pajamas, hoodies, hats, and more. If you have a French bulldog and need clothes, chances are you’ll shop with a brand that specializes in Frenchies.

frenchie dog store speciality example

Doggy day care

Where pet sitting usually involves taking care of a single pet in their own homes, doggy day care involves having a single place where you look after lots of them. Many families have working pet parents and are away from home for extended periods. Offering them a place for their dogs to play during work hours can be invaluable for their well-being.

Similar to related businesses, you’ll need insurance to cover any potential accidents or emergencies, but you can get started from your own home (if it’s big enough). If you have the budget, you can rent larger premises to accept more clients.

Doggy day care also makes a good add-on service to your products. The Hipster Hound, for example, offers a range of pet products online. It also offers full-service dog boarding from its retail store in Savannah, Georgia.

Dog walking

If you’re considering a pet business, there’s a good chance you love pets. If you’re a dog person, dog walking can be a great way to make new dog friends, get exercise, and of course, make some extra money.

Services like dog walking and pet sitting are also particularly fine tuned to the art of customer service. A business such as this would be very dependent on trust that can only be achieved by maintaining valuable customer relationships.

Dog walking doesn’t just have to be on the street either. New Hampshire–based Salty Paws puts a spin on the traditional dog walking business. Rather than take pups out for a stroll, Salty Paws takes them on walking adventures on New Hampshire’s seacoast.

dog walking pet business example

Dog walkers, referred to as “pack captains,” spend three hours with dogs on each adventure. They can play and socialize with other dogs and learn trail manners like recall practice, staying on trail, and following commands.

Pet supplies

Every pet owner needs basic accessories like food bowls, toys, litter boxes, and leashes. Essential products like these may be widely available, but don’t let that trick you into missing the huge opportunity here.

You might think selling the “essentials” will make it harder to compete with larger, established brands, but this isn’t necessarily true. An overabundance of options can trigger “choice paralysis,” something that can actually be a huge advantage for smaller retailers.

If you hit on a niche market or specialize in a specific type of product, you can build a brand around that and be the go-to place for your customers.

Teddybob is a certified reseller of Pidan products, a brand focused on elevating pet products design. In its own shop, Teddybob sells pet supplies that are aesthetic, functional, and well designed, which attracts a specific kind of buyer.

teddybob store example

Pet products

Aside from the essentials pets need to survive and live a comfortable life, sometimes pet owners like to splurge on the occasional gadget or gift for their animal friends.

New products can be a way for entrepreneurs to enter the market without having to work with fresh produce or directly with animals (for those animal lovers with allergies out there). The possibilities are endless—from automated feeders and drinking fountains to painted portraits and customized t-shirts. You’re only limited by your imagination.

Founded in 2019, Petlibro creates products to improve the lives of both pets and pet owners. It produces fountains and feeders with minimalist design. It’s products keep pets hydrated and fed no matter where the owner is, automatically.

petrlibro pet products business example

Pet grooming

Cat and dog grooming can be a great addition to the list of services you can provide to pet owners. Like walking and sitting, the grooming business thrives on customer relationships and trust. Considering that pet owners in US households pay over $8 billion a year in services (including grooming), there’s no shortage of business opportunities.

It’s best to offer a niche: Could you provide mobile grooming services? Can you be a dog groomer for anxious or rescued dogs? Can you cater to extra-large pets? Each of these could offer specialized services.

Similar to doggy day care, you can add pet grooming services to a product-based store, too. Pet speciality retailer Petsense offers a variety of grooming services in addition to its food and supplies offerings.

petsense store example

Dog training

Technically speaking, to be a dog trainer you don’t need any specific, formal qualifications. As such, creating a dog training business doesn’t have as much barrier to entry as you might think. In fact, you don’t even have to offer in-person services.

Brands like Wiglo offer complete, science-based training in an app. Customers can choose from over 100 different programs, from separation anxiety to potty training, to train their own dogs at home.

Wiglo dog store example

That said, most pet owners will want to see some form of qualifications and experience before hiring a trainer. They will want to trust you can get the job done and help correct behavioral issues. So it’s worth investing in your own education before venturing into a dog training business.

Pet boarding

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 44 million US citizens traveled overseas. Add that onto the number of families who vacation either inside the US and vacationers from other parts of the world, many of whom will have pets to think about.

Costs involved in taking animals on vacation with you rise significantly when you consider the need for pet passports, vaccinations, transportation, USDA endorsement, tests, etc. As well as that, plenty of pet owners would prefer to avoid using kennels.

Providing a pet boarding service helps them to lower the costs of pet care and can be your opportunity to build a thriving business.

How to start a pet business

Decided on an idea? Perfect. Let’s look at how you can start your business today:

  1. Do market research
  2. Build your brand
  3. Create a pet business name
  4. Write a business plan
  5. Create your pet products
  6. Build an online store
  7. Market your pet business

Do market research

Market research involves finding out more about your customers. Your target market is the people you most want to reach with your marketing—those who are most likely to become customers. Target market niches vary widely in the pet business, but you can start with three main categories:

  • Luxury. With the rise of dog pageants (and let’s not forget the film Beverly Hills Chihuahua) and designers dipping their toes into the pet business, luxury isn’t limited to humans. However, luxury isn’t limited to pet fashion either. Super-high-quality food cooked by chefs, premium hotels, and grooming spas are all opportunities you can pursue.
  • Mid-market. The mid-market is where you’ll likely find the most appeal if you’re targeting a specific niche—after all, specificity demands higher prices that pet owners are willing to pay to treat their companions well. Food, grooming, training, and homemade pet treats are more likely to fall into this category.
  • Mass market. If you want to prioritize affordability and you’re happy to make products on the cheaper end (or offer less personal services), you can take the mass-market approach. This approach is more appropriate for standardized products and supplies, like rubber chew toys and food bowls.

Even though some of these major categories have more common business types among them, that doesn’t mean they are limited to that group. For example, you could make luxury “basic” supplies or offer mass-market pet fashion outfits.

The key is figuring out which market you want to go after, and then finding out what kind of businesses are in that market already (i.e., what are customers already paying for and likely to buy from you).

Build your brand

The next step in building your pet business is to build your brand. When you create a brand, it helps your customers (and potential customers) remember you better and build relationships, but it also helps in every other aspect of your marketing strategy.

Your brand influences everything from the way you communicate with people to your overall aesthetic. In the pet business, you’ll need to stand out to the people you want to target in your own way.

Finding ways to stand out in the pet business sound difficult at first, but you can break it down to these three main areas of personalization for your brand.

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Unique and fun products. Who needs another squeaky, red, rubber chew toy shaped like a bone? One of the main ways for your brand to stand out is to provide something unique—a differentiating factor. What if the same chew toy had bristles that help brush teeth? You can even play up the fun, cute factor, such as formal outfits for snakes. Make your product unique.

Brand story. No matter whether your business is product or service-based, you’ll need a brand story to help customers relate to your “why.” It’s the foundation from which your business is built and should drive your potential customers to take action too.

Take Open Farm, for example—its founder was looking for healthy, ethically farm-sourced food for her dogs but couldn’t find any. So she and her family built their own.

Visual identity. Your visual identity is likely what you first thought about when we mentioned “brand.” The visual aspect of your brand will include your logo, website design, social media covers, and packaging.

You’ll want to pay close attention to your visuals and how they are supposed to communicate your brand to your target audience.

pet store example

As you can see above, Petlibro uses clean, minimalist aesthetics that are popular with mid-market audiences.

Create a pet business name

Be sure to keep your pet business name idea short and simple. That will make it memorable and easy for customers to pronounce. If your name is too difficult to remember, you’ll miss out on free word-of-mouth marketing.

If you’re still stuck on a business name, use Shopify’s pet business name generator to stir up fresh ideas.

pet business name generator

All you have to do is enter a keyword, click Generate names, then browse thousands of auto-generated name ideas for your company.

Write a business plan

So now you’ve got an idea of your target market and what your branding will be like, and you even have a business name. Congratulations! The next step is to formalize your ideas into a business plan.

A business plan is a document you use to help you guide the operation and organization of your business. It will help you define your business goals and strategies, identify your competition and potential hurdles, and evaluate the resources you’ll need to get started.

Some of the biggest questions you’ll need to ask yourself are, as mentioned, your goals, but also how you will sell your product or service:

  • Will you have a retail store?
  • WIll you sell wholesale to other businesses?
  • Will you start an ecommerce store and sell directly to your customers online?

Using the business plan can help you structure the answers to these questions, and you can refer back to it when needed. It’s important here to check the law in your country and state. You may need a license or permit issued to pet businesses, depending on what idea you choose.

If you’re in the US, read Pet Store Laws by State for more information.

 

Free: Business Plan Template

Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.

 

Create your pet products

If you choose a business that sells physical products, you’ll need to think about product research, manufacturing, and shipping. There are two main ways to go about selling physical goods.

Dropshipping

Dropshipping is a form of online retail where entrepreneurs sell products manufactured, stored, and shipped by a third-party company, like Oberlo. In practice, this provides a huge advantage to less experienced merchants.

Not only does it make it nearly impossible to overstock, it also frees up all the time that would normally be spent managing and shipping orders. This is a huge benefit for merchants that might need to focus more of their time on marketing or other services, such as grooming or dog walking.

Manufacturing

If you have more experience and you want to take a hands-on approach, or you’d rather have more control over the whole process (as aligned with personal values for example), you can search for your own manufacturers and suppliers.

The main advantage of this approach is that you’ll likely find companies who are more willing to accept product personalizations/changes at a cheaper rate, or local companies that help you ship products quicker (rather than from overseas).

 

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Build an online store

Now that your pet products are ready to go, where should you sell them? A great place to start is your own online store. Creating an online store sounds hard compared to listing your products on marketplaces like Amazon.

When it comes to building an online store, Shopify is the easiest way to start. You can build an ecommerce website without any coding or a huge budget.

online pet store

For a small $29 monthly fee, you get a beautiful storefront, SSL certifications, high-speed web servers, cart abandonment recovery, and other beginner-friendly marketing and sales tools. You even get access to the Shopify App Store, which offers over 4,000 plugins to improve your store and sell more online. (You can also sell services if you want to expand.)

Market your pet business

Once you’ve built your product and your brand, and have a way of selling to your customers, you’ll need to work on marketing if you want your business to grow.

Different marketing strategies all require various amounts of effort, but if you’re passionate about the pet business and the industry, you may find you’re already doing some of these activities. However, if you’re new to the industry, or marketing in general, the tips below will help you get started and help your business flourish.

Start local

This is especially important if offering services like grooming or dog walking, which require in-person clientele. Building good relationships with pet owners is key to the sustainability of your business.

Start by joining Facebook groups and local online communities. Participate in discussions. Offer expertise and services, but remember not to push for sales too hard, especially in early interactions with potential customers.

People are very protective of their pets. Trust is especially important in pet businesses and people will not trust you if they view your interaction as a disingenuous attempt to promote your business. However, you can also create Facebook ads targeting pet owners in your local community.

Use social media

The great thing about pet businesses is that cats and dogs are naturally gifted content creators. Assuming you have one or two pets of your own, good content for pet lovers will be relatively easy to create.

If you’ve ever racked your brain trying to come up with social media ideas, you know that it’s challenging to consistently post while maintaining high levels of engagement.

With a pet business, it’s almost too easy.

For groomers, walkers, and pet sitters— every interaction with a new four-legged client is a chance for web content. Even the most mundane activities become watchable when a dog or cat is involved.

There’s also user-generated content, which is especially good for pet businesses. For example, if you’re selling apparel (like the folks over at Clive and Bacon) you could ask your customers to post their pets in your apparel.

clive and bacon instagram

You could also start an affiliate marketing program and work with influencers to promote your products.

affiliate marketing pet business example

Some popular channels to market on are:

  • TikTok
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • YouTube

Each channel requires a slightly different content type. Start by marketing on one channel, become successful at it, then expand into another channel.

Familiarize yourself with blogging and SEO

If you’re familiar with search engine optimization, you know the amount of technical know-how that goes into writing effective SEO copy. For pet stores in particular, spotting questions from pet owners that can be answered with your services can be a highly effective tool.

Blog content won’t be as easy to create as social media content, but the potential for large, sustained traffic is much higher. A well-ranked article answering a question searched by potential clients can be an effective tool for directing traffic for months or even years into the future.

If you’re a pet groomer, you might consider answering common queries about maintaining good pet hygiene. If you’re selling healthy animal treats, you might be able to answer questions about animal diets. There’s an endless list of information you could provide, and if you’re able to provide it to valuable clients, it can be the first step in a long-lasting trusting customer relationship.

Subscription box brand BarkBox is a great example of pet businesses blogging for SEO. The brand has a publication-style site called BarkPost that has content across many different categories, such as Q&As, dog life, humor, and travel.

BarkPost blog

On the site, you can find information about everything from best chew toys, how-to guides, and answers to questions like, What causes eye boogers in dogs? BarkBox has worked to cover every topic a dog owner could be searching for on the web. And it’s paying off.

Data from SEO tool Ahrefs shows that BarkPost gets an estimated monthly traffic of 224,000 visits via search engines.

ahrefs data for BarkPost

Learn more about SEO by reading SEO Is About Humans First, Search Engines Second.

Attend pet-industry events, trade shows, and conventions

Networking and professional development are important in any industry. Pet industry events such as workshops, conventions, trade shows, and lectures can be great for any entrepreneur looking to build new skills or become more connected within the industry.

There’s value for any business in a trade show, but they’re especially great if you’re selling unique or hand-made pet products. If you’re selling products you can’t get anywhere else, an effective trade show campaign can help you secure business relationships and get your product in stores.

Build valuable customer relationships

Trust is important when it comes to pet products. We’ve said it before, but just to really drill the point home: people are very protective of their pets. For groomers, dog walkers, and pet sitters—building a successful company means establishing good customer relationships.

Loyal customers make more purchases, spend more money, and vouch for your business in the form of word-of-mouth recommendations. A network of local, reliable clients will not only be good in providing you patronage but will also help spread the word of your business to other potential customers that run in the same circles.

Build an email list

The last, but certainly not least, method of marketing your pet business is building an email list. Whether you’re offering bestselling products or award-winning services, email is where you can have one-on-one conversations with your customers—no social media required.

Email marketing helps you build relationships with existing customers and rescue abandoned carts, and is easier to implement than most other marketing strategies. Literally more than half of the world’s population now uses email, and it’s much easier to convince someone to give you their email than to make a purchase.

With well-timed and clear messaging in your emails, you can convert the would-be customer into an advocate.

Kicking off your own pet startup

There’s nothing more fulfilling than starting a successful company in an industry that excites you. For pet lovers who want to make money from home, a grooming or pet supply business can be a fulfilling endeavor that provides you with income for years to come.

Don’t be scared by the prospect of starting your own business. With the tools available, creating a sustainable successful pet business is accessible and fulfilling. As long as people love their pets, they’ll value services to help make them safer and happier.

Illustration by Pete Ryan


Pet businesses FAQ

How much does it cost to start a pet business?

The benefit of starting a pet business is its low cost. Common costs for pet businesses are creating products, operating costs, online store costs, and shipping. According to Shopify’s research, the average business owner spends about $18,000 in their first year, with zero employees.

How do I start a small pet business?

    1. Do market research.
    2. Build your brand.
    3. Create a pet business name.
    4. Write a business plan.
    5. Create your pet products.
    6. Build an online store.
    7. Market your pet business.

How much do pet store owners make per year?

Data from ZipRecruiter shows the US national average pay for a pet store owner is $49,174 per year.

Is the pet industry growing?

Data from the American Pet Products Association shows clear growth in the pet industry. In 2020, $103.6 billion was spent on pets in the US. For 2021, it’s estimated that number will increase, to $109.6 billion.

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